There was a time when only the most adventurous among us would strap ourselves into an airplane and soar up into the sky. But as air travel becomes less novel, it’s funny to me how a return to our traveling roots seems the more adventurous choice.

We’d planned a family trip this summer from our home in Savannah, GA to Washington D.C., and decided to add a little adventure into the mix by making it an Amrak train trip. We were excited about trying something new, and had romantic visions of watching the countryside slip by as we rattled up the tracks along the east coast.

I’m a traveler who likes to be prepared, but as we neared our departure date I realized I knew nothing of what to expect. So here now is a review for the rest of you who seek adventure but like to prepare for what lies ahead.

*As this is the only train trip I’ve ever taken, realize that this review is not that of a seasoned train-traveler, but rather the observations of a newbie just completing her first trip.

(Jump to photos)

Packing

We were each allowed 2 carry-on bags in addition to personal items, and the overhead bins on the trains are much larger than on planes, and easily accommodated our belongings. And no worries about liquids or gels – from what I could tell the only restricted items were actual weapons.

The train was COLD. I had packed one blanket for our daughter and wished I’d packed three. At the last minute I threw in a pillow, which was appreciated when the trip ran late into the night.

The station:

Varies. Union Station in DC was very nice, and much like a medium-sized airport with stores, a food court and the like. By contrast, the Amtrak station in Savannah isn’t much. One benefit of the small Savannah station is that you can park right at the door and there are no parking fees. However, the station is amenity-free save for a small restroom and a vending machine, so come prepared in case you have to wait there a while.

And speaking of a wait…

Our trip began poorly. We arrived at the station around 7:30 am for an 8:20 train, which was unnecessarily early as there is no security checkpoint to cross or terminal to traverse. But 8:20 came and went with no boarding and no announcements. We finally got underway more than 4 hours behind schedule, and without an official word from Amtrak about the cause of our delay. I’m told this kind of delay is unusual and I sure hope so, because it was maddening.

Ok, now that I have that off my chest…

The seats:

Once we finally got on the train, I was pleasantly surprised by the comfort and space of the seats. Because our trip was a longer one, we were in a roomier car. Those traveling shorter distances had less space, but I’d wager we all had more room than I’ve ever had on an airplane.

In our car, the seats reclined and leg rests popped up, providing an easy way to stretch your legs for a bit.

The train:

I loved that there was a dining car. Around the mid-point of the train is a car with tables and booths and overpriced food that you could buy in the freezer department of your neighborhood grocery. But I enjoyed breaking up the monotony of the trip by eating my microwaved meal at a real table with a view of the countryside.

The bathroom:

Of course you wanted to know about that too, right? I even took a picture for you! Each car had two restrooms. They weren’t fancy but were a bit larger than airplane restrooms and served their purpose.

Other perks:

Each seat had 2 outlets, and it was nice to be able to plug up phones, the iPad, computers, etc. along the way. There was wifi in the dining car, but I wish there had been wifi throughout the train. Unlike on a plane, you can use your phone anytime.

Price:

Train travel was cheaper than plane travel. Our two adult tickets were each $50 less than a flight on those same dates, but the big savings come for the kid tickets, which are half-priced.

The Con:

This was no bullet train. Eleven hours is a long time to travel, even comfortably. It’s like flying to Europe, without the Europe.

In Summary:

My romantic visions prior to the trip weren’t false. I enjoyed the rumble of the train on the tracks. I savored the scenery outside my window, watching small towns, cornfields, swamps and marshland pass in a blur. In contrast with plane travel, where you’re screened and belted and told to sit and turn off your tech and don’t move a muscle until the plane comes to a complete stop – train travel was relaxing. Sit. Sleep. Talk. Play cards in the dining car. Whatever.

But the romance wore off around the 4th hour of our 11-hour trip. The trip took about the same amount of time by train as it would have by car. Granted, it was much more comfortable than traveling by car, so given those two options I’d choose train. But the plane ride would have gotten us there in less than TWO hours, which is hard to beat.

Will I take a train trip again? Probably so, especially for shorter, regional travel. I’m not sure I’ll do the Savannah-DC route again, but could see myself extending a New York trip to Boston, for example.

Do I think you should try it? Absolutely, as long as you’re not in a hurry.

Do I wish our country had more high-speed rails? You betcha. If I could combine the comfort of a train ride with a lot more speed, then I’d be the first on board for that.

Photos

Howdy Dad and Howdy Daughter on The Palmetto train

Plenty of room for our luggage, even with our bag extended to its full capacity. You can easily access bags during the ride as well.

Each seat had two outlets, and there were no restrictions on the use of electronic items.

Blankets are a must – the train was cold!

The food was overpriced and microwaved, but being able to eat at a real booth and table in the dining car was a treat.

The dining car is also an excellent place to play card games.

Potty train. Get it? Potty train!

The scenery

Small Town America

Another view from the window.