Growing up, I traveled on Amtrak at least annually, for our family vacation to Walt Disney World. My father worked for Amtrak, and so that was our preferred mode of transportation, even for the long trip from Providence to Orlando. Although I always yearned to hop on a plane and be in Florida in three hours, I grew to love the train.
For me, those are some of my favorite family travel memories from when I was a kid – eating in the dining car, changing trains at Penn Station, sleeping in a teeny-tiny roomette. Our vacation started the moment we stepped right on the train, and we always enjoyed our adventures. The transportation was part of the total experience.
Note that I’ve worked with the Amtrak Downeaster before, but all opinions are my own.
Now, 25+ years later, Amtrak still provides families a great way to travel. Our personal favorite is the Acela high-speed train, which goes from Boston to Washington DC. The Acela offers comfortable seats, electric outlets in each row, and free WiFi!
With the early check-in time and security checks required to travel by plane, the Acela is almost as fast as an airplane (and it stops right in Manhattan).There are no airport trips involved, which makes it so much easier. For those of us living in the western suburbs of Boston, we can also utilize the Route 128 train station, which has a large parking garage. Amtrak is also a good option when the weather makes airplane travel a little challenging.
That Northeast Corridor itinerary is one of the most popular routes in North America, with good reason. It stops in many popular cities along the coast, including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. But there are lots of other routes across the country, and many of them are beautiful and scenic.
Another fun route is the Amtrak Downeaster, which goes from Boston to Maine. It operates daily from Boston’s North Station to Portland, Maine. A few trains extend their trip to Brunswick and Freeport, Maine each day. Portland is a very walkable city, so you can take the train in and walk around Old Port, Maine.
Traveling to Florida? Many families enjoy taking the Auto Train, which travels from Lorton, VA (near Washington, DC) to Sanford, FL (near Orlando). You won’t have to rent a car when you arrive, but you’ll still get to rest and relax on your journey there. If you live in the Northeast, you can drive down to Lorton – maybe even stopping for a quick family vacation in Washington DC.
If you are taking the train with your family, there are a few things to keep in mind.
You won’t be checking a bag like you do in the airport, so you are responsible for transporting your own luggage. If you have larger bags, there are sections in the front of the train where you can store it. Remember to grab your luggage before your train station is called. Depending on the station, it’s usually just a quick stop before the train takes off again.
Red caps are available at most train stations to help you with your bags, if you need it. I’d definitely recommend utilizing a red cap at a busy train station like Penn Station, because they can bring you down to the train before the other passengers. You’ll still need to pull the bags off the train, however, so be mindful when you pack. Please remember to tip your red cap.
You can bring your own food on the train, with no restrictions on liquids like you’ll have at airport security. However, most of the trains do have a cafe car as well. Food can be limited, so be sure to bring anything you absolutely need to have.
Depending on the train you take, you probably won’t have assigned seats. If your stop is at the beginning of a route, that isn’t an issue. However, if it’s a later stop, you might have to look around a bit for seats together.
Trains are still affected by weather, but not typically in the same way as planes are. In the winter, you may find that it’s easier to take a train than a plane.
Do you travel by train?