A little over a year ago, I made a post here about the logistics of taking Amtrak to WDW and asked if anyone had any advice or experience. At the time, no one had used the train for transportation but many did provide great ideas. So in October, we did it and I never did share the experience of how it all actually works. So if you've ever wondered and I've peaked your interest, HERE is what it's like to travel to WDW on Amtrak! For better….OR worse…
Neither my wife nor I care a great deal for flying and so I came up with the "brilliant" idea of “why not take the train!?” My entire life, I’ve always booked Disney trips through AAA so this time was no different. When the travel agent asked “do you want an early or later flight?” and I said “No! Amtrak” well she looked at me like I had 3 heads! “In all my years of working here, no one has ever said that!” Hard to believe but it was true. She didn’t know anything about Amtrak so it was going to be a new experience for all parties involved. My biggest concern was getting from the train station to our resort. Magical Express is only for those brave enough to wear their flight wings. And Uber and Lyft just creep me out a bit so that wasn’t a viable option either.
The agent made a few calls to WDW travel who said for $75 round trip for a party of two, they still partner with Meares Transportation. $75 for “round trip” sounded perfect to me so we booked it. Next was to figure out which train to actually take because Amtrak has a few…like a 1000 it seems! Being east coasters, we knew that Baltimore MD was our closest train station so the next question was which station to disembark from in Florida? Orlando or Kissimmee was the big question. I’ve heard people use both but a quick glance at Google maps from both stations to the Coronado made the downtown Orlando station the clear winner at 20 minutes. Yes, closer than MCO! The Orlando station was also a bit more of a traditional train station with facilities where Kissimmee was more of an unmanned bench you wait for the train on.
The next challenge was finding a train that met our needs. Not all trains allow for checked baggage or provided sleeping accommodations. So this narrowed our search down to 2 possible trains: The Silver Star or the Silver Meteor. The big difference between them is The Star left Baltimore at 11AM and the Meteor left at 7PM. The Star only had a snack car where the meteor had a full dining car. If you get sleeper accommodations on the Meteor, your meals are included which also makes the Meteor more expensive. The travel time was listed at 23 hours to Orlando so wanting to get the most time at WDW, we booked the 11AM Silver Star and being such a long trip, also booked sleeping accommodations instead of trying to sleep in coach. Oh and just for reference…round trip on SouthWest Airlines was about $350. Round trip on Amtrak….$1500! Shocking isn’t it!?
With the entire trip planning done, we now just waited several months for the week to arrive. This gave me plenty of time to research the ins and outs of train travel. The first thing I learned from the “rail community” is that trains hardly ever ever EVER stick to their schedule. Arriving at your destination on time is something those in the steel sky tube had the luxury of counting on. It seemed trains could be anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours late! How’s that for a planning window!? The train was scheduled to arrive in Orlando at 10:10 am and we decided Epcot would be our “day of arrival park.” We also got the standard Disney dining plan so we had to choose our sit down service reservation in advance. But what if the train is late!? What if we miss our reservation? Should we even make FastPass reservations that day not truly knowing when we would arrive at the park? We made a reservation at Via Napoli for 4pm. Certainly that would be late enough…OR WOULD IT!?
Continuing on my quest to learn everything I could, I read more about people’s experiences in the sleeping accommodations on the train. Amtrak has what they call “Roomettes” which are optimally designed to give 2 passengers “privacy.” These compartments offer 2 chairs facing each other that convert into beds at night, a pull out table and an in room toilet and sink. By my very nature, I am quite tall at almost 6 feet and I had read that tall people may find Roomettes to be a bit claustrophobic. Not to mention that the arm rest of the one seat opens to become the TOILET! Yes, you slide over from your seat and sit in plain view of your companion while you do your business! From the train hallway, stepping into a Roomette is like climbing into a pod on Mission Space. It’s VERY small. There are about 40 Roomettes on each train. After learning more, I called Amtrak and upgraded the Roomette to one of the train’s 4 bedrooms which while still VERY small, offer more legroom, bigger beds and a toilet WITH shower enclosed in a little stall the size of an airplane bathroom. The bathroom was never the problem because we’ve been together a long time but the cramped quarters were the biggest concern.
Two weeks before our trip, major storms decimate and ravaged the entire east coast and buried most of North Carolina under water. Amtrak announced that the Silver Service to all places south of Washington DC had been halted as tracks were impassable. They expected a three to four day delay which turned into a two week delay. Long story short, they resumed service to Florida THE DAY BEFORE we were scheduled to depart! Talk about panic and anxiety leading up to a trip.
So the day arrives and we had friends take us to the train station. Very few Amtrak stations offer long term parking. Upon entering the station, we both stared at a giant board with numbers and letters and gates galore! It was like entering a foreign country. We had an hour to spare and it took about that long to find where to check luggage and what gate our train would be arriving. Amtrak allows 2 large bags to be checked per passenger without extra cost and if one has sleeper accommodations, you can take several carryons (although roomettes do not have much space for baggage). Now mind you, two women do not travel lightly. In fact, I sadly overestimated what we would be capable of. I had one large suitcase, 1 large carryon with all my personal items, another large carryon filled with food because it’s cheaper than the snack car, my laptop for entertainment, a 120V electric cooler filled with drinks (yes, all rooms have 120V electric outlets) and of course, my purse.
We each checked our large bag and waited patiently for the train to arrive once we found our gate. Happily it’s right on schedule so that’s a great start. As we each head through the gate’s glass doors with our arms bursting with personal belongings, we are met with “TWO FLIGHTS OF STEPS!” Oh dear god! At this point, I realized I was an idiot when it came to packing. Here are two women trying to lug ungodly weight and bulk down all these stairs one at a time with people skirting and dodging about the holes around us. I guess there was an elevator somewhere but we didn’t see it. After fumbling and reaching the platform, I saw the longest piece of metal I’ve ever seen in my life! Not living in a major metro area, I’ve never seen an Amtrak train up close. We we’re at the center of the train and you essentially couldn’t see either of the ends. After asking the one conductor where car 4056 was, he pointed all the way down, “next to the last car”. So we lugged our belongings all the way down with my wife yelling at me in tow.
A nice gentleman helped us with our bags through the skinny halls and into the room. He was the attendant for that car and asked if we had traveled on Amtrak before. Both saying no, he showed us how the buttons and dials worked and where things were located in the bedroom and then left us. As we both stood there with little room to walk, I realized just how compact and small it was. Having walked down the hall looking at all the Roomettes, I was glad we upgraded but it wasn’t that much more space.
We departed on time and I was quite impressed. Getting used to the rocking motion of the train would be a bit of a challenge. We tried to increase the air condition but it was as cold and forceful as it was going to get (which left a lot to be desired). The bedroom looked like it had not been updated since the 70s or 80s. After about 30 minutes, we pulled into the Washington DC station and the Star came to a halt. Suddenly everything goes dead. The AC turns off, the fans stop, the cabin lights go out and it’s just eerie silence. My wife looked at me and said “does this happen every time the train stops!?” No, this was news to me if that were the case. We sat wondering what was happening and I left our room and started strolling around looking for answers. The man in the bedroom next to us was a very nice retired NYPD cop and was standing in the hall looking out the window. I asked if he had any idea what was happening and he smirked and said “first time!?”
Washington is a main hub for Amtrak and at this point, they remove the electric engine to replace it with a diesel. Apparently the electric lines don’t run past DC. So he said it takes about 30 minutes until they get everything connected up. The engines contain the generators which is why the AC and lights were all out. Surely enough, in about 35 minutes, everything fires up and we rolled along our way.
We curled up in our room and watched movies on the laptop and snacked from our portable convenience store we took along all the while watching the world go by outside. Seeing parts of the country I’ve never seen, I focused more outside as we passed through small towns. There were some seedy underbellies to be seen and lots of graffiti bridges and walls but it’s an unbelievably leisure pace. Indeed we worked frantically getting to this point but now we had 23 hours to kill. After awhile I needed a stretch and lumbered down the skinny hallway just to nose around. I found a tiny room filled with a coffee machine, cups, ice, juices, tea and bottled water. This was complimentary for those with a room.
Passing from car to car, I eventually made it to the snack car. Microwave hotdog: $5.00 - Cheeseburger: $7.25 – Single pizza: $6.50 – Frito Lay chips: $2.50 – Pepsi: $2.25 – You get the idea, slowly easing into Disney prices! At this point, I was delighted we brought all our own stuff regardless of what a pain it was. Walking back to the room, I bounced around like I was on Dinosaur, banging into walls, doors and other passengers. It’s NOT a smooth ride but you learn how to cope with it over time.
As it began to get dark, it was after 8pm and we were due into Orlando at 10 am the next morning. The car attendant came by and converted all of our seats into beds. We got into our sleepwear and my wife took the top bunk as I took the lower. The long LONG night began and I can say I honestly did not sleep 1 minute the entire night. First of all, here’s a fun train fact! It seems every time the train goes through an intersection, it blows its horn 3 times. Do you have ANY idea how many intersections there are between Maryland and Florida!?!? Yeah, I didn’t either! And the train rocks and quivers while you lay there. It’s the equivalent of trying to sleep on a roller coaster.
This train offered free wifi so I turned on an audio stream to help lull me to sleep. But Amtrak’s wifi is horrible! It constantly cuts out and when it is connected, it’s like dial up! They restrict streaming services like Netflix and basically anything that uses more bandwidth than email. The music kept stopping and starting which annoyed me so I turned it off. I laid there looking out the pitch black window where occasionally you would see a light or two whiz by but otherwise, just dark.
Passing through the downtown section of some city, I saw a huge lit stadium packed solid with people enjoying a concert. Moments of enchantment of that magnitude were slim but I cherished them as I laid there with the pillow propped up behind my head. As the late night hours continued on, I passed in and out of consciousness but at no point would I say “I slept”. I heard not a peep out of my wife except for the occasional snore so I knew she was out, but she can sleep through anything. Right around 3am I felt the train starting to slow down and it lurched to a stop. I sat up and pressed my nose against the glass trying to see where we were and it was nothing but pitch black. Off in the distance I could see silhouettes of trees. LOTS of trees! I waited in anticipation to feel the train start moving again but it didn’t. 15 minutes later and we’re still sitting in the middle of who knows where so I grab my phone to open Google maps and am greeted by “NO SERVICE”. Trains pass through areas where there are no humans or any civilization and by god we were sitting in one!
45 minutes later and the train is still not moving. I tried to see anything I possibly could outside when suddenly the shrillness of another train whistle jump started my heart as a huge blur of steel screams by mere inches from my window. It’s another train and I can only assume we pulled off waiting for it to go by because shortly after it passed, we slowly resumed on our way. Within a few minutes, I had cell service again and my train tracking app showed we were chugging along at 70 MPH. But then it stopped again for about 20 minutes later to sit forever in the middle of nowhere. We stopped like that a total of 5 times the entire trip.
By sun up, we were an hour and a half behind schedule and pulled into Orlando at 11:30 am. Meares was there holding up a sign with our name on it and the man said they were using the “train tracker” as well to find out we were late. And right as rain, in about 20 minutes we were at Coronado Springs. Also amazingly enough our room was ready so we grabbed some well needed showers and headed to Epcot.
Walking across the entrance of Epcot, I noticed the cement was tipping a bit to the left and the right. I never knew the park to have a tilting entranceway so maybe it was something new. We headed to Via Napoli for our reservations and while sitting at our table, I commented to my wife that the whole table was shaking and I was suddenly extremely dizzy.
The lack of sleep and 24 hours of messing with my equilibrium had taken its toll. Closing my eyes, I could still feel the rattle of the train under my feet. It was extremely surreal. Sadly I did not enjoy my meal all that well nor our first evening at Epcot. During Illuminations, I propped up against the railing and just zoned out. I’d seen it before and I’m sure the show was just as excellent with or without my attentiveness. After a good night’s sleep, the rest of the trip was wonderful. And since this is a “train report”, let’s fast forward to the day of departure.
Mears requested a call the day before departure and told me they would retrieve us at 8AM. The train was leaving at 11AM so I was quite confused why we needed that much time. There is no security or anything like what you run into at the airport. But whatever…we’ll be up and ready. As we started to pack the day before, I recalled how horrible it was lugging everything onto and off of the train. I made the executive decision to take the large carryon I had filled with food and ship it home rather than try to drag it along again. ONE less bag would (and did) make a huge difference. So stuffing what food I could into our other carryons, we put laundry and a few souvenirs into the suitcase to ship it home. The “business center” charged $68.00 to ship it! $68.00 !!! But damn it, I didn’t care. It was one less thing to deal with.
We went down to Florida on the Silver Star and we selected the Silver Meteor to come home on. This way we got our meals included and would experience a different train. Mears was right on time at 8am and we began our trip back to the Orlando Amtrak station. About 10 minutes out, traffic on the I4 started to back up and crept to a stop. The lady driving said “uh oh…sure hope this doesn’t delay us.” Then she mentioned this is where Universal traffic merges and people were flooding to the park and for this time of day, that was quite normal. While sitting in traffic, my phone chimed an alert from Amtrak that our train was delayed 30 minutes. So no big deal…traffic resumed and we were at Orlando station at 8:30 with plenty of time to kill for our now 11:30 train.
Only 2 other people were in the station and there were no employees to be found. At least it was air conditioned and we still had plenty of snacks. My wife stretched out long ways on the bench next to me, grabbed her pillow and took a nap. I on the other hand went over to the huge display of “Florida Attraction” pamphlets and grabbed a handful of places I never heard of. People started to slowly meander into the station and around 9:15, an announcement played across the PA system that the Silver Meteor was running 3 hours late. OK….so the train was going to arrive at 2pm and we were there ….at….8:30! 5 and a half hours to sit here and wait! For the love of…..
To quote another author who wrote a remarkable article about his first train trip (Eric Weiner), he lovingly referred to Amtrak as a unique country in and of itself called…”Amtrakistan”. He put it best when he mentioned that in Amtrakistan, one doesn’t ask questions and one just accepts things the way they are. I had come to learn that it’s very true! Why is the train late? “Who knows!?“ Why have we stopped? “I don’t know!” Where’s the gate for our train? “the one with your train’s number on it.” Train travel IS its own world and has its own culture. You either accept this or it will devour you.
An elderly couple came in and sat down on the other side of the station waiting for the same train as us. At one point, the older lady looked like she was feeling ill and when she stood up, she sadly threw up. The old man went up and banged on the metal gate down over the ticket booth and an employee threw the door up rapidly and yelled “WHAT!?” The man explained his wife had gotten sick and the employee shoved a rag and bottle of spray cleaner under the bars to the old man and told him to clean it up! He sprayed everything down, cleaned it up and took the rag and bottle back to the counter. The employee yelled at him again “I don’t want that! Are you crazy! Go throw it away!” and slammed the metal gate down. There you have it folks! That’s kind of what it’s like in Amtrakistan! We met some nice people and some “not so nice” people.
The Silver Meteor pulled into Orlando “promptly” (ahem) at 2pm and we eagerly climbed aboard. This time we had a lady car attendant whose first words to us were “Did you girls eat lunch? You got 15 minutes so you best drop your bags and run to the dining car!” Not wanting to miss out on 1 of our 3 prepaid meals, we complied. Now of course had the train been on time at 11am, this mad dash to the dining car wouldn’t have happened. We each got a hamburger with some chips and a small salad. To my surprise, it was perhaps one of the best burgers I had in a long time! I wasn’t expecting that even though it looked much better than the microwave ones the other train had. We no sooner finished our last bite and the waitress said “Car’s closed! You gotta leave!” Wow…
Our attendant took our reservation time to return for dinner which was 7pm. We killed more time watching the world go by, watching a movie and chatting. At 7, we headed to the dining car which was packed full. After being seated with another couple in a booth, we looked at them and smiled and they did the same in reciprocation. Eating with strangers is not something either of us was overly fond of but you don’t get a choice. The included meals work very similar to the Disney Dining plan. You get to chose an entrée whether it’s the one for $7.99 or $39.99. The best the menu had to offer was steak and crab cake so all 4 of us at our table ordered it. The waiter came out and apologized to myself and my wife that they were out of crab cakes but amazingly enough, the other 2 people we were with got them.
However, the steak wasn’t bad at all. With a little salad, baked potato and some sort of crème brulee for dessert, I wouldn’t say it was worth $30 but for train food, I found it very acceptable. Getting to know the couple at our table was awkward as we didn’t really want to talk but you are kind of forced to. We learned that they were taking this train trip for free on a comp ticket after their last Amtrak trip left them stranded in an unknown city, dumped them at 2am on a street corner from a bus after their train broke down and didn’t give them a hotel. Uh huh…Amtrak baby!!!
Returning to our room, the attendant converted it into night mode again and we climbed into our respective bunks. Still being 3 hours behind schedule, I figured we should arrive back in Baltimore by 10:10am instead of 7:10 which the original schedule called for. And in all honesty, I was fine with that because breakfast starts serving at 6:30am and if we disembark at 7:10, we would be screwed out of one of our meals since there wouldn’t be time to order, eat and get off the train. So around 10, we tried to go to sleep. My wife fell asleep quickly as usual and I laid there listening to the whistle while staring out the window. I couldn’t sleep again but that was no surprise.
As the night went on the tracks got VERY bumpy. As we maneuvered through many different switchtracks at a high rate of speed, we literally banged into the walls of the cabin with a great deal of force. It was worse than any turbulence I had ever felt on an airplane. I distinctly remember my wife at 3 am yelling loudly “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?” as she grabbed the safety net around her bunk. It felt like a run-a-way mine train and the dark silhouettes and lights passing by the window were nothing but blurs. We were moving fast…and it was scary! She came down to my bunk and I just held onto her for about an hour. I grabbed my phone which had the “Track my Train” app which showed our train was currently traveling close to 90 miles per hour. I didn’t know that was possible! It was obvious the conductor was trying to make up for lost time under the cover of darkness. Guess what? We pulled into Baltimore at 7:00 AM…10 minutes EARLY!!! The car attendant came in and said “Wow, we really moved last night huh?” We both just looked at her and said nothing. Worse yet, we lost our breakfast because there was no time.
My wife made it pointed clear that our next trip to Orlando, she will fly and meet me there. There is nothing I can say to get her back on an Amtrak train. For me, all things considered, it was a unique and leisure way to travel. It was nice to see the small towns and rural sections of the United States I had never seen before. But the lack of consistency on the schedule was irking my inane nature to be one with the clock. I like predictability and schedules which I suppose are why scheduling every minute of every day at Disney doesn’t bother me that much. I would visit the world of “Amtrakistan” again when the time comes, but I fear I will be a lone traveler.
It’s also important to mention that Amtrak does not own most of the tracks it travels on. Freight train companies lease their tracks for Amtrak to use which is why trains get delayed so often. Freight trains get “right of way” on most segments while Amtrak is forced to sit and wait for it to pass. I can understand how scheduling could get complicated when even Amtrak doesn’t know when it will be asked to stop. But Amtrak does have control over its environment, equipment and staff. Train travel is NOTHING like air travel and as long as one understands this prior to boarding, one will most likely have a lovely trip.
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