Train Travel to Florida – reliving the golden age
Snowbirds aboard! From 1925, vacationers heading for Florida had a new way to travel – the Orange Blossom Special – a deluxe passenger train that connected New York City and Miami during the winter. The train sped over 1327 miles through Washington DC, Richmond, Raleigh and Savannah, with a limited section continuing to Tampa and St. Petersburg. Another plush passenger train operating from 1892-1965 was the Yellow Stripe “Dixie Flyer” an all-Pullman from Chicago’s Dearborn Station to Miami via Atlanta with a unit to Tampa and Sarasota. Many famous and infamous rode the Flyer, including Al Capone. But his 1932 trip was to Atlanta to serve a Federal prison term for tax evasion.
Tampa Bay was booming and vacation rentals in Florida were let as soon as they were available. By using fast, elegant trains, railway companies hoped to persuade influential and busy people to move to the Sunshine State for the winter. It succeeded beyond anybody’s expectations – the journey took around 35 hours and during the trip, passengers were regaled with superb food, vintage wines and liquors and exceptional service. So famous was the route that it was immortalized in song by Ervin T Rouse and Robert Russell “Chubby” Wise – perhaps the best-known recording of the song was by Johnny Cash. The fiddle tune “Orange Blossom Special” often called simply The Special is oten referred to as the fiddle player’s national anthem. The paint scheme for the Orange Blossom Special train, in lime, orange and lemon, was meant to suggest the hues of Florida’s citrus orchards and it was so distinctive it was granted a patent.
Tampa’s Union Station serves more than 100,000 passengers annually, according to the Rail Passenger Association.
Florida Vacation? Take the train
So, are the golden days of travel to Florida behind us? Not so. There are two ways to travel to Tampa, via The Silver Service or the Auto Train.
The Silver Service – New York City to Miami
The Silver Meteor takes a more direct coastal route through Fayetteville, North Carolina and Florence and Charleston, South Carolina, while the Silver Star detours inland to serve the Carolinas’ two state capitals, Raleigh, North Carolina and Columbia, South Carolina. The Silver Star also makes a detour to service Tampa, Florida.
The two trains were inherited from Seaboard Coast Line Railroad when Amtrak took over most intercity rail service in 1971.
There are dozens of exciting destination stops en route. Silver service trains have reserved coach seating and comfortable sleeping berths.
Silver Meteor offers inclusive traditional dining car meals in the ticket price, while on Silver Star the food service is simply sandwiches, snacks and drinks.
The Palmetto offers business class travel, ideal for those heading to a convention or business meeting in Florida and needing a stress-free travel option.
Trains run every day and the journey time is around 28 hours, depending on your start and finish points. Florida, especially Tampa, has been a strong market for Amtrak according to the Rail Passengers Association.
The Tampa to New York City was one of Amtrak’s most profitable in Florida. The Tampa to West Palm Beach was one of the highest ridership trips in 2019. NOTE: Amtrak is scaling back service and at least 20% of its workforce due to Covid19. Train service for Tampa will be reduced to three times per week thru 2021 beginning July 6, 2020.
Auto Train – Washington to Orlando
This 855 mile train service caries both passengers and their four tire/ 2 axle vehicle or motorcycle. Whether you rock a van or travel with a jet-ski, this non-stop train journey gives you a chance to travel in comfort and still have your own vehicle at the other end of your trip. Comfy coach seats give you a chance to nap on the way, or you can reserve a roomette with nearby restrooms … or go the whole hog and hire a bedroom with daytime seating, private restroom and shower and attendant service to convert your seats to beds overnight. Not only that, but all meals are included.This travel option really brings the best of both worlds – relaxing transport to your Florida vacation rental and the comfort of being able to drive your own automobile when you arrive.
The 17.5-hour journey makes a pleasure of getting to the Sunshine State. The auto train is the only long distance route that will continue to operate daily during Amtrak’s Covid19 service reduction plan implemented July 6, 2020.
Caught the train bug? A rail pass brings Florida to you
It seems every year we have guests who fly into Seattle, or San Francisco or Los Angeles. They spend a few weeks riding such famous trains as the Empire Builder, California Zepher, SW Chief to Chicago and then on to New York or Washington DC before traveling to Tampa. Available in 15, 30 and 45-day options, Amtrak’s rail pass allows you to get on and off the train wherever you choose – why not consult our guide to the local area’s attractions and events and plan an itinerary that includes all that’s best in Florida?