destination florida

Have you ever decided to be completely impulsive and do something a little crazy?  Last week I decided to break out of my fairly rigid schedule and visit Tampa, FL (duh, are there any other Tampas?)  I lived in Tampa for a few years while working at an amazing radio station and this past weekend was a HUGE weekend for Tampa — Gasparilla.  Just click the link to find out what it is because Gasparilla requires a whole blog of its own.  I still have some friends who live in the area and my old station has a float in the Gasparilla parade so I thought it would be fantastic to just up and visit….fun right???  Sort of.

I  have a serious issue with flying, I get paralyzing panic attacks just thinking about it.   To get myself on a flight I need a) xanax & b) a direct flight.   Impulsive me couldn’t find a direct flight to Tampa or Orlando and I haven’t held a xanax prescription in at least 2 years so I went with the next best option – AMTRAK.  

~Did you just say, “seriously?”  That’s cool, it’s been most people’s reaction~

 Yes I thought taking a train from Penn Station to Tampa would be a genius move.  I honestly don’t mind train travel, one of my favorite trips involved the auto train which runs from Lorton, VA to Sanford, FL…I figured this 25+ hour trip would be almost relaxing so I booked a round trip  coach seat on Amtrak and loaded up my iPod for an adventure.  Sort of.

My journey began at 6am last Thursday when I caught the train to Manhattan to catch my 10:52am train to Tampa.  The train at Penn was on time, we boarded easily, I met my seatmate (who was sooo sweet) and settled into my window seat.   The attendant in our car said this was going to be a full train to Florida.   We took off and for the first few hours it was smooth sailing, many many stops, but not too bad.  I did realize my window seat was going to be super annoying to myseatmate because I have the world’s smallest bladder, but heeeey, that’s cool, train travel has it’s ups and downs.   Things got interesting when we stopped in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere:


Looks delightful right?  We figured out we were just outside of Baltimore, and everyone in the car became a little concerned when the conducter and attendants all convened for some secret train meeting.  After about ten minutes they announced that the engine brake had died (because you and I know what that means) and the train had turned into a very large paperweight…going nowhere fast.   That super positive announcement was followed up with a series of announcements:

Announcement 1:  We’re going to have another train come out pick you up, don’t bring your luggage, we’re just going to drop you at the DC train station while we fix the problem…we’re not sure how long it’s going to take.  When it’s fixed we’ll bring you back to the train and you can continue on. (for serious)

Announcement 2:  We’re gonna have another train come and take all of for the rest of the trip, we’re done with this train but we don’t know when the new train is going to get here. (eeek)

Announcement 3:  We’re gonna have an engineer come to this train and see if they can fix the problem.   Get comfortable.(score)

Announcement 3 was the winner so we waited on the track for awhile.  A long ass time, like three trips to the batroom long.   I started cursing the Acela  that was flying by.  Finally a crack train fixer (that’s the technical term) boarded and got the engine issue to function enough to get us and the train to DC so they could switch out our electric engine for a diesel one.  Clearly the much more environmentally friendly move.   We waited for about 45 minutes in DC while the switched out the engines, and it was actually kinda cool to watch.   Soon enough we were on our way, but were already two hours behind schedule and we weren’t even 12 hours into our trip.  I was immediately regretting my brilliant decision to take the train to Tampa.  

After the DC breakdown debacle I think I went into a self induced blur because I can only remember snippets.   There were interesting things to see:

 but there was also weirdness like the dude who decided to watch a movie with loud sex scenes on his laptop on full blast, without headphones.  Or the crazy 75 year old who sat with me at dinner drinking out of his cell phone shaped flask and tried to get me to come back to his room .  I’m sure there was more but I think I just grayed out.

When it was time to go to bed, well go to the reclining position,  I desperately wanted to sleep but couldn’t.   If you’re slightly tall you will never be able to get comfortable in the Amtrak seats.  I eventually passed out when we were in Raleigh and woke up in Georgia.   We were getting closer to Florida, but had apparently stopped for a looong time overnight and were now behind five hours!  I was starting to panic about EVER getting to Tampa.  I don’t know if it was my nerves, or dinner, or breakfast, or germs, but soon after I woke up from my recline I got sick.  On an Amtrak train.  The last place on earth you ever want to get sick on is an Amtrak train…trust me I’ve gotten the flu at LARKFest, and had to get sick in a port a potty.  Amtrak is much worse.   I’ll leave out the nitty gritty but I eventually felt better as we got close to Orlando.  Oh that’s right, Orlando.  Orlando was


A lack of usuable bathrooms was the cherry on top of this awesome journey and  I decided that I wasn’t going to stick around for the extra 2 hours to Tampa.   When the train pulled into Orlando, I grabbed my stuff, jumped off the train, went to the Hertz location, rented a car and took off across I-4 to Hillsborough County.  Done with the long train trips.

I’m not trying to knock Amtrak, I think my trip was a series of unfortunate events.  My seatmate was so nice, I was able to see parts of the country you could only see from the train, I had some pleasant conversation over dinner and breakfast (not with the 75 year old man who was hitting on me) and I did eventually make it to Tampa safely.

I flew back.


  1. On a tangent to your trip report, I just wanted to mention that all Amtrak trains heading west or south from Washington swap out their electric engines and replace them with diesels. The electric engines rely on overhead catenary that was installed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the 1930s, and the routes south and west from Washington lack any catenary, so the shift to the diesel was a perfectly routine one. The long delay beforehand was not, of course.

    How did the coach attendant handle the broken bathrooms? And by broken do you mean terribly unpleasant or completely non-functional?

  2. ashallann says:

    Ran, thanks for the clarification on the switch to diesels. I probably should have done some fact checking before running my mouth in anger. I truly am fascinated by trains so yours was great information!

    Regarding the bathrooms, I believe the coach attendant did try to remedy the malfunctions (in one bathroom the toilet wouldn’t flush and the sink was broken, not sure what the problem in the second was…there appeared to be flooding) but eventually locked both of them and told passengers to go to another car. Not much you can do when you’re in a moving train…was just a little bit more than my already frayed nerves could stand for the day.

  3. Dude, that is a really, REALLY shitty trip.

    But Gasparilla was a blast? yesno? I hope that helped make up for it!

  4. FYI, Southwest has a direct flight from Albany to Tampa It leaves ALB at the civilized hour of 11:30am and arrives in Tampa before 3.

  5. Albany Jane, Gasparilla was so much fun, even in the rain! I always have a good time, have you ever been?

    Kerosena I would have loved to have been on that flight, but it appeared to be totally booked going down…I took the direct flight back on Southwest.


  1. […] February I took a ridiculous train ride to Florida.  From New York.   Yea.   No plans to get there via train again anytime soon.   I also […]

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