My daughter and I took a train while my wife flew from Florida to DC — here’s what it was like

May 10, 2021

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Washington, D.C. is one of my favorite spots to visit. Not only is it a short (and normally inexpensive) flight from my home state of Florida, but the city has a ton to offer — from memorials to museums to outstanding cuisine.

I typically visit Washington for a weekend getaway with my family a couple of times a year, but until recently, I hadn’t set foot in the district since September 2019 — something I desperately wanted to change. So when my timeline for receiving my COVID-19 vaccination became clear, I started planning a weekend getaway with my family.

As an adventurous traveler, I began investigating an option I had never considered. What would it be like to take an overnight train from Florida? And how would that compare to flying?

Naturally, we decided to find out — so my daughter and I grabbed a roomette on Amtrak’s Silver Star service, and my wife booked a one-way JetBlue flight.

Here’s how the two travel experiences from Florida to our nation’s capital stacked up.

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In This Post

Summary

While I get into complete details of our experiences below, here’s a quick table that summarizes the two transportation options.

Train Flight
Flight/train number Amtrak 92 (Silver Star) JetBlue Flight 824
Routing Kissimmee, FL (KIS) to Washington Union Station (WAS) Orlando (MCO) to Washington-National (DCA)
Scheduled departure Thursday, April 29, 6:48 p.m. Thursday, April 29, 8:09 p.m.
Scheduled arrival Friday, April 30, 3:08 p.m. Thursday, April 29, 10:16 p.m.
Scheduled duration 20 hours, 20 minutes 2 hours, 7 minutes
Actual departure Thursday, April 29, 7:18 p.m. Thursday, April 29, 9:51 p.m.
Actual arrival Friday, April 30, 4:24 p.m. Thursday, April 29, 11:50 p.m.
Actual duration 21 hours, 6 minutes 1 hour, 59 minutes
Total travel time (door-to-door) 24 hours, 42 minutes 8 hours, 8 minutes
Price $538

OR

19,099 points

$74.40

OR

4,200 TrueBlue points + $5.60

Baggage allowance (per passenger) 2 personal items, 2 carry-on bags and 2 free checked bags (2 additional checked bags for $20 each) 1 personal item and 1 carry-on item (first checked bag for $30 in advance or $35 at the airport)

Read on for more details on the trip.

Booking

We booked our trip roughly four weeks before departure, and here were the booking options for the train and flight that worked best with our schedules:

  • Train: $538 or 19,099 Amtrak Guest Rewards points
  • Flight: $74.40 or 4,200 JetBlue TrueBlue points + $5.60

Since I didn’t have any Amtrak points, I booked using my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, allowing me to earn 3x points on the travel purchase (and offering additional protection if we ultimately needed to cancel the trip).

For the flight, I opted to redeem points from my TrueBlue family pool. When you remove the $5.60 in taxes and fees that are charged to both paid and award tickets, this redemption offered me 1.64 cents per point, well above TPG’s most recent valuations. And making this even more valuable is the fact that I’ll receive 10% of those points back thanks to my JetBlue Plus Card.

It’s worth noting that I did have the option of booking a Blue Basic fare for my wife for just $39.40. However, I wanted her to have advance seat selection and standard boarding to minimize the chances of having to check her full-sized carry-on suitcase.

The information for the JetBlue Plus Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Comparing basic economy fares across U.S. airlines

Predeparture experience

My wife parked in an off-airport lot (with a loyalty program … naturally), and she arrived at the airport after a short shuttle ride. She skipped the check-in desk, as she already had her boarding pass and wasn’t checking a bag. The regular security checkpoint for gates 1–59 indicated a wait of 12–16 minutes — but thankfully, her Global Entry membership includes TSA PreCheck. There was no wait there, so she was airside within minutes.

The TSA PreCheck line at Orlando. (MCO)

Unfortunately, JetBlue had notified us of a significant delay on her flight shortly after she dropped me and my daughter off at the train station. She was able to relax in The Club MCO for a short time since she’s an authorized user on my Platinum Card® from American Express, which includes her own Priority Pass Select membership (enrollment required).

My wife enjoyed a glass of bubbles and a pre-flight snack in The Club MCO.

However, she was forced to leave the lounge at 7:30 when it closed.

This left her to finish up some work and wait out the delay in the terminal — which (sadly) was crowded and very hot, without a single dining outlet still open.

Despite the late hour, my wife encountered serious crowds in the airport.

She finally boarded just before 9:30 p.m. — and her flight pushed back from Gate 5 at 9:51 p.m.

Our train was scheduled to depart from Kissimmee at 6:48 p.m., and my wife dropped us off shortly before 6. Unfortunately, when we went into the station, the agent informed us that the train was running roughly 15–20 minutes late. We had specifically packed an overnight bag for the train along with backpacks as personal items, so we decided to check our two rolling carry-on suitcases (for free) to ensure our roomette wasn’t too crammed with luggage.

This wound up being a very smart decision — while the roomette had a surprising number of nooks and crannies for storage, it would’ve been tough to manage those.

The station building was small and dated, but with no one else around, we decided it was preferable over the warm, spring evening. We waited in the air conditioning for several rounds of “I spy” (and took advantage of the bathrooms).

The simple waiting area of the Kissimmee Amtrak station.

Around 6:30 p.m., we decided to move outside.

The train finally pulled in around 7:15, and we walked down to car 9210 — where an attendant had opened the door and placed a step stool for us to board. He directed us to room 8 — and just a few minutes later, we were D.C.-bound.

Read more: Amtrak’s ambitious new route map and the push for Biden’s infrastructure plan

Equipment and seats

My wife’s flight was operated by a JetBlue Airbus A320 — tail number N569JB, or “Blues Brothers” — which has been in the carrier’s fleet since 2003. As an aisle-seat flyer, she selected seat 13D (her lucky number), which was a standard economy seat that measured 17.8 inches wide and had 34 inches of pitch. She could’ve splurged for an Even More Space seat but the $45 wasn’t worth it for the short flight up to DCA.

Upon boarding, she was initially dismayed to find that she had seatmates in the middle and window — but fortunately, the flight wasn’t sold out, so she was able to relocate to another aisle seat with an empty middle.

Meanwhile, my daughter and I had booked a Viewliner Roomette on the Amtrak Silver Star. While not the double-decker Superliner cars that you’ll find on many routes, it was nevertheless surprisingly spacious. The cabin consisted of two seats that faced one another. These seats folded down to make a twin bed for the overnight portion of the journey, and there was a second bed toward the ceiling that pulled down when we were ready to call it a night.

My daughter was thrilled with the prospect of bunk beds — and she (naturally) called top bunk as soon as I told her about the trip.

My daughter in the top bunk of our Amtrak roomette.

When we were ready for some shut-eye, the sleeper car attendant took care of making up the beds for us. This took just a few minutes, and each bunk included a sheet, two pillows and a blanket. The top bunk also featured a canvas net to help keep the sleeping passenger from rolling out.

I found the bed to be a bit harder than I’d prefer, and my five-foot, nine-inch frame took up almost the entire length. That said, the gentle rocking of the train allowed us to get a decent night’s sleep.

The roomette was far from just a pair of seats and beds, however. There was a full table that pulled out and expanded for our dining, card-playing and Kindle-watching pleasure.

Enjoying a movie while daddy works.

There were also four power outlets and multiple light switches, ensuring my devices stayed juiced and allowing us to customize how much light we wanted in the cabin throughout the journey. The sliding door enclosed us completely in the compartment and included blackout curtains with velcro to keep them together at night.

And while there was a lock on the door, it could only be locked from the inside — so we weren’t able to secure our belongings when we stepped out to use the bathroom or grab a bite (more on that shortly).

As noted previously, there were a surprising number of spots to stow our carry-on items — including under the seats. There was also a small net pocket toward the ceiling that would hold a phone or other small items from the occupant in the top bunk. However, the most ingenious spot was in the top-right corner of the room, which easily held our overnight bag plus a small cooler (we brought some Florida treats for a friend in D.C.).

The deceptively large storage spot in the top corner of the roomette.

And while there was no way for me to try it (since we had checked our bags), I’d estimate that a rolling carry-on would’ve fit there as well.

We were provided a pair of hand towels and washcloths, and we even had our own pull-out sink.

However, if we wanted to shower or use the bathroom, we needed to leave the roomette and utilize the shared facilities in the car.

Most notably, the roomette had several air vents, and the cabin stayed very pleasant throughout our journey.

Food and drink

JetBlue’s normal domestic service — when you’re not in the Mint cabin, at least — is relatively consistent: a selection of complimentary, nonalcoholic beverages along with a well-stocked snack basket and a number of items to purchase. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the carrier has streamlined its in-flight service options.

My wife was offered three snack choices: Cheez-Its, Pop Corners and cookies. She also enjoyed a sparkling water, though there was no alcohol for sale.

My wife’s food-and-drink selections on JetBlue.

This wasn’t a huge deal on a late-night flight that was blocked at just over two hours, but it’s worth noting that your food-and-drink options on JetBlue are still a bit limited.

That wasn’t the case with our train.

When you purchase a roomette, your meals are included — so given our travel times, we enjoyed complimentary dinner, breakfast and lunch. That said, Amtrak has added flexibility into its dining options during the pandemic, so we were given the choice of taking our meals in the dining car (which was adjacent to our sleeper car) or having it delivered to our room.

My daughter declared that she wanted to enjoy dinner in the dining car, take breakfast in the room and go back to the dining car for lunch — so that’s what we did.

Upon boarding, the sleeper car attendant came by and gave us dinner and lunch slips to use when ordering (we didn’t need one for breakfast).

Our Amtrak food vouchers.

Roughly 20 minutes after we departed, we decided we were hungry, so we walked up to the dining car.

We were immediately impressed with how Amtrak had blocked off every other table for social-distancing purposes, so that made us very comfortable with our decision to enjoy the dining car.

Every other table was closed in the dining car, ensuring social distancing was maintained.

There were printed menus in the car, and there were five selections for the main course — including a vegan option.

The breakfast menu (on the left), and the lunch and dinner selections (on the right).

My daughter opted for the pasta and meatballs, while I tried the braised beef and polenta. These meals also included a complimentary beverage, side salad, dinner roll and dessert (a brownie or a blondie).

I have to admit: I was impressed. No, it was not like dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but I’d say the meal was comparable to a decent dinner in long-haul, international business class. I was especially impressed with how everything was neatly packaged in one-time-use containers, and it was just the right amount of food before bed.

For breakfast, we walked up to the dining car and ordered food to bring back to our room. I had a prepackaged, Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich, a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin. My daughter opted for Froot Loops, and we both grabbed bottles of water as well. It was basic but perfectly serviceable to put some fuel in the tank.

The exact same menu from dinner was available for lunch, so we tried the vegan enchiladas with plant-based protein and the Creole shrimp and andouille sausage. As with dinner, both were quite good — and came with a drink, salad, roll and dessert.

It’s also worth pointing out that Linda, the dining car attendant for our entire trip, was an absolute delight. She enjoyed joking around with the passengers and was incredibly sweet to my daughter whenever we came through.

Other amenities

One of the reasons we like JetBlue is the complimentary in-flight internet. “Fly-Fi” is available on every one of the carrier’s planes, and it’s free for all passengers. In my experience, it’s also quite fast — and my wife was able to check her email, surf the web and catch up on text messages throughout her flight.

She also took advantage of JetBlue’s in-flight entertainment, as every seat has a personal screen with satellite television service.

Amtrak also offers all passengers complimentary Wi-Fi — but unfortunately, I found it to be a bit inconsistent throughout the journey.

That said, I was able to complete basic tasks on the train — like texting and sending or receiving emails. I even successfully participated in a Zoom call with our editorial team — on video, no less. However, don’t expect to stream movies in high-definition on the train. I’d highly recommend downloading your entertainment prior to boarding.

There were a pair of bathrooms in our sleeper car, and we also had access to a shared shower room.

The shower room on the train was quite spacious.

However, we opted not to utilize this during our trip — instead relying on the full-sized shower that was waiting for us upon arrival.

Arrival experience

Upon landing at DCA, it took less than 5 minutes to pull into the gate — and my wife was off the plane just a few minutes later. Since she hadn’t checked a bag, she had planned to utilize the airport’s metro station for the short ride to the center of D.C. Unfortunately, the metro had shut down for the evening by the time her delayed flight landed, so she opted for a taxi instead. After an outrageous $42 fare from the airport to Penn Quarter, she arrived at our accommodations at 12:28 a.m.

Total travel time from door-to-door: 8 hours and 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, our initial delay out of Kissimmee kept growing throughout the trip. We were nearly an hour behind schedule before we even got out of the state of Florida, and it reached an hour and 15 minutes at Southern Pines, North Carolina. The train crew tried to make things up with shorter stops along the way, but we ultimately pulled into Washington’s Union Station at 4:24 p.m. — 1 hour and 16 minutes behind our scheduled arrival time.

Since we had checked our two rolling carry-on bags, we had another wait in the arrivals hall. It took about 15 minutes for the bags to start coming out — and we grabbed a quick picture in the surprisingly quiet entrance of the station before exiting to meet our ride.

An empty hall at Washington’s Union Station — a surprising sight on a Friday afternoon.

Shortly thereafter, we were in a Lyft and headed to our apartment, where we pulled up at 5:02 p.m.

Total travel time from door-to-door: 24 hours and 42 minutes.

Final thoughts

It’s no surprise that my wife’s mode of transportation (flying) was significantly faster than riding the rails from Florida to Washington, D.C. But I’m certain that my daughter and I had a lot more fun along the way.

From complimentary meals to a spacious roomette all to ourselves, it was an incredibly relaxing way to travel. We had no security checkpoints, no crowded boarding gates and no restrictions on the liquids we could bring on board. We weren’t forced to sit in an over-heated airport terminal with no food or drink for nearly two hours. And aside from passing a fellow rider in the hallway or the dining car, we were never within six feet of anyone.

Most importantly, however, I was able to make some incredible new memories with my daughter.

When I first told her about the trip, she was overcome with excitement — and dare I say that the trip exceeded expectations? The thought of being on a train for nearly 24 hours with a 6-year-old may not sound like anyone’s idea of a good time, but we had an absolute blast. We played cards, joked around over dinner, shared a brownie, colored some pictures and otherwise passed the time just being with each other.

I know there will come a day when that’s the last thing she wants to do — so I was thrilled we had the chance to take this trip.

All photos by the author.

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