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December 2, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Amtrak to Orlando

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Greetings! I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving with smooth, safe travels. I sure did, and I discovered possibly the best day of the year to fly within the U.S.: the Friday after Thanksgiving. While everyone was out shopping, I was in the air enjoying some quiet skies and super-cheap deals: My brother bought a one-way LAX–JFK ticket for $109 the day before, while I cashed in some miles [12,500] for a nonstop one-way LAX–Toronto ticket. My plane was so wide open the flight attendants told passengers, “You can spread out—there’s plenty of room!” When was the last time you heard that?

Now to the good stuff: In case you missed last week’s newsletter, I went on a preview cruise of the world’s largest passenger ship, Oasis of the Seas! While in Fort Lauderdale, Florida I made a couple side trips, one to Orlando via Amtrak with a stay at Walt Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort, the other to stay at a brand-new swanky hotel in Delray Beach. We also have our intern Ben taking us to Engelberg, Switzerland for some fondue and snowbiking.

I needed to be in Orlando for one of the travel industry’s premier conferences, Phocuswright. I looked into pretty much all the options for traveling to Orlando from Palm Beach. It's only 170 miles, so I thought about renting a car and driving, or taking Greyhound, but I didn't want to deal with the I-95 traffic. Flying such a short distance would have been a waste of time, and all the nonstop flights leave from Miami (MIA) or Fort Lauderdale (FLL), not Palm Beach (PBI). So I took Amtrak.

Amtrak has two trains a day working the Miami to New York route (the whole trip takes 26 to 31 hours), and they both connect West Palm Beach and Orlando. I boarded the Silver Meteor in West Palm Beach (WPB), where the train left on time at 10:17 a.m. and arrived in Orlando (ORL) on schedule at 1:43 p.m. Along the way we made four brief stops. What I liked best was the spaciousness, and of course the price. The normal fare is $32, but I paid just $24.50 for a one-way ticket since I’m a AAA cardholder (you should be too) and I purchased my ticket online three days in advance.

I worked on my laptop almost the whole way. Each row (it's configured 2x2) had two outlets so each passenger could plug in to prevent their batteries from draining. There wasn't Wi-Fi, unlike some European trains I've been on, but I did get online using my Sprint Wireless card, which I rent from (to avoid Sprint's two-year contract). The train was the perfect option. Not only was it the cheapest, but it was also the most comfortable. There was plenty of legroom—the seats were actually better than those in most domestic flights’ first-class sections. My coach seat was 19 inches wide and I had 24 inches of legroom (I measured it). There was even a leg rest and clean pillows. Actually, the whole train was clean (including the bathroom), and there was plenty of overhead space.

If I got hungry, there was a dining car with lots of options: salads, hamburgers, chicken—and you can pay with a credit card. Some people slept (sleeping cars were available), others worked, others talked on their cell phones (that was the most annoying part of the trip, having to listen to people on the phone). At times it got a little too bumpy to focus on a computer screen. That's when I would take a breather, stare out the window and watch orange plantation after orange plantation pass by. TIP: Although it's usually hot in Florida, be sure to bring a sweater because the air-conditioning is cranked up on the train.

NOTE: The conductor doesn't say, “All aboard.” Bummer.

A few of the passengers were oblivious of others, like the Russian guy two rows away who was speaking very loud on his cell phone; most of the passengers had the volume of their cell phone ringers set to the max with the dumbest ring tones you’ve ever heard. Why can’t everyone set their phone to vibrate? Is it that difficult? To loosen the blow, bring a noise-canceling headset.

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Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Amtrak To Orlando


It's a long train


Inside The Train


Lots of Legroom


Phocuswright Registration


Charlie Leocha & Sean Keener


Pamela & John


Phocuswright Session


Amadeaus Won the Innovators


Max (from @GoNomad) & @RickSeaney


Randy Petersen (@ranflyer) & Veronica Stoddart (@WanderLust13)



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