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Whether you're a frequent flyer or an armchair traveler, there are certain details it's nice to review before making plans for that next big trip. Every week, we'll squeeze our mindgrapes and share tips to make sure you're the best informed flyer in seat 1A...or 38K.
This Week: The 5 Things Everyone Should Do Before Taking a Train Trip
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If getting back into the workweek is a little hard this morning—no problem—as we’ve got some daydream destinations to get you through the day. Sure the odds aren’t exactly in your favor when it comes to winning a contest, but you can’t win if you don’t play. So here’s a couple contests going on this week, so take a few minutes and throw your name into the hat for a chance to win.
Amtrak Eats Sweepstakes
Take things easy and travel by train, as Amtrak is offering the chance to score some tickets and spending cash. The contest ends tomorrow, so just head over to the site. The big prize is round-trip sleeping car accommodations for four on Amtrak, $2,500 cash, and even a seven-piece cookware set from Cooking Channel.
Southwest Visit Florida Sweepstakes
A free ride in one of those blue-bellied planes always sounds like a good idea to us, and now through the end of the month Southwest Airlines is giving away some free flights. Head here to enter a few things like your name and email address, and you’ll be ready to go. Big winners will score two round-trip tickets to Florida and three nights at TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach.
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We didn’t take a ride aboard Amtrak last month, but we might have been the only ones. Apparently the nation’s favorite train had a nice hefty boost in ridership last month, so they must be doing something right.
It seems that Amtrak often gets a bad rap regarding what it does wrong and never what it does right. However, in July the numbers seem to speak for themselves. The train beat its own best records, as Amtrak announced that more passengers took a trip in July than during any other month in the company’s history. In case you’re interested in the numbers, it sounds look almost a cool three million—2.9 to be specific—rode the rails during July of 2013.
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Riding the US rails just got a little bit better, as Amtrak is reaching into their pockets to pay for a little bit of a technology upgrade.
Travelers must be enjoying the WiFi and other in-train offerings, so the decision has been made to boost the connection options and speeds in hopes of attracting even more in-train WiFi fans.
Amtrak leans on cellular carriers to grab their WiFi signal, so we’re sure there will still be some dead spots or other areas where things aren’t ideal. Still, we can’t really complain given the price—WiFi is free aboard Amtrak.
Take a train through Europe, and you're bound to follow sparkling rivers near castles or dart through tunnels bored into scenes from a Tuscan dream. Take a train through the United States, and you're going to see lots of backyards with algae-green above-ground swimming pools, and Wal-Mart parking lots.
Okay so we're exaggerating a little, because sometimes, from the train window, you do get to see what's promised in "America, The Beautiful:"
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain...
This scene is exactly what kept us company through some of a recent Acela ride from New York to Boston. For a $120 one-way ride, the view better be worth it.
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The commercial, which will soon be interrupting your favorite TV program, shows off their high-speed Acela service on the East Coast. All statuses show "On Time," passengers move freely move about the train, using their electronic devices, and some even head to the bar car for socializing. All thisAmtrak subtly reminds youis the rule on their trains, but the exception when you chose to be bound by the rules of flying.
There's just one problem. Travelers who have taken the Acela before won't be fooled. For example, we just hopped an Acela last month, traveling from New York to Boston, and our train was delayed an hour. The WiFI onboard may have been free, but it wasn't speedy enough for us to work as normal, so we did end up spending much of the time in the bar car, our hands sticky with spilled coffee as we attempted to add sugar while the train rocked ahead, not nearly traveling at "high-speed" speeds.
If you see the inside of an Amtrak train more than you see your house, apartment, or your loved ones—we’ve got good news. You’re still probably going to ride the rails more than you’d like, but at least Amtrak is getting ready to award your loyalty for choosing them for your trips.
Amtrak has already had a couple different flavors of frequent traveler perks and benefits, but they’ve upped the ante with their latest offering. The new top tier of their Amtrak Guest Rewards program is known as Select Executive Benefits—not the cleverest name—and will get you all kinds of neat travel benefits and other stuff.
This year, Amtrak is celebrating the 5th annual National Train Day on May 12 and though it doesn't mean any discounts on summer train travel (yet! fingers crossed!), it does mean that Dawson will be at New York Penn Station to talk about her love of trains. WEIRD.
While specific activities around National Train Day haven't been announced, the party will go down at train stations in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and, of course, NYC. Essentially, this serves as a notice that it could be very fun to travel on Amtrak from one of these stations on May 12...not so much because of Rosario, but because there are bound to be giveaways and little bonuses.
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Like usual, most good things come from New York. We kid, we kid...but really the beautiful Beaux Arts Pannsylvania Station in Baltimore was actually designed by a New York architect, Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison. The impressive buildingwith its clock-fronted facade and impressive interior stained glass skylightswas opened in 1911 and miraculously still serves quite a slew of regular Amtrak trains; trust Wikipedia to have a list of them.
Though we could have easily popped down to Baltimore on a train from NYC, we instead chose a BoltBus one time, which actually also arrived just a block or two away from the station, proving Penn Station's continued dominance as a hub of transportation on the east coast.
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SCORE! With the horrible air travel news from over the weekend, it's time for great news on the train travel front. Amtrak just announced yesterday that they've added WiFi on 12 more east coast routes, bringing the percentage of riders who can access it up to 60%.
The WiFi service is called AmtrakConnect and before now, passengers opting for the train over the plane only found it on the high-speed Acela and the normal-speed Pacific Cascades trains. The new routes are short and limited to the east coastno New York to Chicago or DC to Chicago routes with WiFi yetand where available, AmtrakConnect will make use of 4G connections.
And the new routes with on-track WiFi are:
In another great "duh, why wasn't this done years ago" movie, travel search site Hipmunk.com is now displaying Amtrak train results alongside airline flights when you search. It's official too; Amtrak is literally and figuratively onboard with the whole thing, and heaven knows any extra oomph thrown on their side to help fight for passengers with the airlines is bonus.
So here's what's up: search for flights like usual on Hipmunk. If there are Amtrak options between them, then the Amtrak trains will appear in the results, very much like regular flights do now.
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In yet another argument for improving the rail network of the USA, we turn to the impressive Union Station in the Chinatown section of Portland, Oregon. Even if you aren't arriving by the Amtrak Cascades, Coast Starlight or Empire Builder trains and you flew in to this here town, the station is worth a visit for its historical and architectural significance (not to mention that sweet Romanesque clock tower).
As you can see in the above image, the stations is undergoing something of a refurbishment. Sadly, this won't be to add more train servicesoh how we'd love to see some hi-speed trains making stops herebut to add housing in places where railroad track used to be.