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Washington, DC To Orlando, FL On Amtrak's Silver Meteor
  I checked out of my hotel around 2:00pm and would have the shuttle van bring me back to Dulles Airport where I would make my 4th trek utilizing multiple modes of transport to ultimately get back to Washington Union Station. I would take the Washington Flyer bus back to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro Rail Station, then the Silver Line back to Metro Center Station, then the Red Line to Union Station. Of course, this time, along with when I arrived here in town, I'd be dragging two suitcases behind me in addition to a camera bag! I can only describe myself as looking like a nomad when I'm on these trips! Upon arrival at beautiful Washington Union Station, I headed straight for Club Acela (Amtrak's lounge for Acela Express First Class and long-distance Sleeping Car passengers at Union Station) as I would be riding out of DC in a Sleeping Car on Train #97 - The Silver Meteor. I checked in at the front desk in Club Acela and the two Amtrak employees there were super friendly! I stored my bags but got out my computer so I could continue writing this travelogue. I would have some time to waste before the train arrives as I'm not scheduled out of Washington, DC until 7:30pm tonight so I would use the time to catch up on backing up the hundreds of photos I've taken so far on this trip!
  After finishing backing up over 400 photos taken in the past couple days, I headed over to McDonald's for an early dinner, then came back to Club Acela to figure out if I've overspent on this trip (yes, I operate this whole thing with a budget so as to ensure this whole trip is ultimately paid for with cash I already have saved, and trust me, it's no easy task). I was told by a member of the Amtrak staff in the Lounge that Train #97 would begin boarding for us at 7:00pm (It's scheduled to depart at 7:30pm). It will arrive in Washington with an electric unit for power but will have an engine change done so as to have the train be powered by two P42's for the rest of its journey to sunny Florida!
  I would end up having a few nice conversations with some Amtrak employees who work in Florida who would be riding the same train as me tonight as they were heading home after attending the President's Service & Safety Awards here in DC. I had given them my card for this web site and they found my story of why I'm doing this trip to be interesting. I started checking the progress of Train #97 only to find it had lost some time and would now be arriving late. There was normally 30 minutes built into the schedule for this train due to the engine change and crew change that is done at this station. Finally, at 7:50pm, the train finally arrived and the red cap in Club Acela started assisting passengers who needed his services. We now had a gate for the train which would be Gate K27, meaning the train was on Track #27 so we all got started walking towards the escalator that would bring us to the proper platform. As soon as I got outside, I noticed the ACS-64 that brought the train here from New York was still connected to the train so the engine change hadn't been done yet. I took down car numbers as I walked down the platform. This train operates with sleeping cars on the rear so I had a rather lengthy walk to get to my car!
  I was ticketed in the "9710" car in Roomette #1. My sleeping car attendant was excellent and directed me to my room. I found out right away, this was gonna be a different experience than using a Superliner Roomette which is what I'm used to. For now, I just put both bags in the room and went back outside to the platform for a few pictures before we departed as well as to watch the engine change. I'll get into details on the room itself in a little bit. I walked down to the head end and could see the two P42's that would be added to the train that would take us to Florida. Once the power was connected, I walked back to my sleeping car which was located next to the diner. I looked on this web site (yes, I use my own site for reference!) to get the history of the Dining Car on the train which was Heritage Diner #8532, a former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Coach named "Silver Halter" that was later converted to a Dining Car by Amtrak. It had the full Timoinsa Interior and even had pocket doors installed on each end. The car was beautiful and I was glad we had it on this train as these are my favorite cars on Amtrak. The all-aboard signal was given and finally, at 8:25pm, now 55 minutes late, we finally departed Washington Union Station. The consist and roster photo tour for tonight's train are shown below:
  As soon as we departed Washington, I headed for the Dining Car for a late dinner. I decided to have the Amtrak Signature Steak with three grain rice pilaf, a baked potato, and veggies with a Diet Pepsi. I would be seated with a passenger from New Jersey on his way to Orlando, and we would mostly discuss sports and Amtrak history. The steak was one of the best I've ever had on Amtrak!!! It was cooked the way I wanted it (medium-well) and seasoned perfectly! I did eventually compliment the chef on how good the steak tasted. It's truly amazing what kind of food can be prepared in that tiny kitchen! I would have the chocolate moose for dessert and it was also delicious. During dinner, we made our next stop in Alexandria, VA at 8:41pm and ended up sitting there for 8 minutes before departing at 8:49pm, now 59 minutes late. I decided I wanted to have a beer after dinner so I walked back to the Cafe Car and found out I had the same conductors that I rode with on the Capitol Limited on Monday to DC. They would take this train as far as Florence, SC. I bought a Sierra Nevada beer and chatted with a few other passengers before going back and chatting with one of the conductors about Amtrak for a bit. Just south of Alexandria, we were stopped, waiting for a freight train to pass along with because of a signal outage. We lost another half hour at least because of this. I then headed back to my Sleeping Car to get set up for sleeping.
  And now here's my experience with a Viewliner Sleeper, actually using it for sleeping (my last couple trips in a Viewliner were only during the day): For starters, there is no extra luggage rack "downstairs" as this is a single level car, meaning both of my suitcases need to stay in the room. One weighs close to 50lbs (when you travel for 17 days, and you don't wanna carry your tripod everywhere you go, this happens!) so I'm not about to try to lift it and stuff it in the luggage cubby hole located above the door of the car. I ended up leaving that bag on the floor between the seats, and stuffed the lighter bag containing my computer, in the overhead cubby hole. Now a dilemma: In a Viewliner I Roomette, the bathroom is in your room as opposed to a Superliner where it's located down the hall. Knowing this, I decided I would just use the top bunk in the car to sleep so as to not have to constantly have to move a near-50lb bag around any time I needed to use the bathroom. Now where was the attendant in all of this? Actually, she was very nice and asked if she could be of assistance, and I told her I had everything taken care of. I've done enough traveling that I'd rather just handle the room myself so he or she can focus on helping other passengers who may not have ever rode a train before. So now that I decided to sleep on the top bunk, I now had to climb up into that bunk, yet another challenge as I would find out at 37 years old, I'm not as "limber" as I was when I was younger so that means I need to spend some more time in the gym! Climbing up the steps to the top bunk was like climbing a tree (feel free to laugh at me now)! We arrived at our next stop of Richmond, VA at 11:04pm. Passengers in the coach section were on the platform taking a break though I never heard any announcement for a smoking break (though the time of day could have factored into that too). We departed Richmond at 11:17pm, running 1 hour and 27 minutes late. After a shower, I headed off to bed. I would wake up briefly shortly after 5:30am as we were in the station at Florence, SC, now over 2 hours late, and I would fall back asleep after that, and so ends a very productive day...
  I woke up around 8:00am as we were making our station stop at Yemassee, SC where we officially arrived at 8:06am, and departed quickly at 8:08am, running 2 hours and 12 minutes late. I headed over to the Dining Car for breakfast and would have the Railroad French Toast with chicken apple sausage patties, orange juice and a Diet Pepsi. All of the food once again was excellent! The chef on this train deserves a raise! I was seated with a passenger from Washington, DC who was a retiree and two passengers from Rome, NY across the aisle. All great conversations about Amtrak travel were to be had. We also would pass Train #90 - The Palmetto heading north to New York while eating breakfast. We made our next station stop of Savannah, GA while still at breakfast at 9:08am, and departed at 9:12am, running 2 hours and 18 minutes late. After breakfast, I had a very nice conversation with my sleeping car attendant who brought me a glass of ice cold orange juice to my room. I would spend some time sitting in my room taking a few pictures as we made our next stop at Jesup, GA at 10:13am, and departed at 10:19am, now running 2 hours and 35 minutes late. I asked the conductor when the next smoking break would be and he told me Jacksonville. A member of the Dining Car crew came through the Sleeper and took reservations for lunch. I opted for the 1:30pm seating. At 11:38am, we arrived in Jacksonville, which is a service/fueling stop for the train as well as a crew change point. With the help of an Amtrak employee, I was able to get a photo of the train from the head-end once the fuel truck was finished refueling the train, so my thanks to that employee for his assistance.
  After getting the photo I needed (you saw it at the top of this page), I went back towards my Sleeping Car, taking a few more photos as I walked in the beautiful 79 degree air in bright sunshine past several palm trees! If you've read my travelogues in the past, you know I love palm trees, mostly because we don't have them in New York! After the train was watered and refueled, we departed Jacksonville at 11:57am, now 2 hours and 9 minutes late. I called up Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Orlando where I would be renting my next car as my original rental time was 1:30pm and I knew now that I wouldn't make it there by then. They told me to just call them when I got there, and since they were open until 5:00pm, I wasn't too worried about the lateness of the train.
  I headed back to the Dining Car for lunch. I was seated with an Amtrak ticket agent from New York-Penn Station and two other passengers who noticed there was no pizza offered on the menu and quickly left for the Cafe Car! I talked mostly about Amtrak with the employee at my table, all good conversations about big trips on Amtrak! I decided to have the Marketplace Special which was Turkey Meatballs with garlic mashed potatoes and a tomato sauce with parmesan cheese. I would also have a side salad which is now a separate item on the menu. The salad and the main course were absolutely delicious!!! Since the salad became a separate item on the menu, Amtrak has made the portion a little bigger and added a few more veggies to it. Nice job on that one Amtrak! I would have a Diet Pepsi to drink and the New York cheesecake that was topped with strawberries for dessert. All three meals I've had on this train have been absolutely excellent! The staff in the car did an excellent job and were very friendly and of course, I gave a good tip every time! We would make our next station stop at DeLand, FL at 1:56pm while still eating lunch and would depart at 1:59pm, running 2 hours and 15 minutes late. Just past the DeLand stop, we would pass our northbound counterpart, Train #98, heading back to New York. I headed back to my Sleeping Car to start gathering everything together as we made our next station stop at Winter Park, FL at 2:44pm and quickly departed at 2:45pm, now 2 hours and 18 minutes late. The sleeper attendant told us the next stop is 20 minutes away, and this of course would be my stop at Orlando, FL. At 2:58pm, running 2 hours and 3 minutes late, thanks to some schedule padding, we arrived at Orlando. I got off the train and gave the attendant a tip and headed towards the head end to get another picture. With the permission of the engineer, I was able to do so from the platform. I also got roster photos of the train as it departed the station (most of them were used in the Roster Photo Tour for this train).
  After the train departed, I realized I was now in 84 degree hot, humid Florida air, and I was LOVING IT!!! This New Yorker isn't used to palm trees and 80 degree temps in November so I was just taking it all in!!! After taking a few more pictures, I walked back into the station and got permission from the station manager to come back to do a night photo of Train #92 - The Silver Star later tonight. After buying a Diet Pepsi in the station, I walked outside, eventually called Enterprise and they arrived a few minutes later and drove me to their facility. I would have a full-size car reserved for this trip, which would end up being a 2015 Chevrolet Malibu 2LT Sedan. This was the same size car as the Hyundai Sonata I had in Ohio. After filling out the paperwork and setting up my GPS in the car, I headed for my hotel, the Courtyard By Marriott Orlando East/UCF Area. And here is where some "fun" would begin!
  I was directed onto this toll road with the GPS, (Florida Highway 408) and the signs clearly state at each exit what the toll would be. You either need an "E-Pass", similar to the EZ-Pass I have back home in my car for use on the New York State Thruway, or you would need exact change, which you would toss into a bucket at the toll booth. Well, I get off at an exit on this road and the toll was $1.25. So I drop five quarters in the bucket and wait for a green light so as to pass, to which I get no green light. So I drop another five quarters in, still no green light! By now, I had gotten out of the car, and looked for a toll collector (to which there wasn't one), all the while, traffic was backing up and the guy behind me told me to just go through and they'll send me a bill. Of course, this is a rental car and I don't want to deal with that later! Eventually, I could see my coins through a glass window under the bucket in the toll booth, they were sitting there stuck in place. Eventually, they were jarred loose and fed into the machine, then a sign popped up saying "Pay $1.25", so I pay ANOTHER $1.25, and voila, I get my green light, got back in the car, buckled up, put the car in drive, and took off!!! So let's see, I just paid close to $4.00 for a $1.25 toll, after that, I said NO MORE TOLL ROADS!!!
  I eventually made it to the hotel, and would also program my GPS to avoid toll roads going forward (though that decision would come back to haunt me once I got to San Francisco, as you'll read later)! After checking into the hotel, I headed over to a nearby Del Taco restaurant for dinner. We don't have this chain back home and I've always been a big fan of their food! After dinner, I drove to Walmart and the bank to get some cash out of the ATM, then headed back to the hotel and would eventually call it a day! Included below are photos taken on my excellent ride to the Sunshine State, and after that, let's head over to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for the third of the four space shuttles I would see on this trip, and that would be none other than Space Shuttle Atlantis!!!