Entertaining myself in Orlando for the day
November 2, 2015 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Holiday travel edition: flying versus the train.

I'm going to Disney and Orlando with family in December, right before Christmas. There are not words for how uninterested I am in flying and dealing with TSA the Saturday before Christmas. It turns out that I can take the train from my city or fly from the airport the next big city over (about an hour an fifteen from me) for the exact same cost. I love trains, and this sounds like a fantastic option, right?

Except to get me there about when the rest of my party arrives, I need to leave the night before and get into Orlando at 10 a.m.

So, is there anything to do around the Amtrak station in Orlando (or anything easy to get to that's not around the train station)? Eventually I will be headed to the airport to meet my party (which Google maps says is easy on public transit). I'll just have a backpack and I've no issue with taking transit in cities I'm not familiar with, so I don't mind hopping on and off buses and light rail or walking. If nothing else, I can find somewhere to get my nails done and a Starbucks to sack out in with my laptop, but if there are more interesting options around, that would be awesome. I took a look at Google maps but the area right around the station seems pretty sparse except for the hospital.

(Normally I'd just drive, but my wife is driving in from elsewhere and then coming home with me, so we don't want to have to drive home separately).

(The last question about this exact thing was in 2007, so hopefully something's changed since then.)

posted by joycehealy to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (8 answers total)
Ha! I am you (sorta). We went to Orlando in September, and rather than fly home I thought it would be fun and awesome to take the train. To be frank, we hated it, for a large number of reasons.

To answer your questions:

We took a cab ($50) from our Disney hotel to the Amtrak station, and as near as I can tell there really isn't anything around - certainly nothing within walking distance. The station itself is very nice (lovely early 20th c architecture) but is very, very small (and no AC).

Our overnight on the train was pretty miserable. It might have been better had we booked a stateroom (but $$$) but in the regular cars there are no pillows or blankets issued (many people around us knew to bring their own, but we didn't) and the car was super cold at night. Also, one of the two bathrooms in our car was completely trashed for most of the 20 hour ride, and nobody from Amtrak ever appeared to want to take any responsibility for cleaning it up.

Be aware that you can bring your own food, you don't have to rely on the Amtrak food.

Now, your trip looks like it would be much shorter than ours was, but in all frankness I was really prepared to love the train - the romance of train travel! Ability to move around at will! But in actual practice the overnight was miserable and we ended up renting a car in NY and driving home vs. taking the last leg of our trip on the train.

I'm terrified of flying and don't want to subject my kid to the TSA madness, but even after all that is said and done I won't be taking the train for more than a few hours ever again.
posted by anastasiav at 1:09 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

The only thing I've ever done there besides attend conventions and endure the ministrations of The Mouse is eat dim sum (Chan's is good). Wait, no, and shop at Skycraft. And go to giant Asian supermarkets.

I agree with anastasiav, though, that you might not want to mess with the train. Amtrak is a hideous nightmare if you have to spend the night. Can you take the red coach or megabus instead?
posted by Don Pepino at 1:18 PM on November 2, 2015

Yeah, most of the tourist part of Orlando, including museums and such, is to the north, and both the train station and the airport are south. You may be better off just picking someplace fun-sounding and seeing how much trouble it would be to get there, rather than looking for something convenient.

The best that I could find to suggest is that Orlando is part of Florida, which includes Miami, which is practically Cuba, so the average Cuban restaurant is likely to be pretty darn good. And there's the Numero Uno about 1.2 miles from the train station, coincidentally near a shopping center that might (unconfirmed) be expected to also have a nail place and a coffeeshop. And if it were me, coming from New England in snow season, a 1-mile walk in pleasant sunshine would be nearly the perfect way to spend a morning (YMMV).

Sorry I got nothing better.
posted by aimedwander at 1:41 PM on November 2, 2015

How much time do you have in between arriving on train and needing to be at airport to meet your family? Public transit here, especially on weekends, is very slow and gets behind schedule regularly. You may not have time to do much else.
posted by Jazz Hands at 1:49 PM on November 2, 2015

Best answer: You could get off the train in Winter Park instead of downtown Orlando. The Park Avenue area (right where the station is located) is really nice and Rollins college is a beautiful campus a short walk away. However everything will probably be dead due to the holidays. It's still accessible by the bus system, but I think it's an extra transfer.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:19 PM on November 2, 2015

Best answer: Seconding Winter Park.

Get off the train there, there's plenty to walk to from the train station on Park Ave. Park Ave in Winter Park is the non-touristy upscale shopping and dining area of Orlando.

If you're more into hipster than upscale, the Park Ave train station is a short Uber ride away from the Mills 50 District and/or College Park.

Uber is definitely your best bet for short trips around Orlando.

(I live in the Orlando suburbs...45 minutes away from the touristy areas...so I can give you more specific recommendations if you provided more details of what you're looking for.)
posted by glenngulia at 7:01 AM on November 3, 2015

Best answer: 3rd Winter Park. The Orlando stop is in an industrial area under the freeway. It's a short cab ride to downtown, but there's not much to do.
posted by judith at 9:59 AM on November 3, 2015

Response by poster: You guys are awesome! Winter Park looks perfect. I will grab some coffee, maybe go check out the art museum (heck, it looks like there's two to pick from), poke around campus, go get macaroons (am I really seeing a place with a whole menu of gluten free macaroons? I might just cry. Or eat too many macaroons), and read all the books I haven't read lately (I know, as if I'm going to have the time).

(Thanks for the heads up, anastasiav. This will be my longest train trip ever, but I know not to expect miracles from Amtrak. :) Jazz Hands, I will leave plenty of time for the busing around, or just grab Uber).

I love the green. Y'all rock.
posted by joycehealy at 10:54 AM on November 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

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