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An Alternative to the Fly Life. NOLA!

An Alternative to the Fly Life

Ok, so we were going to fly to Vegas for Labor Day, but plane fares were not very enticing. Our friends who live there said that everything goes up around that time. But we still wanted to get out of town...what to do, what to do? My lovely wife had a brilliant suggestion. Since she had never been to The Big Easy, New Orleans, she said “Let’s go there!” There was, however, a caveat. She said (wait for it), “Let’s take the train!” I was like Scooby Doo caught in headlights. I said: “Say what, now?”

Al in a contemplative mood, watching the rolling landscape.

Z outside the train at one of the stops.

After much consideration, (I am one who’s thoughts tend not to like being derailed, as it were, pun intended), I came to see how this could work, and the price was quite nice. On the east coast, Amtrak operated a train which goes from New York City to New Orleans. The line is called the Crescent Line, perhaps because the train travels a path which is reminiscent of a crescent moon.

Now, you say, how can the train be cheaper than flying? Well, for our location we booked the train from Baltimore, Maryland. The cost was roughly $163.00/per person, and a Viewliner Sleeper car was approximately an additional $200.00 more. So for about $500.00 one way, we were able to secure passage. All meals, dinner, breakfast and lunch, were included in that price. Coming back, the cheapest flight we found was on Spirit Airlines, which will be discussed later.

We boarded the train, and we met our personal attendant, Lester. A very nice gentleman who has been with this service for about 14 years. He was very patient in helping us get adjusted to our rolling home for the next 27 + hours. Now, I know what you’re thinking, 27 hours on a train? Well consider this: You’re not driving. Your attention does not have to be focused entirely on the road. No gas, no tolls, no finding parking. No stopping for meals or restroom breaks. And you can gaze out the window as beautiful vistas roll gently by.

Our first meal was in the dining car. I was reminded of the trains of old when we arrived. Real linen, utensils, a certain charm, and any offering on the dinner menu was gratis, if you had a sleeper car. We asked about gratuity, just to be sure, and tipping is very much appreciated. My meal was the most expensive on the menu, which was a surf and turf selection. There was a flank steak, and a crab cake which had shrimp and scallops all in one. This particular free meal was listed at $39.00. My wife's meal was an Angus steak, which would have cost $29.00. She said that it was good. She wasn't expecting gourmet quality, but it was quite palatable.

By the way, one can upgrade from the Viewliner roomette (credit and shout-out to The Elevator Channel on YouTube), to a larger bedroom. I inquired how much that would cost, and was informed that we would have to go online to make any changes.

We retired back to our roomette, and Lester made an announcement that we had about 4 choices for times of turn-down service. We opted for the last time, which was 10:00 p.m.

Lester came in and magically transformed our seats to makeshift beds, of a sort. Each bed was narrow and somewhat utilitarian. I opted for the top bunk. Now, how did I sleep? Well, my phobia was that I would roll out in my sleep and crash to the floor. There was a sort of netting on the side, which did not exactly instill in me a sense of confidence. One could not exactly spread out because, as I mentioned, the bed was narrow. I use the word “bed” in the loosest sense of the word. It was also somewhat stiff and unyielding.

As the train sped through the night, there were a couple of times when we were in a curve that I thought that I would fall out! Thank goodness even being asleep, some primal instinct kept me safely ensconced in my tight little cocoon. To be fair though, I am somewhat impressed in how such a small space could accommodate two adults, fully stretched out in a supine position. I awoke around 7:00 am to an announcement that breakfast would be served shortly in the dining car. My wife was still asleep until I woke her. After giving me the stink eye, she begrudgingly went to get us coffee, and still hadn’t fully forgiven me for waking her from her slumbers. Once fully awake, we proceeded to the dining car.

In the dining car, it should be noted that because there may not be enough space to accommodate everyone, you may be asked to sit side-by-side with your traveling companion so that another couple could join you. This also encourages you to meet with and learn about people from other parts of the country. So far, we have not been afforded this experience.

Our wait-person this morning was Kimberly. She has only been on the job for a few months. She was quite pleasant and personable. I believe she said that she was from the Michigan area. So far, everyone of the staff we’ve encountered, had such a pleasant demeanor.

Lunch was also great. Riding the train for such a distance, you become a part of an onboard community. This time, at lunch, we were seated with a single-passenger rider named Susan. Hailing from Texas, she was coming from visiting her family in the New England area. Over lunch, the topics varied widely, and we got to learn a bit about each other. To sit down, at a table, and have meaningful conversations with someone, these types of encounters just don’t happen on a plane. Don’t get me wrong, now. Traveling by plane is great, but when you have some time to kill, nothing beats a train. Each time in the dining car is an opportunity to meet and get to know someone new.

Our journey finally comes to an end... 27 plus hours on the train. It wasn’t as onerous as one might think. Good food, welcome camaraderie, pleasant vistas, excellent service, and room to spread out in one of the cars which offers tables to eat and work on. Would I do it again, you ask? Definitely! Our trip to the Big Easy was a bit ambitious. We are doing this over the Labor Day weekend. If I had one thing to change, I might have looked into upgrading our roomette to the larger bedroom. To make this trip even remotely feasible, we have to fly back. As I mentioned at the beginning of this missive, we opted to use Spirit Air. The following outlines our experiences with this airline company.

Spirit Airlines…(shudder), the Final Frontier

New Orleans, (or NOLA), was absolutely wonderful. Taking the Amtrak train down to the Big Easy from Baltimore, exploring New Orleans, sampling the cuisine, and even getting to see a parade called Southern Decadence, (you can only imagine, lol), was truly quite memorable. Now the final leg of our Labor Day weekend journey, the part that makes a three-day weekend like this do-able, is to fly back home on Labor Day. The most inexpensive option was to choose…(shudder), Spirit Airlines.

I’ve heard all the stories and rumors about this airline. I am trying to go in with eyes wide open as to what to expect, (or not), from them. I wanted to see if I could get by with spending the least amount of money. First, we did opt for checking in ahead of time, choosing our seats, at a cost of $20.00/pp. Also, even if the seating is tight, I can deal with it for a roughly 2 hour 17 minute flight.

When we got to the airport, the moment of truth came when we used the provided example bin, to see if our carry-on luggage would fit under the seat. Drumroll please… did! The lady said to us “then it’s free to take on board!” Whew! We also, it should be noted, got our boarding passes online, and had them sent to our phones, to avoid paying for them to print our passes out at the counter, (a savings of $10.00/pp). Yowsah!

I have to be quite transparent, I wanted to hate Spirit Airlines. I wanted to vilify them like so many others did. But, simply put, I couldn’t. When I finally boarded the plane, though I am loathe to admit it, there may be something to this alternative facts thing espoused by Kelly Ann Conway. I thought that I was in an alternate universe. The flight attendants were courteous and friendly. The pilot was the consummate professional, and apologized profusely for the flight taking off late, due to the flight in from Chicago being delayed by air traffic control. Apologies? That’s not how employees of Spirit are supposed to roll, is it? Now the plane...the It was a sparkling Airbus A320 airliner. I must confess, all sorts of preconceived notions have been shattered. I can admit when I’m wrong, and boy, was I ever. I now fully comprehend their business model. Other airlines have higher prices, and tack on fees for baggage, upgrades, etc, making those initial higher prices go higher. Spirit gives you rock-bottom prices, and then charges for extras that you may or may not want. Want a meal, ya gotta pay for it, or bring it onboard with you. Want water? Ya gotta pay for it. Want seats that recline? Well, that’s just not happening. Want to bring your luggage onboard for free? Then they force you to pack in a manner that your carry-on will fit under your seat front, or pay to store your luggage in the overhead bin. Want to go from point A to point B, in a safe, smooth way, with friendly flight attendants and pilots, well then, they just may be onto something.

All-in-all, a wonderful conclusion to a successful 3-day holiday weekend. Let me know your thoughts. Until next time, keep on travelling!

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