May 24, 2014

Train excursions offer different view of Florida

“All aboard!” comes the cry, and with a blast of a whistle and a slight jerk, your train begins its scenic trip through a Florida landscape.

“All aboard!” comes the cry, and with a blast of a whistle and a slight jerk, your train begins its scenic trip through a Florida landscape.

That’s an experience many people enjoy, and the state has several locales where train excursion rides are offered.

For some adults, riding a train is a nostalgic throwback to a time when train travel was a way of life. For youngsters, it may be a completely new experience. But for all, it’s a refreshingly different activity.

Some rides are on full-sized trains with open-window cars and/or air-conditioned lounge cars, pulled by steam-powered locomotives of old or by the more modern diesels. They may include lunch or dinner, or carry special themes.

Others may be narrow-gauge (36-inch rail width) or 1/8-scale (7.5 inch) railroads that make shorter journeys. And throughout the year there are special excursions, trips with such themes as murder mystery, seasonal and holiday specials. There is even a “North Pole Express” in Florida.

Below is a selection of these train rides in Florida:

•  Tavares, Eustis and Gulf Railroad, Tavares and Mount Dora: The Orange Blossom Cannonball runs three two-hour trips daily except Mondays between Tavares and Mount Dora. On weekdays the train is pulled by a diesel locomotive, on weekends by a steam engine. Prices are $35 adults, $24 children aged 4-12 Saturday-Sunday; $25 and $16 Tuesday-Friday.

A number of special excursions also are held through the year, including lunch or dinner trains, a Halloween special and a Christmas train. 352-742-7200,

•  Seminole Gulf Railway, Fort Myers: Murder Mystery Dinner Train rides are offered five evenings a week on this railroad. The 3 1/2-hour, 40-mile roundtrips include a five-course dinner as well as the mystery. Cost is $69 per person on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, $75 on Saturdays.

Seminole Gulf also runs a number of themed trips in holiday periods, which usually are priced higher. Halloween, for instance, features a costume party, Thanksgiving brings a New England turkey dinner and Yuletime features a combination train/boat trip to Punta Gorda to see holiday lights. The diesel train usually has four vintage dinner cars. 239-275-8487 or 800-736-4853, or

•  Florida Railroad Museum, Parrish: This diesel-powered train runs year-round on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and also operates a number of themed rides from its home near the southern edge of Tampa Bay. The round-trip train ride runs 13 miles and lasts 1 1/2 hours. Passengers can choose seats in open-window coaches or air-conditioned coach and lounge cars. Rides are priced at $14 adults and $10 for children 3-11.

A caboose, which can accommodate up to 16 people, can be chartered for birthday parties and the like for $200 (more on themed excursions). One can also rent a locomotive ($300) and drive it with an engineer.

Upcoming themed excursions include a Pumpkin Patch Express in October, a World War II ride in November, a North Pole Express in December. On these trips, which have higher prices and assigned seating, passengers get off at a themed destination, such as a pumpkin patch. The popular North Pole Express is offered on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays on three weeks in December.

Admission to the museum, which is open Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is free. Parrish is 25 miles north of Sarasota, 35 miles south of Tampa. 941-776-0906 or 877-869-0800,

•  Lakes Park and Gulf Railroad, Fort Myers: Part of the Railroad Museum of South Florida, this 1/8-scale train in Lakes Park takes riders on a 15-minute, 1.4-mile journey through woods, lakes and miniature villages that replicate features of some southwest Florida towns in the 1950s. Price is $5, children 1-5 $1.

Special holiday trains include an American Liberty Express July 4-31, Halloween Express Oct. 16-31 evenings and Holiday Express Festival of Lights Dec. 11-30 evenings. Normally, trains operate between 10 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. weekdays and 7 a.m.-3:45 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. However, times may vary, and from Aug. 22 to Oct. 1, the trains will operate only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 239-267-1905,

•  Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Miami: This museum, located on the Zoo Miami property, has more than 40 vintage cars and locomotives on exhibit, including the Ferdinand Magellan presidential car. Short rides (25 minutes) are offered most weekends on a diesel-drawn train, priced at $6 per person. Narrow-gauge rides lasting 20 minutes are offered on the Link Children’s Railroad at 1 and 3 p.m. weekends and on some weekend days. Both adults and children can ride that train; cost is $2.50 per person.

Twenty-five minute rides in a diesel locomotive are offered most weekends ($12). Call ahead to check availability or make reservations for train rides. Museum admission is $8 for adults, $6 for children 3-12. 305-253-0063,

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