“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:
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, www.orangeblossomcannonball.com.Seminole Gulf Railway, Fort Myers:
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, www.semgulf.com or www.floridarail.com.
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, www.frrm.org.Lakes Park and Gulf Railroad, Fort Myers:
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, www.trainweb.org/lprr.Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Miami:
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, www.gcrm.org.