Monday, October 22, 2012

Our Trip: Segment One

As I have already stated, we purchased a rail pass. The rail pass gives you a certain amount of "segments" for a lower price than you would pay if you purchased each segment separately. We first had to figure out what the "segments" meant...and were told that any time that you get off of the train to stay at a place, then you have used one segment. When we boarded the train in Atlanta, we HAD to use one segment to go to New Orleans.  We didn't NEED or really even WANT to go to New Orleans, but we had to have a layover there to get to Texas.  It turned out to be nice because we had started our honeymoon in New Orleans 10 years ago by boarding the cruise ship there.  In this post, I will go into more detail about the first segment of our trip, and include more pictures than ever before!

The planning was finally over!  Although it took us so long to plan, and we were very excited, we managed to keep our destinations a secret to our children.  Others in our family knew where we were going, but our children did not!  Imagine their excitement!  We needed to be in Atlanta early Sunday morning to make Amtrak departure at 8 a.m.  The Saturday prior, we spent we final packing, RESTING (because we would be traveling all night), and visiting with family.  We also drove over to the ATLANTIC Ocean…to “officially” begin there, and end up at the Pacific in about a week! 

We left our home in Myrtle Beach around 9 p.m. on Saturday night.  The children tried to stay awake all night, but most were asleep within the hour.  We arrived in Atlanta early Sunday morning.  My husband had found a relatively new parking area in the downtown Atlanta area that was offering FREE parking for a limited time.  We were able to get in on this deal, so that saved us A LOT of money in parking cost/rental car.  The shuttle from the parking area took us to Atlanta airport.  I had only been in one airport before in my LIFE, so this was quite the experience.  We walked around and basically did “people watching,” which proved to be interesting in and of itself.  It is a very diverse place!  We ate breakfast there, and then went to the MARTA area. 
Our children enjoying breakfast at the Wendy's inside the Atlanta airport.
To get from the airport to the bus that would get us to the Amtrak station, we had to take the subway.  We found all of this information beforehand by calling ahead to the Amtrak station in Atlanta.  We basically knew exactly how long it would take us from parking our vehicle to getting to the Amtrak station.  After figuring out which people in our family were free and which were not, we paid for our “Breeze” cards to board the transit train.  The train ride was another interesting experience.  No one spoke to anyone else.  People had headphones on…they would stare at you, but never speak…  We took the train as close as it could get us to the Amtrak, and then took advantage of more public transportation and boarded the bus.  This was the first time our children had used any sort of public transportation, and they were getting a great taste of a variety of it all in one day!  After the bus stopped, we crossed the street to enter the Atlanta Amtrak Station. 

Upon arriving, we waited in line for a very long time.  There were lots of people standing around waiting, and many more sitting in the available seating throughout the station.  We finally got our tickets just in time to find out that our train was VERY delayed.  Because of some problems on the Northern area of the train route, we didn’t board until 3 hours after our scheduled boarding time.  The Atlanta station did have an outdoor area with a great view of the city, and a place for the children to run out some energy.  We waited out in this area most of the time…the children met some other kids, and they ended up playing for quite a while…which passed the time wonderfully for them…and for us! 

While waiting, we asked our children if they knew where we were…”Atlanta, Georgia” was their response.  “Yes, but we are at the Amtrak station.”  Their faces showed that they had no clue.  “Do you know what Amtrak is?”  They all replied that they did not.  We then told them that it was a train, and that we were riding it to New Orleans.  My oldest son said, “What STATE is NEW ORLEANS in?”  We told him that it was in Louisiana.  They realized then that we were going much further than just Atlanta!!!  They were very excited!
Reactions after they found out where we were going.  This is taken in front of the Atlanta Amtrak station.

Finally, we see the train pulling into the station.  We all went down a very long set of stairs to reach the boarding area. 
Line to board the train...
We proceeded to the door that we were told to go to, gave our tickets to the person waiting there, and boarded the train.  We found our seats and got settled in.  There was more than enough room in the overhead compartments for our backpacks and jackets with room left over!  We sat there for a while, just watching the scenery and figuring things out.  Later, we began to explore the train a bit more, when the children needed to find the restrooms!  They were trying to make up for lost time, since we were on a three hour delay, so the train was moving pretty fast.
The scenery was pretty much the same through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and into Louisiana.

Mark enjoying the ride!
Station at one of the many stops between Atlanta and New Orleans!
Mark making friends!  (This little girl lives in Mississippi...they exchanged addresses, but neither has written to the other!)

We did have a nice surprise around dinner time.  Because of the MAJOR delay, we were all treated to a complimentary meal!  It was chicken and rice casserole with a roll.  It was actually very tasty.  Many things that I have read from fellow train travelers say that the train food is not good at all, but my husband and I do not agree with them!  (You know how some people are though…you can’t please everyone!) 

We finally made it to New Orleans.
Super Dome from the Amtrak station...
New Orleans skyline...
It is here that you will hear my ONLY Amtrak complaints.  #1  This was a new experience for all of us, and probably one that won’t occur often, so we were videoing EVERYTHING.  As we walked into the station, two “security guards” told us to turn our video camera off.  We weren’t sure that they were talking to us at first, so we asked, and they told us that we had to turn our video camera off.  My husband asked them why he couldn’t video his children arriving at the station for the first time, and he said that it was rules from homeland security.  A man walking in to the station with his wife and three small children really looks like a security risk?!  (Just for the record, we were NOT asked to turn off our cameras in any other stations throughout our trip!)  #2 complaint:  I booked our hotels through Amtrak as well.  We were able to get discounts, and they could find out which hotels were closest to the Amtrak stations.  We were told that our hotel was within walking distance, but when we got there and began to ask around, turns out that we had to take a cab because it was so far away.  We had to pay $30 to go 8 miles…and then $30 again the next morning to get back to the train.  That was a $60 expense that we did NOT work into our budget, and ended up throwing us off on other things along the way.

Even with those two things, we did have a good night’s rest in a nice hotel in New Orleans.  It wasn’t one of the pricier hotels, but it was comfortable, clean, and honestly was very appealing to look at…nice architecture, as most places in New Orleans. 
Downstairs at the hotel...
As we arrived at the station the next morning, we wanted to make sure that the children heard their next destination from us, and not from the conductor once we boarded the train.  We pulled them aside near the entrance of the station, and told them that we were going to get on ANOTHER train!  This train would take us all the way to TEXAS!!!!   We might as well have told them that they were going to Disneyland, because they were incredibly excited!

At that station, telling them that we are going to TEXAS!

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