Ways to travel at a slower pace - Carolina Country

By Rail and Water

Travel at a slower pace

By Pamela A. Keene

By Rail and Water

Think about your last vacation. What do you remember? Did you hurry from one activity or place to another, getting a birds’-eye view of too many things to really enjoy the journey?

If so, there’s good news. Use 2024 to do something different: ride the rails to multiple destinations or board a riverboat on the country’s waterways.

“There’s a growing trend called ‘slow tourism,’ a chance to enjoy the journey, make memories, eat like a local, participate in experiences and discover the heart of a destination,” says Berkeley Young, president of Young Strategies Inc., a tourism research and consulting firm that works with destinations across the country. “You can travel by road, rail or boat; set your own pace; and create lasting memories — all without a passport.”

Ride the rails

With more than 21,400 miles of routes and more than 500 destinations across 46 states and parts of Canada, travel via Amtrak connects people to big cities, small towns, national parks, historic sites, popular travel destinations and off-the-beaten path adventures.

“Train travel can be a good alternative to driving or flying, and these days, customers have many options when taking a trip by rail,” says Kimberly Woods, senior public relations manager at Amtrak’s Washington, D.C., office. “Diverse destinations and the variety of routes and accommodations broaden choices whether you’re traveling with children, as a couple, solo or with a group of friends.”

“We’re seeing a strong increase in people who choose to travel with us because of the convenience, the chance to see more of the country than flying, and the simple novelty of being on a train.”

Amtrak is the only national passenger rail service in the U.S., and in 2023, more than 28 million customers chose Amtrak nationwide, according to the company’s annual report.

“We’re seeing a strong increase in people who choose to travel with us because of the convenience, the chance to see more of the country than flying, and the simple novelty of being on a train,” she says.

North Carolina has several dedicated lines for trips within the state, including the Piedmont line from Raleigh to Charlotte, and the Carolinian, which can take passengers from Charlotte to New York with several local stops along the way. NC stations also service lines running to Savannah and New Orleans. Visit ncbytrain.org for local deals and itineraries.

Amtrack leisure travelers can opt for overnight travel on several long-distance trains. The configurations of accommodations can include several types of service. First class offers private rooms with chairs that convert to upper and lower berths, larger bedrooms, family suites and accessible bedrooms. Coach cars have extra legroom and dedicated luggage storage.

The white-tablecloth dining car features traditional chef-curated menus. Customers can visit a café car to purchase more casual options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Passengers can also bring their own food, beverages and snacks. Basic Wi-Fi is offered, and passengers can travel with small pets or bring their bicycles.

In addition to direct routes, spur lines fill in across the lower half of the country. The Amtrak USA Rail Pass includes hop on/off access for 10 segments over 30 days for a single fare.

“When you travel by train, you can be as busy or relaxed as you want,” Kimberly says. “You’ll have space to work, read, watch movies on your devices, have good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations or just sit back and look out the window to enjoy the scenery.”

Rolling down the river

The sight of a paddle-wheeler cruising down the Mississippi River conjures up romantic images of an earlier time in America’s history when waterways transported pioneers and settlers westward. Today, traveling by riverboat or small ship has been significantly modernized, yet the romance and adventure remain.

Companies that book riverboat cruises in the U.S. include American Cruise Lines; American Queen Voyages; RiverCruiseUSA, which represents a wide range of river cruise lines; and Viking River Cruises, an international cruise line that offers limited U.S. vacations.

“People today love the different twist on vacations in the United States that our small ships offer, and traveling the country’s waterways by riverboat opens a whole new experience that’s like a flash back in time,” says Alexa Paolella, manager of public relations for American Cruise Lines. “No passport is required, and your hotel travels with you from port to port, so you unpack once. It’s a much more relaxed pace for discovery with more time to explore small river towns and picturesque shoreside villages, especially the places large cruise ships don’t go.”

American Cruise Lines’ fleet of 19 ships sail America’s coastlines and rivers. Accommodations vary from 90 to 180 passengers, depending on the vessel. Classic paddle-wheelers and modern riverboats navigate the Mississippi and Columbia rivers.

Traveling the country’s waterways by riverboat opens a whole new experience that’s like a flash back in time.

The company’s small cruise ships transport guests along both coasts of the country with itineraries in Alaska and Puget Sound to cruises exploring the New England coast all the way to the Florida Keys. It has also added national park tours to its offerings.

Many of the company’s itineraries are themed around music, history or cuisine that explore the distinctive characteristics of each ship’s ports of call.

“All our cruises offer a variety of experiences and activities ashore each day, providing access to larger cities but also the opportunity to relish the unique experiences only found in the smaller towns along the way,” Alexa says. “Onboard, curated entertainment and chef-prepared daily meals complement the comfortable and relaxing travel that comes with sailing on America’s waterways.

Locals Know Best

If you’re looking to stay closer to home or take a tried-and-true road trip, state and local visitors bureaus can help make the most of your journey.

“Some of the best planning resources are state tourism divisions and local convention and visitors bureaus,” Berkeley Young says. “Their job is to know their states, towns and counties and to provide easy ways to take a vacation that suits your interests and lifestyles.”

Visit NC is the one-stop spot for travel planning around North Carolina. Every state has a similar dedicated tourism department with staff whose job is to promote visitation by creating numerous trip plans for all interests such as music, culinary, cultural and historic. Research them first before drilling down to specific stops along the way via city/town or county-specific visitors bureaus and welcome centers.

“State and local agencies work with local attractions, accommodations, dining and special events and maintain extensive information about what to do, the best times to visit, outdoor activities and much more,” Berkeley says. “They have access to information about recommended routes and many times offer promotions for hotels, restaurants and attractions.”

Key travel planning resources include state tourism and economic departments and local convention and visitors bureaus.

Berkeley explains that true leisure travel is about the experience, but many vacationers are in a hurry to get where they’re going and miss the interesting discoveries along the way. “Just remember: Don’t sweat the tiny details. Determine the path you want to explore, book your transportation and some lodging, and get out there,” he says. “Fill in your itinerary as you go along. Meet locals and eat local. Be adventuresome; go find the real America.”

About the Author

Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who writes for magazines and newspapers across the Southeast and nationally.

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