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Trains, Planes & Automobiles

Riding the Rails

Amtrak, the passenger railroad service in the U.S., has upgraded in a number of family-friendly ways. On the East Coast, you can take the Auto Train from Lorton, VA, just outside Washington, DC, to Sanford, FL, just outside Disney World; go leaf-gazing in New York's Adirondacks or in Vermont; or tour the national parks out West. The Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles to Seattle has on-board entertainment that includes puppeteers, musicians, and magicians, and kids can play in a coach that has been converted to a reading and play area for little ones. Amtrak's Travel Planner brochure gives a rundown of the options available. Kids under 15 travel half price; those under 2 without tickets are expected to sit on their parents' laps.

STAYING ON TRACK

But train travel has its pitfalls too. When you're planning a trip, keep the length of the journey and the ages of your kids in mind. Linda Hynson, of Asheville, NC, a mother of three, who once traveled from Los Angeles to New York City with twin toddlers and a sitter, found the three-and-a-half-day trip too long for the little ones  -- they kept running and falling in the aisles and poking their fingers into the nasty jaws of the train's metal trash receptacles. Another mom, who with her husband and three kids took the auto train to Orlando, said she couldn't fall asleep in her seat at night because of the lack of privacy. On the way home she was able to book a sleeper; she and her children slept like babies in their private, locked compartment, while Dad snoozed in coach. But be aware that sleeper compartments can be very tight and cramped.

Bring the same kind of carry-ons (diapers, medications, toys, etc.) when traveling by train as you would by air; you're allowed two per person. Checked baggage and luggage in your car on the auto train are not accessible while you're on board.

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