What do Central Floridians do when they want to take a stroll around the famous Winter Park Art Festival but don’t want to deal with driving there (I mean seriously- it’s so bad, it should be renamed “Winter no-Park-ing”)? Take the Sunrail!
After years of unsavory political debates and funding squabbles, Florida finally decided to give Orlando a heavy-rail public transport mechanism. And I rode on it for the first time yesterday. Here’s how I did it:
First, we had to drive 30 minutes to east Sand Lake Road, where the Sunrail’s first stop lies. Now, normally, the Sunrail operates only Monday-Friday, but because of the art festival they provided free service for this weekend, most likely to alleviate the horrendous parking problems in the North-Orlando community. While this weekend was crowded for obvious reasons, I can say that the Sunrail is definitely a huge benefit for commuters in the Orlando area.
The modern, double-decker train arrived on time, and I snagged a window seat on the first floor. Pretty soon, we were off, and I could see the sunny landscape of Southeast Orlando rolling by. We made four stops Downtown before we arrived in Winter Park, where the train station was smack in the middle of the art festival. Free, clean, comfortable, easy, no need to park- can’t beat that, right?
After a tiring day exploring the various artist booths and hipster shops along Park Ave, we returned to the station to catch the penultimate train back to Sand Lake. This was where the Sunrail experience got slightly more difficult- but only more adventurous. A huge crowd of people was squeezed under the station’s coverings, waiting for the train that arrived about 10 minutes late.
But the Northbound folks on the other side of the tracks were even more numerous and anxious to leave- one of the trains going in that direction had broken down earlier and they were running behind schedule. Finally, a Northbound train stopped in front of them. After it had loaded up its passengers and continued along its route, we saw what still looked to be like hundreds of people standing on the platform. And everyone just laughed- not even kidding.
When our Southbound train finally arrived, all of us packed in like sardines (luckily I found a half of a seat on a bench near the door). I was so exhausted from the waiting that I dozed off and spent much of the ride back to Sand Lake in an ethereal state. However, I was told that it ran smoothly.
And that was it- we all stepped off the train at the terminus, the day’s heat having accumulated exponentially in the interiors of our unshaded cars. My dad likened the experience to a day spent as tourists- thanks to the Sunrail, that’s exactly what it was.