Riding The Great Smokey Mountain Railroad

It is no secret that Maltese Cross Travel is specializing in cruises. While we focus on cruises to the Caribbean, Alaska, and European River Cruises we explore other interests as well. All inclusive in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and all of the wonderful things that we can see and do here in the beauty of America.

Last spring Sonja and I visited the Grand Canyon and used (and recommend) the Grand Canyon Railway as a way to begin your amazing visit to this incredible wonder of the world. (We have some specific recommendations for you when you are ready to begin planning your trip to the 8th Wonder of the World – and that includes the Grand Canyon Railway! Call us and let us help you plan that trip.)

But this time we are going to talk about something on the more when you get a chance variety. Since our anniversary is in the middle of October since Sonja retired from teaching we’ve been trying to get away to North Carolina and/or New England to enjoy some fall colors as we celebrate our anniversary and enjoy the beauty and relaxation of the mountains.

This year on our trip north we took a beautiful drive from Franklin up to Bryson City to take a ride on the Great Smokey Mountains Railway. The rail line runs along the old line that helped bring development and prosperity to the region for workers and farmer of the area in the 1800’s. They generally use diesel/electric locomotives, but they also have a steam engine that they use for special occasions such as the Polar Express. Their cars are a variety of vintage passenger and caboose cars from the last few years of major rail service in the United States. They’ve been restored and they are comfortable and well maintained. There are also a couple of open air cars interspersed in the train. There is also a café & small gift shop area in a car towards the rear of the train. Just walking around on the train was a lot of fun and very interesting with the different classes and types of cars. And, by the way, getting your sea legs on a cruise ship is a lot easier than getting your train car legs!

While the historic rail line makes two different excursion runs, we chose the trip to the Nantahala Gorge. Because of the weather forecasts we chose this trip and this is the only run they make on Fridays. You have a choice of a 9:00am or a 2:00pm trip to Nantahala Gorge. You get a great view of Lake Fontana and some beautiful views along the route. There are little towns, scenic fields and vistas of the mountains both near and far, and it is all at a pace that you can actually enjoy it all!

We had the Crown tickets – first class tickets with assigned seating at a table. When we picked up our tickets on the day of our trip we were given two cups that actually have a cap that keeps the drinks inside!! The cup gave us the opportunity to enjoy either some coffee or a soft drink from the Depot Café. (A word of warning – be careful about the “soft” pretzel; it wasn’t soft OR fresh!) Because we were going to be served lunch onboard we were given a choice of about five different things for lunch. We chose a Mediterranean Salad with Chicken for my wife, and I had the pulled pork. My pulled pork came with a side of cole slaw and some mashed potatoes, along with a roll. Quite frankly we were quite surprised by quality and quanitity of the food. But what was even more surprising was how hard the staff on the train worked to satisfy the guests. Our attendant was “Ronnie” and she had only been working in this position for a week. And then there was “Vinnie” – his job was to serve 60+ guests their meals in three different cars. And he hustled more than anyone I could imagine!

If you are vacationing in the western North Carolina area Bryson City is easy to get to from just about everywhere. We highly recommend that you include some time for a trip on the Great Smokey Mountain Railway. And, no, we can’t help you book this one, and no, we don’t get a commission for you taking the trip – we just like it and want you to enjoy it, too!

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