Last revised: March 14, 2023
By: Adam Burns
Florida, a state most often known for warm temperatures year-round and white, sandy beaches. However, the state is home to a number of popular train rides, including trips during the holidays carrying a Christmas theme!
Florida's history with trains is relatively recent in comparison to the railroad industry as a whole. Its first was the Tallahassee Railroad, which opened in 1837. However, in the years long before the state became a vacationer's paradise there was little economic development throughout the 19th century.
It was far too hot, humid, wet, and sandy with an army of bugs to drive away what would now be described as modern human habitation. That finally changed when Henry Flagler became involved with Florida's then lightly-developed railroad network during the 1880s.
This eventually led to the creation of the Florida East Coast Railway in 1895. The system would go on to construct a very well built, double-tracked main line down the east coast of Florida. Its success not only led to the development of multiple vacation destinations, still very popular to this day, but also connected Florida to the national rail network.
By doing so, railroad development expanded across the state, which led to several vacation destinations also developing on the Gulf Coast. The iron horse is truly the catalyst which allowed Florida to grow into tropical paradise it is today.
The state's history with trains is now well-documented at a number of museums and heritage railroads. These include the Boca Express Train Museum, Central Florida Railroad Museum, Flagler Museum, Florida Railroad Museum, Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Largo Central Railroad, Orlando & North Western Railway, Star Clipper Dinner Train, Railroad Museum of South Florida, Seminole Gulf Railway, TECO Line Streetcar System, and even the Walt Disney World Railroad.
The information listed below highlights those organizations that offer Christmas-themed train rides. To learn more about their events, please visit their website included.
(Parrish): Recognized as one of Florida's three official railroad museums the organization began in 1981 as the Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum.
Not surprisingly, their primary mission is to preserve the Sunshine State's rail history, a goal at which they have been quite successful.
The group has amassed an impressive collection of locomotives and rolling stock although only one of the former actually has ties to the state, W.W. Cummer & Sons Cypress 2-6-2 #104, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1920.
The museum now also hosts excursions over about 6 miles of the former Seaboard Air Line's Sarasota Subdivision between Parrish and Willow.
This track, currently owned by CSX Transportation, holds big plans for the organization; it is not only used for excursions but they group has also built a small storage yard in Willow with a planned restoration shop.
Their popular North Pole Express offers kids the chance to meet Santa. These trips are hosted from late November through mid-December. Also be sure and check out their "Christmas Party Caboose" available for private parties during the North Pole Express event.
(Fort Myers): This long-running tourist attraction has been around since 1987 as a freight carrier.
While the company primarily focuses on this business its excursions, noted for their murder mystery dinner trains, have gained a serious following over the years.
A pair of former streamlined diesels, F7A #502 (built as Baltimore & Ohio #955-A in 1952) and F9AM #501 (built as Milwaukee Road F9A #85-C in 1954) "lead" the trains (in reality, these have been converted to cab cars only and are non-powered; another locomotive actually handles the trains).
If you enjoy the theater you are sure to enjoy their productions, which are hosted year-round. During holidays and special events they put on themed mysteries; for this Christmas season you can enjoy Nutcracker`s Final Curtain! Also be sure to check out their New Year's Eve Gala.
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Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives.
It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.
It is quite staggering and a must visit!