Cincinnati Dinner Train

At some point last fall, The Boyfriend and I were sitting at the end of the ramp from Wooster Pike/Columbia Parkway to Red Bank Road, directly facing a railroad track that has always seemed vacant. But this time — much to my glee! — was a train! With people on it! A train with people is unusual enough to get my attention and also pique my curiosity. Tell me more [about formerly popular forms of transportation we now find a novelty]!

The train read Cincinnati Dinner Train, so an immediate (urgent) Google search led me to the Cincinnati Railway’s Cincinnati Dinner Train. It must have been the end of the season because there weren’t many weekends left to take the train, but for Christmas I bought The Boyfriend coach tickets to ride once it opened back up for the season in March. For $35 they seemed like a good deal; afterall, the dinner tickets were $84.95 for a very fancy four course meal and I’m happy eating off the Dollar Menu.

we so cute.

Along came February and with it on the horizon, it turns out the CDT had decided to decommission the coach car, but as a gesture of good customer service they would upgrade our tickets for free! I was astounded by that and of course I want to take the fancy train tickets without the upcharge. Ahead of time, you get an email that encourages you to dress in a 1940s theme, as the train cars are from then. It also advises very specifically that the dress code is business casual, do not wear jeans. (This is important. Remember this detail.)

March! Finally! We are ready to ride the train! What started off as a somewhat spring day had settled into a breezy chill as we arrived to board the train a little before 6pm. The address in the email leads you to a parking lot around the corner from the Cincinnati Gardens (RIP), behind a shuttered factory, in what definitely seems like the beginning of a murder scene in a movie. Alas, we found a bunch of people in 1940s garb, so at least we weren’t being murdered alone.

Upon check-in you’re given an actual paper ticket which is always fun for nostalgia purposes later, and then you meet Amelia Earhart (except she’s alive) and have your photo taken outside the train so they can hit you up for $10 later (duh). We found our seats (past the bar car) and settled in with an appetizer while we waited for the 6pm departure. 6pm, prompt, said the instructions in the email! Do not be late!

literally this could have been my meal and i would be happy

Along came 6pm and out the window we peek at a couple rushing — in jeans! and ballcaps! — to get on the train and I am all about this hell to the no, it said dress up, watch them get rejected!

They did not get rejected. Also they were our tablemates. Yes! Surprise, you’re on a double date with people you don’t know unless you booked in a group of four. They were an interesting duo who wanted to share their bonding over shooting spitballs into each other’s mouths. Yum.

Eventually (after 6pm) we started to roll away from the station, but we only made it as far as an overpass near Ridge Road (you could see Big Lots!) where the train stopped. Hmm, seems intentional. The owner gave a speech, the conductor gave a speech, the Cincinnati Sisters sang for us, and all seemed well.

Until the train didn’t start back up.

this meal made me want to die

But good news, folks! We’re going to give you another song! And the kitchen still works! And the beer is still cold! It was an agonizing hour and a half staring at Big Lots before another locomotive finally rescued us and we continued our trip — now that it was too dark to see much. There was no compensation for our trouble – no free drink, the photo wasn’t free – but since they’d upgraded me for free in the first place I had a hard time being a real jerk about that like I wanted to.

The trip takes you through Madisonville, down past Lunken and the East End, and all the way down by the river before reversing course and following the bread crumbs back home. While the ride wasn’t bad, I really wish we had done it later in the year when the sky is light later so it would have been more than staring at my own reflection in the dark window. Our 9pm return was more like 1030pm, and I am too old for that shit.

Nevertheless, I had a good time and might do it again another time, but probably not for $85 a person, especially since I spent the post-dinner half of the ride expelling the food from my body. For my next Antiquated Transportation Method Adventure I’m hoping to check out the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad!

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