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NEWPORT â€“ You ride the rails to Ravel, taste the Balsamic dressing to Bizet, gaze at the sunset to Gershwin.
The strains of classical music serve as backdrop for couples on the â€śRomancing the Railsâ€ť Friday night Newport Dinner Train, now completing its 17th season.
Rhode Islandâ€™s only moving dinner train, owned by Robert and Patricia Andrews, has been named one of the countryâ€™s top three dinner trainâ€™s for dining excellence by the Food Network.
It is a nod and a step back in time, to a simpler, more elegant age, where beautifully presented cuisine was served to expectant passengers seeking unexplored destinations.
The Newport Dinner Train has successfully negotiated the 22-miles of rails of Southern Rhode Island, and has now expanded its sentimental journey along Narragansett Bay.
Running through fall, the train has added The Ice Cream Train on weekends and entertainment, including a Comedy Murder Mystery and a Great Train â€śRobberyâ€ť on Saturday nights.
Passengers embark from a small wooden station in the heart of downtown Newport (there is a free convenient parking lot behind the station, no small help in a city where parking is at a premium during summer). The wait staff, impeccably dressed in black and white, seats passengers under elegant burgundy curtains at cloth-draped tables, a delicate nod to a pristine age.
The curtains are matched in dĂ©cor by matching table china. Under the soothing effect of the slowly moving train that passes an unseen section of the Newport Naval Base in the Melville district all the way through Middletown to Portsmouth, passengers get warm bread and butter, and a choice of stuffed sole, a rack of ribs that resemble a small harp or chicken, with potatoes, vegetables, cheesecake and coffee or tea.
Drinks, tax and gratuity are extra. Prices for ride and meal are high â€“ ranging from a base of $19.95 for kids under 10 on the ice cream train, $26.95 for the adults who bring them, $38.95 for the luncheon train on Thursday and Saturday to $59.95 per person for â€śRomancing the Railâ€ť on Friday nights, topping off at $68.95 per person for the trains that provide theatrical entertainment.
Yet, despite this, the train usually sells out each season.
Powering the Dinner Train is a 44-ton General Electric diesel locomotive built in 1946. Each of the three dining cars (The Mosher, The Hutton and The Andrews) was built between 1941 and 1952 by the Budd Coach Company. The interior of each dining car is meticulously restored to quietly reflect the Golden Age of Railroading.
All entrees are prepared in their entirety in their fully equipped kitchen car (The Great Rib Car) and presented tableside in a professional and timely manner. Business casual is the dress code for passengers. No tank tops or shorts, of course, dress not imagined in the Golden Age.
At dusk, a perfect orange sunset dots the horizon over the ocean. It was what Kevin McGonagle and his wife Colette had wanted to see for years from this romantic train. They drove all the way down from Melrose, Mass. to ride the rails.
â€śIt is very relaxing,â€ť said McGonagle. â€śWe always tried to do this, but it was always sold out. We finally got to do it. We had been trying to do it for many years.â€ť McGonagle, an amateur historian who loves naval history, was particularly enthralled by the U.S.S. Saratoga in full view from the train, the only warship left from World War II in Newport.
The Dinner Train departs from the Newport Train Station, located on 19 Americaâ€™s Cup Ave., next to the visitorsâ€™ center, in downtown Newport.
The Newport Dinner Train also features private parties, group tours, and family events such as The Polar Express, and their newest subsidiary, the air-conditioned (of course) Ice Cream Train.
If you go
For more information or reservations, call 401-841-8700 or go to www.newportdinnertrain.com.