I spend a lot of time in Florida–but still never enough, am I right?–and a good chunk of my most recent trip was spent aboard the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour.
Because I visit quite often, I’m slowly working my way around this medium-sized, newsworthy state. Finally, I recently checked off an item high on my Florida bucket list: St. Augustine.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot to see in St. Augustine. It was founded in 1565 and is the oldest city in the United States. That means it has had over 450 years to rack up sights and attractions, tasty eateries and ghost stories. And I only had one day in St. Augustine to see it all.
It look a lot of planning, a bunch of checklists, and the help of a whole pride of peacocks. (You’ll see when you get there.) But I came, I saw, I conquered, I finished it off with a delicious coconut beer. Read on to see how the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour played a part in it all.
St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour
The St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour is the most popular way to see the sights in St. Augustine. You sit back and relax, feel that ocean breeze in your face, pick your hair out of your lip gloss, and learn about all of St. Augustine’s most famous landmarks while a guide makes dad jokes over a microphone.
They created these sightseeing tours to take you around town and show you what’s what. The guide narrates your tour with historical anecdotes and you’re welcome to hop off and back on at designated stops all around the city. These tours are also available in Key West, Boston, San Diego, and a handful of others around the U.S.
You can relax and enjoy the entire 80-minute tour around the city, or you can use the trolleys as your own personal transportation around St. Augustine, hopping on and off at will, like I did.
Why I booked the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour
I booked the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour because I needed to see as much of the city as possible in just one day. I didn’t want to waste a lot of time driving from attraction to attraction, sitting in traffic, finding a place to park, etc. And I also didn’t want to spend a bunch of (beer) money on parking at all the different locations.
I chose to book the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour because I figured it:
- would save me money on parking all over the city
- save me time commuting between the attractions
- while learning a lot about America’s oldest city at the same time
Am I glad I booked the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour?
So now that my trip’s over, am I glad I booked the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour? Overall, yes. I had a pleasant-enough experience. Can you label me a 100% satisfied customer? No.
I wasn’t completely satisfied with my Old Town Trolley tour experience, but I wasn’t entirely dissatisfied either. Let’s examine some things that makes this tour great, and some things that might turn you off.
St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour: Pros
I’m officially categorizing my St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour as “pleasant-enough.” There are definitely some good reasons to book your spot on the trolley, and some of them may be of more importance to some over others. For instance…
Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and have someone drive you around town. The weather is beautiful in St. Augustine (even in January when I visited) and riding around town on an open-air trolley is sometimes just what your vacation ordered.
When you book a St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour, you get to park for free (for the whole day) at the origin location. Then, you get chauffeured about town, never having to move your car or pay for parking anywhere else.
The St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour makes 22 stops around downtown St. Augustine at all the popular spots. Because of this, a trolley stop is never far away when you need one.
Also, they have enough vehicles in their fleet that you never have to wait long until the next one comes around. It’s pretty damn convenient actually.
Everyone I encountered, from the people at the ticket windows to the trolley drivers, was nothing but friendly.
Free beach shuttle
Though it makes a lot of stops, the Old Town Trolley doesn’t go everywhere you need it to go. For instance, if you wanted to visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse (which you do).
For that, the beach, and a few other sites, Old Town Trolley cooperates with a free shuttle bus to those sites from the center of downtown.
Hop on/Hop off service
The St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour doubles as your very own hop on/hop off transportation service. When you book a tour, you have full day access to come and go as you please, using the trolleys as much or as little as you want.
St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour: Cons
My St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour was “pleasant-enough,” but there were still a few things I could’ve done without or changes I would’ve made. For instance…
I did like that the tours were 100% live-narrated and not pre-recorded commentary. But it wasn’t really what I was expecting. I mean, I did expect it to be a little corny, but I caught myself rolling my eyes more than anticipated.
I wanted it to be more about the history of the city and about specific sites, and less about the guide’s personal opinions on the things we drove past. (Like his utter distaste for Chinese art. And how, after telling us he thought these statues were so ugly said, “Leave it to the Chinese.” I don’t know what he meant by that, but I could’ve done without it.)
I also didn’t leave the tour with the feeling that the information we were told was totally accurate. There were many times I thought to myself, “Yeah, I better double check that.” I realize this is just a lighthearted sightseeing tour and not an intellectual seminar, but I still want my facts straight!
I think some of the things they said were just to get a few oohs, ahhhs, and giggles from the cheap seats in the back.
Not enough time
The last tour of the day is 4:30 PM and that is way too early. I booked the tour with the hopes that I wouldn’t have to drive the whole day, but I ended up having to drive to the last stop so as to not get stranded.
If you’re just using the trolley tour as a sightseeing tour, that won’t be an issue. But if you’re using it as a hop on/hop off service like they advertise, I think we can all agree 4:30 PM is entirely too early to end your day.
I wanted the Old Town Trolley to be a one-stop shop (ok, 22 stops) for all my St. Augustine sightseeing needs, but that it was not.
And though they do offer a free shuttle to the Lighthouse, it too stops running at 4:30. Not to mention, the Beach Bus, as it’s known, only runs once per hour. I waited a good 20 minutes for it at one point then gave up because I have a schedule to keep, people!
It’s pretty slow
Part of the reason I booked the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour was to save time walking from attraction to attraction. But there were many times I thought to myself, “I could’ve walked there faster than this.”
It’s not just that it moves slow, but it makes a lot of circles and backtracks a lot where, if you were walking, you could just walk across one park (or block or sidewalk) and already be there.
Sometimes it was so frustratingly slow I wish I’d just walked or taken my car. But I paid almost $30 so I just kicked back and enjoyed the breeze.
Not 100% handicap accessible
Which I’m about to talk more about. Keep reading.
Things to Know Before you Book a St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour
The main thing you should know before booking a St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour is that it’s not entirely handicap accessible.
Is the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour handicap accessible?
Of the 22 trolley stops on the tour, the driver is only allowed to operate the lift at 5 of them. Stuff about level surfaces and sharing the road, etc.
At one of the stops, our trolley had to leave a man in a wheelchair behind because the driver wasn’t allowed to operate the lift at that stop. Needless to say, the man and his lady friend were pissed. The reasons are understandable enough, but these are two people who were clearly not told about those rules upfront.
They have only two accessible trolleys in their fleet and they ask for 24 hours notice of your arrival so they can make sure their handicap trolley is operating.
If this applies to you or one of your travel companions, you won’t be able to take advantage of the 22 stops the Old Town Trolley brags about.
In the case of the man we left behind, he had to backtrack a couple of stops and then wait again for another trolley to come by. Also, this was pretty damn close to 4:30 so that man and his lady could very easily have been stranded.
For more on their accessibility availability, head here. And it’s not just them, Florida actually has a pretty bad accessibility infrastructure. Yes, Florida, the state that I’m willing to bet has the most wheelchair users in the country.
The last tour is at 4:30
And again, know that the last tour starts at 4:30. This will almost definitely affect your planning for your day in St. Augustine.
And just FYI, should you get stuck somewhere without a trolley back to your car, St. Augustine does not offer Uber.
St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour or Ripley’s Red Train?
You should know, the Old Town Trolley is not the only sightseeing tour available in St. Augustine—the other is the Ripley’s Red Train tour. As in, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Ripley’s Entertainment, etc. Here are a few insights that may help you choose one over the other.
Little disclaimer here: I have not personally taken the Ripley’s train. I’m only sharing with you the research I did before I chose the Old Town Trolley.
First of all, the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley tour is definitely the less ridiculous-looking of the two. The Old Town Trolley is a typical tram-style, orange and green vehicle. The Ripley’s Red Train is little more than an oversized bright red choo-choo you can see a mile away, chugging into St. Augustine from Toon Town.
If you think you’ll feel awkward toot-tooting about town on what looks like a child’s ride you’d find on the sidewalk outside Costco, take the Old Town Trolley. Ripley’s Red Train = the little engine that could (make you look like a fool).
Stops, times, and costs
The Ripley’s Red Train tour also has 22 stops and from what I can tell they’re exactly the same as the Old Town Trolley. However, Ripley’s last tour starts at 5:00 PM instead of 4:30. It’s not much, but there you go. Both tours are 80 minutes long, start to finish, with the option of hop on/hop off.
Costs for either tour are basically the same so that shouldn’t be a determining factor. Plus, Ripley’s also offers free parking at 5 of their stops.
Even though I didn’t ride the Ripley’s Red Train myself, I can still vouch for how annoying their drivers are. I could hear the shrill shouting of the Ripley’s tour guide/driver down the street, clear as day. And I wasn’t even on her train! Had I been on that tour, I most definitely would’ve hopped off for good. Probably while the thing was still in motion.
The Old Town Trolley drivers may have been cheesy and make questionable comments about other nationalities, but they didn’t make me want to shove Cuban sandwiches into my ear holes.
A bad reputation?
The good thing about Old Town Trolley is that it’s American owned and operated by a company called Historic Tours of America. Ripley’s Entertainment is part of a Canadian-based international conglomerate called The Jim Pattison Group.
Ripley’s bills themselves as “St. Augustine’s ORIGINAL sightseeing train tour!” But really, all they did was buy out St. Augustine Trains Inc. (who’d been operating train tours in the city since 1953) in 2004. Buy whoever you want to buy, just don’t lie to me.
Ripley’s vowed to keep all 46 of the St. Augustine Trains Inc. employees after the buyout but failed to discuss terms. However, there’s talk amid some online forums that when Ripley’s came in, the first things they cut were the health benefits for the employees, and turned their full-time employees to part-time ones. Just something to consider.
Would I Take the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour Again?
So would I take the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour again? Probably not. I don’t regret my experience with it, but I also could’ve done without it. This is based on my personal needs and reasons for booking it.
I wanted to save money on parking, but I was able to find free street parking when I needed it anyway. I ended up having to drive to the one place I couldn’t walk to anyway. And I wanted to save time by taking it place to place, but walking actually would’ve gotten me there faster.
Plus, St. Augustine is compact and one of the most walkable cities I’ve ever visited. Had I known this before my trip, I probably wouldn’t have booked the Old Town Trolley.
Also, I wanted to learn about St. Augustine, but the drivers didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already learn at the attractions themselves or from reading the informational placards around town.
Should You Book the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley Tour?
If what the St. Augustine Old Town Trolley offers sounds good to you, then yes. Should you want more than what it offers, like I did, skip it. If you want to casually tour the city, learn some fun facts, see some sites, then it’s perfect.
If you’re trying to fit in more than humanly possible in a single day, using it to get around town in a hurry, and as an alternative to walking or driving, save the cash and use it for Sangria at Columbia! You’re better off on foot.
If you’re not great with walking, the trolley is a decent alternative. And it’s not such a huge investment that it’s a major financial risk.
More info for your time in St. Augustine
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