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Finally giving Auto Train another shot

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Hey there hi there ho there...
So it's been nearly 10 years since we last tried Amtrak's Autotrain from Lorton VA to Sanford FL. Our little Slapperina was just an infant, we thought it might be an adventure. My wife Slappette really didn't like it, even with a private bedroom with bath. This was still at a time where they had smoking lounges so the stench carried through the cars which bothered her. But mostly it was li'l Slapperina, crying and refusing to sleep unless I held her all bloody night, each way. We huddled together on the bottom bunk, me sitting with the baby on my lap, not sleeping at all, my wife dozing in fits and starts next to me. AC on the way back wasn't working very well so we were hot and miserable. Very self conscious about being the couple with the screaming baby. Fun fun fun.

Since then with one exception we've driven down for all subsequent trips (plus I flew down once solo for a trip to meet other family). Now we've decided to give it another go. We got an Amtrak Mastercard and put enough $ on it (that we paid back immediately) to get 20000 bonus points, which we applied, at first, towards a family bedroom. But when Slappette was reminded that these rooms don't have their own private bath, she got skittish again. It only takes a few inconsiderate slobs to stink a place up. So I decided to surprise her by paying for the points necessary to get both a regular bedroom (which does include a bathroom) and a roomette. She and the girls will get the bedroom and the agent arranged for them to have the room closest to the roomettes, and for me to have the roomette closest to them (a stairway to the bottom floor separates us). One of the girls might sleep with me but it makes sense for them all to be in the room with the bathroom a: in case they need it and b: if I wind up waking up needing to go (spoiler - I'm old, so yes, yes I will) there's not a time when they're alone in an unlocked room. That might change depending on my wife's comfort factor at the time.

We're still planning on driving back, probably not leaving until afternoon of our check out day, only driving to Jacksonville for the night, then do the bulk of the driving the next day.

So...question: We know the drop dead last-possible minute time of arrival at the Lorton station is 2:30. We intend to at least be in the area way before that, probably leaving NJ at 8-9, be in the area 11-12 if there's no traffic. We might just have a nice leisurely meal near the station, but I was also thinking about packing a picnic and eating nearby if there's a park or some relatively nice area. Anyone have any suggestions of either a decent restaurant or a nice picnic-worthy park? I can't remember if there's a place outside the station itself worth a picnic? I know there's a tiny playground on site but that might be too teeny and babyish for even my younger girl. Any tips or suggestions is appreciated. Thanks.
 

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
IKEA, huh? Well 17 hours will give me time to put together that sofa :D

EDIT: I was checking it out on the map, and while it is pretty close it's not quite 2 minutes away close. Between 7 and 8 miles. From a point on 95 parallel to the station, during periods of little traffic, according to Google Maps it can still be up to a 20 minute drive one way, so I think the fear that we'd be so close and still potentially get stuck in traffic and screw things up, we probably won't chance that far of a drive. My guess is we'll probably forget about trying a picnic and just hit that Glory Days Grill across the street.
 
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Maerj

Well-Known Member
So, how did it go Slappy? I am also considering using the auto train. Can you private message me or respond to this message? I live in the Northeast as well and would like to hear about your experience using the auto train.
 

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
So, how did it go Slappy? I am also considering using the auto train. Can you private message me or respond to this message? I live in the Northeast as well and would like to hear about your experience using the auto train.
Hey Maerj apologies for not writing sooner I've not been on the forum much since coming back.
The trip in its entirety was not one of our better trips for many reasons, but long story short my wife or kids did not like the Auto Train. Did not like the meal. Liked the room well enough but did not sleep hardly at all, and they got to Sanford feeling more exhausted than if we had just driven straight through. I did fine in the little roomette, I was close to a bathroom, I'm on trains a lot (NJT commuter trains anyway, not Amtrak) and I'm used to little sleep anyway so it was par for the course for me, but for them, once the thrill of moving without having to sit in a car seat wore off, they didn't enjoy it.
 

Maerj

Well-Known Member
Hey Maerj apologies for not writing sooner I've not been on the forum much since coming back.
The trip in its entirety was not one of our better trips for many reasons, but long story short my wife or kids did not like the Auto Train. Did not like the meal. Liked the room well enough but did not sleep hardly at all, and they got to Sanford feeling more exhausted than if we had just driven straight through. I did fine in the little roomette, I was close to a bathroom, I'm on trains a lot (NJT commuter trains anyway, not Amtrak) and I'm used to little sleep anyway so it was par for the course for me, but for them, once the thrill of moving without having to sit in a car seat wore off, they didn't enjoy it.
Well, I didn't book the train yet. I have the Disney part of our trip booked, planned and paid for. I'm planning on doing 2 days at Universal at the start of our trip. I've been thinking about driving down and just leaving really early so the wife an daughter can (maybe) sleep for part of the drive. I'm still toying with the idea of taking the auto train on the way back. It's not cheap but if I can get the Universal part paid for soon, i may still do it.
 

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Well, I didn't book the train yet. I have the Disney part of our trip booked, planned and paid for. I'm planning on doing 2 days at Universal at the start of our trip. I've been thinking about driving down and just leaving really early so the wife an daughter can (maybe) sleep for part of the drive. I'm still toying with the idea of taking the auto train on the way back. It's not cheap but if I can get the Universal part paid for soon, i may still do it.
The trip home might make more sense than the trip down - you're probably already exhausted anyway and even if it's bad trip, you can get more rest once you're actually home later that day.

The only "con" IMHO to taking the AutoTrain back is comparable to the "con" of flying - you're beholden to a schedule that's not your own. You can probably stay onsite until 11:30 or 12, it's only about an hour drive to the Sanford station and that still gives you a 60-90 minute cushion to get your car checked in (you must be there by 2, supposedly there are zero exceptions). But then of course you start getting antsy that there might be traffic or other things to impede your route to Sanford, so you leave at 10:30 or 11, you know, better safe than sorry, but then the morning of your departure is just as harried as it would be if you had to check in to DME 4 hours before your flight.

We opted to hang out at the hotel, we had a Chef Mickey's brunch, we only drove a few hours to Jacksonville, and then did the bulk of the driving the next day. And while that marathon driving was exhausting, it was nice being able to hang on property longer. Everyone's mileage varies.
 

Maerj

Well-Known Member
The trip home might make more sense than the trip down - you're probably already exhausted anyway and even if it's bad trip, you can get more rest once you're actually home later that day.

The only "con" IMHO to taking the AutoTrain back is comparable to the "con" of flying - you're beholden to a schedule that's not your own. You can probably stay onsite until 11:30 or 12, it's only about an hour drive to the Sanford station and that still gives you a 60-90 minute cushion to get your car checked in (you must be there by 2, supposedly there are zero exceptions). But then of course you start getting antsy that there might be traffic or other things to impede your route to Sanford, so you leave at 10:30 or 11, you know, better safe than sorry, but then the morning of your departure is just as harried as it would be if you had to check in to DME 4 hours before your flight.

We opted to hang out at the hotel, we had a Chef Mickey's brunch, we only drove a few hours to Jacksonville, and then did the bulk of the driving the next day. And while that marathon driving was exhausting, it was nice being able to hang on property longer. Everyone's mileage varies.
Well, we are on our way and just decided drive. I would have liked to have done the train but ended up going back and forth to the garage several times and things just didn't work out this time. Thanks for the info, I may still use the train on a future trip. Right now, I'm just ready to see some palm trees and feel some warmth!
 

Master Yoda

Pro Star Wars geek.
Premium Member
We opted to hang out at the hotel, we had a Chef Mickey's brunch, we only drove a few hours to Jacksonville, and then did the bulk of the driving the next day. And while that marathon driving was exhausting, it was nice being able to hang on property longer. Everyone's mileage varies.
You were in J-ville and you did not call? The fact that you don't have my number is irrelevant.

I just can't even right now.... ;)

source.gif
 

lordsigma

Member
I take the train every time I go to WDW because I don't like flying and I don't want to drive myself as the rest of the family flies. Sleeping on the train does take getting use to and its not uncommon to be unable to the first time you take an overnight train - I struggled to the first couple times I took it but I am able to now. I sometimes do the Auto Train and sometimes I do a regular train (Northeast Corridor train from Mass to New York connecting to an overnight Silver Star or Meteor train to Florida in New York) which I can take all the way from where I live with a station just 10-15 minutes from my house and avoid the round trip drive to and from Virginia. Generally the decision is based on what airlines the family is taking - if they take Southwest where you get a free bag then generally I take the regular train to avoid the round trip drive to Virginia and miles on my vehicle as we usually rent a second vehicle with more seating for getting around even when my vehicle makes the trip - if they are taking an airline that charges for bags then I do the Auto Train and haul everyone's bags. I love the Auto Train but the biggest con for me of the Auto Train is the drive to and from VA from New England where I live so regular train is overall less stressful. I love train travel, but it's not for everyone - Amtrak doesn't control the tracks south of DC so delays do happen commonly so it does require some patience but for me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. I recently did a train trip across the US to the west coast and it was a trip of a lifetime.
 
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Raxel7851

Well-Known Member
So, how did it go Slappy? I am also considering using the auto train. Can you private message me or respond to this message? I live in the Northeast as well and would like to hear about your experience using the auto train.
We’ve taken the Autotrain 2 times now. Both on the way home to Delaware. We always book a bedroom for the privacy part. Plus you don’t need to wear a mask if you’re in a bedroom or a roomette. If you’re in coach, a mask be worn at all times! Even sleeping. Our first trip we didn’t get much sleep. The 2nd trip was better. You do get dinner included if you’re a sleeping car passenger. It seems to cost more to go north than south. I don’t think we’d do it for every trip, but we’ll certainly do it again. One drawback of going in the winter is it gets dark earlier, so you can’t enjoy the scenery as much.
 

lordsigma

Member
We’ve taken the Autotrain 2 times now. Both on the way home to Delaware. We always book a bedroom for the privacy part. Plus you don’t need to wear a mask if you’re in a bedroom or a roomette. If you’re in coach, a mask be worn at all times! Even sleeping. Our first trip we didn’t get much sleep. The 2nd trip was better. You do get dinner included if you’re a sleeping car passenger. It seems to cost more to go north than south. I don’t think we’d do it for every trip, but we’ll certainly do it again. One drawback of going in the winter is it gets dark earlier, so you can’t enjoy the scenery as much.
Pricing follows the annual migration of snowbirds many of whom use the auto train. It’s more expensive going south in the fall/early winter and north in the spring typically.
 

DVC4bestvacations

Well-Known Member
I'm on the auto train email list. They periodically send me emails for reduced rates. I headed south 11/8 and will be going again on 2/14. both trips cost me under $400 for a Roomette, Car & Insurance. It would have cost me $69 more for a second person.
 

Lilofan

Well-Known Member
Loved the Auto train. The coach seat is almost as big as a first class seat on an airplane and reclines to resemble a bed almost. If the other seat is vacant you will have a lot of room. Hot dinner and cold breakfast included and one can bring food and drink when boarding. The bathrooms on the first level are bigger than an airplane bathroom. Wi-Fi is not good on the train. There is a supermarket across the street from the Lorton VA auto train station to stock up on food / drink supplies.
 

DVC4bestvacations

Well-Known Member
Loved the Auto train. The coach seat is almost as big as a first class seat on an airplane and reclines to resemble a bed almost. If the other seat is vacant you will have a lot of room. Hot dinner and cold breakfast included and one can bring food and drink when boarding. The bathrooms on the first level are bigger than an airplane bathroom. Wi-Fi is not good on the train. There is a supermarket across the street from the Lorton VA auto train station to stock up on food / drink supplies.
Not sure I agree with the size of the coach seats. FYI since covid Coach does not include dinner. I suggest bringing sandwiches on board with you for dinner. It's a good Idea to bring a "back up snack in case the train arives late. They do include a basic breakfast for everyone in the am. (OJ, Cerial, Banana, Crumb Cake $ Coffee.)
 

Lilofan

Well-Known Member
Not sure I agree with the size of the coach seats. FYI since covid Coach does not include dinner. I suggest bringing sandwiches on board with you for dinner. It's a good Idea to bring a "back up snack in case the train arives late. They do include a basic breakfast for everyone in the am. (OJ, Cerial, Banana, Crumb Cake $ Coffee.)
Went on Auto train three years ago, food included with any ticket. To me the coach seat was just s big as a first class seat and I was happy.
 

lordsigma

Member
It is true they no longer do a complementary dinner for coach passengers - instead they have a cafe car similar to what’s on other trains. Sleeper passengers still are served a full dinner in the dining car. Though on the other hand coach fares are generally lower than they were previously and they sometimes have crazy sales (like $29 fares recently).
 

Raxel7851

Well-Known Member
I'm on the auto train email list. They periodically send me emails for reduced rates. I headed south 11/8 and will be going again on 2/14. both trips cost me under $400 for a Roomette, Car & Insurance. It would have cost me $69 more for a second person.
That’s a good deal! We took advantage of one of the Amtrak Email specials and scored a bedroom for 2, our SUV, and insurance for around $670. Hope you have a great ride!
 

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