My Amtrak Critique


First let me explain, why I chose the AutoTrain. My daughter decided to move in with me in Florida. I had three weeks to make all the arrangements. She had an older compact car that I was dubious in putting much road time on, it was paid for and she was in love with. She was staying in the Philadelphia area at the time.
My son happened to be in the area and decided to make the trip too. And since neither of them were experienced road travelers and didn’t have the finances for incidentals, I decided to make the trip with them.

The only route in the United States that has the Auto Train runs from Lorton, Virgina to Sanford, Florida. Each is only a few hours drive from the end points rather than the potential 18 hour road trip, not counting hotel stay. Very fortunate for us.

After weighing all the options, the costs between eighteen hours of driving, two hundred dollars hotel room, stopping for restaurants, actual travel time being roughly equal, wear & tear on us and my daughter’s pet vehicle the costs were fairly even. And with the high probability of break down the scales were tipped in favor of the AutoTrain.

Booking online was just as easy as any airline. I chose two “Roomettes”, basically a two- person seating area that converts into bunk beds. Each “Roomette” can be closed off with a lockable door and a privacy curtain. That sounded like adequate sleeping to provide my daughter privacy while the two guys share a space.

There were suites and regular seating available. The suites were more expensive and regular seating was no way to travel with any element of rest. Regular seating I had experienced once as a youth and it was a memory I don’t want to repeat.

We arrived with the same lead time as any airline. We grabbed our bags as we turned our vehicle over to the attendants and made our way thru the waiting room. We were all a bit excited since this trip was turning out to be more of an adventure than a trial by highway.
We passed on the waiting lounge and opted to make the hike to our car.

We had no concept of how long the train was. It was a quarter mile hike of course and we were laden with bags. Probably more than we needed since both my kids had two bags a piece. By the time we found our car toward the rear of the train, we were ready to sit for a while. It was nice that there were benches near our car.

Our train was getting underway at 4pm, traveling through the night to arrive in Sanford, Florida about 9:30 am the following morning with maybe another hour or so to get hour car.
I could go on blow by blow. But the train stories alone were worth the trip. Those stories may be included at some other time.

The berthing was what we expected. Not a hotel room, but definitely comfortable. There was room for a carry on bag each and then some. Our two roomettes were directly across the aisle from each other. We were next to a suite with a family of three with a small child at the end of the aisle and a family of four with two small children in roomettes on our other side. Amazingly with doors shut, the rooms were well insulated and we didn’t hear much of the children’s giddy excitement.

We had community bathrooms available that are identical to airline toilets. There was a community shower, basically a large version of the airline bathroom, but none of us were interested in taking advantage of that.

Dinner and breakfast was included in the ticket prices. Surprise bonus on the budget! You get to choose your seating times at check in. These were accommodated in the dining car. There was also a lounge car where people could gather around tables with panoramic windows to see the landscape. Downstairs in the lounge car was a vending area where everyone should be able to buy a snack, sodas, cold sandwiches, beer, wine, and liquor minis.

As a parent, I really enjoyed this. If I had to travel and transport a car at least I wasn’t driving. I spent the entire day watching videos with my own kids. Beer was in walking distance and not expensive. I didn’t have to worry about the next gas station, bathroom break, restaurant, or finding a hotel along the route. As an adult that likes to socialize, I especially enjoyed the communal atmosphere.

The three of us all voted the experience a thumbs up and a do-again.
(p.s. This turned out to be a VERY wise choice since the engine in the aforementioned car of concern seized a few weeks after our arrival.)

Author: 21Buzzards

Mid-life retired reservist in the corporate IT world parenting a grandchild. Sharing my evolution as age and priorities impact life.

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