Amtrak's AutoTrain - yes or no

Old Oct 13th, 2016, 10:05 AM
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Amtrak's AutoTrain - yes or no

Trying to decide whether to take the AutoTrain up from Florida to Virginia. If we do go, we'd choose to travel coach.
Has anyone recently traveled on the AutoTrain?
Reviews have been very mixed - the worst criticize the toilets as being filthy.
All feedback welcome.
Thanks.
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Old Oct 13th, 2016, 10:16 AM
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17 and a half hours in coach? I wouldn't do it in a fit. The last time I traveled on Amtrak overnight, I vowed never, ever to do so again: filthy everything, A/C outages, food shortages (yes--they ran out of things along the route), lateness... and we had a roomette. We did it because my mother wouldn't fly, but even she returned to air travel after that.

Then there's the issue of cost. AutoTrain from Sanford, FL to Lorton, VA is around $1,000 for two people plus one car roundtrip. You could fly and rent a car for less, so why would you do this??
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Old Oct 13th, 2016, 10:39 AM
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Hi Newbie-

We'd only be going one-way which is about $450-525. Plus we would be on vacation for almost a month (pricey to rent a car), we visit our kids in VA anyway, and would be ending our Florida travels at New Smyrna Beach which is near Sanford.

OTOH - your first paragraph is exactly why we're hesitating - LOL!
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Old Oct 13th, 2016, 11:14 AM
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I've thought about it but it's so much cheaper to drive, even if you rent a hotel on the way. My last northern VA trip to Orlando cost me $120 in gas each way (I have a small crossover) and about $80 for a hotel in SC. Usually, I just drive straight through but I was down for a funeral and the timing made that impossible.

Honestly, I'd take a few days to drive over nearly 20 hours on a train. I take Amtrak to NYC and it's ok but I wouldn't chance a dirty or broken train on a ride that long. Plus, the hassle of waiting for your car to be loaded and unloaded. Not for me.
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Old Oct 13th, 2016, 04:42 PM
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The roomettes are very small. Yes, you have your own bathroom, but try sleeping in that upper berth. You can't sit up or you'll hit your head. Falling asleep in a regular seat would be impossible for me, plus it is not quiet or dark.
As I stated in another thread. We take our time driving to FL from PA. We spend two nights on the road in a comfy hotel bed and get a good night's sleep. All in all it costs way less than the auto train and we are clean and refreshed.
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Old Oct 13th, 2016, 04:58 PM
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schmerl - the roomettes don't even have a private bathroom.

Hate to fly in the winter if I can help it. Two years ago, delayed for hours in Miami before takeoff, then diverted just before landing at JFK to spend the night on the floor at Pittsburgh airport. Three years ago coast socked in with a blizzard - no flights home for 2 days - we ended up renting a car. And so on..

Might try the AutoTrain this year just for the experience.
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Old Oct 13th, 2016, 07:03 PM
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Unless you have good winter tires on your car (rare in Florida) and recent winter driving experience., I wouldn't travel to VA with my own car from Florida. I did once drive from Melbourne FL to Mifflinburg PA in a single day (never again).
The Silver Services (Star and Meteor) and the Auto Train have been cancelled recently because of Matthew.
Going the other way, many NY residents ship their cars on auto transport trucks and then fly 2-3 days later.
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 01:31 AM
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To fuller writes: "many NY residents ship their cars on auto transport trucks and then fly 2-3 days later."

I-95 yesterday was full of trucks hauling northern cars to Florida for the winter. Since they don't want to return empty, perhaps you could get a good deal for a Maryland delivery.
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 05:54 AM
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>>

Yes, I was thinking of the bedrooms which are also very small with no headroom on the upper bunk.
One of my friends was just booked on the auto train and before Hurricane Matthew even arrived they received notice that it was cancelled. They then re-booked, but Matthew hit the Carolinas much harder than expected, so it was cancelled again. It's not just flying that can be a hassle. They wound up just getting in their car and driving to Florida.
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 07:16 AM
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Hi, NGail--

Now I understand your parameters! And even though I am not a person who loves driving, I'd advise driving over taking the AutoTrain. Winter weather may be an issue, but then again, it may not. And highways in that stretch are either well cleared or closed, so "good snow tires" are moot, IMO.

When is this trip to happen?
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 11:42 AM
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I drive in Virginia in winter all the time, and December in particular is not usually ever a problem as it doesn't usually snow in December. I just have all weather tires, but still, it's not a big deal.

Snow is more likely in Jan-February, though. You can't predict, it is unlikely for a blizzard on the exact days one would drive north. And the OP plans to drive south, it appears, anyway. It isn't clear when this would be happening, if December in particular, I wouldn't worry about the weather much.
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Old Oct 14th, 2016, 04:45 PM
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We'll be traveling in February from NY - driving down, maybe the AutoTrain for the trip back. We've had bad luck with flying the last few winters (snow) so try to avoid it.
We have family in the D.C. area which gives us some flex if the weather kicks in.
BTW - there was a huge snowstorm a few years at the end of December that shut down the eastern seaboard for days. We were stranded in Missouri - were able to get re-routed to Michigan then rented a car to get home.
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Old Oct 15th, 2016, 08:34 AM
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Ah, so you're driving from NY to Florida? And then considering how best to return, via AutoTrain or just driving? Is that right?

In January or February, you may well hit snow somewhere, so this is a difficult decision. Trains get stopped or slowed down by snow, too.

I would rather fly and research the cheapest possible car rental.
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 05:53 AM
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I have been surprised by how cheap car rentals can be for 30 days and over.
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 09:24 AM
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I do it when I have to drive alone. I like it. Call me weird but it is relaxing to me. I hate driving both ways and it has always been because I am taking or picking up a dog in Annapolis. Just be careful getting on the freeway. D.C. traffic cams will get you. It is 55mph.
I get the sleeper and love it. Dinner is always good and my bathroom has always been spotless. I wake early so I am first to use shower. Bring some rubber flip flops. Bring some of your own booze and you will be ok.
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 09:35 AM
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I agree. Fly on the cheapest flight you can get and then have a cheap rental car for the duration. Fly home. If the planes aren't flying the AutoTrain may not be running, either.
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 05:20 PM
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Ah - but if the AutoTrain isn't running, you can always drive home...eventually.
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Old Oct 16th, 2016, 07:28 PM
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Which do you think is likely to go back into service fastest after a snowstorm: air travel; the AutoTrain; or highways?
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Old Dec 8th, 2017, 09:17 AM
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I will be taking the Auto Train for my 6th round trip in January. It's not fun, but neither is driving, or flying. I live in NJ. The people at the stations have it down to a science, as these stations only serve the Auto Train. No other trains come or go from Sanford and Lorton. I usually arrive around 2PM. I pull up to the first booth, where I give my name, no ticket or number is necessary. They then slap a numbered magnet (about 4x8 inches) on drivers door, give you a folder with paperwork and info about train, and you continue about 50 yards to the covered unloading area. You then take your travel bag, leave your keys in the car, and go inside to check in. Someone videos your car 360 deg, so if it gets damaged, both have proof of what it looked like before trip. Inside you go to check in, where you get your seat number. They always sit single travelers of the same gender together. You reserve your dinner time - 5,7 or 9 PM.
The Seats are very roomy and comfortable. Really recline with foot and leg rests. There is wi-fi. And electric outlets. There are more than enough bathrooms. They are tiny,and clean.
The meals are served in the dining cars, tables are set with linens. The food is pretty good. Waiters attentive. You can have your meal brought to your seat if you have mobility issues. I am usually pretty tired after dinner, as I have been getting ready since early morning, and with a full stomach it doesn't take me long to settle in. I read, watch a downloaded movie or whatever and usually am out by 10PM.
Next morning it's breakfast and unboarding at about 9AM. Your car is brought up to the holding area and announced while you wait in station. There is no rhyme or reason as to how the cars are called, so the wait can be short or could take up to an hour and a half. For a $50 fee, you can have your car unloaded early (15 mins or less). Worth it to me. Always check your car for damages, you never know.
Always bring a spare set of car keys. Just in case. Bring your own pillow and blanket. They charge for these, and they are not washed after every use. A sleep mask and ear plugs are helpful.
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Old Dec 8th, 2017, 09:32 AM
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welcome to Fodors Wonderwoman. you probably didn't notice but this thread is more than a year old . . .
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