Auto Train to FL and Drive Back

Jan 29th, 2011, 03:50 PM
  #1  
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Auto Train to FL and Drive Back

Planned trip via Auto Train from Lorton VA to Sanford FL begins now. This is a scouting trip to look at some cities and visit some friends along the way back.

Itinerary:
Amtrak Auto Train. You take your own car! It is an overnight trip and rooms are available. I reserved a ticket in September (for a Feb. trip) thinking I could sleep sitting up. In October, I said "What are you thinking? You can't sleep sitting up!" Since I have a 2-hour drive upon arrival, I didn't think being sleep-deprived was so smart. I called to book a roomette and they are sold out. I was able to change to the next day. √Reserve in advance!

As departure date looms, the weather sounds iffy, so I call Amtrak to see if there are any cancellations. "Nope, totally sold out!" √I do learn that cancellations are posted at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. If your need to change is strong, call very early in the a.m. to see if there is anything available.

After reading info on the Amtrak site, I found the following link about the train-if you have made this trip, perhaps you can say now if the info is accurate:

http://www.on-track-on-line.com/autotrain-tips.shtml

Don't know if I'll have time to post until getting back. Will try. Right now I'm trying to pack the right kind of clothes. It will be a challenge to go from cold to very warm to cool back to cold again. Layers are always correct, yes? How nice to be able to put extra things in the car. Off to pack, please stay tuned. √Remember to take my pillow.
TDudette is offline  
Jan 29th, 2011, 04:14 PM
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We have taken the Auto Train many times and you were right on to take a sleeper. It is definitely more comfortable, we think, to be able to lie down and and sleep, though some of our friends do not agree with us. Compartments are small and the roomette does not have its own bathroom Bathrooms are close though, and stay much cleaner than in coach. With a roomette, you are considered first class and there is complimentary wine, cheese, veggies and dip and snacks in the 1st class club car as soon as you board the train.
Also the dinner menu is much better for 1st class passengers. Amtrack is NOT luxury-but it is a very relaxed way to travel to Florida. Hope this helps! Have a safe trip!
mavip is offline  
Jan 29th, 2011, 04:20 PM
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Thanks, mavip. DH and I took an overnight train (not Auto Train) to Florida and couldn't sleep in those seats. There was a fair amount of noise from people and doors.

What we loved was talking with the folks who take the same train each year for Florida. They were assembled in the lounge in their robes catching up! Lots of fun.
TDudette is offline  
Jan 30th, 2011, 04:19 PM
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Never rode the Auto Train but have several times gone from DC to Orlando. The tracks seem to be the roughest on that route compared to the thousands of miles I have ridden in coach elsewhere. If you can fall asleep in your recliner at home in front of the TV, you can sleep in coach like 80% of the people on the train do.
tomfuller is online now  
Jan 30th, 2011, 04:26 PM
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We're in FL right now, having come down on our 4th trip. We've never booked any of the sleeper/roomette combos. And those we've talked to on the train, who have tried them, said "never again." Check those dimensions.... And the price....

We've never found dirty toilets. And with a choice of 4 entrees, we've always found something tasty to eat. And if you empty the free carafe of wine you get at dinner, they'll refill it quickly!

Seats are nice and spacious. Only problem I ever had was lumbar support, so I take a small pillow to deal with that.

Our first trip was in 2008. On that one, we ran into the auto train running late, which resulted in overlapping passengers. Not a major problem, but it could happen.... Hasn't happened to us since.

We did have to drive back last year--our return trip coincided with the week the AT didn't run because of the blizzard. That return trip turned out to be Jacksonville, Hilton Head, Blacksburg VA, and home to Harrisburg. It won't affect you (since you're planning to drive back,) but for anyone looking to do the round-trip on the AT, take a set of maps along covering the route from FL back home. Be prepared....

I've got an album of that first trip on Webshots. Go to http://tinyurl.com/3srql3
bookhall is offline  
Jan 30th, 2011, 06:26 PM
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tomfuller: DH and I couldn't sleep on the seats. Now it was a few years ago (like 15!) so maybe things have changed.

bookhall: Thanks! I will look at the pix upon my return. I want to be totally surprised. OMG, you had to drive back because of the blizzard? On the other hand, that might have been better than being stranded at an airport. I have all the maps for the drive back!

More to come. Weather forecast isn't great for getting to Lorton.
TDudette is offline  
Feb 13th, 2011, 11:36 AM
  #7  
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OK! Never had time to post along the way so here's the first day. You will see that my comments agree with those of above posters.


Hi to all: After much gnashing of teeth, Feb. 1 opened with an ice storm in the early a.m. By 10:30, it had all melted and my drive to Lorton VA was painless. I had made my reservations for Jan. 31 back in September. When I decided to get a room in October, that train’s rooms were sold out but I was able to book a room for Feb. 1. Reserve early!

Auto Train info: As of this trip report, one can register for the trip from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00. Although check-in is allowed up to 3.

Signs to Auto Train are easy to see. There was a rather long line of cars but it moved fast. I was given a folder with my car number (needed for pick up) and handed the keys over to one of the many car people. Short walk to the station and an even shorter line for people with rooms. They call us first class BTW. There were 3 dinner seatings-5, 7, and 9. When I arrived at 1, the 7 p.m. dinner was full so I opted for 5 as my sleep habits have gotten strange lately. Met someone who said 7 was full at 12:30. Handed my computer-generated reservation to the ticket clerk and was invited to sit.

Train leaves at 4 but we started loading at 2:30. Auto Train (“AT”) uses CSX train tracks so must give way to their cargo cars. The AT uses narrow-looking boxes that carry 2 levels of cars. I never did get to see the loading process. They can handle vans but call ahead or check online for specifications.

Even though I am almost 65, I am still 12 in my mind and it felt odd being amongst so many old people. My notes say “so many wheel chairs, so little hair” but it is a jest. That people are traveling despite infirmity is so brave and the outside belies the fire and spirit inside. I am actually looking for a red-haired woman with a bald man. They are the parents of someone I met the night before! In our conversation, she says they will be on the same train. I was going to pretend to be a fortune-teller and “wow” them with my knowledge of their lives.

Unlike waiting at the airport gate, where everyone is twittering and texting, the old people were gabbing with each other. A few of us were reading (a handful of Nooks and Kindles), but many people were with friends. Groups who travel the AT each year and party most of the way down!

So I find a seat with a book on it and ask if it’s taken. “No,” says the old guy and he looks away. “So move your stuff,” yells his wife. I chat a little with the woman on my other side. She suggests that eating at 5 is good for catching the 7 p.m. movie and don’t get the lasagna.

A train goes by and its haunting toot makes me wonder why we can’t get our lawmakers to improve that form of travel here in the U.S. The wheel-chair bound and walking challenged are escorted on first. I go up a really narrow stair case (guided by Debbie who will be the porter for the car) to the upper level (rooms are on both). Stairs are so narrow that I begin to wonder how a person could possible fall. At the top of the stairs is a coffee station, toilet for the roomettes (only bedrooms have their own) and an even more narrow hall. I did feel claustrophobic a little at first.

My roomette has facing seats with a drop down table in between. On the table is a “USA Today” and four small waters. Seats look very comfy (and they will be with the pillow I brought along-thanks Fodorites!) and they will each recline to make a single bed. Above is a pull-down that will be the other bed. There is enough space to hang a garment or two and a little table large enough for your book. By the way, some people did bring extra bed clothes-pillows and blankets. Once the beds are in place, you have room for one foot and your overnight bag if it’s skinny.

The AT material shows floor plans of bedrooms and family bedrooms. I do believe 2 people with more than average leg length would be much more comfy in those. I had trouble washing my face with the toilet set up-you have to hold you hand on the lever to keep the water coming. It was awkward but I suppose it saves water.

While waiting for the choo to choo, an announcer says the train is sold out. There are 43 people cars carrying 460 people and 27 auto cars with 251 vehicles. The train is ¾ mile long. And, there will be a free wine-tasting at 4:30.

As I’m getting settled, I realized “my” music is playing. How chagrined am I to learn it is the oldies station. As the train gets going, I walk to the nearby club room. It is packed and there is a long line so I go back “home” and read for a while. Upon return, the bartender shows me where the woman is dispensing free wine and says I may buy a small bottle for $5.50. I do opt for free. The wine lady is surly. No thanks for the tip or eye contact. I return for a second and show her by not tipping this time. Don’t think she cared.

Until dinner, I watch the passing countryside (difficult to do if driving). Occoquan, Quantico (much bigger and less scenic than I envisioned) and a sweet town that is home to Randolph-Macon College. The front yards of its homes are right on the RR tracks!

Debbie comes to arrange a pull down time and to describe the call and light buttons. 5 o’clock dinner is announced. The dining car has cloth tablecloths and napkins and fresh flowers-just like in the movies. Choices were: Tournedos of Beef, Ches. Style Crab Cakes, Savory Chicken, Stuffed Manicotti, Choo-Choo Chewies (chicken nuggets), and Penne Pasta with Meatballs. I chose the first and it was extremely tender. Wine was poured throughout dinner. I’d give it a B or B+ meal.

My dinner partner was Perry from Cleveland. Across were Shirley and Al of Boston. We all talked about the AT (“Is this your first time?”), the weather, children and grandchildren, and our journeys. The time went fast and we were encouraged to leave for the next seating. Ice cream with sauce for dessert (forget the other choices).

Back to the roomette to read. I pass the people filling up the club car (there aren’t enough seats) to watch the movie!

Tomorrow: pick up my car and drive to Pt. St. Lucie
TDudette is offline  
Feb 15th, 2011, 05:37 AM
  #8  
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I see no one has looked for AT info so will continue one. I found 2 typos above but expect your eye will help sort them out.

Wed., Feb. 2, 2011

One of the brochures suggests that the gentle swaying of the train will lull you to sleep. Hmmm-one of the sways almost knocked me out of the bed! After fitful sleep I was awakened at 6:45 by a chipper Debbie, per my request. Mostly wheat in a continental breakfast so had a banana and 2 coffees. My table mates are Adrienne and Myron (a couple from Philly area) and Maureen (Long Island). Each had mildly harrowing drives to catch the train but are old hands.

Myron says train can arrive as early at 7:30 if the tracks are free of CSX travel. Also, there is no rhyme nor reason to how long it takes to get your car. We pass Jacksonville at 7 a.m. and it looks like a very healthy set of commuter cars sitting at traffic lights.

We pass many pines, short palms and quite a few boat carcasses. A big nursery has acres of crops covered by tightly-meshed black netting. I will find out they are protecting ferns. Also pass a group of men hanging from girders on a nearby bridge. They are swaying gently and a guy with a bullhorn is giving directions. Pole climbers in training? I got a good photo of them. Start seeing Spanish moss. Osprey nests topped many big utility poles.

We arrive at around 9:30. It is 67 degrees! Debbie carries my stuff and puts it on a cart (they are everywhere BTW). Another large room is filled with folks waiting for their car number. I am tempted to stand and ask “Is there a Fodorite in the house?” but don’t. Don’t see the red-headed woman either. Rats.

At 10:30, my number is called. All the unloaded cars are in a parking lot. Several train employees make sure you don’t get run over or run over others in the race to get back on the road. On to Port St. Lucie (2+ hours) and I’m going to start a new thread for that area. Hope this is helpful if you are planning an Auto Train trip and thanks to those who gave advice above!
TDudette is offline  
Feb 16th, 2011, 06:18 AM
  #9  
 
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Thanks for this. we are considering for next year.
jubilada is offline  
Feb 16th, 2011, 06:27 AM
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You are welcome, jubilada. With so many good air fares and deals on car rental, the AT isn't always the most cost effective. But, as a single driver, I was happy to have the ride to Florida and could chop up the return trip with visits with friends. It worked for me despite the tight quarters and "gentle" sway!
TDudette is offline  
Feb 16th, 2011, 07:50 AM
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Sounds like an ok way to get south with your car. Too bad it doesn't start a bit farther north and save the trip through NYC and DC.

Thanks for posting.
emalloy is offline  
Feb 16th, 2011, 11:17 AM
  #12  
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emalloy, I do agree. Never did talk long enough with the folks who did it. Assume they stayed with family along the way?

Hope they extend it north and do something similar with other cities. Have to get the states to go with the high cost. Just heard that FL gov turned down stimulus money for a high speed train because of that.
TDudette is offline  
Feb 17th, 2011, 01:47 PM
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Hi Tdudette,

I enjoyed your descriptions of your Auto Train journey, which sounds like it went the same route as the Silver Meteor (but minus the stops). I too like the views of Ashland, Virginia and isn't it wonderful to wake up and see the palms?

Thanks for sharing this! Daniel
Daniel_Williams is online now  
Feb 18th, 2011, 12:02 PM
  #14  
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Hi Daniel,

What is your next trip? Are you going by train?

Yes, I enjoyed the palms. The live oaks with Spanish moss can be either romantic or down right scary depending on the light.

Did you see the movie with Gene Wilder when he took the Silver Streak? Can't think of the name of it-loved the music.
TDudette is offline  
Feb 18th, 2011, 01:00 PM
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We have wondered whether the AT or flight/car rental for 2 would be better for our hoped for month long stay next year. It seems like having our own car enables us to bring more stuff,but with Southwest we could have 4 bags for free, so... It depends a lot on month long car rental, which can run into a lot! Perhaps people have experience with this?
jubilada is offline  
Feb 18th, 2011, 03:01 PM
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Hi tdudette,

Next trip is going to nephew's bar mitzvah in April in Washington DC by plane (from Montreal). As much as I usually seek out a train ride, in this case, there just isn't time to "Amtrak" it as I work the Friday and the Monday.

I haven't seen the Gene Wilder movie, but I saw the trailer; the film looks amusing and I think I'd enjoy the scenery.

Best wishes, Daniel
Daniel_Williams is online now  
Feb 19th, 2011, 02:26 PM
  #17  
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Here's the part of the "Silver Streak" train music:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8o-I...eature=related

Richard Pryor was very funny. Think I'll re watch the movie-wonder if it's dated?
TDudette is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2011, 12:26 PM
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We're just getting plans in place for our 3-week trip to Sanibel next February. Because it's a 3-week stay, car rental prices seem out of sight, and airfares are no great deal either.

Thanks for your TR dudette, the information is very helpful. We looked at the auto train, and that was our second choice. However, we've decided to drive the whole trip (from CT) next year. We're retired now, so have no time constraints on our travel. Oh, and we have a new Jetta diesel wagon, so a great way to get there! But I suspect as we get, um, more mature, ;-) the auto train will become more attractive.

We used to drive when our kids were young and flights were too expensive -- but once it was just 2 of us for 2 weeks, flights were okay. It seems the last 2-3 years that car rental charges have gone up and up, so that changes the math!

But however we get there, that moment when we cross the causeway to Sanibel makes it all worthwhile.
SB_Travlr is offline  
Sep 23rd, 2011, 01:53 PM
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Thanks, SB_Travlr. How far to Sanibel from Sanford? Have a super trip.

By the way, the photo i took of the "Hangmen in Training" was accepted in a juried exhibit and sold! Paid for part of the ticket.
TDudette is offline  
Sep 25th, 2011, 01:19 PM
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Hi dudette
According to mapquest, it's 230 miles from Sanford to Sanibel, and estimated drive time is 4 hours.

Congratulations on selling the painting -- my daughter is a painter, and I know how gratifying that is!
SB_Travlr is offline  

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