Ever think that one day you would experience royal treatment, with a butler, a driver, a cook and a keeper. Amtrak’s AutoTrain is a driver of sorts and certainly worth considering for those migrating from north to south for the winter months. When I recently experienced the AutoTrain from Virginia to Orlando, I felt like my driver had finally arrived!
Leaving from Lorton, Virginia, 30 minutes south of Washington, DC and ending near Orlando, Florida, this 17.5 hour train ride certainly has its benefits. Upon arrival at the train terminal we were greeted by a friendly check-in agent, who confirmed our reservation and pointed us to the drop off spot for our vehicle so that it could be loaded onto a secure trailer. From that point, we didn’t see our vehicle again until arrival, but rest assured, it was in good hands.
Passenger seats are pre-assigned upon arrival. The seats in coach are built like business class airline seats. Amtrak suggests that passengers arrive with their own pillow and blanket, yet small cushions and light covers are available on the train at no extra cost.
Our AutoTrain was the longest train in Amtrak’s system, measuring approximately 3/4 of a mile long. There were 492 passengers, 268 cars and five motorcyles.
The scenery was beautiful with the bright colors of the fall foliage and the occasional lake or river. As we passed through small towns, our conductor highlighted certain points of interest such as Ashton, North Carolina, the happiest city in America according to national public radio.
Before we knew it, it was time for our hot dinner in the dining car, featuring a selection of beef, chicken and pasta as well as wine and desert. After dinner we spent time in the lounge which is complimentary to all passengers, offering coffee, tea, apples, oranges, bananas and pretzels, and most importantly free wifi. A movie plays in the evening, which for us was the beloved, An American in Paris. The time passes quickly and before you know it, you’ve arrived.
Tips for the AutoTrain:
- Prior to departure be prepared with a carry on bag for your overnight essentials, as you will not have access to your vehicle until arrival.
- Request a quiet car if that’s what you desire. The quietest cars are those on the first level of this double decker train or those furthest from the lounge.
- If you are unsteady on your feet and prefer not to walk through the wobbly train cars, then request a seat closer to the dining lounge.
- Washrooms are located on the first level only. So if you’re not comfortable navigating stairs, consider requesting a seat on the lower level.
- There are 3 dinner seatings – 5pm, 7pm and 9pm. You can only make your selection upon arrival at the Lorton departure terminal. The 7pm books up first, so if that’s your preference, be sure to arrive about two and a half hours in advance of your scheduled departure.
- If your preferred seating time is booked, ask to be put on the waitlist. It does open up sometimes, as it did for us.
- As the AutoTrain is not equipped with WiFi outside the lounge, consider bringing alternative forms of entertainment, such as playing cards, books, DVDs, travel scrabble, and computer games.
- For additional companionship and an opportunity to meet fellow passengers, head to the lounge area at any time of day or night.
ALL ABOARD and Bon voyage! Today a driver, maybe tomorrow a butler!