I’ve always wanted to try the Amtrak Auto Train. In the past, I always had great experiences travelling between Washington, DC and Philadelphia with Amtrak – it was quick, easy and quiet. Being completely over driving long distances, I decided trying out the Auto Train was my best bet.
The Amtrak Auto Train is about 40 – 60 minutes travel time, from all the cool resorts in Orlando, depending on traffic. It’s not a bad drive – pretty easy in fact. When you first arrive, the first Amtrak representative will slap a magnetic number on the side of your car. Hot Tip: Even if you arrive early and have a low number, you won’t be the first off the train. It’s all random, but you can purchase to be one of 25 cars that get off first – if you are willing to part with an extra $50 bucks.
Motorbikes are welcome too. They go one their own little carts and are wheeled onto the trains. Getting there early has it’s perks. There’s a free shuttle that takes you into Sanford, Florida. It’s a cute little town with a waterfront that’s full of antiques. If you’re a single, young traveller like me, the one thing that you’ll notice is that you’re quite possibly the youngest person taking the Auto train by about 50 years. There’s two different travel choices for you. You can either have a sleeper carriage or you can cosy up to your neighbour for the next 18 hours. Hot Tip: If you want to try your luck at a empty neighbouring seat, don’t board the train when they call you carriage. Wait a bit in the lounge, and go to the Amtrak counter. Ask the representative if there are any available empty seats and you may be in luck! That’s how I got to spread out a bit. If you’re travelling as a seated passenger, Wifi does exist, but it’s limited to the cramped lounge carriage – ONLY. It will be PACKED. Everyone will be in there trying to chill out buying beer, wine, and snacks and there is limited seating. Also, with the Wifi only hosting 15 devices, be prepared to use the internet on your phone. Then, you can surf from the comfort of your seat. Travelling for 18 hours, you will be fed. There is a selection of fish, chicken and beef and “almost” vegetarian to chose from – I say “almost” because if you’re Vegan, or have any weird food allergy, you might want to pack your own dinner. Dinner wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t memorable. Perhaps being in the sleeper class, you’d experience something much more luxurious. Dessert was typical American dessert with a few choices. I chose the New York Cheesecake. It was very rich and not in a good way. Everything was packaged or processed. The cool part if you’re travelling solo on the Amtrak Auto Train is you get to meet other travellers at dinner. You will be put with random people to fill the table, so don’t be shy. And, if you’re lucky, someone will bring cards or dominos to play downstairs.
Sleeping on the train will be a bit of a challenge. It’s kinda like being in some serious turbulence for 17 hours straight. The seat will allow you to recline back and put your feet up – but in all honesty, I would prefer being on a cramped Economy flight for 17 hours. You’ll see some of the best, unspoiled views on the East Coast.
You’ll arrive in Virginia sometime in the morning. Sometimes the train is late due to host of reasons – track work, traffic, delays loading the train – best bet is to not have any real plans when you arrive. The cars are driven off the train and presented like your Senior Prom. The numbers are announced as they are driven up – so don’t forget the number of your car on your ticket!
I found the train super cold and uncomfortable – and as a rookie, I had no pillow or blanket to keep me warm. I could not wait to get off the train and to get in the sunshine. Since I did not purchase the express service to get my car off the train first, I waited a good two hours. It was actually a lot of fun to people watch and if you think about it, I missed all the peak Washington traffic.
Would I do the Amtrak Auto train again – No. Will I take Amtrak from Washington DC to New York City – Yes. There’s something very different between the two. DC to NYC is comfortable and quiet. FL to DC was uncomfortable. Though, I’m thinking if I was on a sleeper carriage, my experience would be very different.
An Aussie girl gone walkabout in the great big world!