My Experience Taking the Amtrak Auto Train from DC to Florida

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Want to know what it’s like to take the Amtrak Auto Train to Florida? Here’s my experience and tips on transporting a car and riding the Auto Train in a Superliner Bedroom.

Amtrak Auto Train to Florida photo

Thanks to Amy from Florida for her comment made on June 2020: “Just got off the auto train and wanted to let everyone know you now must wear a face mask whenever you move about on the train… All meals are served to go and you eat in your seats. We were served our meals in our roomette.”

Auto Train from Washington DC to Florida

My parents will be in Tampa, Florida for the next few months and we had two options for their car from New York: I drive it down or take it down on Amtrak’s Auto Train. If you read the title of the post, you know what we chose.

We decided that my sister and I would take the Auto Train and my parents would fly down the next day. (Why have all of us suffer on when only two of us can?)

Here’s how it works: You drive your car to the Auto Train station in Lorton, Virginia, which is right by Washington DC, and the train takes you and your car down to Sanford, Florida, right by Orlando.

You have to get to the station by 2:30PM since that’s the cutoff time for getting your car on the train. Because my mother loves to get to airports and such HOURS before departure, she made my sister and I leave New York at an ungodly hour and we got to the station at 11AM. Yes, that’s right, 11AM.

Because we were there so early, we had to wait in our car (sitting in a short line of cars filled with other early birds) for the booth to open at 11:30AM to let cars in.

Amtrak Train to Florida image

Once we drove up to the booth, a magnetic number was placed on the driver’s side door and we were told to drive up to a marked lane.

Turn off the engine, leave the keys in the ignition, roll down the passenger side window, grab a maximum of two carry-ons per person for the train ride, and leave your car right there.

The Auto Train drivers will load up the car onto the train.

Go inside the station and pick up your tickets at the check-in counter. You get your boarding pass with your seat or room number and pick a time for dinner. You get to pick 5PM, 7PM, or 9PM. A perk of getting there 3.5 hours early (!) is getting to pick the dinner time first. We went with 7PM.

You can opt to pay extra for a bedroom instead of a seat, which we did. For two people, our options were to get a Superliner Roomette (two seats that convert to beds) or a Superliner Bedroom (a sofa that converts to a bed and a berth that folds down from above plus the crucial private bathroom) and we chose the latter.

The ride on the Auto Train to Florida is about 16-18 hours so I have no idea how people just riding in the seats are able to handle it.

Amtrak Auto Train Station picture

Ok, so you know how I mentioned you have to get to the station by 2:30PM? Well, you don’t even leave the station until 4PM. OMG. SO. MUCH. TIME. WAITING.

At 2:30PM, an announcement was made to start boarding. Since we were in a bedroom, we got to board first.

The Auto Train Superliner Bedroom

Let me give you a tour of the room. Look to your right, you see a two seater sofa. Look to your left, a sink and seat behind it by the window.

The sink juts out and tucked around the corner from it is the bathroom complete with a shower.

TOUR OVER.

A note about the bathroom: The toilet flushes like the ones on the plane using very little water and a ton of suction.

They have instructions for the shower and that it’s best to take one sitting on the toilet since there’s no room to stand comfortably. Uh, PASS on the shower.

Amtrak Auto Train to Florida Image

The room is TINY. They say it can accommodate up to three people (!) but I don’t see how that’s possible without ending in a murder-suicide.

My enthusiasm level dropped each hour I was on the train.

Amtrak Auto Train Coffee Station Image

There is a little coffee and ice station in the middle of the train where I drank three cups of coffee within 3 hours. (This will come to haunt me when I’m trying to sleep at 2AM.)

We were starving by the time we boarded so we ate our packed lunch on the train after the 5 seconds it took us to settle in. I took a nap with the lull of the train putting me to sleep right away.

Amtrak Auto Train Tickets to Florida Picture

Before I knew it, it was dinnertime! Remember the two pink tickets? We took those with us to the dining car when they made the announcement for the 7PM dinner.

By the way, since the door to our room only locks from the inside, I had to take my laptop and camera with me to dinner.

Amtrak Auto Train Dinner Dining Photo

Dining on the Auto Train

If you hate people like I do, dining on the train may prove to be a little difficult.

After handing in your tickets, they seat you at a table WITH OTHER PEOPLE. Since it was just the two of us, they sat us side by side and seated two strangers across from us.

On the table was a pitcher of water and another with unsweetened iced tea. Because I just had three cups of coffee earlier, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to fill my body up with more caffeine by chugging the iced tea.

We had a few entree items to choose from: Braised Beef Short Rib, Baked Sea Bass, Chicken Stew, or a lasagna. Everyone starts with a small salad and a dinner roll. I ate it all.

I got the short rib and wow, it was surprisingly good.

I really like my side dish of sour cream which I ate with some baked potato. It was a lot of food and I was able to eat only half of everything.

(All the plates are plastic by the way.)

Amtrak Auto Train to Florida Dessert Dinner Image

Time for dessert! Choice of tiramisu, Jell-o, vanilla ice cream, or New York Style Cheesecake. I got the cheesecake with a strawberry topping. It was delicious.

Dinner and breakfast are included in the price so we weren’t sure how tipping worked so we left $5 on the table.

Amtrak Auto Train to Florida Bed Image

Sleeping in a Sleeper Car on the Auto Train

Now back to our sardine can. Keith, our sleeper car attendant, stopped in at our requested time of 9PM to make our beds.

The top berth was folded down to reveal a bed with straps you hook to the ceiling so you don’t roll off the bed and die.

A little ladder hooks to the side of the berth so you can climb up to your bed and you can pretend you’re living in a dollhouse.

The bottom bunk is slightly roomier but once the beds are made, there’s only about 6 inches of space between the sink and the bed.

Maybe it was all that caffeine or maybe it was the 3 hour nap I took earlier, or maybe it was that the whole bed felt a little gross but I didn’t sleep too well. Sleeping in the bed reminded me of sleeping in hostels where you can’t really get too comfortable because it feels, for a lack of a better word, icky.

PRO TIP: Bring a small blanket since the thin sheets and the scratchy blanket they provide are not enough to keep you warm even though we had the room temperature set to high.

They do make a stop at around 11:30PM somewhere to change conductors and to refuel.

I heard a passenger say they got off the train during that stop to get some fresh air and to stretch their legs for a few minutes so I guess that’s an option but I would be terrified that the train would leave without me.

Amtrak Auto Train to Florida Breakfast Image

Arriving in Florida

Breakfast is served in the same dining cars from 6-8AM. They make announcements and you just show up and get seated. No need for tickets and no set dining time.

You get a packaged crumb cake (bleh), banana, cereal, milk, warm bagels with cream cheese. I had some orange juice but it was basically orange colored sugar water so I switched to coffee. I had a bagel with cream cheese and overall, the breakfast was eh. We left a $2 tip on the table.

While we were at breakfast, Keith came to our room and remade the room so the beds were tucked away. We were scheduled to arrive at 9AM, but arrived 30 minutes early at 8:30AM instead. Yay!

We gathered our things and made our way off the train when they made the deboarding announcement. We tipped Keith $10 when we got off the train.

Amtrak Auto Train to Florida Picture

Ok, ready for this HUGE PRO TIP? (Get ready, this paragraph is mostly all caps.) MAKE SURE YOUR CAR IS ONE OF THE LAST TO LOAD by loading your car in closer to the 2:30PM cutoff time at Lorton, Virginia. It’s first in, last out. PEOPLE, it’s FIRST IN, LAST OUT.

UPDATE: Apparently, first in, first out is not always the rule according to the comments below by others that have taken the Auto Train. 

Since we were one of the first 15 cars, we waited AN HOUR AND 30 MINUTES for our car.

1 HOUR and 30 MINUTES!!

There were 142 cars on our train. We had to wait for 130 cars to unload before we got ours. Learn from my mistake.

A kid waiting near me said to his mom after the hour mark, “Well, that’s what you get for getting here early.” My sister and I repeated those same words for the next few hours.

Amtrak Auto Train Tips

  • Don’t get there too early since it’s last in, first out. So if your car is one of the first ones to load, get ready to be one of the last ones to get the car back after you reach your destination. 
  • Bring a blanket. (I WISH I had this!) I get cold easily and the scratchy thin blankets they provide do nothing to keep you warm. We were traveling in July and I was freezing in the room. You can adjust the temperature in the room but it didn’t get really warm.
  • Bring a pillow if you think you’ll need one to sleep better.
  • Bring ear plugs since it get pretty noisy at night from the sound of the train chugging and jostling along the tracks.
  • Don’t forget to tip the servers in the dining car and your sleeping car attendant.
  • Travel time is about 16-18 hours long so be prepared for long hours of sitting around.
  • The room came with two bottles of water but we brought extra and I was glad we did.
  • Don’t bring too many carry-ons since there’s VERY little space to store anything in the room.

The cost for entire trip for two people in a Superliner Bedroom and a vehicle was $742.00 one-way.

Update: We took the Auto Train back up to Washington D.C. from Florida in April 2017 and the cost was higher for the same room and car at $963.00 (one-way).

Using a Walker or Wheelchair on the Auto Train

The train ride is a bumpy one, jerking you around as you walk down the narrow hallways so it would be best for those using walkers to stay in the room unless absolutely necessary.

The hallways are narrow so a walker wouldn’t fit through them anyway.

When making a reservation, make sure you get a room or a set on the lower level and to let them know you’re traveling with a walker or a wheelchair. 

There are wheelchair accessible rooms which are bigger than the standard rooms.

I believe meals can be served in the room so you won’t have to break a neck trying to get to the dining car but make sure that is arranged beforehand so there aren’t any surprises.

For additional accessibility info: https://www.amtrak.com/onboard/onboard-accommodations-for-all-your-needs/sleeping-accommodations/superliner-accessible-bedroom.html

Questions You May Have

How Long is the Auto Train Ride to Florida from Washington DC?

The ride is about 16-18 hours but it’s very much an approximation. You don’t really know what time the train will arrive at the Florida Auto Train station but it’s anywhere from 8AM – 10AM. That doesn’t include the time it takes for you to get your car after it gets unloaded.

Is There Wifi on the Auto Train?

There is wifi but it’s super spotty. I had to keep turning the wifi on and off and eventually just stayed on my phone’s cell network.

Is the Auto Train Ride Nonstop?

There is a quick stop close to midnight where they change conductors and refuel but otherwise it’s nonstop. You can get off and stretch your legs for a bit but it’s not a stop they announce.

Do You Have to Travel with Your Car on the Auto Train?

Yes. You can’t buy a ticket just for your car then fly down to Florida to meet your car there hours later. If your car is on the Auto Train, you have to be on the same Auto Train.

Does the Auto Train Allow Pets?

Only service animals are allowed onboard and they’ll be in the room or seat with you. You obviously cannot leave them in the car.

Are the Bathrooms on the Auto Train Gross?

I was in a Superliner Bedroom with my own bathroom which was clean. I’m sure the one that’s shared with everyone can’t be too clean after 12 hours.

How Far is the Auto Train Station from Washington DC?

The Auto Train station near Washington DC is in Lorton, Virginia and it’s about 25 miles away from DC. The Auto Train station in Florida is about 30 miles from Orlando and it’s in a suburb called Sanford. The Auto Train stations are only for the Auto Trains and no other train comes into that station.

How Often Does the Auto Train Run?

The Auto Train runs daily in each direction.

How Much is the Auto Train?

The range is cost for the Auto Train ranges by the seat or the bedroom you select plus the time of year you travel. Adding the cost of the car is separate and it’s about $200. If you want to make sure your car is one of the first 30 off the train, you can get Priority Vehicle Offloading for an additional $60.

Is Food Included in the Cost of the Auto Train?

Yes, you’ll get tickets to get dinner and breakfast the next morning. I would suggest bringing lunch or a snack since you may get hungry waiting for dinner.

Can I Get Something Out of the Car While on the Auto Train?

Nope, you don’t have access to your car when you’re on the train. The cars get loaded onto the separate cars-only carrier cars.

How Long is the Wait to Get the Car on the Auto Train?

After you get off the train at the Florida Auto Train station, you can wait anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Plan your day accordingly.
You will get your car sooner than later if you pay the $60 for Priority Vehicle Offloading which ensures your car will be one of the first 30 out. (I don’t think it’s worth it if you get there closer to 2PM to load your car since there’s a good chance your car may be one of the first to unload. But this is also a gamble.)

Auto Train from Washington DC to Florida Schedule

11:30AM
Auto Train starts accepting cars into the station to be boarded.

2:30PM 
The absolute cutoff time a car can be on the Auto Train. They won’t take any cars after this time. This is also the time they allow passengers onboard the train. You’ll have to wait in the waiting area until this time after you drop off your car to be loaded.

4:00PM
The time the Auto Train leaves for Florida.

8AM – 10AM
Approximate arrival time to the Auto Train station in Florida.

How to Book Your Auto Train Tickets Online

I’ll walk you through the Amtrak Auto Train’s online ticket purchasing process.

FIRST, before you do anything, make sure you sign up for Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program if you want to apply any rewards points to this trip.

Ok, you have your Guest Reward’s number? Or if you don’t care about that, then let’s go to the first page of the Auto Train ticketing which is the SEARCH page. 

This is where you fill out all the info about your trip. Select one-way or round trip, then select dates and start and end points. There are only two options in the dropdown (Lorton or Sanford) for the Auto Train.

Lorton is near Washington D.C. and Sanford is on Florida.

Select the number of passengers and the type of passenger. I just put “Adult.”

They have a coupon / promo code section on this page but I think it’s a joke on us since I don’t think the Auto Train takes any coupon codes. 

Click CONTINUE.

On this page we’ll select the seating or room options and add on the cost of car.

On this date I selected, I have four fare options. You have to select one. All the way on the left shows the coach seat price and all the way to the right shows the roomette price.

Note the arrows showing the roomette layout. Click left or right to see what other room types are available. The price above it will change according to the type of room.

After you’ve selected your seat or room, add on the cost of bringing your car. 

You have the option here to add on Priority Vehicle Offloading for $60 so you are guaranteed that your car will be one of the first 30 off the train.

Click CONTINUE.

Time to fill out the passenger info.

On this page you can log in to your user profile if you had created one. OR you can just fill out the information below and just put in your Guest Rewards number.

All tickets are etickets. You don’t have to print them out. You can just show the barcode when you get to the front desk.

You have to fill out a primary contact number. It’s mandatory.

Next, you can sign up for delay alerts which are text messages they send to your phone. I found it to be useful so I usually sign up for it.

The final step is saying yes or no to travel protection. They definitely want you to say Yes! (with an exclamation point!) since they make it sound like you’re putting yourself in real danger if you don’t.

Such alarmist wording. Ugh.

I never add on travel protection since I like to live dangerously.

Click CONTINUE.

This is the last page before confirmation.

This is where they want your money. ALL OF IT.

Fill out your credit card info and your billing address.

The final step on this page is clicking the REVIEW PURCHASE green button on the right side of the page.

You can now review your purchase and confirm your tickets on the next page. Done and done.

Happy travels!

138 thoughts on “My Experience Taking the Amtrak Auto Train from DC to Florida”

  1. A big smile on my face. And I’m still laughing.

    I just watched the episode of Modern Family when they take the train from California to Oregon. I kept thinking to myself, wow… traveling by train looks like fun! Thanks for bringing me back to reality 🙂

    If I ever need to take an auto train I’ll definitely remember first in, last out.

    Reply
  2. Favorite line ever: If you hate people like I do, dining on the train may prove to be a little difficult. After handing in your tickets, they seat you at a table WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

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  3. Haha. I can relate to so much of this, e.g. hating other people. I’m so glad you didn’t sugar coat this.

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  4. This was a great read. Too bad I waited until we arrived in Sanford. There are 220 cars on board and guess who was waiting in line at 11:30 AM?

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  5. “so you don’t roll off the bed and die”
    “I don’t see how that’s possible without ending in a murder-suicide.”

    My gosh, i read this at work and laughed out loud quite a few times-so much that fellow office-mates asked me what was up.

    While i did come here to learn the ins and outs of the Auto-train (which we will take for the first time both ways in December 2018) Now i am looking to see if you write books or do stand-up. My gosh, you are hysterical and provide great information.

    I would like to ask, did you take notice of an Ice Machine anywhere?
    my husband wants to bring on a soft sided cooler with some wine/beer for our sleeper car but wasn’t sure if there was ice some place.

    Reply
    • Brooke, you’re too kind! This experience sure was fun to write about and hope you have a great time on your ride in December! Yes, there is ice for your cooler — it’s where the coffee station is so you shouldn’t have a problem finding it!

      Reply
  6. $742.00!!!?? Not sure how you got that price but it does not sound accurate at all. We are traveling on the same train, same size cabin, etc. and our round trip fare is $1,972!!

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  7. I ride Amtrak long-distance trains fairly often, think from New Mexico to D.C. and NYC, also from New Mexico to southern California. Honestly, it’s better to travel in a “roomette.” Get 1 per person across the hall from each other. I detest the upper bunk in the bedroom, it’s HARD and very uncomfortable. I far prefer the “public” shower in the hall to the shower in the bedroom W.C. Your commentary about the dining car cracked me up, since I travel alone on trains I enjoy meeting other people at mealtime. I’ve met plenty of very interesting travelers, like last time when I sat with an elderly professional gambler with lots of great stories. Your auto train report is funny and helpful.

    Reply
    • Hi Dianne, good to know about the roomette tip! My personal nightmare would be chatting with random people in the dining car — you’re a better person than me!

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  8. Is it possible to put your car on the auto train without a passenger? What if I even bought a passenger ticket but not get on the train only put my car on the train? I don’t think this is allowed but is it possible to do? I am a travel nurse and I am alone and I have to travel with a pet that can not be on a train for 17 hours without a potty break. Thank you!

    Reply
  9. This was an absolutely pleasant informational piece. I have to travel up north in a month, and love the idea of not driving. Thanks to all for your contributions. Now armed with all your insights, I believe that I am well prepared for this trip. I will enjoy it. Thanks all!

    Reply
  10. It’s 230 am on the auto train as I lie here in my roomette on the top bunk. I can add that climbing down the stairs for the potty run is interesting. Next time definitely 2 roomettes. We have priority offloading for our car this trip. Hard to get but worth getting for $60.

    Reply
    • Hi Gail, you have a LONG ride ahead of you — hope you get some sleep! The priority offloading sounds like a good deal since your car will come out way sooner than everyone else’s. Good Luck!

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  11. Dropping my sister’s car off to her in Florida. It cost me $500 for a two week rental in Orlando and she will be there at least 3 months.I don’t think I will need a sleeper, but I can afford it, so I may just get one for the experience. I will probably fly back to New York. This article was very informative.
    Do they have wifi on the train or should I just load a bunch of movies on my ipad?

    Reply
    • Hi On the Road Again, they do have wifi but I remember it being spotty so I would keep switching the wifi on and off. Best to go with a bunch of movies so you’re not relying on the wifi. Good luck on your trip!

      Reply
  12. Superb and absolutely hilarious writing! Thank you for the tips but especially, the howling laughter!
    Please, please keep writing and, for godsake..get it published.
    I’m not going on that train. Who knew that there is something worse than flying. Take care .

    Reply
  13. My wife and I travel twice a year “up North” on the Autotrain and always travel coach. The article above was very insiteful and true but we are easily satisfied and have thoroughly enjoyed every dinner and breakfast on the train except only once when we had a passenger across from us who INSISTED on talking politics-nothing else. The most unusual was a retired codebreaker for the CIA-Fascinating
    With travelling coach, my wife uses both of our coach seats to “stretch out” and I move up to the lounge car and spend the night after about 11 PM with movies, Internet or napping. The worst part of the trip is boredom, so be sure to bring along lots of entertainment (movies, tablets, laptop, even playing cards since, many times, a card game will start up in the lounge car).
    I HATE driving and the 900 miles saving , to me, is a God-send. The author (JEE) seems to be a wee bit hard to please and in a hurry. Our attitude is “Southern Style” – take your time and enjoy life-what’s so bad about waiting a few hours as long as you’re aware of it and plan for it.
    And that’s coming from a born and bred New York City-er (Florida transplant)

    Reply
  14. My service dog and I are getting ready to take the train this week. I’m not going to attempt I-95 south after Florence, the damage, floods and traffic is more than I wanted to tackle. Great tip about the car. I have about a 4 hour drive to Lorton from Atlantic City so the last on may very well be me. Other good suggestions…pillow, snacks and entertainment. Thank you again for all the laughs and ideas.

    Reply
  15. Ok so I can bring my service dog and puppy pads for his potty, he must dine with me will I get fed or flogged? He is smaller will he get stepped on by rude people?( not a people lover either, ) Dogs rule my world.

    Reply
    • Hi Deb, I don’t have an answer to your question. I didn’t see any service dogs on my ride either so I can’t speak to what I saw. I would give Amtrak a call to get information.

      Reply
  16. Appreciated this article. Excellent. Great tips. A note: better have strong legs when using the public bathroom if you’re a woman, because, you surely don’t want to sit in the toilet seat!

    Reply
  17. I did that on Christmas Day 2016 and believe it or not it was cheaper. I had a single sleeper (no sink or shower) and was SCARED to death during the night that the train was going to leave the track it was shaking so badly. I’m disabled so never left my room. Had food served to me there. I wept when I finally got to DC & FINALLY got my car & my front seat was pulled up so tight I couldn’t get into it. I practically screamed for someone to push it back since I had my car packed to the hilt. After all that instead of it taking me 4-5 hours to drive to Toms River, NJ I kept getting lost in DC and ended up taking 9 hours to get home. I said “Never, never, never again.” But after 2 years back in NJ I’m planning on going back to Orlando. What I’m attempting to do is get my car to DC without having to drive it there since it’s a 2005 Toyota Camry with almost 300,000 miles on it. Can’t afford a new one til my debt is paid off into August of next year. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Hi Colleen, sorry to hear your trip down to Florida was a painful one! I also was worried the train was going to go off the rails since it was shaking so much. Unfortunately, I’m at a loss for suggestions for how to get down to DC without a car since it’s a long drive down. Hope you can figure out a way.

      Reply
      • You can hire someone to drive your car to Virginia and pay for his/her return trip. Look for someone bonded, licensed, insured with solid references (you call those references) before hiring. Maybe a moonlighting Uber driver who has a private vehicle with a tow. Ask a local dealership for recommendations and contacts as a start.

        Reply
  18. My lil 7yr old grandson and I are getting very excited about taking our first ride on the Auto Train with sleeping Roomette this Mon.. He will be sleeping on top bunk… It’s saving me 900 miles on our way to northern NJ. What I do when I travel up North, to avoid DC (like the plague), I go over to Lewis DE and take the auto ferry across to Cape May. It’s a 90 minute relaxing ride across the channel there and sometimes you can see whales out in the Atlantic. My grandson and I love this relaxing ride.Then we head up the Garden State to see my two older daughters and their families.

    Reply
    • Hi Julie, you’re on the Auto Train now as I type this! Love that you have a nice ferry ride as a part of your trip — so smart to lay out your route that way. Hope you and your grandson are enjoying your time together!

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      • Thanks so much for the information and tips. We are actually leaving tomorrow morning to go back to NJ. I had planned on getting to the station really early but now we will take our time.

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  19. Thanks so much for your very detailed and funny article. Would like to try taking the auto train next time to Orlando and take advantage of the many ideas that you have suggested! Can you advise as the time when the ticket prices are the cheap est? We are both retired so can travel at anytime. And yes we agree you should write a book !

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    • Hi Carmen, I wish I knew when the tickets are the cheapest but I have no idea. You would have to play around with the dates on Amtrak to see. Thanks for the compliments!

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    • When I called to possibly change our reservation he said the price can change hourly depending on the number of reservations that are booked.

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  20. Taking the auto train for the first time up from FL back home to NYC tomorrow. Thanks for the tip about bringing a blanket!! LOL’d at the part about the dining car since that’s the one thing I’m dreading!

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  21. I did not see a place to order a room. Did you order yours at the station? What was the additional cost? I head out Jan. by myself, so am a little nervous. Thanks for the info, that’s a big help!

    Reply
    • Hi Kathy, after you put in the date and passenger info on the site, it’ll take you to a Vehicle/Room page where you’ll see the room selection. Make sure to scroll all the way to the right to see the room options.

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  22. I love Autotrain as it’s way too expensive for the usual riff raff that infest the Silver Service NYP to MIA Amfleet cattle cars. I love Acela too because they vigorously discourage tourist and the usual riff raff that infest the Regionals from NYP to WUS. I love riding Floridas exclusive Brightline trains also because they are way too expensive for the typical nere do-wells that infest Tri-Rail, Metrorail and Central Floridas (Toonerville Trolly) Sunrail that only runs from 6AM to 10:30PM and no weekend service. Always get a sleeper too. GOD bless Autotrain and Brightline.

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  23. This is a good summary and very true. I travel quite a lot on the auto train and have gotten there early , in the middle and very late and thought the method of first in, first out would work but it never did. I never waited more than an hour and sometimes only one half hour. I was lucky. The auto train is okay and nice only because you don’t have to drive. Bring lots to read it does get boring and uncomfortable no matter what you stay in.

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    • Hi Nancy, oh, interesting info about your experience with first in, first out! Agree that okay and nice only because it saves you all that driving time. Good tip on bringing lots to read.

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  24. Your article provided quite a bit of entertainment for my husband and me as we drove through North Carolina on our way to Florida. We were discussing whether next time we would use the auto train. I laughed until I cried reading your insights and decided that we’ll stick with driving. Thank you for the laughs!

    Reply
  25. Can you provide info on accessibility for getting on and off the train with a walker, and also navigating while on the train (such as getting to the dining car)? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Marilyn, I look up accessibility info and it seems like it’s best not to move around the train too much with a walker since the train is very shaky and jerks around a lot. The hallways are narrow so I don’t think the walker fits anyway.

      They will bring your meal to you so you don’t have to go to the dining car. The Auto Train is wheelchair accessible so I think there are ways to get on and off the train using a walker. When making the reservation, let them know you use a walker so that they can put you on the lower level.

      Reply
  26. You are an amazing person for writing all this !!!! Thank you very much! I am taking my mom on the auto train at the end of January. My mom uses a walker and a wheelchair transit for longer walking . We do have a handicapped room. I will be sleeping in a bunk overhead .
    Thanks again. Any more tips for traveling pass along.
    Thanks again !
    Darrin

    Reply
    • Hi Darrin, I would advise your mom to stay in the rooms since the ride is pretty bumpy and wouldn’t be too safe for her to wander around with a walker, even if it’s to the dining car. I believe they will deliver her meals to her but make sure your room attendant is aware.

      Have a safe and fun trip!

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  27. Oh forgot to mention… I enjoy your subtle sense of humor throughout !!!!
    You are a very good writer !!!
    Sincerely,
    Darrin

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  28. Thank you so much for writing this great detailed review, it was exactly what I was looking for. We (wife, adult daughter and I) are thinking of traveling to Orlando later this year and the thought of the Auto Train came up as on our recent trip by air I had a very disturbing experience going through TSA security. The Auto Train doesn’t sound like the most comfortable or relaxing travel experience. I think I could handle it but I have my doubts about the womenfolk, I’m afraid they may get “train sick” from the movement. Do you know if Amtrak offers any discounts on the Auto Train “fares”?

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  29. PS- to my post of a few minutes ago. If you book a room do you have to stay in it for the trip or can you move about the train and sit in the coach section. Thanks.

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    • Hi Bruno, the Auto Train isn’t as a smooth ride but I haven’t heard of anyone getting train sick so i think they’ll be ok. Especially if they just close their eyes and relax for most of the ride instead of trying to read.

      If you book a room, you can move around the train but you can’t sit in the coach section since those seats have been sold to others but they have a lounge car where they can sit comfortably and get a snack if they wish.

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  30. Thank you for the extensive post, Jee, and to all who replied and added helpful comments. We are about to book a southbound one-way trip in February, with luck when the kids aren’t out of school. (I doubt “spring break” types would be or want to be on board.) Our thought is to go with either the bigger room or the coach seats, and we’re favoring the latter since there is no window for the upper bunk, which sounds absolutely claustrophobic. I am a bit of a railfan, so this adventure is on my “bucket list,” but I’m sure that all of Amtrak’s pretty pictures are a “generous” view of things. Still, not driving for 900 straight-through miles is nice – I’ve done it before and it was more of a function than an adventure. That said, after we visit friends in Florida (and be warmer than we’d be in New Jersey), we’ll take a two-week “drive-about” up the coast to discover interesting places like St. Augustine, Savannah and Charleston (maybe Wilmington, NC, as well) before hitting our NC beach house for our spring “work week.” The auto train sounds like a great yet “interesting” part of the adventure. Thank you for your detailed report.

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  31. This is hilarious and spot-on. I hate flying so we’ve done this 3X to Orlando now- myself, husband & 2 kids. The kids have LOVED it. I love it (I love train travel) right up until it’s time to sleep, at which point suddenly it seems like every lurch and sway and bang is the last thing you’re going to feel because surely the train is about it go off the rails and you’re going to die. I’ll admit I am prone to anxiety and a light sleeper- my husband, who is not, did well until this past year when he felt the same. He’s insisting he’d rather drive in the future.

    My hints- don’t get there too early (coming from PA we do build in time, but generally arrive, check in & sign up for dinner/grab the boarding stuff, then go back out to kill time & grab snacks at a Whole Foods not too far away). This way you can book a reasonably early dinner time if you have kids. The first time we did a family room, which is OK for very little kids- and has really nice windows- but downside is you use the shared bathrooms and on the trip down ALL THE TOILETS IN THE CAR BACKED UP. I kid you not. it was horrid. It’s only happened that one time though. After that we’ve reserved 2 adjoining bedrooms- so got our own toilet/shower, and more than one bottom bunk. This is far better because only my youngest is willing do do the upper bunk cage thing. We like the dining car but only because with four of us, we get our own table :). The rooms are cheapest outside of snowbird season, and get them early- however, once booked, the refund policy is pretty strict.

    Funny thing is we initially tried driving to FL because one year there was a rail accident in SC which tied up the track. Amtrak started saying the AT would be leaving late and there’d be a boxed dinner- the train ended up being so delayed I don’t think it left VA until the next day. (Make sure you check your e-mail that morning- I didn’t, and that was how Amtrak sent the delay warning- luckily another family we know was going down and they let us know!) Our car was already packed – so we looked at each other and instantly decided to drive. The drive wasn’t as bad as we thought. If the AT thing is a little daunting, maybe try just one way (drive down & AT back), it’s a little more bearable. On the plus side- each time it’s a family adventure where we’re cut off from the stress and intrusion of the regular world and just together, and that’s pretty awesome to me.

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    • Hi Kate, the toilets backing up sounds like a nightmare! I think the driving down and AT up is a great idea. Loving your tips!

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  32. We leave Friday on the train from FL to DC, it’s our first time. I’m traveling with a little 11 year old who will be on the top bunk, planning on bringing reading material, snacks, pillow and blanket and LOTS OF WINE… Thank you for the info, it’s been incredibly helpful in the planning!

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  33. Loved your article! So funny and
    Very Helpful With photos !!
    I’m thinking of taking the auto train with an SUV packed with as much as I can fit.
    Do you know if there is a weight limit for the auto? Thank you

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    • Hi Sue, glad you found this helpful! I don’t think there is a weight limit. I never saw a car getting weighed.

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  34. Now honestly it’s all in how you view it. It seems to me that the author of this article overlooked so many ‘features’ of the ride, including the fact that you don’t have to pen yourself into the sleeper cabin for the entire ride. Had she walked a couple cars down, she could have spent part of the ride (and maybe even enjoyed more than just coffee) in the lounge car–of which there are two for coach passengers and two for sleeper passengers. The seating is more open and, wonder of wonders!… you can even buy alcoholic beverages (or a soda and snacks.) I’ve made the round-trip once and did a one-way to drive back another time. Honestly, I enjoy not having to drive 900 miles or more on that trip and the time spent isn’t all that different between driving and riding.

    Clearly, the author didn’t enjoy her ride but had she approached it with open heart and been willing to explore the train while it was rolling, she might have enjoyed it much, much more.

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  35. I like this write up but I’ll update some of these tips since I’ve been working here for about 2 years now. Yes, it’s first on, last off. I recommend showing up an hour before the 2:30 cutoff time. Also, Amtrak and Drummac came to an agreement that we now get the cars off in under an hour. Typically get them off in the average time of 40-45 minutes. As for the train ride, I haven’t experienced that but prices do change depending on the date you take the train, hence why you probably paid alittle more going back up to Lorton. But as for everything else. I like the write up. Just alittle update as to what we do here. It’s much more improved and we enjoy you guys and appreciate our customers much more than you may think!

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  36. Another tip, we DO NOT accept BMW i8s, Lamborghini/Ferarri (Only if the doors are butterfly/seagull wing doors).. Ford Raptors (as they are too wide).. we mostly don’t accept F350s, Hummer H2s that are wider than 84-86 inches. But most of the time, Hummer and Raptor Tires are too wide to fit within our tire rails on the train. Also if your car is TOO LOW we will also not accept your car if it does not clear our stick. As being low may possibly damage your bumper, bumper lip, exhaust pipe, oil pan, and/or muffler. We don’t take Dually wheels as they double up and won’t fit in our tire rails. We do accept boats, but make sure they aren’t wider than about 82 inches. You’re also able to bring motorcycles on the back of your own pick up BUT make sure it clears our height requirements.

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  37. Best choice for traveling to Florida. Thanks for the great tips! Our experience: arrived early in Lorton, surveyed the Amtrak station, had relaxing lunch in town 5 mins away, checked the car in at 2 pm. pm, boarded at 2:30. Amtrak WiFi is unreliable (read – useless) Glad we brought our own hotspot. Watched movies on our tablet and relaxed in our room with a bottle of wine. Perfect relaxing evening! Didn’t use the pillows and blankets we brought – will leave them home next time. Dinner was nasty; beef fillet was overcooked pot roast and the breaded fish was soggy and rubbery – will pack our own dinner next time. Movement of the train made for wonderful sleep for me but not my husband who was having back issues before we planned this trip. We shared the bottom bunk because neither of us wanted to climb into the doghouse overhead bunk. Sharing a bed might not work for most people so consider getting a second roomette for a more comfortable night’s sleep – the lower bunk was long enough for my 6.2″ husband and fortunately we’re both slender, but anyone who is carrying extra weight will not be comfortable double bunking! With only two relatively insignificant instances, all Amtrak staff were friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Unloading in Sanford was extraordinarily efficient – our car was unloaded within 30 minutes after we arrived. I can’t imagine ever doing that I-95 drive to Florida ever again!

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    • Depuis 7ans j’utilise ce transport avec un siège normal qui supporte mes jambes Ă©levĂ©es pour les reposer et un dossier qui se couche par l’arrière pour relaxer mon dos je suis très consciente que je suis pas dans mon lit je suis en train et ce train me conduit pour plus de 16 heures Ă  ma destination je prends le temps de vivre et de rencontrer des gens souvent très interessants je ne sais pas pourquoi les gens vivent un stress quand ils savent que le voyage dure un temps d’une nuit moi je part toujours pour 3Ă 4mois si je ne dort pas bien une nuit je me reprendrai quand je serai arrivĂ© Ă  destination je trouve ça dommage pour ceux qui n’apprĂ©cient pas ils sauvent quand mĂŞme 900milles sans tracas du traffic des accidents et du stress occasionnĂ© par des conducteurs trop pressĂ©s ou des repas au restaurant trop long des hotels souvent nĂ©gligĂ© pour la propretĂ© des chambres et souvent avec des tarifs exagĂ©rĂ©s il y a plus de 30ans que je voyage sur la 1-95. et parfois 1-81 et je prĂ©fère encore mieux le train on peut circuler aller au salon aller Ă  la salle Ă  mangĂ©. Je crois que je vais continuer Ă  prendre le train car je me sens plus en sĂ©curitĂ© que le 900 milles sur la route.

      Reply
  38. If my husband and I get coach seats, how much will they recline? Are they like airline seats? He uses a walker. Is it possible to get a seat near the bathroom? Or would we absolitely have to get a room?

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    • Hi Teri, I only traveled in the sleeper cars so I didn’t even see the coach seats since I boarded on a different car. Sorry to say I can’t speak on what the coach seats are like.

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    • I traveled from Va to FL only last week and will be using the auto train again to go back to VA next week. Coach class seats are very comfortable. There is no comparison with an economy seat on a plane. Seats are quite wide, have a solid and wide leg-rest and they recline quite a bit more than in the plane. You can request a seat near the bathrooms.

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  39. This is a very good article, I never road the Amtrak and been trying to talk the wife into it… On this trip do you pass through a lot of small towns, is there any places along the route to look out window and take some good pictures??? Can you bring a small cooler onboard with you??? Is there a place to go buy snacks???

    Reply
    • Hi TJ, you pass through a lot of small towns and see a lot of back of houses and land. The train is moving a little too fast and jerks around so it may be tough to get a good photo. You can bring a small cooler with you as one of your carry-ons. There is a bar car where you can buy snacks but I didn’t head over there so I can’t say exactly what kind of snacks they have.

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  40. I got a good tip about boarding. When we boarded early on our second auto train trip we were almost the last ones off. We won’t make that mistake again. Loved reading this funny, informative account. Wish I had seen it before our first auto train trip. I would’ve skipped the dining part!

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  41. We use auto train twice a year and enjoy it. The sleepers are small but acceptable for the 17 hours. The food is fine as is the service. The room steward will adjust the temperature as needed. We like people so enjoy hearing about their lives and adventures. Always a learning experience. It is certainly a better choice than dealing with I-95

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  42. I read somewhere that you should disable your car alarm. My mechanic said that only refers to alarms that are not factory installed. With all the shaking you describe, is there a danger of a dead battery caused by an activated alarm?

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    • Hi Florence, they never mentioned anything about disabling the car alarm so I didn’t (and wouldn’t know how). I don’t think the train shakes so much that the car alarm would go off.

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  43. We’re taking the Auto-Train from Florida in August to visit family and friends and to bring some items home with us in our car that we couldn’t on a plane. Getting a roomette. It’s the 4th time we used it. The last time was disappointed that they no longer served complimentary wine with dinner. I guess we can BYOB this trip.

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  44. I doubt the shaking of train would set off the alarm. You leave the key and they drive the car on the train. I’m sure they don’t lock the car and put the key away from the car. Too many keys to account for. Unlocked cars don’t set off car alarms.

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  45. Just took the Auto Train from Florida to Virginia and I’d say your comments were “spot on.” We had a lower bunk but not a “suite” so we had to use the common shower/ toilet area and quite frankly, it was great. Towels were available. And you had a can of cleanser so you could clean up when you were done. Liked it!

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  46. Just made the drive from Pittsburgh to Sarasota (and then back again) in the last few weeks, and I was wondering how much easier the Auto Train would make the trip. Thanks for this informative and humorous article. With all the waiting around involved, and having to drive to D.C. and then to Sarasota anyway, it’s not going to save us time or money. It would turn our 19-hour trip into a 26-hour trip, and that’s if our car was the first one off the train. The only benefit would be skipping the aggravation of driving all that distance. Thanks again.

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  47. On the train now. Got 3 hours total sleep,rude people talking on phones after 930 quiet time, playing cards going through overhead . The train stopped several times in the night and once in the morning. The food was nasty the car before the dining car smelled of old dirty gym bags. I wish I had driven. We did meet a nice couple from Long Island in the dining car for dinner, the best part of the trip. The only reason we did this was so my sister had her car while she’s staying with our mom in Florida. We had to drive 1.5 miles north of Richmond to take the train back through 5 hrs later. I’d rather fly!

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  48. Great article. You should convert this into a video and post it on Youtube. Many travelers will benefit from your story. Be sure to include all the comments. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  49. I laughed so hard I cried. What an informative article much appreciated. !!
    I do have one question, if you are 4 passengers and one vehicle how does the price break down?

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    • Hi Laura, thanks for reading! For four people, you would have to go to the Auto Train site and put in the number of passengers to see what room options they give you and the pricing for each. The vehicle is always an extra price on top of the room.

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  50. Delicious blog to read. Very well written, full of humor and excellent and detailed tips. I will consider everything you said for a round trip with my family (wife and 3 children) from DC to Forida in December 2019. Thank you very much!

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  51. A great write…detailed without being overly pedantic and filled with “real person” touches of humor. Couple of thoughts, though, from someone who has made the trip a number of times via coach, business class and (yeech) roomette. On the subject of roomettes, by the way, they are small, but neither wife nor I have found them uncomfortable ….during the day . At night, however, something else entirely …a cell designed by the Marquis de Sade. The switch from seats to bunks seems to somehow, magically perhaps, gobble up almost all of the standing room…something that’s nice to have if you don’t usually lie in bed to put pajamas or slippers on. Then, too, are the bunks. The bottom is fairly comfortable and for a small to average person (me) large enough. The upper, only slightly smaller than the lower, is windowless and so close to the ceiling as to make sitting in bed impossible. Not a problem if you’re always going to sleep while lying on your back but rolling over is sometimes just a bit tenuous. As for sitting on the edge while preparing to climb down…welcome to the world of contortionism. One nice thing about roomettes, or any sleeping car facilities, is the subject of meals. They still have a dining car for everyone in one of them. No so for coach passengers though. A new money saving (for Amtrak) system went into effect a month or so ago. I haven’t yet tried it but it seems to be a sort of bring or buy-on-site plan. I’ll know more in a few days..

    Another thing, don’t plan your arrival day schedule too tightly. According to current statistics (Amtrak’s anyway) 80% of the trains arrive on, or near, scheduled times but there’s no guarantee that you won’t be on one of the unlucky 20%..On one unlucky southward trip we were delayed enroute when some driver, panicked by the oncoming train, thought it best to bail out of her/his car and run for safety . Driver made it, car didn’t and our train just sat there for 2-3 hours while local authorities did their thing. Then, to make matters even worse, there was some sort of police-involved incident in the Jacksonville rail yards and all through traffic was temporarily halted. We, as you might guess, were very much a part of that halted traffic. And then, most recently on a trip northward, we coasted gently to a midnight stop in the middle of nowhere and sat frustrated for something on the order of 5 hours while the railroad gods debated what to do with (or about) a freight train that had derailed on the tracks ahead of us. An alternate route was in the works, would only have extended the trip another 8 hours and was almost decided up when the work crews cleared the freight mess ahead and we were given a “go”. Like I’ve said, there are no guaranteed arrival times.

    Additionally, if you’re going by coach try, when seats are assigned during your in-station check in, to get a seat located toward the middle of the car. All seats are the same, and very comfortable, but the one’s at the ends are next to the doors connecting your car to the next. The sliding doors are not particularly quiet, train personnel have to use them frequently and often in the middle of the night just as you’ve f inally managed to fall asleep.

    All in all though, the autotrain is a generally convenient way to get car and bodies from A to B without having to drive the 800 or so miles between and without having to worry about finding a gas station , clean restroom , decent rooms and/or restaurants along the way.

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  52. I have taken the Autotrain twice, both times up and back – so really 4 times. I sat in coach and thought the seat 1000% better than an airplane seat – I slept soundly. I enjoyed the meals. I enjoyed meeting most of my dining companions. Waiting to depart and to retrieve my car on arrival was boring. I only wish it went from NYCity to Miami.

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  53. The Auto Train runs over the CSX railroad. The trains is dispatched by the CSX; it is not a haphazard process.

    North or south bound the Auto Train is scheduled to depart at 4pm. It is due in Sanford at 8:58 am and Lorton at 8:59 am. In FY18 the Auto’s average OTP (On Time Percentage) at its end points was 68.3 percent.

    Amtrak uses a demand fare system, i.e. fares change frequently depending on demand. As an example, an economy room (roomette) for March 25, 2020, with an automobile, from Lorton to Sanford can be had for $504. A value coach fare with auto can be had for $323.

    I have traveled over every mile of the Amtrak system with the exception of Sacramento to Portland Oregon and Chicago to New Orleans. In some respects, the Superliner coach seats are more comfortable than the economy room. The biggest drawback to a coach seat, however, is the lack of privacy. You can wind up sitting next to or in front of someone that insists on shouting into a cell phone half the night.

    I am a solo traveler. So, when I go to the dining car I am going to be seated with other passengers. I have met a lot of nice people on Amtrak dining cars. Along with a few folks I would just as soon forget!

    For someone that does not want to drive from the northeast to Florida or vice versa and wants to take a car with them, the Auto Train is good value for the money.

    BTW, the scenery on the Auto Train is nothing to write home about, especially given the fact that most of the route is run at night. Amtrak’s best scenic train rides are Denver to Emeryville, CA, and Oakland to LAX.

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  54. Really enjoyed reading your review and all the comments. I plan to take the AT down in February alone and under since I have to pay the fare for two whether I will be entitled to two adjacent coach seats for a better chance to spread out and sleep?

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  55. Hi. I am considering taking the auto train from Va to FL. Can anyone advise which is better to reserve upper or lower seating?

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  56. I am planning to use AMTRAK, Lorton to Orlndo in May, 2020. I have three cars (two passengers). Having read your well written article, I have already decided to book the superliner for the two of us. However, I need to know (1) can I book three cars with two passenger tickets, which I believe should be OK since each car is individually priced, (2) How far in advance should I book my seats, especially when I am booking a superliner?? What months of the year are the busiest months??? Thanks

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    • Hi Afsar, you’ll only be allowed two cars for two people since there must be a separate licensed driver for each vehicle. As far as in how far in advance to book, I’m not sure but I would assume that the closer to the departure date, the more expensive it would be.

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  57. Amtrak autotrain pricing can vary widely day to day depending upon time of year, day of the week/month and which direction you are traveling. There is a website that lets you view up to 30 days of fares: Google “Amsnag”. If your travel days are somewhat flexible you may find that traveling on one day vs another could save you significantly. Works both ways. Not a super easy site and it’s slow to load daily fares, but with a little patience you may be able to arrange your travel to lower fare days for the exact same accommodations.

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  58. ANOTHER OPINION: The whole purpose of taking the Auto Train is so you don’t have to drive, plus you have your own car when you get there loaded with all the things you want to take. Who wants to deal with long driving on interstate roads, crazy drivers and tons of tractor trailer’s. If you want to get there quicker then fly, at which you will also WAIT at the Airport. My husband and I have taken the auto train 5 times (we are not snow birds). We even travel coach. The seats recline somewhat and the leg rests come way up so it’s easy to find a fairly comfortable position. If the train is not full you can claim a second row of seats so you each have 2 seats to open up to sleep. Yes, there is “some” jerking, after all you are on a train! I take a pill to help me sleep. We actually like taking the Auto Train. However, if you are someone that can’t handle being inconvenienced or complains about everything then fly or drive. I personally love the trip and am happy to get there the next morning after having slept all night. There is plenty of room for a few carryon bags. We do take our own pillow and blanket. Don’t be discouraged to try it. I know people who have and they love going to Florida that way. We will certainly take the auto train again. Giving up a little personal comforts for one night is well worth the trip. Also, if you pay, I think $69 more, you can have your car put on priority and it will be one of the first ones off.

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  59. Just got off the auto train and wanted to let everyone know you now must wear a facemask whenever you move about on the train. We had a roomette so we could remove the masks there. I believe they must somehow allow for social distancing in coach because they announced you did not have to wear the mask in your seat. All meals are served to go and you eat in your seats. We were served our meals in our roomette. Very funny post. I laughed out loud a couple of times.

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    • Amy from Florida – what was your cost and did you travel mid-week or weekend? I’m thinking of doing this in August. Did you have to wear masks in Lorton VA and upon arrival in Florida?

      Reply

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