My Experience Taking the Amtrak Auto Train from DC to Florida
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As my sister noted, my enthusiasm level dropped each hour I was on the train.
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.
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.
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 dammit, 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.)
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 a $5 on the table.
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.
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.
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
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
Auto Train starts accepting cars into the station to be boarded.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.