It’s a bird, it’s a plane. Nope, it’s the Amtrak Auto Train. Ever wondered what it’d be like to ride across the country – without the hassle of driving or the chaos of airport security? I got a taste of the experience by cruising in style down the East Coast on a 17-hour train ride from D.C. to Florida. The coolest parts? Sleeping in a comfy bed and being able to transport a vehicle without driving! There’s nothing like a smooth ride to let off some steam. All aboard for the journey of a lifetime.
Get Ready to Ride
It had been on my mom’s bucket list for years to take the auto train to another state, so naturally we were both excited when she spilled to me that she’d arranged for us to make the dream a reality for the holidays. Fast forward a week after our phone call, and we were headed to the Amtrak station in Lorton, Virginia to be off on our journey. The train always leaves promptly at 4PM, with mandatory arrival by 2:30PM to get the vehicle loaded onto the train. It’s as easy as pulling up next to the attendants, leaving the keys in the ignition, and letting them do the rest. Pro Tip: make sure to grab ALL your items (2 carry-on maximum) for the night from the vehicle, or you could end up 17 hours without whatever you left! They will not let you access your car again after you give it to them – we learned the hard way! After our arrival, they pulled our Jeep behind the train station to never be seen again until Sunday morning. I watched in awe as they packed vehicles tightly into silver tubes – like sardines in a shiny metal can.
After checking in at the front desk, we waited in a station full of over 500 passengers! By the way, I definitely recommend bringing food or eating lunch prior to arrival. The station market tried to sell me a sandwich for $9. Nope, not a submarine sandwich. The kind of turkey sandwich on white bread that your mom packed for lunch in elementary school. “No thanks because y’all have clearly lost your minds,” is what I wanted to say, but instead I silently made my way over to the microwave noodles that were $2.75. I tiptoed carefully back to the waiting area, hot beef Chow Mein in tow, and ate at my seat until our assigned boarding time at 3:45PM.
It was finally time to board. Excitement and anticipation were high once again, as we shimmied up the narrow staircase to the second floor and through the halls of train car 5462 to find sleeper car “A.” Inside our room were a sofa that converts to a full bed, a twin bed folded into the ceiling, a chair, a bathroom sink with a mirror and cabinets, and a small bathroom with a toilet and shower – on a train! A few other perks included free Wi-Fi, three electrical outlets, and complimentary bottles of water. Pretty cool, if you ask me – and way better than a first-class seat on a commercial airline. Each train car is assigned an attendant, and ours was extremely friendly and helpful! He came by to our room, welcomed us aboard, explained the WiFi, available amenities, and asked when we’d like him to come by to turn down and make up our beds for the evening. Can it get any more boujie, guys?
After settling in for a bit, we roamed the train to see what else we could find aboard. Another note, the cars only lock from the inside so stow away your valuable devices and keep your fingers crossed while you’re away (we had no issues!). Tucked into the end of each hallway was a free beverage station with coffee, creamer, and sugar, ice buckets and ice, hot chocolate, and tea. After walking through three or four train cars, we popped into a charming diner car!
Adorned with snowmen, tinsel, and candy canes, the diner on the train was adorably decorated. The staff on the train busily strolled from car to car, setting the table and tending to guests – but all of them made sure to greet us excitedly as we made our way through.
For sale at a small counter were reasonably priced glasses of wine, beer, other beverages, and food items if you’re hungry before your assigned dinner time (more about that later!).
We continued to explore the car, where we found a secluded sitting area and the hallways full of roomettes. Roomettes are an economical alternative to the sleeper car (right above coach level), where passengers are in a smaller space that solely consists of seats that convert into a bunk bed. Next to the roomettes are bathrooms, showers, and dressing rooms for communal use. On the other side of the train, we found the coach seating. It was extremely silent there, as everyone was minding their business and had headphones in. However, it looked semi-comfy with good leg room and plush seats. After seeing what the rest of the train had to offer, we found our way back to our sleeper car where I worked on my blog and peered at the landscapes outside until dinnertime.
Bon Apple Feet
Dinner is included with your train ticket, and at booking you’ll choose to be seated for the 4:30PM, 6:00PM, or 9:00PM serving. We chose the 6PM dinner time because it was perfect for us. When they call your dinnertime over the PA system, you go to the diner car to wait to be seated. They seat your party four to a table. Since it was just my mom and I, we were seated with a woman we didn’t know. It wasn’t a big deal though – we enjoyed talking to her about her experiences as a travel nurse and soon-to-be retiree.
Another perk of being “first class” is having three courses served to you by an amazing, attentive wait staff. The first course was the same for everyone – a light salad with your choice of dressing and bread rolls. For the second course, a choice of Atlantic Salmon, Flat-Iron Steak, Roasted Chicken, or Mozzarella Manicotti. And finally, for dessert, a choice of New York Cheesecake, vanilla ice cream, or Chocolate Lava Cake with a Caramel Glaze. Get ready to gain a few! My mom and I both ordered a medium-well Flat-Iron Steak with a baked potato and seasonal vegetables, and I got the lava cake for dessert. Chef’s kiss!
With our tummies full, we headed back over to the sleeper car to relax for a bit until bed. We originally asked our attendant to turn the beds over at 10, but we were able to adjust the time to 11 after realizing the movie we were watching was going to buffer a million, gazillion times and wasn’t going to end anytime soon.
For the future, I definitely recommend downloading something to watch to avoid the buffering time!
After watching the movie, I headed downstairs to the showers instead of using the one in the sleeper car. The communal bathrooms are larger in size, but it’s still convenient to have one in the room to use in the middle of the evening. After showering, I did a quick sheet mask and it was time for bed!
Goodnight, Sleep Tight
To me, the beds on the car were surprisingly comfy! I slept well, besides the few times where some mild turbulence woke me up. The blankets they give you are relatively thin, so next time I’d make sure to bring a thicker one. Regardless, you have temperature controls for your individual car and can adjust as needed.
Rise and Shine
If you know me, you know I’m not a morning person – at all! So, I fought tooth and nail to drag myself out of bed at 6:00AM to make the 7:00AM breakfast slot. When I finally arose from my hibernation (always a struggle!), I got dressed, called the attendant to fold up the beds, and we headed to breakfast.
Like dinner, they’ll seat you with strangers if there are open seats at your table. We met a nice couple who were moving from Jersey to Florida for their retirement (and actually ran into them at a free concert few days later!). We munched on cereal, bananas, and mini bagels as we conversed with them. Quick, light, and continental style breakfast with a choice of orange juice or coffee.
Are We There Yet?
Almost 17 hours later, the train came to screeching halt in Sanford, Florida at 8:00AM. From there, we waited patiently for the Jeep to be unloaded from the Auto Train. Pro TIP! It seems that the earlier you arrive in Lorton, the longer you have to wait for your vehicle. First in, last out! The numbers are all assigned randomly for claiming the car, but regardless this what I observed and have heard from other passengers. We waited over an hour for our vehicle number to be claimed. Of course, if you purchase priority unloading then you’ll guarantee cutting your wait time!
Ready to Ride?
All in all, the Amtrak Auto Train was an amazing journey that I never expected to take! Next time, it’ll be better to take the trip during the summer so it stays light outside longer. Unfortunately, since the train doesn’t leave until 4:00PM, there’s only a couple of hours to look at the landscapes before the sun goes down. I’d recommend for everyone to add this to their bucket list! One day, I’d like to take an even longer trip across the U.S. But for now, the East coast was a real, first-class experience. Would you ride the Auto Train?