Amtrak Auto Train Round Trip
Well, we are back from our trip to Walt Disney World and I thought you might like a summary of our first ride on the Amtrak Auto Train.
We arrived at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 17th. We knew that was way early, but we were just stopping in to do a ticket exchange. When we originally booked the Auto Train we had a car, but later purchased a minivan, which is more expensive than a car to transport on the Auto Train. Our AAA agent called Amtrak and was told by them to go ahead and collect the additional payment for the minivan, even though AAA could not reissue tickets indicating we now had a minivan. We were told the tickets would be reissued at the Auto Train station. When we got to the station (very pretty!) they said AAA should not have collected the additional money and now a supervisor would have to call AAA to straighten out the ticket reissue. This could be done without us being there, we were told. They also informed us we didn't need to be back until 2:30 since the train was very delayed in arriving from Florida.
We got breakfast and killed time at nearby Potomac Mills (thanks for the tip on your website!) then headed back to the station. We arrived back at 1:00 (early, since we were still a little concerned about the tickets). When we arrived back, no one had called AAA to straighten things out so they told us to have a seat and they would page us when the problem was resolved. 50 minutes later (which I thought was a little excessive) they paged us and we got new tickets. They also mentioned that AAA should have noted we had an infant, even though there is no charge for one, which does make sense.
Anyway, the train was REALLY delayed getting in from Florida. It didn't arrive until 3:00 and at that time we were told it would take 3 hours to unload vehicles and then load vehicles so we shouldn't expect to board until at least 6 p.m. It was not really fun to be stuck at the station for 3 additional hours with a 16 month old, even if it was pretty! (All told we were in the Lorton station for 6 hours - ugh!) It was really way too hot to spend much time outdoors, although we did take the baby out for a few short periods of time for a change of scenery. Luckily my 8-year-old made friends w/ a girl from Ecuador and they had fun playing games together.
At 6 they announced that boarding wouldn't begin until 7! We were also hearing rumours now that the dinner we were supposed to get would now become tomorrow's lunch! This didn't make us too happy as that meant trying to get something to pass for dinner in the station or on the train. At 6:15 they brought out Ritz crackers, cheese, raw vegetables, and some apples to eat and sodas, water, and wine to drink. There was a mad dash for the serving tables, but after waiting in a lengthy line we did get some snacks. It was then "officially" announced that dinner had now become tomorrow's lunch, but that sandwiches would be served on the train.
At 7:00 we FINALLY boarded the train. I was disappointed in the cleanliness of our family bedroom (there was trash under the seats and baby carrots between the window sill and the pull-out table) but I was so glad to finally be on the train that I didn't complain. We pulled out of the station at 7:15 and went approximately 100 yards down the tracks. The train then stopped and all the power went out. I knew we hadn't gone far because I could see the driveway to the Lorton station out my window. The power eventually came back on, but we didn't move again until 7:45 p.m. Needless to say, I was not happy w/ how the trip was starting out, although the Lorton station was very nice and other than cleanliness I was happy with the family bedroom.
Since my 16 month old was now over tired and extremely crabby, when the train began moving again I took her to the viewing lounge. This was awesome! The windows overhead and on the sides gave such beautiful views! My baby fell asleep in my arms and I just soaked in the views. Then they started serving sandwiches. Our sleeping compartment attendent was so nice. Since Becca was sleeping, he asked me what I would like and went and got my sandwich, chips, and a beverage for me. The trip was starting to get better!
The sandwiches (free) were delicious (although I heard people complaining about them being on pita bread) and hit the spot! Our attendent had given us a 10:30 bed turn-down time (when we requested 10:00, he asked if 10:30 was OK) but then he stopped by at 9:45 and saw our baby was ready for bed so he turned them down then - again, very nice! The baby and I slept very well on the larger bottom berth. My older daughter and husband said they had some trouble sleeping but it wasn't too uncomfortable.
We enjoyed the continental breakfast the next morning, then hunted up the girl from Ecuador. She and my older daughter played in coach, then in our sleeper car, until lunch.
Again, Amtrak was so-o-o-o nice at lunch. The girl from Ecuador and my daughter wanted to have lunch together. Since we had a meal ticket for the baby (who would not be getting a meal) we asked her parents if she could come with us. We weren't sure it would be allowed, but we were willing to pay for the girl's meal since she was such good entertainment for our 8-year-old! Anyway, the Amtrak lady who waited on us didn't say anything about the extra child. Then the girl's dad came and he tried to give the server his daughter's meal ticket, but since it was a coach meal ticket it meant she really couldn't eat with us. So the server just told her dad to keep the ticket and she'd pretend the baby's ticket was his daughter's. (The dad spoke little English so I'm not sure he understood, but it was OK!) So that was really nice!
My husband and I enjoyed our meals (salmon and chicken) however our daughter did not care for the kid's meal so she ate a lot of my salmon, that was fine. The train arrived in Sanford at 3:00 (instead of the scheduled 8:30), I think and it took about an hour to get our car. We did not think the Sanford unloading was quite as efficient as the unloading we had watched in Lorton. Lorton seemed to have more drivers.
Anyway, the difficult part about all this is that the Sanford station is small and now besides those of use who had just gotten off the train there were all the passengers waiting to get on the train. The air conditioning could NOT keep up so you were hot whether you waited inside or outside. We did get our car unscathed though and we drove straight to Disney (which took extra time due to a traffic jam since we got to Florida so late).
Happily, the return trip went a lot smoother. We arrived at 1:50 and boarded the train 40 minutes later at 2:30! The train left just about on time too! The sleeper car was about in the same condition as the one coming to Florida, but again I was happy to have a separate place just for our family. Dinner, again, was delicious, although we wished we had known beforehand that Cara could have ordered an adult meal. We thought she had to order the kids meal, and were told by the server who collected her barely touched plate that she could have ordered an adult meal.
Really, the only disappointing thing about the return trip was that the lounge car did not have windows overhead, it only had side windows. It also didn't have seats facing out like the other viewing car had had, so you had to look sideways or behind you (if you sat in a curved booth) to see out the windows.
The other thing I did not like about the lounge cars was the volume of the movies they showed -way too loud!! We only sat in the cars between movie showings. On the other hand, the TV's in the Lorton station needed closed captioning since you couldn't hear them at all!
Free snacks were always available in the lounge cars (cookies, muffins, etc.) which was great! The train back was only an hour late getting into Lorton and we had our car back in 50 minutes which was terrific! Our sleeper car attendent on the way home was very nice and even offered to let Cara make the announcements about deboarding, but she was too shy despite his coaxing!
We all agree we would ride the Auto Train again, especially since we so-o-o loved having our car at Disney and not being dependent on the buses (or having to drive all the way from NJ to FL). (With AAA you get extra close parking at all the parks, a super perk!) So we'll ride again in August 2007, if it's still in business!
Oh, my only other problem was that both ways I had motion sickness after I got off the train! I was fine while riding, but for 24 hours after arriving in Florida, if I wasn't moving I'd feel sick. I think I got so used to moving, it didn't feel right not to be moving! I took Dramamine on the way home and 2 times more after getting off the train and that really helped, although it made me sleepy. Have you ever heard of anyone else experiencing this? It was like reverse motion sickness since I didn't get it on the train, only after we got off!
So that's our saga, hope I didn't bore you too much with the details!