I was recently invited to experience an adventure on the Amtrak Auto Train, along with other travel agents from different areas in Florida.
I looked forward to this classic and romantic American style of travel, but to my surprise, the train itself provided only half the experience, the rest was offered by other passengers.
I expected the passengers to interact the same way they do on other means of transportation where, basically, everyone keeps to themselves. This wasn't the case. The train provided the perfect setting for meeting new people and I found that travelers who chose to travel via train are pleasant, sociable and usually up for cocktails in the lounge.
Amtrak's Auto Train is a one-of-a-kind service in the United States, enabling travelers to take their cars, small vans or motorcycles when they travel along the east coast, skipping the wear and tear on their car and the hassle of renting a vehicle at their destination.
Passengers ride in either cozy coach seats or private first-class sleeping compartments while their vehicles are safely carried in enclosed carriers.
I was assigned a roomette, which accommodates up to two passengers. Roomettes have to share bathroom facilities. The deluxe bedroom accommodation includes a private washbasin, toilet and shower, however, there are only a handful of these, so if you want to add a little privacy, it is best to reserve one months in advance. (I personally would go with the deluxe bedroom).
One advantage today's trains offer over air travel is that meals are included in the cost of your ticket.
When you board, snacks are provided for everyone: fresh fruit, cheese and crackers bowls of salty snack mix and wine. A light continental breakfast is served consisting of juice, coffee or tea, fresh fruit, cereal, bagels and muffins. The dinner menu for sleeping passengers is more upscale. There are four choices for the entrees, plus salad, rolls, vegetables and potatoes all served on china. Complimentary red and white wine for all passengers is served at dinner and all meals are prepared on board in the galley.
The Auto Train operates every day of the year non-stop between Lorton, Va. and Sanford, Fla. You can hop on board in the Lorton station in the afternoon and arrive in Florida the following morning. Sanford is located near many Central Florida area attractions such as Disney World, Universal Studios, Kennedy Space Center, Daytona Beach and, of course, the infamous Cocoa Beach.
Travelers who board in Sanford in the afternoon and arrive in Lorton the next morning can enjoy the culture of Washington, D.C. There are national monuments to see, museums to explore, Colonial Williamsburg to visit and of course wonderful new restaurants to sample.
Floridians and Virginians are not the only ones who can benefit from the Auto Train. People from New England, Pennsylvania and New York can benefit by using the auto train service as a way of knocking off 900 miles of the interstate travel. The auto train is not inexpensive, however, it can be cost effective when you compare the rising cost of fuel, baggage allowances and fees from the airlines, or stopping for meals along I-95.
It's also a family friendly way to ride, as children under 2 ride for free and, children ages 3 to 15 ride at a discounted fare. During summer months, children are free and must be booked and ticketed by a certain date.
By using the auto train you can enjoy the scenery with your family and leave I-95 and the hassle of removing your shoes to go through airport security behind. Call and find out more of what Amtrak vacations have to offer.
Ronnie Robertson is a travel consultant with Gadabout Travel. She can be reached at (321) 253-3674. Visit www.cruisetraveltours.com.