Riding the Amtrak Auto Train

My trip to the Premiere Orlando Hair Show and Tennessee Barber Expo included a trip to Virginia Beach for my son’s wedding. So to get there, I had to go from Orlando to Virginia Beach, and then an immediate overnight drive to Knoxville.

Both of these drives measured out to about 8-9 hours, or so, on Google Maps. If I am honest, I really wasn’t looking to back-to-back drives like that with a wedding and then staying awake for a trade show (or the drive). So I started researching fights and rental cars, and the trip’s price kept creeping higher and higher.

During my search, I ran across Amtrak’s Auto Train. I could ride the train from Orlando to Washington, DC, and take my car with me.

I would leave Orlando on Thursday, and arrive in DC Friday morning. After three-hour drive to Virginia Beach, I was able to spend the day getting refreshed and ready for the wedding the next day. Since I was able to leave my suit hanging in the car, I avoided the hassles of trying to get it pressed and cleaned.

There are many travel tips with strategies for riding the Auto Train. For me, however, I like being early. I’ll wait if I have to, but being early has almost always served me well. They said that cars can begin lining up at 11:30 with the last car being accepted at 2:30.

I like to start early

I arrived early enough to get breakfast at the Cafe Perks Diner (don’t let the website’s design trick you… it’s all about the food here), about five or ten minutes away from the station. The area around the station doesn’t look like much, and is kinda sketch in many places, but this diner was really good. I did not expect to see Gyros as an option out that way!

Then I went to get into line. There were already about 30-40 cars when I arrived. After another five minutes, the line extended out onto the street.

…and we waited.

Now some folks say that you should show up closer to 2:30 so you don’t have to wait as long (and supposedly those cars come off the train more quickly, too?). But the wait, itself, didn’t bother me. It was a big hot, so I wasn’t going to wait in the car all that time, so I got out and walked around, as did several others.

I spoke with a few of the folks, mostly retired people going back up north in a reverse snowbird kind of way. Some had come down to do some prep work on their winter homes before bringing the family down. Some really nice people.

But then you also had the “tired of waiting – the world should revolve around me and my needs” people. You’ve seen these guys before… they’re the same ones who will cut you off in traffic and drive slow. More on that later.

Don’t wait for announcements… watch the other passengers and do as they do

Pay attention to the other passengers… you can get an idea of what is going on.

A couple hours into the wait, I noticed people were leaving their cars and walking up to the station. I asked one gentleman what was happening, he said that they were starting ticket check-ins now and then they would come around for the cars later. No announcement had been made. No check0ins had occurred. They were just walking to the station. I joined them, and sure enough, they were checking people in.

After checking in, I returned to the car, and in a while, they came and logged in my car and put a magnet on it, and I was to leave the driver’s side door open, the key in the ignition, and go to the terminal.

We still had about an hour or so before the train would board. So I chatted up with some of the other riders and grabbed a couple cokes from the terminal shop (not too overpriced, to my surprise).

Yup… Karens ride the train, too.

People stated moving out onto the train platform, and after a while, I went out and found my car, and waited near the door. When they got around to boarding our car, here comes Ken, the Male Karen!

I’m not sure if “Ken” is the right name… it could be Frank, or Male Karen… the internet doesn’t seem to really know, either.

So “Male Karen” jumped up from a nearby bench and went right up to the door with his family trying to keep up. He had that “I’m determined to get in first” look…

He went right up to the door as the attendant was opening it and got right into his face… well… it would have been his face except that the attendant was around 6’2″ and Karen was about 5’0″. The attendant told him that they were boarding but that he had just jumped in front of me . He snapped back “We’ve been waiting here for hours, way before he got here!”

I guess he really likes having a window seat, or something?

Have you ever seen an entire family rolling their eyes in apology and embarrassment?

As they were passing, I leaned in and jokingly asked them who they pissed off to cause them to have to ride with the guy… I thought I was being an a-hole for about half a second until one of the ladies said “Yeah, I have to live with him.”

Get the roomette

Speaking of riding with others, I highly recommend springing for a roomette as opposed to riding in coach. I was able to bid on a last-minute upgrade and got mine at a nice discount.

  • You don’t have to ride with Male Karen
  • You aren’t confined to one seat
  • You can lay down flat to sleep instead of trying to get comfortable in a coach seat that doesn’t quite lie down.
  • You can take a bottle with you and drink in your roomette rather than having to buy from the train (remember the couple of cokes I got before?)
  • An attendant is available to help you with anything you may need.
  • Scheduled meal delivery to your door
  • Somewhere on the trip, the conductor had to get on the intercom in our car and ask people to stop watching certain kinds of movies on their devices because there were children on board.

Our attendant, Steve, was great. He gave us a full rundown of what to expect on the trip, where the lounge car, coffee, and restrooms were – and how to use the restrooms… because if you weren’t careful, or flushed paper towels or other items that weren’t supposed to go down the toilet, you could disable the toilets for the entire train… and don’t drink the water from the sink. The sink’s water wasn’t from the drinking water supply… it was from the same supply as the toilets.

Pro Note:
Tip the attendant… Take at least a $20 for them. They are working their butts off taking care of a lot of people (and dealing with a few attitudes here and there), and yet manage to make the trip a fabulous experience.

The trip, itself, was relaxing. The only tricky part came up once in a while walking through the train while rolling down the tracks. But it wasn’t crazy.

The “bed” was surprisingly comfortable (both seats rolled down to form a flat surface).

I was able to get a lot of work done on the trip, relax, and be fresh when we arrived in DC.

After getting off the train, I think I had to wait maybe 30-45 minutes for my car to come off the train, and I was on my way to my son’s wedding in Virginia Beach.

Amtrak only runs a couple of the auto trains (I don’t know the exact number, or their routes), but if you are going from Orlando to DC – or somewhere near those two points – it was definitely worth it and made the rest of my trip much easier.