We arrived to the station about 1:15. Checking the cars was a breeze and we were assigned car numbers 123 and 133.
Once inside there was no line to checkin and we were given our train car number as well as asked which dinner delivery time we would prefer.
The choices were 5pm and 6:30, we opted for the 6:30. In pre-pandemic times sleeper car passengers got full dining in the dining car. Until May 21, 2021 those passengers in sleeper cars get their choice from the menu delivered to their room.
The station is Lorton is spacious, but I could see it getting easily filled up during normal times. Right now for the next few weeks they are still running the train at limited capacity.
Right before 2:30 they started announcing the sleeping car’s boarding starting from back to front. After our boarding pass was checked we were given directions to our room, Family Bedroom 15 at the front of the car on the bottom level. The family bedrooms are advertised as sleeping 4 but that fourth would have to be comfortable sleeping in four feet or less of space as that side is very small.
the room also has a closet, it don’t get any delusions of grandeur, it’s not deep enough to store a backpack or suitcase. It’s basically a place for coats or jackets
The room has two pull out tables that also double as checker boards, but you’d have to bring your own pieces.
The room feels more narrow than the pictures on Amtrak’s site and also know that the family bedroom cars are on the lower of the two levels of the train.
At 3:23 the train moved to do the little dance where they load up the cars.
At about 3:45 we got on the rails and headed south towards the Potomac river.
The conductor came on to do announcements. In total there were about 250 people and 134 cars and 1 motorcycle. Because of the car carriers the auto train is advertised as the longest Amtrak train at about 3/4 of a mile.
Wifi is available throughout the train. Don’t expect to be streaming HD Netflix movies as wifi is slow, was running about 2Mbps up and down.
Amtrak also operates a Train Track website that you can use along the way to monitor tour progress.
We took the train version of a shore excursion up to the cafe car to get a drink. Walking from car to car on the train is very much akin to the motion when a ship is really rocking as you are getting thrown into hallways. We also got to walk by some of the bedroom and roomette cabins. We also walked through three of the coach class cars. I’m not one who can ever sleep in an open area so traveling that way would mean being up all night for me. Also, at this time being in a coach seat means leaving your mask on at all times when not eating or drinking.
We also checked out one of the vacant bedroom types which has it’s own shower/bathroom inside of your room
The cafe car has your basics in snacks, drinks and basic food. Prices are reasonable but don’t expect anything deserving of a Michelin Star, unless there’s a Michelin starred restaurant exclusively featuring microwaved food and peanut M&Ms.
Dinner arrived about 6:45 and wasn’t terrible. The pork shanks were bathed in BBQ sauce which was a little much. I’d wholeheartedly tell you to avoid the vegetables, they had zero flavor. Would be interesting to see how different the meal would feel is served sitting in the dining car rather than cramped in your sleeping quarters Freight gets the preference on the rails so on several occasions we had to slow down or stop so freight could speed past us.
It took almost 3.5 hours to get to the North Carolina border from our departure in Lorton, VA. Driving that would have been 2 and a half hours. It took us till about 8:15 to get to Rocky Mount, NC, which you drive right through the middle of town.
A little after 11 we made the one stop along our journey, Florence, SC. No guests get on or off at this stop, it’s a technical stop to change conductors and pick up additional supplies. Our sojourn was brief and by about 11:25 we were picking up steam heading south again.
Sleep was nearly impossible on the train, way too much movement and noise for me to ever get comfortable. So I spent the night listening to podcast and tracking our whereabouts on Amtrak’s train tracker.
Since I was already up I decided I would try and get a shower around 6am. It’s a very cramped area and even only being 6’1” the shower head was probably six inches below my eye level. Also, in that tight space with low water, I got out feeling dirtier than I did when I went in.
Breakfast was a grab and go occasion up in the dining car and you were handed a bag full of cereal, coffee cake and bananas. I forgot to take pictures, but it probably looks like you can imagine.
After breakfast was time to pack up as we were running about twenty minutes early for our arrival at the Sanford, FL station outside of Orlando. At 8:40 we were allowed to disembark and headed into the station to wait for our cars. The station in Sanford was nearly identical to the one in Lorton.
9:21 both of our cars came off the carriers and we were on our way to check out our new home for the first time. While the house won’t be done until July, it was fun seeing it right before the drywall goes up later this week