Monday, March 7, 2011

The Amtrack AutoTrain

I recently went on a trip to Disney World, and I used Amtrack's AutoTrain service to get there. The trip down was distinctly different from the trip back, so I'll talk about them separately.

From Lorton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida

On the way down, we got three seats in the coach car, one apiece for myself, my mom, and my youngest brother. The seats are distributed in rows of two, and no one sat in the fourth seat near us, so we had four seats between the three of us. The seats were fairly comfortable, except that I was wearing jeans, and eventually you don't want to be trying to lie down in jeans. But that's my own fault, not the fault of the train.

The train provides a dinner to each passenger, and dinner was pretty good. I got some kind of fish, cod I think, as did my brother. My mom got a chicken meal, and the fourth guy sitting at our table (a stranger) got a beef dinner. Overall it was tasty, certainly better than the kind of stuff I usually cook up. Apparently, the guy who sat with us was from New Jersey, and he knew a woman named Stacy, a friend of my mom's, before Stacy moved from New Jersey to Maryland. This of course prompted my mom to make "small world" references for hours, though the fact that we were on our way to Disney World probably helped that as well.

Sleeping was less awesome. I had a cold, and as I said, the jeans weren't great, so I had trouble getting comfortable. Altogether, I probably only got about 90-120 minutes of sleep. It's not a perfect setup, but I do think that I'd do better in a future trip, knowing about wearing the right pants/shorts, and trying to, you know, not be sick.

Arriving in Sanford, we waited about forty minutes for our car to be unloaded, then headed off to Disney World. It was only about another 40 minutes to get there, and we had a car to use the whole time. That advantage cannot be understated, as you save quite a bit of money being able to buy groceries at a grocery store, rather than at the convenience shops at Disney resorts.

The Return Trip

The trip back from Florida was very different. First, we were ending a trip to Disney World. So we were all kind of bummed about that.

From a more logistical standpoint, the trip back was considerably sparser than the trip down. I guess there were a lot of "snow birds" heading down to Florida in January, but not a lot of people heading back north. As such, the price of the trip was considerably cheaper. So, in an attempt to maximize our experience, my mom upgraded us from coach seats to one of the sleeper suites. These suites have two pull-down beds in each room (we got two rooms), as well as bathrooms and sinks in the room.

Theoretically, this all sounds great. But the bathrooms were far too narrow, and I think they'd be too narrow even for someone of average size. So I ended up using the community bathrooms a couple times, despite the fact that we had accommodations in our room. The beds were also just not that great. The lower bunk starts out as a couch, and honestly, I think it's more comfortable for sleeping in couch form than in bed form. But unfortunately, I didn't realize that until after the attendant had switched them into beds.

Dinner tasted good enough, but after being spoiled with fantastic food at Disney World for nearly a week, there was really no chance it was going to measure up. Also, I deduced that something I had didn't agree with me. My stomach felt funky most of the night, and I got really nauseous on the drive back to my house from the train station. Lack of sleep probably didn't help that, either.

Overall Thoughts

I would take the AutoTrain again, I think. You can have all sorts of ideas going into an experience like that, but you can't really know what it's going to be like until you do it. Now that I've done it, I do feel like I could prepare a lot better to be able to get through the trip in the best shape.

My thinking is this: assume you're not going to get any sleep. Depending on your accommodations, you might be able to, but you want to prepare for the possibility that you won't. This means that you'll want to sleep as late as you can on the day of your trip, and try to figure out something to do early in Florida when you get there. Early check-in would be a beautiful thing for riders.

But if you've got a good group, a group that can entertain each other for hours and hours, it just might be the best way to get down south. Especially if you're like me, and could do without plane trips.

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