True story: Nearly every year from age five well into my teens, I would ride the Amtrak Auto Train with my family from Lorton, Virginia, to Sanford, Florida, a roughly 17-hour overnight journey with the promise of hallowed kingdoms just beyond the station. Many Northeasterners call this the “Disney World route,” a budget-friendly way to get your entire brood—and the minivan—down to Orlando for spring break. (Sanford and Orlando are just 27 miles apart.) It also appeals to snowbirds who might not want to rent a car.
It’s called Auto Train for a reason: Once you’ve boarded, Amtrak loads your car, van, SUV, motorcycle, even small boats or Jet-Skis onto the train and ferries you all south. You trade 900 miles of driving and arguing for a private room or coach seats (all of which are surprisingly spacious), games of rummy in the club car, seated hot meals, movie night, and an early-morning arrival in much warmer, sunnier Florida. I used to befriend kids my age on the train, or sit in the club car with its panoramic window seating for hours, just reading. Now, nostalgia is a powerful thing, and we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Would any of this apply in a time of social distancing and contactless service?
Here’s what an Auto Train ride looks like today: For just $39 one-way plus the cost of your vehicle (nonrefundable northbound sale price: August 16–23, 2022), coach passengers get a reclining seat, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary continental breakfast; gone are the complimentary dinners, but there’s a café where you can buy hot and fresh meals, snacks, and beverages while mingling with fellow passengers six feet apart. You’re only allowed a carry-on bag in coach; the rest of your luggage will be “stowed” in your car.
Roomettes (on sale, from $249 or $349 for two passengers) seat and sleep two adults comfortably; breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included, as well as access to a private bathroom and shower in that car. Seats turn into one bed while another bed drops down, all with pillows and linens. If you feel clueless, a dedicated sleeper car attendant will take care of everything: meal reservations, carrying your bags, turndown service.
Upgrade to a bedroom (on sale, from $449 or $549 for two passengers) and you get double the space in a roomette, plus an in-room shower and bathroom. It still sleeps up to two adults, though a toddler would fit comfortably.
Now, this is a flash sale and just for the route from Sanford, Florida to Lorton, Virginia. Full-price fares southbound look to be about $145 for coach (though sometimes as low as $89), and $487 for a standard vehicle.
As for Amtrak’s COVID precautions:
- Masks are no longer required on Amtrak trains.
- “All trains are equipped with onboard filtration systems with a fresh air exchange rate every four to five minutes,” says Amtrak.
- A capacity indicator shows you the volume percentage of your route before you book. Results adjust in real time as people make reservations; there’s also limited availability seating to account for social distancing.
Book a northbound ticket between August 16-23 to get these discounted rates, for travel between September 6–December 15, 2022. (Blackout dates are November 18-20 and November 25-27.) For more information and to book, go to amtrak.com/AutoTrainSale.
This article was originally published in 2021; it was updated on August 16, 2022, with current sale information.