Courtesy of Amtrak
Families can book entire bedrooms on the Amtrak Auto Train.
If there was ever a time to get back on the rails, this might be it.
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?
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Here’s what an Auto Train ride looks like today: For just $9 one-way (nonrefundable sale price: March 2–12), 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 $109 or $159 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 $249 or $299 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. You could also opt for a family bedroom (from $549), which sleeps two adults and two kids in a traincar-wide room.
As for Amtrak’s COVID precautions:
Book a southbound ticket between March 2 and 12, 2021, to get these discounted rates, for travel between March 15–June 30, 2021. (Blackout dates are April 2 and April 5, around Easter weekend.) For more information and to book, go to amtrak.com/autotrainsale.
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