The Auto Train is a nonstop Amtrak route between Virginia and Florida.
Passengers must bring their own vehicle, which is loaded onto the train to make the trip with them.
I enjoy the Auto Train — it's a great way to save about 900 miles of driving on busy highways.
Although I don't particularly mind driving and enjoy a good road trip, I prefer to avoid congested highways (such as I-95) and love any opportunity to travel by train. So it's not surprising that I'm a big fan of the Auto Train, an Amtrak route unlike any other.
It travels between two specific locations, with no stops in between and passengers take their cars or other vehicles along for the ride. Passengers board the Auto Train at either Lorton, Virginia (just outside of Washington, DC) or Sanford, Florida (near Orlando) and must take a vehicle with them (it can be a car, van, SUV, motorcycle, etc.).
At the train station, all vehicles are loaded onto one of dozens of enclosed auto-carrier cars. It's impressive to watch the crew manage to keep things flowing smoothly and get all the vehicles loaded in a relatively short time.
I've taken the Auto Train many times over the years — often accompanied by several children — and I've really enjoyed it.
The Auto Train is great for families and heavy packers who want to avoid driving too much on their trip
I enjoy the convenience of being able to relax and take in the scenery while sometimes avoiding roughly 900 miles of driving. My family members like it, too.
I also like that we can arrive at our destination rested at the start of the day without having to deal with the hassle of getting a rental car. This is especially important if you're going on vacation and want to hit the ground running to make the most of your time.
The Auto Train is also good if you've got a lot to transport. When you travel by air, the amount of luggage you can take with you is limited unless you want to pay pricey fees. By contrast, when you travel by Auto Train, you can bring as much stuff as you can squeeze into your vehicle.
Last year, we moved the contents of a small apartment by carefully arranging most items Tetris-style into the back of a pickup truck and stuffing the rest into every available inch of a four-door sedan.
I suggest booking your seats early if you want to try the Auto Train
Booking an Auto Train trip is like booking a flight, in that rates vary depending on the day and the demand at that particular time. Booking early is a wise move, as I've found rates tend to go up as the departure date gets closer.
It's also important to note that this route is very popular with some "snowbirds" who live in the northern regions of the US or Canada and head to Florida for the winter to escape cold weather. You're likely to find better deals and fewer crowds if you avoid traveling just before or after snowbird season, which is around October through April.
Also, in my experience, southbound trains in November and December or northbound trains from February through early spring can get quite crowded.
I've always traveled by coach, where you sit in a seat in either the lower or upper level of a passenger car, but you can also pay extra for a roomette, bedroom suite, or family bedroom if you want a more private and comfortable space all to yourself.
Overall, if you're planning to go to or from Florida in the near future and would like to avoid some time behind the wheel, I'd definitely recommend giving the Auto Train a try.
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