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Jill B. -- August 2002 -- Walt Disney World (BWR)

8/18/02 - 8/30/02

In late August/2002, my family and I rode the AutoTrain down to Florida and back. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience! We were grateful that we could leave all of our luggage (clothes for 7 people for 11 days) packed in our car and just take a couple carry-ons with us. Another great advantage (of any train, not just the AutoTrain) is that it forced us to take a breath and RELAX as our vacation began. We arrived at our destination refreshed and ready to have some fun, not frazzled and exhausted. On the way home, we were happy to leave the driving to someone else - we were wiped out from having fun at WDW!

Cast of characters:

  • Jillb (36)
  • DH (36)
  • DS (8)
  • DS (7)
  • DD (5)
  • DD (3)
  • DD (18mo)

Sunday, 8/18: We drove down to Lorton, VA on I-95 (it took us 9 hours to drive what should have taken 5 1/2 hours). We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Lorton - very convenient since it is right next to the AutoTrain station. No chance to get lost or stuck in traffic! Across the street from the hotel: gas station and deli.

Monday, 8/19:

10am - We stopped by the AutoTrain station early to see how to check-in, then went down the road to a Subway to pick up lunch. (There are small gift shops at both AutoTrain stations where you can purchase pre-packaged sandwiches, drinks, candy, etc.)

11:30am - Check-in begins. We lined up at the check-in point with our van. (Although cars have until 2:00, vans and SUVs must be checked-in by 1:00.) We showed our tickets and our car's number was written in our ticket jacket. We pulled under a sheltered area and unloaded our kids and whatever we were taking on the train (said goodbye to the van until FL). Amtrak provides rolling carts for your carry-on items. Once inside the station, we checked in (adults had to show driver's licenses) and we requested the early dinner seating of 5:00 (careful! - two lines: one for sleeping compartment passengers and one for coach passengers). The other seating times were 7:00 and 9:00.

12:00pm - We took the kids outside to eat lunch and let them play in the very small play area to burn off some of their excitement.

1:00pm - We found seats inside the large air-conditioned station that were away from the televisions and broke out the coloring books and MadLibs. For adults, there are televisions (set to news channels) and the gift shop sells newspapers & magazines.

3:00pm - We boarded the train and went to our accommodations (up a very narrow staircase.) We had reserved two Deluxe Bedrooms 'Ensuite' which means that the wall between the two rooms was folded away creating one open room with four beds (two couches during the day), two toilet/shower chambers, two sinks, and two lounge chairs with fold out tables. This arrangement worked wonderfully for us. Our rooms were on the top half of the train (I've been told that the noise from the tracks is much louder on the lower level.) We stowed our carry-ons and every member of the family peeked into the bathroom (DD5 was afraid of the flushing noise, so she insisted that we flush for her once she was away from it.) I walked to the center area of our car and got a bucket of ice and some plastic cups for the soda and juice we'd brought on board (complimentary coffee was also available at this station.) Our steward came and introduced herself. She asked when we'd be dining, when we'd like our beds prepared, and when we'd like to be awoken in the morning. She let us know the Dining car was one ahead and the Club car was two ahead. There was no reason for us to leave the top level of the train during our trip. We unpacked beads and string for the kids and they created necklaces, bracelets, and headbands for the next hour or so.

4:30pm - The AutoTrain departed on time.

5:00pm - They called for the first seating of dinner over an intercom system. The dining car was right in front of our car, so it was very convenient. We sat 4 and 3 in two booths. DD18mo was given a booster seat. There was a carafe of water and garden salads on the table. We all enjoyed watching the passing scenery as we ate our meals. DH had steak and I had salmon with peach salsa, the children all had chicken strips and mac&cheese - all very good. There was a vegetarian entrée available. Dessert was also delicious - black forest cake and cheesecake for the adults and red jello and vanilla ice cream for the kids. Wine, coffee, soft drinks, and milk were offered with dinner. We didn't know it at the time, but the children could have ordered anything off of the menu - not just the children's platter. We left a nice tip for our attentive waitstaff.

6:15pm - We made our way forward to the Club car and settled in to watch the evening movie: Spiderman. We sat in booth style seating and snacked on complimentary salty snacks and cookies.

8:45pm - After the movie was over, we made our way back 2 cars to our own room. The beds had been set up - be prepared for very close quarters once the beds are out! We put on our pjs and turned in. DS8 and DD5 slept in the top bunks, DS7 and DH slept in one lower bunk and DD3, DD18mo, and I slept in the other lower bunk (the lower bunk is much larger than the top bunk, so this wasn't too bad). Before seeing the top bunk set up, I was very apprehensive about sleeping up there (I'm a bit claustrophobic), but I could've done it if the kids weren't eager.

Sometime during the night - the train made several stops, but only DH & I were awoken by this.

Tuesday, 8/20:

6:30am - Our steward knocked to wake us. DH & I showered and got everyone dressed.

7:15am - We left a tip for our steward in a clearly marked envelope on one of the lower beds and we were off to breakfast. Breakfast was served 6:00-8:00am in the Dining car on a first-come-first-served basis. We sat 4 and 3 in two booths. DD18mo was given a booster seat. There was a carafe of oj, mini-boxed cereal, bananas, and spreads on the table when we arrived. Our waiter brought coffee, milk cartons, and a basket of warm muffins and bagels. Again, we enjoyed watching the passing scenery as we ate our light breakfast. We tipped our waitstaff. During breakfast, we were notified that the train would arrive 4 hours late because the tracks were too hot - the train had to travel at slower than normal speeds.

Sometime after breakfast - The train made a stop to switch some of the staff. Our steward did not change.

8:15am - We made our way back to our room to find our beds folded away and the couches available for us. Out came the beads again. While the delays did put a bit of a wrench in our plans, it was great to relax in the privacy of our room (DD18mo, DH, and I all took naps.)

12:45pm - The train pulled up to the Sanford, FL station. Our steward took most of our carry-on items for us. Once the announcement was made over the intercom, we squeezed back down the stairs and emerged on the train platform to find our carry-ons neatly stacked on a rolling cart. We passed through the very small Sanford station to get outside to the front of the station where the cars are made available after unloading. The Amtrak staff handed out an easy to read map of the area. As the cars are unloaded from the train, the number on the car (and in your ticket jacket) is called out. You proceed to the far left of the outdoor waiting area and show Amtrak personnel your ticket jacket and then quickly load up your family and belongings and move out of there - there is an urgency to this - the next car being unloaded is waiting to take your parking space. There were 144 vehicles on the train that day. Before taking this trip, we had heard many theories regarding the order cars are unloaded. After speaking with several experienced AutoTrain travelers (and through our own observation), we concluded that the unloading method is not FIFO (first in first out) or LIFO (last in first out), but random. The cars are loaded onto the train in pretty much the order they arrive. But, before they are unloaded, the long line of car carriers is broken into several shorter lines to allow for the simultaneous unloading of the cars - hence random unloading is the best way to describe this method that produces results that cannot be predicted.

1:30pm - We were very lucky - our car was one of the first off, so we were on our way!

2:20pm - The directions to the highway were very easy. We checked-in to the Boardwalk Inn!

8/21-8/28: We had a great time in WDW - of course!

Thursday, 8/29:

10am - I called the Sanford, FL station (from EPCOT) to verify that the train's departure wouldn't be delayed and that we would be able to check-in at 11:30am. Darn - the train wasn't delayed.

11:00am - We stopped at the Yorkshire Fish Shop (in the UK) and picked up several orders of Fish & Chips to eat at the train station. Once in the car, they went into our collapsible cooler.

12:00pm - We lined up our car to check-in at the Sanford station. There were rolling carts available for our carry-on items. Once inside, DH and I showed our driver's licenses and I selected the early dinner seating (choice of 5:30 or 7:30). Less cars and passengers on this trip.

12:45pm - This station is very small. There aren't many seats inside (in the air-conditioning), but there are additional seats outside. We sat down inside and ate our delicious lunch which was still quite warm. There is no play area here, so our coloring books and crayons came in very handy.

3:00pm - We boarded the train and settled in to our room. I fell asleep with DD18mo for several hours and missed the on-time departure.

5:30pm - We were promptly seated for dinner. The meal choices were the same as on the trip down and just as tasty. They ran out of booster seats so DD18mo was given a large stack of clean napkins instead. Our waiter gave us paper coffee cups with plastic lids for DD3 and DD18mo to use instead of straws in open glasses. After dinner, we skipped the movie and went to our room to put on pjs and play some card games - we were really worn out from our vacation.

8:00pm - We turned in. Everything was blissfully peaceful for several hours - then DD18mo became a terror (over tired?). DH & I were grateful that we were in our own room and not in the general seating area disturbing the other passengers.

Sometime during the night - the train stopped, but we didn't notice.

Friday, 8/30:

7:00am - Same routine as on the way down to FL. We headed to breakfast a bit late (7:45am) and had to sit 5 & 2 in two booths. DH and DD5 shared their booth with 2 nice ladies. Our steward notified us that the train would arrive 3 hours late because during the night the train had hit a car that two morons left on the tracks - it took 2 hours to clear the tracks and file the necessary reports (no one was hurt and the 2 dopes were found and arrested).

8:30am - We made our way back to our room to find the beds folded away and the couches available for us. We relaxed in our room. The Club car was opened and a movie was shown.

12:00pm - The train pulled up to the Lorton, VA station - same routine as before. 1:15pm - Our van was one of the last cars off. Oh, well, we were only going home...

Some things to be aware of:

  • The sleeping room doors only lock from the inside - when you leave, you cannot lock your valuables inside the room.
  • There is a constant rocking motion during the trip (hey-you're on a train after all!). This didn't bother me while on the train, however after both trips, I would get a bit dizzy if I bent over (like tying kids' shoes, picking up bags, strapping kid in stroller). This passed after a good night's sleep in a non-moving bed.
  • The Club car does sell 'adult beverages' as well as soft drinks.

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