The Traveling Steve's

Auto Train Home to Florida!

It’s 4:30pm as I write this and Steve (DOS) and I just boarded the Amtrak Auto Train here in Lorton, VA (just south of Washington D.C.), which will take us nonstop to Sanford (Orlando) Florida overnight, arriving around 10am.

The train tonight is quite full with 228 sleeper passengers and 138 coach passengers it was just announced. They usually announce how many cars are loaded (as each person or couple must have a car to take this train, but didn’t announce this today. Even if half the sleeper car passengers had a car (114) and half the coach passengers did(69) that would be some 183 cars, which would have been loaded in one of the auto-carrier cars making up this long train.

We’ve taken the Auto Train several times and always enjoy it, although since COVID the service has gone down exponentially. On this trip, I would even go as far to say can it even get worse? Even when COVID was at its peak, they would still deliver your choice of meal to your sleeper room; today they didn’t even have a dining car or staff, and are giving passengers a small subway sandwich instead dropped off to your room! Add that to the inbound train delay of an an hour and a half, and thus delay in loading the cars to Florida, and it hasn’t been a good start for this trip home.

Not complaining (too much anyway) though, as it sure beats the 800 mile drive back to Florida! We are waiting in the lounge car for the train to leave, and as the train is so long it has to be moved forward in sections so the auto-train cars can be joined to the passenger cars. The lounge car is not open for serving drinks, but at least we can sit in here at the tables and use our iPads and my MacBook. The Lounge Car has power outlets at each table, and complimentary wifi that works when it wants too, although I’m using my faster and much more reliable personal hotspot for now.

Back-tracking just a bit from the last post and this one, we spent four days in my hometown of Roanoke, staying at the Hyatt Place there near the airport and Valley View Mall. We normally stay at this Hyatt Place in Roanoke and the location is great and the staff are very friendly, always welcoming us back.

Our stay in Roanoke this time was quite busy and focused, however, as we were finishing up unloading the storage bin there, which contained the remainder of the contents from Mom and Dad’s house which we sold recently. The photos of the bin below look like a total mess, but we’ve been going thru things for a few days at this point, donating things, sorting thru others and setting some aside for later.

We had previously donated or taken most of what we wanted before the house was sold, but there was still a lot to go thru; much of it was from Dad’s filing cabinet and other boxes that required a review or shredding. I think Mom and Dad must had saved every greeting or thank you card they had ever been given, which for a Baptist minister numbered in the hundreds! Add in Dad’s sermons, weddings, funeral notes etc, and Mom’s many childhood photos of us, my letters from college and later the many postcards I send from my travels and it was a lot to go thru; things you can’t easily toss. It’s literally two lifetimes of memories to go thru – so much to learn from, so many smiles, so much compassion, childhood memories, many things and friends of their’s we didn’t know, Wow – lots to contemplate! Such Love and Wisdom was in those letters, sermons, and notes!

Mom even saved my baby tooth and note to the tooth fairy and all my report cards (both good and bad!). It was bittersweet reviewing things, and we brought quite a bit of the paperwork bins back to our hotel and reviewed, tossed, kept, or shredded each night.

We ended up still bringing a few boxes home with us, and DOS’s car was literally full to the brim when we left Roanoke for Charlottesville yesterday!

DOS and I did have a nice meal our last night in Roanoke with my brother Andy and partner Art, at Coach and Four Restaurant once again. We had our usual Virginia favorite wine, Prince Mitchel Cabernet Franc, with dinner, along with their yummy Prime Rib. (Jumping ahead a couple days, we actually stopped by Prince Mitchel winery on the way to the Auto Train today!)

DOS and I stopped by the cemetery were my parents are buried, and I left some flowers at their grave, as well as my Grandparents. I enquired about a plot for my grave as I would like to be buried beside by parents when the time comes. It’s hard to think about, but I had previously put this in my will; I guess I should go ahead and reserve and pre-pay for it, but that’s still a to-do thing for me; it’s hard to imagine your own mortality.

After leaving the cemetery, DOS and I then drove a couple hours up to Charlottesville, where we would stay one night as a half way point (2 hours drive from Roanoke and then 2 hours drive to Charlottesville) before taking the Auto Train home.

Along the drive to Charlottesville, we stopped for gas (now at $4.50 a gallon!) not far out of Roanoke, and I noticed a small sign along the country highway that said “Camp Bethel”. “Camp Bethel”, I shouted to DOS! We have to go by and see it!

Camp Bethel was where I went to Junior Camp back in the mid 70’s, when I was 11 – 13 or so. Camp Bethel is owned and run by the Church of The Brethren, but our Baptist Church at the time rented it out for a couple weeks each summer for our youth camp. We drove a bit out of the way and thru the woods following the occasional tiny signs, and eventually drove thru one of the entrances, parked, and walked around for a while. Some of it I clearly remember from nearly 50 years ago, such as the outdoor auditorium, the swimming pool, sports area, and cabins we stayed in.

I could not find my old cabin “Snuggle-nest”, but I did see one that looked similar to it. Talk about rustic; I guess at 11 or 12 years old none of us were fussy! 😀 I even remember our 12 year old chant: “We, we, we’re the Best! Cause we’re all from Snuggle-nest!”🤣🤣

I later went by the office and met the Director at Camp Bethel, and he told me “Snuggle-nest” and some of the other cabins were retired or now used for storage, but the camp has updated the facilities over the years, and now can be rented as a retreat for individuals, churches, groups etc. It really made my day re-discovering Camp Bethel, and the Director gave me some newsletters to take with me, now that I’m an alumnus! 😀. I’ll read thru them and make a donation to them when I get home.

After our stop at Camp Bethel, DOS and I continued on the two hour drive to Charlottesville. The car was stuffed to the ceiling, including this antique wicker rocking chair from my childhood days from my Grandparents we were taking home.

We arrived at our hotel in Charlottesville mid afternoon, and once again stayed at a Hyatt Place Hotel.

The hotel was busy as it was the week of the University of Virginia (UVA) graduation ceremonies, however the immediate area of restaurants and bars was surprisingly fairly quiet. I guess the festivities were a bit closer to the University perhaps. It worked out well as our car was full with things we were bringing home from Roanoke, and fortunately there were many restaurants in walking distance for dinner that were not overly crowded.

This morning DOS and I checked out of the Hyatt Place Charlottesville and drove the 2 1/2 hours to Lorton, VA to catch the Auto Train. We had an unplanned, but like Camp Bethel, a fun stop along the way, although this was at Prince Mitchel Winery instead of a Church Camp. We saw a sign for Prince Mitchel about 15 miles away, and as it was on the way, we stopped for a bit of a break, and tasting for me (Steve UNO) as DOS was driving.

I had a four wine red sampler flight of Cabernet Franc, Merlot/Cab Sav blend, Peitit Verdot, and their Bordeaux-like blend Heritage. DOS did not have any wine as he was driving, but enjoyed sitting outside in the garden area with me while I enjoyed my wine and we both enjoyed the beautiful weather.

After leaving Prince Mitchel, we headed the rest of the way to Lorton for the Auto Train. Once there, there was a tremendous back-up of cars at the entrance, all the way to the main road waiting to check-in. As the inbound train didn’t arrive until after 11am and it takes at least a couple hours to turn-around the Auto-Train (debarking cars, cleaning the passenger cars, and then checking in the cars and passengers all over again), we knew enough from previous trips to get out of line and go to the far left line for “visitors” where we parked and checked in for our sleeper car.

We would still have to eventually wait in this line to drop off our car to be loaded on the car compartment, but we had hoped to schedule our dinner reservation time (usually one of three dinner times) by first checking into our sleeper car reservation where they also assign a dining time at the main terminal (separate from the car drop off). We found out upon checking in, however, there would be no dinner service offered on this departure due to a “crew shortage”. We then left the Amtrak station and went to Antonelli’s Italian Deli up the street, where we normally go for lunch when taking the Auto Train from Lorton. We also stopped at a nearby grocery store to get some snacks knowing we wouldn’t have a dinner service tonight. We then headed back to the Auto Train to drop our car off at the terminal.

By the time we got back to the Auto Train, the line had subsided considerably and it was nearly the 3pm cutoff check-in time as well, but actually probably went until 4pm or so due to the inbound arrival delay. It’s actually quite orderly at the Amtrak car drop-off area. They assign a number to your car and put a magnetic tag on your car, which helps identify it when they offload the cars in Florida. You then simply go into the terminal and wait to board the train, while your car is loaded separately, with all of the floor to ceiling contents! We do take a small carryon bag on the passenger sleeper compartment of the train.

It’s now 6:20pm, and after a bit of a walk around we’re both still in the unstaffed lounge car, watching some of the sleeper car passenger walking thru to the coach lounge car which is open, although 8 long cars away. We’ve passed Quantico Marine Base and are now close to Richmond, Virginia, with the sun setting lower in the sky.

DOS and I both are a bit tired from the busy trip to Roanoke, but it’s so relaxing to not be driving and knowing we will be home in the morning after being gone for nearly a month. I’ll sign off for now, and in a bit we will have “dinner” in our cabin with our Turkey Subway sandwiches, chips, and the Cabernet Franc I bought earlier today from Prince Mitchel. Cheers!

Later on . . . I didn’t get a chance to finish this train post until well after we got home to Orlando. Suffice it to say the train trip (as in a mode of transportation from Virginia to Florida hauling our car as well as us) was good. The service however was abysmal and the few Amtrak workers they had (we were told five people had called in sick) were downright unfriendly. You could hear them complaining among themselves in what should have been a diner car where all they were doing is putting the small Subway sandwiches in bags to take to people’s rooms in lieu of a “white table cloth” dinner with wine and waiter service. Apparently this crew had been called in to work to fill in for the sick workers, and they were obviously not happy about it. With service and attitudes like this, perhaps Amtrak should be privatized instead of Government owned and operated.

Anyway, we had our “dinner” and I fortunately had a bottle of red wine from Prince Mitchel, as well as snacks we had picked up, so all was not lost, at least not for us. A closing photo from Amtrak’s website on what to expect, vs what we got! LOL! Should I dare say this is false truth in advertising!

But as always, we made were thankful to take yet another trip and make it home safely after being away for nearly a month. We now have a couple weeks at home before our next trip. Welcome Home!

3 thoughts on “Auto Train Home to Florida!

  1. Jason

    Hey Steve’s! Jason and Lu from London here! We loved hanging out with y’all! We will be in Orlando at the Hyatt Regency 7/20-7/23. Going to the English soccer game. It would be cool to see you!

    You guys are awesome. Love seeing your Norway cruise pics! Norway for us was great.

  2. Jason Bernick

    Hey Steve’s! Jason and Lu from London here! We loved hanging out with y’all! We will be in Orlando at the Hyatt Regency 7/20-7/23. Going to the English soccer game. It would be cool to see you!

    You guys are awesome. Love seeing your Norway cruise pics! Norway for us was great.

    1. Steve Uno Post author

      Hey Jason and Lu, sorry for the delay in responding; ended up being in the hospital for a week when I got home, and needed a pacemaker! Possibly a delayed infection from my open heart valve replacement surgery last year. Anyway happily recovering at home now. Would love to see you all, but will see how the next few days go. We love that Hyatt and stay there a fair bit, usually at least a couple times for the Generous Pour at the Capital Grille right up the street. Thx, and all the best. Steve

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