After a nice four night stay in Charlottesville, and a little over 3 weeks total being away from home, on Monday Steve (DOS) and I headed home on the Auto Train from Lorton, VA to Sanford, FL. The drive from Charlottesville is about two hours, and we left on Monday morning with the car packed to the roof.
I’ve written about the Auto Train before, but it is the largest passenger train in the world with cars for passengers and separate cars for the autos, which are loaded on for you when you drop off the car at checkin.
As we always do when heading south on the Auto Train, we stopped at Antonelli’s Italian Deli for a hot sub lunch. Antonelli’s is just up the road from the Auto Train, (but a bit to far to walk), so we first check-in at the Auto Train station with our tickets, (and normally get a confirmed meal seating) but don’t check the car in until after lunch.
Why the double checkin? Two reasons, one we need the car to get to Antonelli’s and want to get our preferred dinner seating assigned, but two (and this is just a theory but it seems to work for us), the later the car is checked in and loaded, the quicker it comes off unloaded in Sanford.
While you can pay an extra $60 for priority offload, which guarantees your car will be among the first 30 cars offloaded, to us it doesn’t seem worth it, and we’ve never waited more than 45 minutes for our car (although Amtrak says to allow up to an hour and a half when having your car retrieved at debarkation.)
The trip down was delayed about an hour due to the inbound train arrival from Sanford, so instead of boarding at 2:30pm it more like 3:30pm. DOS and I walked around the large train station and grounds while we waited along with the other passengers.
The train departed around 5pm (normally leaves at 4pm), and thus began the 17 hour overnight journey to Sanford, Florida, a suburb of Orlando. As we always do, after getting settled into our cabin, we head up to the lounge car for departure and the first hour or two, enjoying the view and a Diet Coke for DOS, and a brewski (or two) for me.
Here are a couple pics leaving the Lorton station, the Potomac River, and a bit further down the town of Quantico which houses a huge Marine base, as well as the FBI and CIA training academies among other things one can only wonder about.
Unlike the previous trips we have taken on the Auto Train, this was the first time we were not offered seating in the dining car for dinner. This seemed ironic for us as we are both fully COVID vaccinated as are many people, but it seemed like it was more of a staffing issue by Amtrak this trip, as there wasn’t enough staff to serve a full dining car load of passengers. Instead, we (like everyone else aboard) enjoyed our pre-ordered meal in our sleeper cabin, which was delivered by our stateroom attendant in a large plastic to-go bag.
After dinner, we went back up to the lounge car which was open and serving drinks (although you couldn’t bring you dinner meal up to eat it there), and enjoyed the constantly changing views going by as the sun slowly set.
By 10pm, we were ready for bed, and headed back to our Sleeper Cabin, where the beds had already been turned down (one larger lower bed, and one bunk bed on top). DOS always takes the top top bunk as it doesn’t bother him as much climbing the ladder, putting on his ‘seatbelt’ (actually it’s a safe strap to keep him from rolling out of the bed), and being a bit too close to the ceiling which would bother me.
We both slept ok; this time I came prepared with ear plugs and a face-mask, which dimmed the light of the room significantly as well as the whistle of the train. In the morning we had the continental breakfast in the lounge car right before they stopping serving at 8am. We were up a bit before this and were treated with a nice sunrise as well.
After breakfast we had an hour and a half or so until we arrived in Sanford, so we relaxed a bit in the room and gathered our things together. (Think pack super light aboard the train leaving everything else in the car.)
When we arrived back in Sanford the next morning, (slightly late at 930am), we had only a short 1/2 hour wait for our car to be retrieved.
After being gone over three weeks, it was nice to have only a 20 minute drive home. It was a great trip and varied trip to Virginia with the multi-overnight stays along the way, but it was glad to take the train back nonstop on the overnight jaunt as well.