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Friday, April 13, 2007

TRAVEL TIPS--AUTO TRAIN

We had a very good experience on the Auto Train. Both going to and coming from Florida, we shared the car with seasoned regulars. From them and from us, I offer the following suggestions:

1. Book early and ask for a Lower Level Coach Seat unless you’re booking a sleeper. See my article on the Auto Train for reasons. You will have to go upstairs to the lounge and dining cars, but the privacy and small number of passengers on the Lower Level make up for that.

2. Get to the station early. Boarding begins at 11:30. We arrived at 1 o’clock in Lorton. We had eaten lunch near the station. When you check in, you are assigned seats and you book your dinner reservations—5, 7, 9—and we wanted that 7 o’clock seating. If we came too late, we would have had to take what was left.

3. Have lunch before you board. There’s coffee available as well as snacks, but if you’re a nosher, bring your own. We also brought our own bottled water. Bring a book, an iPod, games, cards or anything else you might want to occupy your time. A good book helps a lot in the station.

4. Don’t count on the Auto Train’s schedule. Amtrak rents the tracks, and so the Auto Train often stops to let freight trains go by. We left a bit early heading to Florida and arrived about a half hour late. On the way back, we were about 45 minutes late. It didn’t matter to us. One of our fellow passengers spoke about once being six hours late. He also told a horror story of someone who missed a cruise because she counted on the train schedule. Take this into account. Don’t use the auto train if your time schedule isn’t flexible.

5. Another thing to consider is getting your car at your destination. They do not come off the train in any particular order, so you may have a wait. I reiterate, if impatient, or on a schedule, this is not the way to travel because you won’t enjoy it.

6. You don’t have to book round trip. Some couples we met were going down via Auto Train and meandering back north, touring other parts of Florida, or stopping in Savannah for a few days. Sometimes it’s good to get out of the round trip mentality.
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