My background includes an MBA, which I earned while working in the travel industry. I have traveled in South America, Europe and Asia.
Consider the Auto Train From Florida
We drove from New Haven to West Palm Beach, Florida this winter, stopping along the way in Washington, DC , South Carolina and Orlando, Florida. We took our time driving, but it is still a long haul!
After two weeks in Florida it was time to return home. I couldn’t bear the thought of the long drive and suggested we look into the Amtrak Auto Train. I am so glad we did!
We decided to spend one night in Sanford, FL before the auto train departed, as we were in no particular rush and had no deadline to meet. We stayed in a Marriott Residence Inn that was reasonably priced with a lovely pool and complimentary breakfast.
Getting to Know Sanford, Florida
We enjoyed exploring the area during the morning before our train departed. We had a delicious lunch in a sidewalk café on the main street in Sanford.
Sanford is situated on the south shore of Lake Monroe, which is a widening of the St. John’s River. It is possible to sail all the way to the Atlantic Ocean on the St John’s! Sanford is conveniently located near I-4 and the 417.
The streets of the historic residential district are covered by a canopy of trees – many of which are more than a century old. A walking tour of this lovely district takes only about an hour. Visit eclectic shops and restaurants, many of which offer outdoor seating. There are many galleries, including a nationally-renowned folk art gallery. Many of the artists shown are residents and can be found creating in their studios.
At the east end of town sits Ft. Mellon Park, where you have a view of the lake. You can rent a boat and explore the river on your own. You may see numerous species of migratory songbirds as well as resident birds, like Peregrine Falcons, who actually nest in downtown as well as along the shores of Lake Monroe.
The Auto Train Experience
Arrive at the Amtrak Station in Sanford at least one hour before boarding time to avoid long lines. Boarding the train is quick and simple.
Bring only bare essentials on the train as there is not much room for luggage. Coach passengers may want to bring a comfortable pillow, as well as a few toiletries.
If you can get a good price on a roomette, it is definitely more comfortable, but the space is small. The roomette could be a little tight for two people although it is doable! You will be sleeping in bunk beds. The person on the top bunk must be agile. Don’t bring more than a backpack or very small duffle bag with you! Leave your belongings in the car with the exception of valuables that you cannot lock in the ca. The bathroom facilities are similar to airline lavatories in size and not in the very best shape, but still just okay. For those taking a roomette or bedroom, you will have access to a shower.
Dining is quite a pleasure. Meals are served in the Dining Car. The food quality is good considering you're on a train. Tables are shared with other passengers which can make for some interesting conversations. We enjoyed our dining companions at both meals. The staff was friendly and helpful.
More about the Roomette and Shower
I have included videos of an Amtrak roomette and shower, although these are not specific to the Auto Train. The roomette in the video is very much like the AutoTrain roomette with the exception that I don't think there is a little closet in the AutoTrain roomette.
As for the shower, the one pictured in the video is quite a bit nicer than the shower we experienced in the AutoTrain, although the dimensions are the same. I don't think there was a place to sit and there was no shower door. There was a clean shower curtain plus a supply of soap and plenty of towels. I found it very helpful to have the option of the shower, which had an ample supply of hot water.
Thanks to GypsyNester,com for these videos!
Auto Train Station Sanford FL
Upgrade to Make Your Vehicle One of the First 30 to Exit the Train
Being on the road faster gets you to your destination sooner. You can speed up your journey with a time-saving upgrade option for the Auto Train. Passengers who reserve Priority Vehicle Offloading ensure their vehicle is one of the first 30 offloaded from the train. We took this option but ended up being number 30, at the very end of the line for the upgrade! As the train was not super full, I am not sure if it made much of a difference for us. At busier times during the year it could be a great help.
Visit Washington DC in the morning.
You will be off the train by 9am and if you have the time, take a half day to visit the wonderful museums in Washington DC as they are all free. Parking can be a bit of a challenge, but if you have a bit of patience and perseverance you will find a spot. We spent a couple of hours in the Air and Space Museum before continuing our journey North.
The ticket prices are on a scale and increase as the train starts to fill up! Coach tickets may be as low as $136.00 and the vehicle fare starts at about $198.00. Book early, consider a sleeping accommodation and consider the priority off-loading option.If you are budget minded, coach tickets are reasonable. Either way, you will be sure to enjoy the ride and will save about 900 miles of stressful driving.
Shelley Horsley Cruz (author) from Northford, CT on April 09, 2017:
Thank you for your comments! They are most appreciated!
Elliot on April 08, 2017:
Very interesting article. I may try it on my next trip to Florida.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 04, 2017:
Thank you for sharing your travel experience. Options are always helpful.
Travel-Wise on April 04, 2017:
Train travel still seems to be a popular way to travel across country. Thanks for sharing your experience along with some great tips!