By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor



Review: Taking the Auto Train to Walt Disney World



By Dave Shute

TRAVELING TO DISNEY WORLD ON THE AUTO TRAIN

Review - Taking the Auto Train to Disney World from yourifrstvisit.netAmtrak’s Auto Train is a passenger train that also takes vehicles between Lorton, Virginia, just south of Washington DC, and Sanford, Florida, about an hour east of Disney World.

It’s an alternative to flying or driving the 800+ freeway miles between these two points for those who also wish to bring their own car.

(Amtrak’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star are the rail alternatives for those who don’t want to bring their own car. These two trains also have many more embarkation points–you can board and disembark the Auto Train only in Lorton and Sanford.)

When I was a kid and we lived near Lorton on the Quantico Marine Corps base, my family commonly took the Auto Train to Disney World, and after that traveled in our car down to Fort Lauderdale to visit my grandparents.

More recently, in late January and early February 2015, I took the Auto Train to Disney World with my dad and sister—both of whom live not far from Lorton.

My dad hates airports, and my sister hates airplanes. Each has driven to Disney World many times, but my dad has also taken the Auto Train a few times.

I don’t really remember how we decided to take the Auto Train for this trip instead of driving, and we didn’t even consider the Silver Meteor or Silver Star. My dad and I share a lifelong love of trains (real and model) and my sister likes them too. Maybe that was it.

Locomotives Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

The basic operations of the Auto Train are as follows (all covered in more detail later in this review):

Auto Train Arrival Instructions from yourfirstvisit.net

  1. Arrive at the Lorton station sometime between 11.30a and 2.30p, preferably by 2p (You can find lingo on the web–even from Amtrak–that says 3p, but our material said arrive by 2p, no later than 2.30p–see the image)
  2. Check in your car, grab your carry-ons (you’ll have no further access to your car until it’s unloaded in Sanford), check in and choose your dinner seating (the earlier arrivals will book up the more popular seating times on busy trips)
  3. Board the train when called, likely beginning around 2.30p
  4. After the train has been assembled, depart around 4p (we left early)
  5. Dine during your assigned seating
  6. Visit the lounge car if you wish for drinks or to catch a movie
  7. Head back to your seat or your sleeping compartment to sleep.
  8. Wake up and have a continental breakfast in the dining car
  9. Arrive in Sanford around 9.30a (we arrived early)
  10. Wait for your car—which can be up to two hours on busy days—someone has to be last…(you can buy, for $50, the right to be one of the first 20 cars off)
  11. Head the three miles to Interstate 4, and drive west about an hour to Disney World

(The return trip has the same departure and arrival times)

If you arrive in Lorton around 1p, and get your car at 10.30a the next morning (which assumes the train is on time—and it is almost 85% of the time, remarkable for Amtrak–and that your car is in the first half of those off-loaded) you cover the eight hundred miles in 21.5 hours, and get to sleep while traveling—plus of course you’ve got your car at the end.

But it really isn’t a time saver, and for most not a money saver.

Most can drive the 800 miles in 12 hours, and the remaining 9.5 hours is plenty for eating and sleeping on the road.

As I write this, the one-way charge for your vehicle is $239, or about 30 cents a mile.

Coach Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net (2)

On top of that you’ve gotta pay for accommodations on the train as well.

Accommodations prices will vary by party size, time of the year, which ticket type you select, and which accommodations you book, but a family of four with two kids (2 -12, as Amtrak defines kids) will likely pay at least $300 more (one way) for coach accommodations, more during the more popular times of the year.

The Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Coach is not bad, but a sleeper is the way to go if you can possibly afford it. (The image shows part of a sleeping car “Bedroom.”)

The least expensive sleeper options for this same family–two “Roomettes”–will likely cost at least another $300 (again one way).

So you are at around at least a grand for a coach round trip, $1600 for a round trip with a couple of roomettes. And on busier dates the rates can be much higher.

What the Auto Train really is is an annoyance-avoider coupled with car transport. If you don’t want to fly or to drive the 800+ miles of I-95 and I-4 that the route avoids, you want your car, and you don’t mind paying a little more–perhaps a lot more–then it’s a great choice.

You need to test book a trip on Amtrak’s site (to get rates and availability) and compare the costs to your next best alternative those same dates to fully get the cost implications of the Auto Train.

VEHICLES ACCEPTED ON THE AUTO TRAIN

First, you can’t travel without a vehicle. My sister decided to go after my dad had already booked the two of us a roomette and vehicle, and she needed to piggyback on our reservation’s vehicle to get on.

Those without vehicles but who want to take the train should check out Amtrak’s Silver Star and Silver Meteor.

Auto Racks Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Vehicles travel in enclosed auto racks, so need to fit.

Standard vehicles that fit Amtrak’s dimensions (and that don’t have dual rear wheels or gull wing doors, both verboten) and motorcycles (motorcycles have to arrive by 2p, as they get special packaging) are straightforward.

Here’s the maximum dimensions for four wheel vehicles:

  • Maximum height: 88 inches
  • Maximum width: 84 inches
  • Ground clearance: at least 4 inches

Note that Amtrak doesn’t specify maximum length in inches here. Rather, for length it says “Standard factory-model (originally manufactured length) automobiles, vans, SUVs and trucks.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t transport your 30-foot stretch Yugo, or even a car and a trailer. Rather, you’ll have to measure it, call 1-877-SKIP-I-95, and figure out together whether it fits, and if so, whether or not you’ll need to buy two vehicle spots.

Rear bike racks (and bikes) are fine though you’ll need to sign a waiver. The only roof racks allowed are those installed by the factory, and they have to be empty—even if with your roof bags you are still under the 88 inch max height.

More is here.

AUTO TRAIN ACCOMMODATIONS: COACH

The basic distinction is between coach and the sleeping cars, with then options among the sleeping car accommodations.

Coach Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

There’s three levels of coach pricing, with varying refundabilty terms. The lower-priced options are not always available.

Prices vary with demand, and, because of snowbirds, may be higher during periods when Disney World itself has lower prices than you might think. Do a test booking to see prices and the refund terms. Kids 2-12 travel for about the half the price of parents, and there may be special pricing available for seniors, active duty military, students, AAA members, space aliens, and such.

If I were more talented I’d write a script that pulls from Amtrak’s website coach price by passenger type, ticket type, discount type, and date and show that in a big graph.

Auto Train Discounts from yourfirtsvisit.net

Instead all I have to offer is to suggest you try some test bookings, particularly checking deals you might be eligible for (via the drop down box) and varying your dates a bit.

Typical Floor Plan Coach Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

All the passenger cars on the Auto Train have two levels. You can request upper or lower level coach seats.

The upper levels (at the top of the floor plan) have much better views, more sway, and more people noise, as the corridor between the upper level seats is also the main corridor for traveling back and forth to the restrooms, the dining car and the lounge.

Auto Train Coach at Night from yourfirstvisit.net

As the doors to other cars open and close, there’s rattle and hum, and also some noise from clumsy bloggers taking photos.

The lower level fits many fewer people and doesn’t connect to other cars, so passengers here have less people noise and less sway, but more track noise and not as good views.

The seats are not at all comparable to what you’d get in coach on a jet.

Legroom 1 Coach Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Rather, they are huge, and with enormous legroom. That’s my sister seated normally…

Legroom 2 Coach Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

…and with her legs extended.

Recline Coach Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

A thingy comes up from underneath to support your legs, and you get much more reclining room without bugging the folk behind you than in coach on a jet. That’s me in full recline posing as a dozing coach passenger.

Luggage Coach Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Luggage racks are above both rows of seats.

Carry On Limits Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Amtrak restricts you to a couple of carry-ons–see the sign–but the only luggage you need is much less—only what you wish to have available for the time away from your car. For example

  • Change of unmentionables and PJs
  • Clothes suited to the destination weather—on the trip down, layering is simplest
  • Grooming and makeup gear
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Motion sickness meds, just in case (rare but it happens…)
  • Ear plugs or noise-masking headphones
  • Books, magazines, electronic toys (Kindle, iPads, etc.) and chargers
  • At least one copy of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit
  • A power strip (there’s just one outlet per pair of coach seats)
  • Snacks
  • A wifi hotspot (more on this later)
  • Any valuables you don’t want to leave in the car
  • A flask of cheap bourbon to drink in the Carolinas if you have trouble sleeping

Note that the five coach baths in each car are all downstairs. Two are tiny (airplane sized) but three are larger—perfect for changing clothes.

Because of the chair size, legroom, and reclining room, sleeping—if you have something to cut noise—is much more comfortable than on say a red-eye.

It is not nearly as comfortable as having your own space and a flat bed, which is why you should consider sleepers.

AUTO TRAIN ACCOMMODATIONS: SLEEPERS

Sleeping cars (sleepers) provide private compartments, flat beds, pillows and blankets, and in some spaces private baths.

Sleeping car attendants set up and take down the beds and otherwise help out, but most of the additional amenities that used to be offered to Auto Train sleeping car passengers (a different dinner menu than that in coach, a separate lounge, free wine at dinner, complimentary wine and cheese tasting, etc.) are gone.

Typical Floor Plan Sleeper Car Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

The typical sleeper has

  • Fourteen “Roomettes” (ten on the upper level, four on the lower level, light blue in the floor plan) that hold and sleep two. The lower bunk is 2’ 4” by 6’ 6” and the upper is 2’ by 6’ 2”.
  • Five “Bedrooms” on the upper level (orange; some cars have ten bedrooms on the upper level, with five replacing the upper level roomettes) that seat four but are only bookable for the two they sleep. The lower bunk is 3’ 4” by 6’ 3”; the upper is 2’ 4” by 6’ 2”. (Some Amtrak material not specific to the Auto Train suggests that you can book two connecting bedrooms for 6 as a “Bedroom Suite”—intending I guess to put four smaller children in the two wider lower bunks and two adults in the upper bunks, but that’s a tight fit. None of my Auto Train test bookings for 6 offered this as an option—I got instead a family bedroom and a roomette.)
  • One “Accessible Bedroom” on the lower level that seats and sleeps two (pink), one with a mobility issue and a companion who can climb into an upper bunk. The lower bunk is 2’ 4” by 6’ 6” and the upper is 2’ by 6’ 2”. This bedroom is optimized for wheelchair use, and has an accessible bath in it.
  • One “Family Bedroom” on the lower level that seats four to five and sleeps four–two adults and two much shorter folk (green). The lower larger bunk is 3’ 4” by 6’ 3”; the upper larger bunk is 2’ 4” by 6’ 2”. The lower smaller bunk is 2’ 3” by 4’ 9”; the upper smaller bunk is 2’ by 4’ 7”. Note that Amtrak will book this room for a family of five–see this!

All bedrooms except the lower level family bedroom also have a bath and shower—no roomettes have either.

Changing Auto Train Sleeper Offers from yourfirstvisit.net

Prices vary, so as with coach you’ll need to try some test bookings. If more than one space fits your party, you can click the little orange arrows–circled in red above–to see other room types and their prices.

There’s also a fairly cool room-viewer here.

We stayed in both of the most common room types (roomettes and bedrooms) on our trip, so here’s the scoop on them.

Roomettes

Roomette Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Roomettes (light blue on the floor plan) offer two large facing seats with a pull-out table between.

Between the seat and corridor wall on one side is a narrow but long and deep area for stuff—a small soft sided bag or two is shove-able here (you can also stick your bags under the seats, but they will be inaccessible when the beds are down).

The other seat has between it and the corridor wall what appear to be oddly sized shelves but are fact are steps to the upper berth.

There’s plenty of reading lights—for both seats, and also for the upper berth—and coat hooks too. You are isolated from the hallway by walls and a sliding solid door, and have in addition curtains for privacy or darkness or both. There’s one power outlet behind one of the seats.

Lower Berth Roomette Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

The seats convert into a lower bunk…

Upper Berth Roomette Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

…and an upper bunk folds down from the wall. There’s no window for the upper bunk, and with the small overall space and curve of the roof I found it claustrophobic until I decided to play I was a vampire in my coffin.

These roomettes, at 3’6” by 6’ 6”, are really, really small. That’s less than 23 square feet. I’ve been in showers bigger than this—e.g. in the master bath at the Villas at the Grand Floridian.

Two people in the chairs need to take care of where they put their feet—when one changes feetsie position, the other needs to as well.

And when the beds are down the room becomes essentially unusable for anything but stretching out in the beds, or standing still in front of them.

The clear space in front of the beds—that you would use, for example, while dressing to go to the bath or to the dining car for breakfast—is on the order of 14 inches by 24 inches…

My dad and I in fact were so cramped that we booked a bedroom for the trip back. My sister, who was alone in her roomette, liked hers quite a bit. If I were traveling solo in a roomette, I’d probably have just the upper bunk made up come nighty-night time, so that I retained the option of sitting in the chairs if I woke up before I wished to, or had trouble falling alseep.

Bedrooms

Bedrooms are still cramped with the beds down, but not nearly so much as the roomettes. Bedrooms are 6’ 6” by 7’ 6”—at about 49 square feet a little more than twice as large as roomettes, although the bath takes up about half of the extra space.

Longer Seat Bedroom Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

One side of the bedroom has a long couch that seats three and converts into a 3’ 4” by 6’ 3” berth—a foot wider than the lower berth in a roomette. When unfurled, this bed makes getting in and out of the room hard. It’s only a couple of inches wider than a twin, and honestly I would rather have seen a narrower bed and better access in and out of the room.

Long Chair Bedroom Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Above it is a bunk that folds down. At 2’ 4” by 6’ 2”, it’s 4 inches wider than the roomette upper berth. Because it, like the lower berth, is transverse, it both shares the window and does not have a curve restricting space above the mattress, so is not quite so claustrophobic as the upper birth in a roomette.

Lower Berth Bedroom Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Here’s the lower berth…

Upper Berth Roomette Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

…and the upper berth.

Smaller Seat Bedroom Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Across the couch at the window is this single chair. There’s a pull-out table between this chair and the seat at the window end of the couch. The connecting door, if present, is behind this chair, and the chair folds up to improve access between connecting rooms.

The chair remains present when the beds are made, so one can sit while the other sleeps.

The Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

There’s a full set of reading lights, one power point, and, between the couch and the corridor door, a closet.

As in the roomettes, a sliding door closes off the space and there’s also privacy curtains.

Sink Bedroom Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

At the entry across from the couch is a sink.

Toilet Shower Bedroom Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Behind the sink is a small private toilet and shower. We didn’t use the shower. On other uses of this space I am silent.

A family of four could book either two roomettes or a roomette and a bedroom. The roomette and bedroom could be much more expensive (yes, you have to test your dates to see exactly how much) but because the bedroom seats four the family will have many more ways to group themselves.

(The family bedroom downstairs (green) has no bath or sink, and sleeps four only if two can fit into beds 4’ 9” and 4’ 7” long—but it is still likely better for most four person families with short kids than two roomettes. Its 49 square feet is all devoted to the seats and the feets, so it seems likely to be less cramped when the beds are set than a regular bedroom.)

Sleeping Car Baths

Six of the 21 sleeping rooms in a standard sleeper have their own baths—the five upstairs bedrooms, and the downstairs accessible bedroom. Those in one of the 14 roomettes or the downstairs family bedroom need to use another bath.

I can see from various comments online that many of the upstairs roomette guests miss that there’s baths downstairs too. There’s one small upstairs bath, but downstairs there’s three more plus a separate shower/changing room. Two of the three downstairs baths are the same small size as upstairs, but the third is larger, and the shower/changing room, is, for a train, quite large.

Other Sleeping Car Amenities

Sleeper Coffee and Ice Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

On the upper level near the stairwell there’s a coffee service and nearby ice machine.

Sleeper Water Auto Train from yourfirstvisit.net

Near it are supplies, tea and hot chocolate for the hot water line in the coffee maker, and other stuff—magazines, napkins and such.

Your sleeping car attendant can also provide other services—including even getting your dinner and bringing it back to your room! Don’t forget to tip your attendant…more on tipping later.

Stuff to Bring on an Auto Train Sleeping Car

Items to bring with you are similar to those you’d bring to coach, except you don’t need a pillow or a blanket.

While these spaces are quieter than coach, they aren’t silent, so it can’t hurt to have some kind of noise-reducing gear.

The roomettes are particularly thin on storage space, so bring as a carry-on no more than you really need.

  • Change of unmentionables and PJs
  • Clothes suited to the destination weather—on the trip down, layering is simplest
  • Grooming and makeup gear
  • Motion sickness meds, just in case (rare but it happens…)
  • Ear plugs or noise-masking headphones
  • Books, magazines, electronic toys (Kindle, iPads, etc.) and chargers
  • Several copies of The easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit
  • A power strip (there’s just one outlet in bedrooms and roomettes)
  • Snacks
  • A wifi hotspot (more on this later)
  • Any valuables you don’t want to leave in the car
  • Fine wine to drink in Georgia if you have trouble sleeping

THE LORTON AUTO TRAIN STATION AND EMBARKING

This review continues here!!

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19 comments

1 Kelly B - Agent with Destinations in Florida { 02.24.15 at 8:00 am }

Great review Dave. Right before my wedding, we took an Amtrak train from Montana to NJ. It was a wonderful adventure. We met people from all over the world. Got to see parts of the US we never saw before, and neither of us had to drive. We were well rested when we arrived at our destination. A great option for those who don’t like to fly.

2 Marion { 02.25.15 at 4:05 pm }

We have taken the Auto Train about a half dozen times since my sister won’t fly. Bear in mind everyone that although Amtrak has a good on-time record there can be holdups. Last time it was a freight car derailment on the shared tracks (SC I think). Another time an unfortunate soul decided to take their life by jumping in front of the train and we sat for hours and hours while an investigation went on (in the middle of the night). And if you travel during hurricane weather Amtrak may take an alternate route further from the coast that can also cause long delays. Just be prepared for delays and delighted when they don’t occur! I must also add that we have always really enjoyed the dinner included and got plenty of rest sitting up in the coach car all night. Happy traveling!!

3 Dave { 02.26.15 at 12:44 pm }

Great points, Marion!!

4 Jane { 03.02.15 at 8:51 pm }

Hi Dave, just saw your post, just as I’ve been thinking about booking the auto train. However, I’m really not sure what to do b/c I have a family of 5, and it’s telling me I need two bedrooms. Huge expense. One kid is only 3 and very small. Should I ask them if we can all fit in one bedroom? I was wondering if we could have one bedroom and one roomette.

5 Dave { 03.03.15 at 8:52 am }

Jane, all I can think of is calling them to see…my guess, though, is no.

6 Jane { 03.10.15 at 5:35 pm }

Hi Dave, wanted to update you that Amtrak does allow a family of 5 to book the family bedroom, as I just did it. They are flexible about those things, they just warn you that it is intended for X # of people. In our case our small 3 yr old will fit next to one of the adults just fine. And it saved a huge amount of $ over the price I was quoted over the net, which was for 2 family bedrooms. My advice is to call and talk to them before booking if you’re not sure what you want. The person who helped me told me the price of every room combo we could have (roomettes, regular rooms) and the one family bedroom was definitely right for our (2 adults, 3 small kids) family. We are really excited b/c last time we drove 2.5 days and stayed in 2 hotels coming down. For us, avoiding all those potty stops for the kids is a huge time (and frustration!) saver.

7 Dave { 03.10.15 at 6:07 pm }

Thanks Jane!! I’ll edit based on your experience!

8 catie { 08.09.15 at 8:19 pm }

I’m a single passenger who twice took the autotrain to Florida once and to Virginia once.Both times I rode coach.The first time a man sat next to me who smelled of ciggarettes and body odor.Thank goodness the train was half empty and he moved to another seat.The second time was recent a lovely woman sat next to me and all went well . I’m taking the train back to Florida in a few days.This time I booked a roomette. I figured I have to try it once.I live in Florida but visit New York every summer.Other times I fly.Just realize in coach ic your alone your next to whoever sits there.There is no separation of the 2 seats . I’m excited to try the roomette. I pack a small blanket, pilllow, I pad, ipod, snacks and some wine.Some toiletries to freshen up.It breaks up a long trip fod me driving by myself.

9 Dave { 08.10.15 at 4:58 pm }

Thanks, Catie! A roomette is a great way for one person to travel.

10 Mo { 08.24.15 at 12:28 pm }

Dave thx for your info traveling sooner rather than a roomette..can one person just book a larger space for themselves alone?

11 Reba { 05.17.16 at 5:37 pm }

Great article and so informative. Thanks so much!

12 Dave { 05.19.16 at 7:15 am }

Thanks Reba!

13 Karen Burkhard { 01.03.17 at 3:12 pm }

We are booked business class seating. We plan to take computers in briefcases. Is there room for these in the dining car? We don’t want to leave computers at our seats when we’re not there, obviously. Any ideas? Thanks so much!

14 Dave { 01.04.17 at 6:23 am }

Karen, they will certainly fit under the table at your feet.

15 Giovanna { 02.21.17 at 2:15 pm }

I am considering taking the train to Fl this spring break instead of driving with my 4 kids ages 12,9,6 and 3…as much as I would like to get a room there aren’t any available. I am contemplating on whether to get coach or business class seats. I have never been on the auto train….. thoughts?! I was mainly wondering about comfort factor since I have the kids with me.

16 Eric { 02.22.17 at 1:15 pm }

@Giovanna – based on my experience, I wouldn’t, especially for comfort reasons. You two youngest likely won’t sleep well, which means you won’t, either.

17 Dave { 02.23.17 at 6:41 am }

Giovanna, I don’t think there’s much difference–the seats are the same, for example, and even coach seats are large with lots of reclining room–nothing like trying to sleep on a place. However, business class is new, so I may be wrong.

18 Sandy { 03.01.17 at 3:07 am }

Great site!
I am considering booking a bedroom for my mom and myself. Do the seats on the couch recline?
Thanks

19 Dave { 03.04.17 at 9:56 am }

Sandy, no they don’t.

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