Friday, December 13, 2013

Amtrak's East Coast Car Train Adventure

My brother AJ decided to move from Florida back to Massachusetts, so I flew out to Florida to keep him company on the trip.

I had really great luck booking a last minute one-way ticket from Connecticut to Florida. I assume that since most people travel for the holidays between December 20 and January 3,  tickets early in December are really inexpensive. People don't want to fly multiple times in one month.

AJ picked me up at the airport, and since he already moved out of his house we headed to the Clarion hotel in Kissimmee, which is right outside of Orlando. The hotel was less than 2 miles from Disneyworld, and yet, it only cost us $50 a night to stay in a two bed suite with kitchenette and a free buffet breakfast. My favorite area of the hotel was the enormous free form pool. I spent the majority of my time in the pool, as the area surrounding the hotel was strip mall hell. It's amazing how many Carrabba's restaurants one city needs.

We spent about 24 hours in Kissimmee, then drove an hour to Stanford, where we caught the auto train. The entire process of boarding the train was a breeze. We dropped off the car in front of the station just before 2 P.M., then walked over to the check-in desk to get our tickets. At the check-in, we asked about gluten free meal options, and the attendant was so helpful that she called over the chef to talk to us directly.

We waited a few minutes at the station and then boarded the train at 2:30. When we saw our accommodations in the sleeper car, we were a bit surprised. The car was in daytime mode, so there were two seats facing each other. While it was comfortable, the room was tight. Feeling a little claustrophobic, we headed to the lounge car, where there was a free wine tasting and snacks. The lounge car was terrific and it was great talking to the staff about their experiences on the train. Apparently Shaq's dad is a frequent customer!

The time was flying by, and at 7:00 P.M., we headed from the lounge into the dining car, where we took our seats across from some very opinionated travelers. I spent the dinner in a heated debate about educational inequality. You can imagine which side of the discussion I was on. I am surprised the Teach For America water bottle I was carrying didn't give me away.

While the discussion was heated, the dinner was enjoyable. AJ had steak tips, and I ate roasted chicken. I made sure to tell the staff that the 14th is AJ's birthday, so they brought out a bowl of jello and ice cream and the entire dining car sang happy birthday at an embarrassing volume while I video taped.

After all of this excitement, I headed back to our sleeper car. The staff had already transitioned the car from day to night, and this time, I found two bunk beds made up with pillows and blankets. The sleep on the train was very comfortable. I woke up a few times, mainly because AJ was unknowingly dropping things (a bag of M&M's, a glow stick, and his wallet) onto my head from the top bunk, but overall had a great night's rest. 

In the morning, we woke up to beautiful views of the sunrise and to continental breakfast that was being served in the dining car. We also found out that we would be arriving an hour ahead of schedule. The morning went by in a flash, and we were already off the train and in Lorton, Virginia by 8:15 A.M. From there, we drove the remaining miles back home.

I still think flying is my favorite mode of transportation when it comes to long distances, but this is a great option for being able to transport your car.

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