Auto Train with Small Children 7/28/2021

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Joined
Jul 5, 2021
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Florida
Long report.

My husband and I, both 65, took the Auto Train #53 from Virginia to Florida on 7/28/2021 with our three grandchildren, aged 8, 6, and 3. It was the second time on the Auto Train for my husband and me, but a “once in a lifetime" surprise trip for the grandkids, all of whom love trains.

It was important for us to experience the dining car, so we arrived at the Lorton station at the earliest check-in time (11:30 AM) to get our preferred dinner seating. When driving into the station, we kept to the left, drove past the auto check-in line, and parked in the visitor's lot. Our ticket said that all adults would have to show their IDs, so we woke up a sleeping child and dragged everyone into the station. As it turns out, only one adult was needed to check the whole group in, so we could have left the other adult in the car with the sleeping child. Wish I had known that. Masks are required in the station for all people, vaccinated or not. I think we were the first ones to check in. We got the earliest dining car seating offered that trip: 7 PM. Someone we met on the train later said they checked in around 1:30 PM and had to take the 9 PM seating. There were other dinner times available as early as 5 PM if you were willing to have it delivered to your room.

After checking in as passengers, we drove to a nearby restaurant, Glory Days Grill, for a leisurely lunch. It had good food, good service, a nice kids’ menu, and a small arcade to pass the time. I noticed that the grocery store that used to be in the same shopping plaza is now closed.

We returned to the station about 1:45 and checked in our car. The boys went outside to look at the consist while the girls went to the gift shop. The small shop has all the last minute essentials that you’d expect, like travel pillows and phone chargers, but also sells pre-packaged sandwiches for $8.99 (turkey, ham, chicken salad, and tuna salad) as well as lunchables, etc.

Our car was called for boarding around 2:45. Our cabin attendant, Angela, helped us board and directed us to our rooms. We had 2 suited bedrooms, D and E. Good room choice. The connecting door between the 2 rooms was still closed, and we had to wait until all the passengers boarded for Angela to come up and open it. The suite had just enough space for the 5 of us to not constantly bump into each other. The two single seats could fold up against the wall, turning the space into sort of a living room with the two couches facing each other across the opened divider, with the two windows on the side. Each room was well-stocked with bottled water, tissues, soap, towels, wash cloths, and paper cups.

The welcome announcement said that masks were required at all times except when in your room with the curtain closed or when actively eating, with emphasis on “actively.” In practice, masks were only required when walking around. It was OK to take them off while seated in the lounge car or dining car, if you wanted. Our 3-year-old frequently pulled her mask off when walking around (a constant battle we have) but she was not corrected by the crew. There were hand sanitizer stations in various places.

We appreciated the 24-hour coffee / tea / hot chocolate station in the center of the car. We fixed hot chocolate for the kids and brought it to the lounge car. All the tables were open (i.e. no tables roped-off for social distancing). Ditto for the dining car. The kids met another child in the lounge and we spent a delightful 2 hours making new friends, snacking, and playing kids’ card games. My husband had a speedometer app on his phone which frequently measured 70 MPH. Our 6-year-old grandson was in his glory, especially when we passed another train.

We were called to dinner promptly at 7 PM. They no longer seat strangers together (yay!) due to Covid. Since we were a group of 5, we were given two booths across from each other. My husband and I both ordered the flat iron steak, and it was as tough as shoe leather. I’d recommend the chicken or lasagne instead. Kids’ dinners were good: chicken tenders or mac & cheese. They offered wine to us and apple juice to the kids, as well as bottled water at the table. Dessert offerings were ice cream, chocolate cake, cheesecake, and sugar-free jello. We enjoyed our dinner, in spite of the tough steak, as a blazing red sun set in the west. It was a magical time for all of us.

Angela converted our suite into bedrooms during dinner. The wifi was slow, but strong enough for the kids to FaceTime with their parents before bed. We put the 3-year-old and the 6-year-old foot-to-foot in a lower bunk. It was wide anough for them to be offset side by side and not kick each other all night. The 8-year-old slept up top. On the other side, my husband slept in the bottom and I took the top. It was quite comfortable for me, and the rocking train put me to sleep. But my husband, at 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, found the bed very uncomfortable. The pillows were thin compared to what you’d find in a hotel. My only problem was the room’s “night light” which we kept on for the kids, which was located on the ceiling about 18” from my face. Wish I had brought a sleep mask.

The last loudspeaker announcement came at 9:30 PM. The train horn was not a problem at all at night; we could barely hear it from our room. The first morning announcement was 7 AM, informing us that we had to be in the dining room by 8 AM for breakfast. By this time we were in Florida, north of Jax. They announced that a “switching problem” would cause a delay but they had no idea how long. We had breakfast in the dining car, this time squeezed into one booth. During breakfast, Angela converted our beds back to couches. Stop, start, slow, stop, start for hours. Breakfast hours were extended to 8:30. As we appoached 11 AM, they announced that there would be an additional delay for the train to wait for a fresh crew to arrive, since the current crew reached their 12-hour limit. That added another 30 minutes at full stop. It seems to me that the second delay could have been avoided with better planning once they knew about the first delay. We had not packed enough snacks to hold the kids over, and had to buy junk food in the lounge. I’m just glad it was open.

We finally pulled into Sanford at 1 PM, four hours late. It took quite a while to uncouple the cars before we were allowed to detrain. Once in the station, it was about 20 minutes until they started calling numbers for auto pickup. It amazes me they don’t ask to see the claim checks for the autos–they just let anyone step into any running car and drive away. Haven’t car thieves figured this out yet? We had paid for priority offloading (a lesson learned from our first trip) and finally drove away at 1:45 PM.

This is our second Auto Train trip, and our second long delay. My husband is not happy with Amtrak. In contrast, the children were delighted, especially with the “bonus” time in the train. 😄

I've attached a few pics and a video tour of the suite by my granddaughter.

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Lounge car, crossing the Potomac
:2021-07-28 16.36.34.jpg

3 kids in bedroom bunks:
2021-07-29 06.52.32.jpg

Breakfast in the dining car:
2021-07-29 07.30.41.jpg

Tour of suited bedrooms:
View attachment 2021-07-28 14.41.13 480p.mov
 
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Cal

Foamer
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Jan 23, 2021
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Socal
Great review! Thanks for sharing.

Masks are technically required in the lounge area, but of course that's not really followed. :mad: 🙁

I'm sorry to hear your experience with traditional dining, about the steak. All my meals on the Southwest Chief were fantastic, especially the steak which was cooked perfectly to my liking (you can check out my review here). I was also surprised to see they aren't doing communal seating on the Auto Train, on Western trains they are. I had a wonderful conversation with an engineer from the Zephyr at dinner, I'm glad communal seating is back.

By the way, was the new bedding in use? Wasn't on my trip (on the Chief/Cardinal).
 
Joined
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Florida
By the way, was the new bedding in use? Wasn't on my trip (on the Chief/Cardinal).
Hmmm I don't think I'd recognize whether the bedding was new or not. The last time we slept in an Amtrak bedroom was 2015, and couldn't say whether last week's bedding was different.
 
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Cal

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Hmmm I don't think I'd recognize whether the bedding was new or not. The last time we slept in am Amtrak bedroom was 2015, and couldn't say whether last week's bedding was different.
Was it a dark blue blanket?
 

Dakota 400

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I've attached a few pics and a video tour of the suite by my granddaughter.
Thanks for an interesting review and your photos and the video. Your granddaughter did a nice job as a tour guide.

Unfortunate that the steak was tough. When I traveled on the Auto Train, the steak was quite good. Since the train arrived in Sanford so late, was there any problems due to early arriving passengers for the train's Northbound trip?
 
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Joined
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Since the train arrived in Sanford so late, was there any problems due to early arriving passengers for the train's Northbound trip?
The waiting area of the Sanford station was a bit crowded, but we still found seats. There was a long lineup of cars waiting to check in, stretching past the entrance driveway and onto Persimmon Ave. It didn't seem to affect our ability to get on our way in reasonable time. The Amtrak status tracker indicated that train 52 departed Sanford at 6:12 PM that day, 2 hours 12 minutes late.
 
Joined
Jan 14, 2020
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Thanks for an interesting review and your photos and the video. Your granddaughter did a nice job as a tour guide.

Unfortunate that the steak was tough. When I traveled on the Auto Train, the steak was quite good. Since the train arrived in Sanford so late, was there any problems due to early arriving passengers for the train's Northbound trip?
Hubby and I take the Auto Train twice a year and always get the flat iron steak. 2 years ago, my steak was inedible while hubby's was fine. It was beyond tough. I learned if the connective tissue is not removed before it's cooked, you can't even cut it. I should have complained but didn't. Since then, when we traveled, I was leary but ordered it anyways. No problem!!! Very good! If I ever happen to get a bad steak again...I WILL complain!!!
 
Joined
Jul 5, 2021
Messages
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Location
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Hubby and I take the Auto Train twice a year and always get the flat iron steak. 2 years ago, my steak was inedible while hubby's was fine. It was beyond tough. I learned if the connective tissue is not removed before it's cooked, you can't even cut it. I should have complained but didn't. Since then, when we traveled, I was leary but ordered it anyways. No problem!!! Very good! If I ever happen to get a bad steak again...I WILL complain!!!
Good to know, ssburn. We should have sent them back. Beyond tough is right! It bent our plastic knives. :oops:
 
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