Figuring out how far to ride the eastbound Cardinal

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NEPATrainTraveler

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So, one of the things on my Amtrak bucket list is to ride the Cardinal. Not sure when it would be, but it is something I would love to do one day. Living where I do and not being able to drive, a same day connection to the westbound Cardinal is impossible. A same day connection from the eastbound Cardinal to go home is possible, but I wouldn't get home until after midnight (assuming the Cardinal is not too late). With the westbound Cardinal, I would overnight in either Philly or Baltimore the night before and catch the Cardinal the next morning.

Eastbound is trickier and thus why I am making this thread. I would much rather get off the Cardinal at an earlier stop, overnight there, and then continue onwards home the next morning instead of arriving in Wilkes-Barre in the middle of the night. The earliest I can get off at is Charlottesville. There is a hotel near the station, which is a plus. Culpeper has a couple hotels near its station as well. Alexandria is another possibility since it has two hotels nearby. Downside to these Virginia stops (except ALX) is that I wouldn't get back to Wilkes-Barre until after 6, which is when most of my local busses stop running. There is night service, but it doesn't go to my stop. So, I would have to get a ride from someone, which isn't a big deal as long as it is not too late at night, but I like taking public transit home when I can. At Alexandria, I could technically catch Metro or VRE at the crack of dawn to connect with the Vermonter in WAS and ride that to NYP to get the Martz bus home, so ALX is the exception as far as the Virginia stops go (though I don't usually get up that early).

As for the NEC proper, WAS has a hotel near the station. I'm not sure what the station or downtown DC in general is like at night though. I'm considering BAL too, but there are no hotels nearby and I am not sure how Baltimore would be at that time of night either. The latest I've ever walked around Baltimore was maybe 6:30 and that was in the summer when it is daylight longer. I'm not sure what time of year I would be taking this trip. Beyond BAL, the arrival times get later and later and the only stations that have nearby hotels are NWK and NYP.

So out of the options I have found (Charlottesville, Culpeper, Alexandria, Washington and Baltimore), which would be the best for an overnight stop coming from the eastbound Cardinal?
 
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RebelRider

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My vote would be Charlottesville. Plenty of hotels and restaurants are within a short walk from the station. They also have a decent local bus service. The area around the station is very pedestrian friendly with plenty of sidewalks and well marked cross walks. About a 10-15 min walk from the station is Main St, a car-free street full of local shops and restaurants. The outdoor dining is great there. Fresh air and plenty of shade from the trees.

At the east end of Main St. you'll find the old C&O Train Station next to the tracks the Cardinal takes.
 

tricia

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I'd say either Charlottesville (for the reasons RebelRider cited--it's very walkable and pleasant, with a wide variety of good food options) or Alexandria. The stop in Alexandria is at King Street in Old Town. a very pleasant walk to the river through an old residential district with a variety of food and shopping options. Alexandria is also a DC Metro stop, so after you drop your bags at hotel, you can hop on the Metro and have all of DC within easy reach.
 

Ziv

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My vote is for Culpeper. It is a really nice small town and it is in the middle of a renaissance that is really enjoyable. There are a couple new hotels, albeit small ones, within 2 blocks of the station, the 249 is very nice but a bit pricey. The Center is nice as well.
There are really cool cafes like Its About Thyme, Uncle Elders for BBQ/Southern food and Davis Street Pier for seafood as well as nice brew pubs like Far Gohn plus there is the Beer Hound Pub right next to the station. My favorite for casual dining is the Frost Cafe. It is an old fashioned diner with stools at the bar plus a bunch of booths that are super comfortable. I order Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy for lunch or dinner and it is really good. The breakfasts are huge and really tasty, as well. This is a family run old school diner, it is not a modern take on it, it is the real deal.
Culpeper isn't a college town so its city center is pretty small but it has a very southern charm to it.
 

fdaley

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If you arrive eastbound on the Cardinal on Sunday or Wednesday, the next day's train 176 would put you back in PHL about 2 p.m. or NYP at 3:20 p.m. Is there not still a bus from either to W-B at that point?

As others have said, both Charlottesville and Alexandria would be fine for an overnight -- pleasant, walkable cities with services near the station, which at ALX doubles as a Metro stop. Of course, there'd be tons of options in D.C. itself, most easily accessible by Metro, and you'd have many more schedule options from there north. The only downside is that hotels in D.C. in normal times are often frightfully expensive. But you sometimes can find deals.
 

City of Miami

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Even though I live in Charlottesville I vote for Culpeper. I took a day trip up there a couple years ago and enjoyed it a lot - even considered moving there! Charlottesville has deliberately jettisoned most of the charm that Culpeper still has. An aside: in Alexandria there is a free trolley that runs on King St. from the station to the shore which simplifies things.
 

jiml

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We have friends near Manassas, so have disembarked from the eastbound a few times there. It has the benefit of sharing the station with VRE, giving you easy access to Washington and other Virginia suburbs. Lots of old-town charm, shops and restaurants within walking distance.
 

Ryan

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Wild Card choice: BWI. Shuttle bus to the terminal, hotel bus to an airport hotel. Requires a change of trains at WAS.
 

AmtrakBlue

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The Cardinal does not run daily so a “next morning” transfer is not going to happen
Wild Card choice: BWI. Shuttle bus to the terminal, hotel bus to an airport hotel. Requires a change of trains at WAS.
Hotel MIGHT pick up at the station.
 

jebr

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I'd consider looking at least at the Doubletree at Newark Penn. It's connected to the train station, and if the skyway is closed it's simply a walk across the street. They can have some surprisingly low rates at times.

Otherwise I'd probably do something like BWI - a plethora of airport hotels nearby. Transferring at ALX to Metrorail and grabbing a hotel in Crystal City would also be a good similar option (airport and corporate hotels a-plenty, some connected directly to the Crystal City Metro stop.)
 

NEPATrainTraveler

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The Cardinal does not run daily so a “next morning” transfer is not going to happen
I know that the Cardinal only runs three times a week, so when I say that I am going to stay overnight and transfer the next morning, I mean that I will stay overnight the day before the Cardinal arrives and then the next morning will be the day the Cardinal arrives.

If you arrive eastbound on the Cardinal on Sunday or Wednesday, the next day's train 176 would put you back in PHL about 2 p.m. or NYP at 3:20 p.m. Is there not still a bus from either to W-B at that point?
Yes, there are still busses that run to W-B at that point. However, I do not live in downtown W-B, I live in the suburbs, and the bus routes I take to get home stop running after 6 PM. I would need to get a ride from family if arriving in W-B after 6 PM. The Martz busses options from Philly and NYC after the arrival of 176 wouldn't get me into W-B until after 6 PM. I don't mind getting a ride from family, but I like taking public transit home when I can, which is why I have arriving in W-B after 6 PM as a downside to doing an overnight in Charlottesville and Culpeper.

I really like Virginia, having been to (or passing through) there on family vacations. I have never been to downtown Culpeper or Alexandria. I think we must have been through downtown Charlottesville once, but I don't remember much about it. I remember visiting Monticello and then riding through the UVA campus, so we must have been through downtown at some point. I am definitely strongly considering these cities even if it means arriving in W-B after 6.

Wild Card choice: BWI. Shuttle bus to the terminal, hotel bus to an airport hotel. Requires a change of trains at WAS.
I'll take this one into consideration as well as it would bring me closer to home.

I'd consider looking at least at the Doubletree at Newark Penn. It's connected to the train station, and if the skyway is closed it's simply a walk across the street. They can have some surprisingly low rates at times.

Otherwise I'd probably do something like BWI - a plethora of airport hotels nearby. Transferring at ALX to Metrorail and grabbing a hotel in Crystal City would also be a good similar option (airport and corporate hotels a-plenty, some connected directly to the Crystal City Metro stop.)
Crystal City does sound pretty good. As for the Doubletree at Newark, I have to admit that I am a bit weary of Newark. The fact that the hotel is directly connected to the station is really cool though. I have considered the Doubletree for connecting with the Westbound Cardinal, since I would arrive in Newark in the daytime and it would be the daytime when catching the Westbound Cardinal the next day (though it might still be dark out depending on the time of year, now that I think of it).
 
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I vote for Alexandria. I have chosen that as my place to break up a trip and stay overnight many times.

Good train watching at one end of town and a small but pleasant harbor at the other end. Good hotels near the station and not as expensive as DC (often cheaper on weekends, or if you have hotel points it could be a good time to use those).

If walking is difficult, there is the free shuttle as mentioned in an earlier post. Also taxis right outside the station.

Seems safe, as well, even at night—although I have only been in the tourist area so don’t know about the rest of the city.

Lots of outdoor dining if you don’t want to eat inside a restaurant yet.

All of this information is from before the pandemic—I haven’t traveled anywhere, including Alexandria, for a year—so it’s possible some things have changed. But in general, I think Alexandria would be a good choice.
 

OBS

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I guess I would factor in what you want to do on your layover. If you want to actually explore the town, etc. then I would do either Charlottesville or Culpepper so you would actually arrive at a decent hour to perhaps take in some sights/dinner. This way even if train is late, it isn't too late of an arrival for activities. Otherwise, if just wanting a bed, I would change at Wash DC and take Amtrak/Marc to BWI. Probably most economical choice and almost assuredly they will pick up/drop off from Amtrak Station there.
 

Sidney

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I stopped at Manassas overnight. Nice motel three blocks from the station and several restaurants very closeby and a good diner for breakfast. A NE Regional and the Crescent leave daily..in June the Crescent will return to daily service.
 

MARC Rider

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There are other trains besides the Cardinal that call on Charlottesville, Culpepper, and Alexandria. Thus, you could overnight at one of these towns and then leave the next morning without having to wait an extra day for the Cardinal to show up. I would think Alexandria would be the best, because it has the most trains. Not only the Crescent and the Roanoker, but also the Silver Meteor, and all the Northeast Regionals that come up from Richmond daily. Plus, you could always take the Metro to Union Station and catch whatever train you want to Philly.
 

NEPATrainTraveler

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There are other trains besides the Cardinal that call on Charlottesville, Culpepper, and Alexandria. Thus, you could overnight at one of these towns and then leave the next morning without having to wait an extra day for the Cardinal to show up. I would think Alexandria would be the best, because it has the most trains. Not only the Crescent and the Roanoker, but also the Silver Meteor, and all the Northeast Regionals that come up from Richmond daily. Plus, you could always take the Metro to Union Station and catch whatever train you want to Philly.
I know that those cities are served by more than just the Cardinal, which is why I picked them. I need a place that is served by both the Cardinal as well as the NER (or the Crescent, that works too). The idea is that I get off the Cardinal at one of these places, stay overnight, and then the next morning catch the NER (or the Crescent or the VRE/Metro to NER at WAS from ALX or Crystal City). I’m sorry for not making that clear in my OP.
 

bratkinson

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Wild Card choice: BWI. Shuttle bus to the terminal, hotel bus to an airport hotel. Requires a change of trains at WAS.
Pre Covid, I'd be on the Cardinal a couple times per year. I considered doing an overnight at Charlottesville and checked out the hotels near the station, but have yet to do it. However, I've done the BWI hotels several times, primarily to avoid the over-priced hotels in the WAS area, including ALX. I was very satisfied with them. Schedule-wise, I consider WAS-BWI on MARC a better choice as it's less costly, more frequent than Amtrak during AM/PM rush hours and not all Amtrak trains stop at BWI, the Cardinal among them.

My preference, however, is the Marriott Courtyard at NOMA in WAS. It's 1 stop from Union Station on the WMATA red line. I haven't checked lately, but it's hit and miss if their 1 night prices are in my 'reasonable' range. One thing I will never do again is stay in ALX near the station. Easily accessed by Amtrak and WMATA, but quite pricey in my opinion. 20 years ago, I used to stay in Roslyn near the WMATA stop, but now they've priced themselves beyond my 'limits'.
 

Seaboard92

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Personally I really like Manassas a lot. It has a charming downtown core and a lot of good food option. there is a good taco place a block from the train station, and a great milkshake place at the station. That and with VRE/Amtrak you have plenty of options for onward movement.
 
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