Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Every Florida Vacation Enthusiast has their favourite mode to transportation
to get to Florida. Those who love to drive wouldn’t have it any other way. Many air travellers couldn’t dream of taking 24-72 hours to get to their destination. I have not personally driven to Florida since I was 10 years old and travelled with my parents.

As an adult traveler our first trips to Florida were specific Disney trips. We had no plans to travel outside of Walt Disney World and could easily find reasonably priced flights so there was never a question of should we drive or fly.

Last year was the first year when the price of flights made us seriously question of our mode of transportation. It became harder to justify as prices for a family of 4 crept towards $1250 for a flight from Buffalo to Orlando. We live outside of Toronto, but it is always cheaper for us to fly out of the US when travelling to the US.

As I began the long process of trying to convince my husband that driving to Florida would not result in divorce I learned of an alternative method of travel from two of my colleagues. Have you ever heard of the auto train? They asked. I had some vague knowledge of a train that transported both you and your car. I had read about it in one of my many Disney Travel books, but had never given it much thought.

Here are the basics.

There is a train that runs daily from Lorton Virginia to Suburban Orlando Florida (technically 2 trains as they run each way every day) The trains carry both passengers and vehicles.

When you check in your car is taken and you don’t see it again until your destination. Passengers with their carry-on luggage are taken to their assigned seat. Trains depart at approximately 4pm and arrive the next morning at their destination at approximately 8am.

What do you do during the train ride?

Dinner is included and provided in the dining car
The lounge car offers bar service as well as a nightly movie
The seats recline and offer a foot rest so you can sleep during the over-night right.

There are actual rooms available, however I have found that the price of booking a room significantly increases the cost of the trip.

Prices vary depending on the season and how far in advance you book. As the train fills up the prices increase. I recently booked a return trip for 2 adults, 2 children and a minivan for $890, booking 5 months in advance. A friend priced the same trip for a trip 2 months in advance and the price was close to $1500 so it pays to book ahead.

Why would I take the auto train vs flying.

You need access to a vehicle. This trip is a combined Orlando/cruise vacation. We are staying off site, visiting a variety of theme parks and then traveling to Cape Canaveral for our cruise. Having a vehicle is a must and for us taking the train makes more sense (and costs less) than flying and renting a car for 2 weeks.

You want to shop. Most airlines are now charging for luggage. If part of your vacation to Orlando includes the ability to shop the outlets, this might be an idea for you. Last year we saved hundreds of dollars by purchasing an above range microwave in Florida compared to prices at home

You are an over packer. I am an over packer, I acknowledge this and admit that I may need help. Our upcoming vacation and most recent vacation have both been longer than 10 days and I struggle with the ability to pack for a family of 4 for this duration of time while sticking with the luggage requirements for airlines. I have been known to do some laundry while on vacation, but I prefer not to have to rely on it.

You hate driving to Florida, but want your car. This is probably the best example of who the Auto train is right for. This is really my family. I love my min van, it has great features, DVD players for the kids and I love having access to it on vacation, but the idea of driving to Florida (for us a 24 hour total drive) is just not for us.

The auto train is not for everyone. For starters you need to be within a reasonable driving distance of Lorton Virginia. For us it is about an 9 hour drive. Last year we drove through the night and it worked well as the kids slept the entire time. The train may not offer a huge savings compared to flying if you are staying on Disney Property and do not require a vehicle, but it is an option that many people may not be aware of so I thought I would share it. For my family it was a hit, so much so that the kids voted for the train over flying this year.