First Days, Friday into Saturday and the Train

Erika had a plethora of snow days in February, which led to her school scheduling school this day, when it was supposed to be a student day off. Despite our strong feelings against taking Erika out of school for anything frivolous, we did have train tickets that were expensive and couldn't be changed, only canceled. So she went for half a day. Luckily we live near the Lorton, VA Autotrain loading point, so we arrived around 1 pm and our car was taken and loaded right away. 
We had discussed this with her teacher before hand and she had told us several kids were missing the whole day and that after the time we took Erika out of class there was no more  learning scheduled.  So, we felt a little bit better.
We checked in, reserved our dinnertime (choices 5, 7 or 9 pm) and since we were there early we got one of the popular 7 pm slots. We then settled down in the waiting room with tuna sandwiches we brought from home. It being a Friday in Lent, our food options were limited. After eating we had a bit of time before we were allowed to board the train. Doug and Erika wandered off to the gift shop, and before I knew it, Erika was the proud owner of her own Autotrain t-shirt. *sigh*

Let the vacation spendfest begin!

What Kaz doesn't realize is that I saved over $40 from what Erika wanted in the gift shop.
The train left on time, right around 4 pm. We were settling into our Family Sleeper room, and Kat was hungry. So I sat down to nurse her and afterwards Doug, Kat and Erika went off to explore the train. Heaven! Time alone to sit and read... COMPLETELY UNINTERRUPTED! They came back and told me about the dining and lounge cars and also brought food! Crackers and cheese and an apple, along with some pretzles and chips. Yummy!

Our Porter, Mike, came around and discussed dinner, the dining and lounge cars, told us about a wine tasting that was currently underway, and scheduled turndown for our beds that night. He also talked a bit how the morning, breakfast and room makeup would work.

After he left, Erika befriended a woman a little older than Doug and I and her teenage daughter. Erika gave then a tour of the train, and when they returned the teenager went to their room in our same sleeper car and the lady came and sat with us in our room and talked for awhile. Before we knew it it was time for dinner. Since we paid for a Sleeper, dinner and breakfast and snacks were included in the price. We also had about 6 small bottles of water in our room, with access to ice, water and coffee out in the hall of our sleeper car.  We had a  bedroom that slept four, so it had a window on either side of the train, which meant we could see the view on both sides, which was nice.  The only drawback was no bathroom in the room ,so we had to go out and use a community bathroom.  That was not so bad, since it was very close.
We all ordered salmon for dinner, and it came with string beans and rice. The beans were a bit dry, but I spread some butter on mine and that helped. The salmon was yummy and Erika almost finished her adult sized portion! For dessert we all selected ice cream with chocolate sauce. I didn't like the vanilla ice cream much. I'm not sure if it was "lite" or what but I just didn't like the flavor.
We got to enjoy a beautiful sunset during dinner, and after dessert we made our way back to our room. The train swayed quite a bit and I wound up bumping into the walls more than once. I had at least one bruise when we left the next day!

After we got Erika into bed, Doug and I and Kat got out the DVD player. We were watching a DVD when our porter showed up to make up and turn down the beds for the rest of us. Kat had fallen asleep, so Doug and I stepped out into the hallway while Mike worked his magic. Unfortunately by the time Mike finished, Kat had woken up and it took repeated attempts to get her back to sleep. I took a nap, and then Doug went to bed, and Kat finally succumbed around 3:30, which has unfortunately been her bedtime for weeks now. She woke briefly at 5:20, but I rocked her/her bed a bit and she fell back asleep without needing to be picked up or fed. Yes, I LOVE the irony of 'rocking' a child on a train that is already rocking!

Our alarm went off at 6, and Erika and Doug took their showers while Kat and I slept a little while longer. We went to breakfast around 7, and during breakfast they announced we had been slightly delayed by something during the night and we'd be getting in about an hour late. After breakfast I wanted to see the Lounge Car, so we went there and sat down for awhile. It was the overflow area for the people waiting for breakfast, though, so it got crowded pretty quickly. I eventually asked Doug if I could sneak off for a nap, and he agreed to stay in the Lounge Car with the girls. I got a nap AND a shower, and by 10:30 we were off the train and waiting for our car.  At breakfast, we were shown to our table, and the people at the table across the aisle from us were the same people sho had sat in the same spot the night before for dinner.  We talked and all agreed that the train was the only way to travel from DC to Florida.
The train was pretty much full to capacity and there were almost 200 cars on board! Let the waiting begin!

The indoor waiting area was awfully crowded, but when I ventured outdoors I noticed there were lots of smokers out there, so after checking out the (way overpriced!!) Gift Shop, I gratefully returned to our smoke-free indoor area and settled in.

Periodically they'd tell us how many cars were left. First we hit the halfway mark... and then 3/4.... and then there were only 18 cars left... and we were still waiting! We were so happy that we had planned a very relaxed day. We just wanted to check into our hotel and buy our tickets for the rest of the week... so when we got our car and there were only about 10 other cars left to be unloaded we were still in a good mood.  The people we had 'eaten' dinner and breakfast with got their car at the same time we did.  We still all agreed that train was the only way to go.

We plugged in the address for our hotel to our car navigation system (love that thing!) And except for one minor glitch (had us take a right turn into the Polynesian Hotel parking lot instead of the NEXT right, which led directly to our hotel) we arrived safely and sanely at our hotel in just over an hour. We checked in and then found the desk where we could buy our tickets. In looking over the packages available (we wanted to be able to Park Hop and whatnot) Doug noticed it would cost $2 more to buy one extra days worth of tickets, meaning we could go to the Parks THAT NIGHT instead of waiting for the next day. That's right, $2! So our relaxing day at the hotel turned into a rush to get organized and into the Magic Kingdom, but it all worked and we had a fun time. But of course, the whole vacation was a fun time! We kind of spent a bit of time getting our bearings, did a few short rides, saw the SpectroMagic Parade, had dinner around 9 pm and therefore missed being in a good viewing spot for the nightly fireworks, and then dragged our tired selves back to the hotel.

Click here for the next day (Sunday)