Getting to your next cruise in Florida could be a lot easier now.
Brightline opened up regular high-speed train service between Orlando and South Florida, with stops at the two major cruise ports. This means you could get to Miami or Fort Lauderdale with ease from the Central Florida region. Of course, residents of South Florida could do the reverse and take the train up to Orlando for a Port Canaveral departure.
The train service offers a much needed alternative to boring car rides and short flights that require a great ordeal of trouble to get through the airport.
Departing from Orlando International Airport, it's a convenient way to get between Orlando and Miami, with stops along the way. There's talk of expanding the route to Tampa as well.
For my cruise from Port Everglades, I took my family on the Brightline to try it out myself.
Departure from Orlando
I live in the Orlando area, so we booked tickets on the train to take us down to Fort Lauderdale for the evening prior to our cruise beginning.
This was actually my fourth time on the train, but first with a lot of luggage and my family. And this was the first time I was taking the train for the purposes of going on a cruise.
Booking tickets is quite simple via the Brightline website or app and very similar to booking an airplane ticket.
There's two types of fares: Smart and Premium.
Smart is essentially coach, while Premium is described as first class. With Premium, more amenities are included. The starting price is $99 per person for Smart, and $149 per person for Premium.
Smart seats get complimentary WiFi, leather seats, and power outlets at each seat.
Premium gets you all of that, plus lounge access, complimentary food and drinks, and extra space with each seat.
We took a car service to the Brightline station at the airport, and were dropped off in front of the building. The reason I did this was because the first time I took the train, parking in the Orlando airport was limited and confusing. There is not good signage where to park for train, as the parking garage is shared with the airport.
Unfortunately, we arrived too late to have our luggage loaded onto the train for us. Evidently you need to be there at least 30 minutes before departure.
I had purchased Premium tickets for this trip, which included 1 piece of luggage per person. Checked bags for Smart guests would have been $25 each.
After going through a security checkpoint where we sent our belongings through a bag scanning machine, we headed to the Premium Lounge.
The Premium Lounge is a designated area to wait in for guests that bought Premium tickets.
You not only have reserved seating, but also have access to complimentary soft drinks, water, snacks, fruit, vegetables, cookies, and even self-serve beer.
If you don't have a Premium ticket, there is seating around the waiting area, along with a bar and places to buy snacks or a souvenir.
Boarding doesn't begin until a few minutes before the train is scheduled to depart. About 10 or 15 minutes before the departure time, the doors are opened for guests to board.
Unfortunately on the day we departed, the incoming train was delayed about 15 minutes.
Once onboard the train, Premium guests are in the first car and everyone else in the other cars. You pick a seat when you book the train and find your seat in the proper car once onboard.
Each seat has multiple power outlets, and the WiFi was plenty fast, although occasionally it would drop out in rural areas. It would return to service quite quickly.
Being in Premium, you're given complimentary snacks and beverages to start once the train departs. It's very similar to first class on a domestic airline: beers, wines, cocktails and choice of chips, chocolate, nuts, and more.
The first three times I took the train for business, I had no issues and it went very smooth with everything on time. On the train I took for my cruise, the incoming train was delayed and then about 10 minutes after leaving the station, we had to stop on the tracks for about 15 minutes due to let an incoming train pass.
Once we got going, the train really got up to speed. It's capable of doing speeds as high as 125 mph in the stretch between Orlando and the east coast of Florida. It slows down a bit for other parts of the trip, but the company says the train averages 69 mph.
For our meal service, it was a choice of a vegetarian caprese sandwich or an Italian sandwich.
The food was fine, and since it was included in my Premium fare, I certainly didn't mind at least picking at it and having something to eat until we got to our hotel.
The train makes just a few stops between Orlando and Miami: West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and Aventura.
Pricey, but with wonderful convenience
In thinking who is Brightline good for, it's really about weighing convenience over price.
Brightline tickets aren't cheap, but they probably will cost less than an airplane ticket. More importantly, a train ride has significantly less hassle than the door-to-door airport and airplane experience.
I'm not sure a Brightline train ride is as ideal as replacement for a short plane ride as I think it's meant to be a compelling alternative to driving.
The drive between Orlando and South Florida is across a very rural part of the state with little to see. Like all highways, it gets boring quickly and you always have to factor in traffic, weather, or animal crossings that could make the trip much longer.
Having done the drive dozens of times, it's so much easier to take the train and not have to contend with traffic or weather delays. Plus, I can be more productive during the journey.
The experience from station to station is exemplary. Terminals are bright, new, and easy to navigate. Having grown up with Metro North trains in Connecticut and New York that had drab trains and seemingly ancient and dirty stations, the Brightline experience was remarkably more enjoyable.
I wish the train staff would come around more often to pick up trash. You're given a sanitary wipe, drinks, snacks, and food, but they would rarely come around to collect trash. Most passengers started using unused seats as somewhere to stash their trash.
I also didn't love how short of a window there is to board. When they open up the boarding process, you have just a few minutes to get onboard. No time for a bathroom break or to deviate. I wish the train had more time in the station for guests to get situated in their seats. It wasn't a problem, it just felt rushed.
Without a doubt, I'm a Brightline customer for the foreseeable future because I despised the tedious and boring nature of driving the same route.
It's not a cheap way to go, but Brightline offers pleasant conveniences that make up the difference.
If your goal is to find the cheapest way not to drive to South Florida, Brightline isn't going to be it. But if your goal is to easily go to your cruise across Florida, it's a heck of a lot easier than flying.
As some that does not want to deal with the long drive and unknown factors that come with traffic or weather, I've found my family's preferred way to go to Miami for a cruise.