I Tried Brightline, the High-Speed Train Set to Connect Disney to Miami

I went to Miami to experience the future of Florida travel

Brightline Miami

Courtesy of Brightline

Even the most passionate American rail enthusiast will concede that stateside train carriers have much to be desired compared to the hyper-modern, Tokyo-style bullet trains found in other parts of the world. But Florida's Brightline, a high-speed, inter-city train currently linking Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, may finally be the solution Americans have been waiting for.

The Brightline features sleek, minimalist stations that resemble the lobbies of fancy hotels (the service even has its own citrusy signature scent, a fresh aroma you'll find in every station and train). Plush lounges with beer and wine on tap welcome travelers, who can kick back with a book or watch television on large, high-definition screens. And the spotless trains, which all run on clean biodiesel fuel, offer impeccable service, such as snacks and beverages brought directly to your seat and cold towels upon arrival that make you feel like you're flying first class.

Floridians have been taking advantage of Brightline's services since its launch in July 2018. Now, Brightline is prepping for an early 2023 expansion to Orlando, allowing travelers to head to Disney World from Miami in about three hours—a trip that would take at least a full hour more if done by car. I recently went down to Miami and rode the Brightline to West Palm Beach and back to experience the service for myself. Here's why I immediately fell in love with it.

Brightline Miami

Courtesy of Brightline

Stations

Upon arriving at MiamiCentral station, I was greeted by a chic yellow and white design theme and numerous food options within CitizensMiami, the station's expansive culinary hall created in partnership with Brightline. A check-in counter stood near the entrance, where travelers could check bags up to 50 pounds (a premium ticket allows you to check your first bag for free). Upstairs, I flashed my digital ticket, which can be downloaded onto the Brightline app, and went through a quick security screening, where my bags were x-rayed on a conveyor belt before I could zip through to the lounges.

Brightline

Courtesy of Brightline

As my train was arriving in mere minutes, I didn't spend too much time in Miami's lounge. Still, the premium lounges I experienced in both Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach provided everything a traveler would need before boarding their train, including chargers next to every seat, snacks like granola bars, croissants, and muffins (cheese and charcuterie are available during the later hours), a coffee machine, and a selection of beer and wine on tap. Big screens with rapidly updated schedule updates lined the lounge walls, and a dedicated attendant gave passengers a heads up of when trains were arriving.

A peppy grapefruit fragrance filled the air throughout all three stations and lounges. Brightline's signature scent has become so popular with train riders that the service recently launched a line of candles for purchase.

Brightline

Astrid Taran

Service

Once on board the train (my premium ticket got me a seat on a dedicated car only for premium passengers), Brightline's service stood out to me. An attendant offered me a cold hand towel upon arrival, perfumed, of course, with Brightline's signature scent. I was immediately greeted with a selection of snack choices ranging from chips, gummy bears, and even Nutella and breadsticks (which I snagged). Shortly after, a beverage cart rolled up to my seat, and I was offered coffee, wine, or beer. On my trip's West Palm Beach leg, a group of women taking the train to a theatre matinee in Miami indulged in several mimosas and seemed to be having a great time. The libations were flowing, but with only a 30-minute ride between each station, there thankfully isn't enough time on the ride for any passengers to get disruptive.

I liked that the 32-inch wide aisles of the train car provided ample space for all travelers, making it a smooth boarding process for those with strollers and accessible for those in wheelchairs. The large leather seats felt like the equivalent of flying first class, with an in-seat recline that slides forward instead of descending on the person behind you. There were two USB ports and two outlets next to each seat, so I was comfortably able to whip out my laptop and get work done throughout the ride (onboard Wi-Fi was both free and fast). As I pulled into my final destination, the train attendants bid me adieu with the very charming slogan, "Have a bright day!"

Brightline

Astrid Taran

Brightline+

After exiting the station, I was picked up in a bright yellow Tesla that took me to my hotel. The pick-up service was part of Brightline's recently launched Brightline+, which allows travelers to book rides to and from a Brightline station for no extra cost, as long as the ride is five miles or less (pricing may change in the future). While my Premium ticket got me a shiny Tesla, non-Premium ticket holders can be picked up in other electric car options, including vans and shuttle buses.

For passengers traveling to West Palm Beach, Brightline recently launched BrightBike, a bike-share program where Brightline passengers can rent a bike to cycle around the city. The bike station is located directly outside the West Palm Beach station and costs $1 for 30 minutes.

BrightBike

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Pricing

Brightline has two tier options: Smart and Premium. The train service markets Smart as their business class option and Premium as their first-class option, which, from my experience, feels correct. While Smart tickets gain access to a separate lounge and enjoy the same comfortable seats as Premium customers, no food or drinks are included in a Smart ticket or the Smart lounges. Premium customers get their own dedicated car on the train.

Ticket prices vary by day, time, and length of your train ride (a two-stop ticket from Miami to West Palm Beach will cost more than a one-stop ride from Miami to Fort Lauderdale). I experienced ranges as low as $10 for a one-stop ride on a weekday to $52 for a ride to Miami from West Palm Beach on a Sunday morning. There are even monthly passes for commuters who want to ride the train to work from another city on the line. A monthly Smart pass ranges from $199-$299, while a monthly Premium pass runs from $429-$549.

The Premium service will run you about $20 more than a Smart ticket on your average trip, but from the perks I witnessed on my premium rides, the upgrade is very much worth the price tag. Even without considering any onboard purchases you might make, the excellent service and luxuries that come with a Premium ticket are enough to make travelers feel excited about taking the train anywhere, even to work.

Overall Experience

The privately funded, multi-million dollar Brightline project is a significant win for Florida. Not only does it provide infrastructure for vacationers who want to check out multiple cities on a trip, making more of Florida accessible to all, but its modern design, sleek touches, and above-par service is appealing to a wide range of ages who, given today's gas prices, may be convinced to ditch the car at home and choose a more sustainable transportation option. With Brightline already breaking ground on the upcoming Orlando station, additional stations in Aventura and Boca Raton forthcoming, and even Los Angeles to Las Vegas service in the works, the future of high-speed train travel in the U.S. has never been brighter.

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