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First Coast News took a day trip from the newly opened Orlando train station to Miami to see what the high-speed railway is like.
ORLANDO, Fla. — I left my house in the morning around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. That’s actually a pretty normal time for me to leave the house to anchor Good Morning Jacksonville, so that part wasn’t very hard.
But instead of driving to the studio in Downtown Jacksonville, I headed south on Interstate 95 to Interstate 4 for Orlando. The mission: Catch the 6:48 a.m. Brightline train from Orlando, bound for the Aventura station in South Florida.
This trip all started with a basic curiosity about city center connected trains. A couple of jaunts around Europe had exposed me to a taste of train life, so I wondered if this could be a toe dip here in Florida.
The Orlando station, which is located at Terminal C at the Orlando International Airport, just opened in September. It was all a part of Brightline’s $5 billion investment in rail to connect south Florida cities to Orlando.
“You don’t have to deal with traffic, you don’t have to pay tolls, you don’t have to stop for gas,” Brightline’s Katie Mitzner told First Coast News. “It’s car free, care free.”
For me, there was a car involved, as I had to drive to Orlando. First Coast News asked Mitzner about future plans to bring the high-speed train to Jacksonville.
“As for Jacksonville, we do have the passenger easement all the way up along the Florida East Coast rail to Jacksonville,” Mitzner said.
But, she added, it’s not in the current plans.
“The next logical step is Tampa, and then we’ll look at future plans.”
My train promptly left Orlando at 6:48 a.m.
Security takes less than two minutes to get through and you can board the train pretty easily about 10 minutes before departure. Each ticket has an assigned seat. Every seat has a phone/device charger, a couple arm rests and is noticeably bigger than on an airline, with much more leg room.
There are two types of tickets. The “Smart” is their business class level. Smart is a more affordable option, and has most all amenities of premium seats, except food and beverage is ala carte.
In premium seats passengers get all the food and beverages they want, all included in the higher price and that includes beer, wine and cocktails as well.
So, you can actually get your party and vacation started early.
Each station has different amenities for passengers. The Orlando has a full cash bar with a food menu called the Mary Mary Bar. But, there’s also a Premium Lounge for passengers who have that higher level ticket. That lounge comes with food and drinks (including beer and wine) included already in the price. You just grab what you want from a refrigerator and take a seat.
“When you go to Miami you have to decide, am I going to fly with all the hassle or am I going to drive?” said passenger Dawn Delavallade.
Delavallade and her family, Vanette and Jerry Crute, got on the Brightline in Orlando to travel to Miami to get on a cruise.
“If you drive, you’re tired, you have to make stops, there’s traffic,” Delavallade said. “Not very pleasant.”
It was her family’s first trip on the train, a new option for people who take cruises and hope to avoid traffic, parking at the airport or airline struggles.
“A perfect option for us,” Delavallade said. “It’s family time, we can talk. No one has to drive, no one is crammed in the backseat. It’s perfect.”
As for my trip, it took about three hours to arrive in Aventura, after stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. There’s one more southern stop all the way in Downtown Miami.
You can check out Brightline’s prices here. Brightline uses the dynamic pricing model, so it will be more expensive on more popular and busy times of the day.
Would it be cheaper to drive to Miami from Jacksonville, instead of driving to Orlando and then paying for the train ride?
Probably, yes, as it’ll all depend on your car’s gas mileage. You can find direct flights from Jacksonville International Airport to Miami as well. Some round trip flights are about the same price as a round trip Brightline experience.
Brightline runs specials on trips several times a year, so you’ll have to be vigilant in shopping around.
At the end of the day, you have to weigh what is important to you: the economy of time versus the issues that can arise on a drive to South Florida on I-95.
I got off the train in Miami a little before 10 a.m., hung out a while and acted like a tourist for an hour. I caught the free shuttle from the Aventura train station to the mall close by.
Uber serves all the stations and with a premium ticket, you get an Uber ride within five miles of your destination station, another perk of the higher priced ticket.
I got back on the train at 12:50 p.m. for my 1 p.m. departure. Coincidentally, I shared a table seat with a couple from Pittsburgh who were leaving a cruise from Miami and heading back to the airport.
Cruising seems to be a very popular reason to take the train, as it is something to consider if leaving from Ft. Lauderdale or Miami.
After a three and a half hour ride back, we had a brief stop for a raised draw bridge in Stuart, Fla., and then I was in Orlando a little before 5 p.m. Shortly after, I was in my car driving back to Jacksonville.
It sure would be nice not to have to drive all the way back to the First Coast, but we’ll just have to wait and see.