On Site: Brightline's Premium Experience

Following our journey north from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando on Florida's new, modern Brightline high-speed rail service in its Smart (coach) class, we took some time to take in the terminal within Orlando International Airport before our return journey to Fort Lauderdale in Premium (business) class. Here's what you need to know:

Travelers seeking a Florida vacation now have a new way to couple enjoyment of South Florida's beaches, vibrant nightclub scene, attractions and cruises with theme park and resort fun in Orlando—or vice versa. That's because Brightline, a private U.S. rail company, offers modern high-speed rail service between these two major tourism regions of the "Sunshine State." It's a relaxing three-hour (or so), one-way ride to Fort Lauderdale (slightly less if guests are headed to/from the Palm Beach County stations and a bit more if they're going to/from stations in Miami-Dade County). 

Orlando's Brightline Station

A Brightline train is shown at Orlando International Airport.
A Brightline train is shown above near the air traffic control tower at Orlando International Airport.  (Photo by Brightline.)

As our Brightline train from Fort Lauderdale approached Orlando International Airport (MCO), we spotted the airport's air traffic control tower and thought about how great it was to arrive in a major transportation hub. We appreciated not being dropped at some out-of-the-way station elsewhere in the Orlando area. In fact, the 37,350-square-foot Brightline Orlando terminal is directly located within a new section of the airport's Terminal C.

Right now, a new bridge/walkway to link the existing Terminal C with the new Brightline portion of that terminal is still under construction. For the present, though, train riders exiting their train simply head downstairs to board a quick airport shuttle train ride to Terminals A and B. Within 10 minutes or so, we were in a lobby area and gazing at an array of shops and the entrance to the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport (directly within the terminal area).

That hotel is convenient if a client arrives at the airport on a flight from an overseas or domestic destination, and wants to overnight or spend a couple of hours resting in a day room prior to boarding their Brightline train to South Florida. Of course, other hotels are also nearby the airport, so guests have many options. Waiting for our return train ride to Orlando, we lunched at McCoy’s Bar and Grill at the Hyatt; the restaurant has a diverse menu with everything from fish to Mexican and burgers. Plus, the restaurant serves fresh sushi later in the day.

Now under construction is a new bridge for walkers that will connect Terminal C with the next section of Terminal C that houses the Brightline train station.
A new bridge is under construction to connect Terminal C (shown above) with a new section of that terminal now housing the Brightline train station.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Separately, travelers who've driven to Orlando International Airport can simply park at the airport's parking garages. The airport's regular parking rates apply for Brightline guests, but the train company also partners with the off-airport lot, nearby Wally Park. That means Brightline's passengers receive a 30 percent discount off Wally Park's regular fares. Brightline tells us that can mean a daily parking rate of less than $10 dollars. Also good to know? At Orlando, Brightline offers luxury private rides and shared connect shuttles powered by Mears.

Arriving inside the lobby area of Terminal A and B, travelers heading to the Brightline station then continue around one side of the TSA security area. There, they'll enter a separate corridor leading the way to that airport shuttle train. Exiting the train at the Brightline station, they'll be greeted by these colorful steps. They then will head upstairs via the stairs, escalator or elevator. 

Sparkling New Train Terminal 

Entering Brightline's station, travelers will encounter four electronic ticket terminals, so if you haven't purchased your train ticket in advance, you can easily do it at one of the terminals. Not far away we spotted several Brightline team members working check-in counters, too. They were answering questions and assisting travelers who desired to check a bag. 

However, since we had secured our tickets in advance, we simply bypassed the counters. We then scanned our QR ticket codes at the electronic turnstiles and then headed to the security checkpoint for hand baggage scanning and a walk through the metal detector. The security area was not crowded. Soon, we emerged into the large, bright, spacious terminal to wait for our southbound train. Dozens of video screens positioned throughout the station provide the latest details on train status.

Train riders scan their QR code tickets to enter the terminal waiting area for Brightline at Orlando International Airport.
Guests scan their QR codes here to enter the Orlando Brightline terminal's waiting area.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

In the midst of the terminal space is a large retail shop; a full-service Mary, Mary bar; and restrooms. In addition, travelers in Smart (economy) or Premium (business) class either went left or right, respectively, to enter either the 2,853-square-foot Smart Lounge or the 2,812-square-foot Premium Lounge

To enter the Premium Lounge, we scanned our QR code at the entrance. The lounge is nicely outfitted with comfortable seating areas and multiple plugs/USB ports, so it was easy for travelers to plug in and charge their techie devices; plus, they could stay connected with Brightline's Wi-FI, powered by Starlink. The Premium Lounge also offers its travelers a nice array of complimentary snacks, salads, Charcuterie, fruits and sweet treats. During our visit, staff continually replenished the food items. 

Brightline's Smart Lounge serves economy/coach train passengers at Orlando International Airport.
Brightline's Smart Lounge at the Orlando station serves the train's passengers traveling in coach class. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

We did get a kick out of watching some travelers trying to figure out how to use the lounge's complimentary Mary, Mary automated drink bar. It's separate from the full-service bar just outside the lounge. But the process had a lot of steps. Many people just gave up trying and walked away. We also watched Brightline team members "rescue" other travelers who were persistent in trying to accomplish the task. Let's just say we almost applauded as one solo female traveler succeeded in doing all the steps and walked away with her complimentary bar drink. 

It's worth noting, however, that Brightline also had its team members circulating around the Premium Lounge's seating areas to take drink orders. As the announcement about our train's arrival was made, off we headed downstairs to board in Premium class. One factoid? Brightline's Orlando station has two new, 1,000-foot-long train platforms.

A table inside Brightline's Premium Lounge holds a variety of complimentary food items for Premium class riders.
At Brightline's Premium Lounge, guests can snack on complimentary food items as they wait for their train to arrive. The long table in the background has stool seating facing the tracks, so riders can see arriving and departing trains.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Heading to Fort Lauderdale

As with our journey up to Orlando in Smart class, on the return trip to Fort Lauderdale in Premium we discovered a bright, comfortable train car with light-colored, real and synthetic leather seats. On this ride, we were seated at singular seats facing each other with a small table between. That's a great seating choice for two friends or a couple traveling together. Premium cars also offer quad seating (with two adjacent seats on each side facing each other) and a table between. Additionally, there are two adjacent seats that face the back of another row of seats.

Several crew members circulated within our Premium train car. A smiling, friendly train attendant first offered us complimentary snacks such as energy bars, chips, flavored crackers and other treats. Drinks including wine, beer and certain spirits (vodka for one, but not whiskey) were also served. It’s worth noting that on the route from Orlando southward, Premium guests are permitted to have two complimentary drinks prior to the train reaching West Palm Beach’s station. Then, for those continuing beyond that, a third complimentary drink is available for each adult guest.

Dinner in Premium class on Brightline, during an Orlando-to-South Florida train ride.
One dinner that Premium class riders can choose on Brightline while heading from Orlando to South Florida.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

A bit later, as we were traveling southward at suppertime, we were offered two dining entree choices. We chose the hot sandwich with a salad; pasta was another choice. Brightline's servers later circulated with a dessert tray of sweet tidbits. All in all, we enjoyedy the Premium service and amenities on the ride back to Fort Lauderdale. 

Could Be Improved

Brightline currently has some trains fully wrapped (including the windows) as promotional advertising/visuals.
Brightline currently has some trains that are fully "wrapped" (including windows) in promotional advertising/visuals. Thankfully, the company is adapting the concept with "unwrapped" windows.   (Photo by Susan J. Young)

But while we immensely enjoyed the Premium service (with smiles and "can-do" attitudes) and train amenities on the return ride to Fort Lauderdale, we discovered one big, could-be-improved item. We disliked that the exterior of our train car on that return trip was wrapped with promotional/advertising messaging. No, we don’t mind messaging outside. (After all, who cares when one is riding inside?) But when the entire exterior of the train cars—including all windowsis "wrapped" on select Brightline trains, the view that riders have to the scenery outside isn't good. With the wrapping, small black dots cover the windows. While one can see out a bit, the effect is fuzzy and distracting. So, we recently spoke to Brightline about this.

Here's the good news for train riders: The promotional wraps will be adjusted in the coming months. The trains will still be wrapped, but Brightline will eliminate all the wrapping on the windows themselves. So, travelers should soon have clear windows for great views on all trains.

Our Assessment

A Brightline train awaits passengers at Orlando International Airport.
A Brightline train at its Orlando station.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

As for fares, tickets on Brightline typically cost around $79 per person one way for Smart service from all South Florida stations to Orlando or in reverse. Some promotions right now even offer lower Smart fares at $59. Fares for Premium one-way tickets are $179 per person. Yes, many people could save money driving or, at times, even flying on a cheap regional airline flight between the two destinations, but for a more relaxing trip, our perspective is that Brightline does have a distinct advantage.

Overall, we found the service between South Florida and Orlando a great product for easy, convenient travel. Travelers ride in comfortable seats, receive attentive service in both classes of service by Brightline train attendants, and have a relatively smooth ride. The train stations are also a cut-above with lounges for each of its two levels of service. At those lounges, guests can access a full-service bar with drinks and food, a retail shop, conference room and more. Transportation options from the stations are also diverse.

So, if we need to travel again from South Florida to Orlando for an event or to visit with friends or relatives in central Florida, the train will likely get our nod. It's modern, fresh in look and operates with the most eco-friendly, diesel equipment in the U.S. On the ride itself, time truly seemed to pass quickly, as we enjoyed conversation with fellow riders. We also easily communicated with friends and business contacts via our smartphones using the train's Wi-Fi. Mostly, we enjoyed just gazing out at the "Sunshine State" views on the trip to Orlando and avoiding a long drive on busy roadways. Bottom line? We emerged on both ends of the trip feeling refreshed and ready to head out.

From our perspective, Brightline is definitely a bright option for intra-Florida travel. An added plus? Brightline, which in November had introduced 10 percent commission for travel advisors, has now increased that to 20 percent on all ticket reservations made now through February 29, 2024. That's for train travel through June 30, 2024. For more information on commission policies, travel advisors can visit www.gobrightline.com/travel-professionals. For general information on Brightline, consumers can visit www.gobrightline.com.

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