If you have spent any time lately planning a Florida trip on Social Media you may already have heard about the new Brightline train connection between Miami and Orlando. This privately owned high-speed inter-city rail route is making quite a splash. But what is it really like and is it a good alternative for you?
Luckily, I just had a chance to check it out – read on to read my honest review. You will find a step-by-step report of what to expect and at the end I will tell you what I loved, what was okay, and what I definitely hated about my experience.
Brightline trains are new, modern, and quite distinctive
Getting from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando
One reason I booked a Transatlantic Cruise on Sky Princess from Southampton to Fort Lauderdale this November was that I still had the return flight from my trip to Florida earlier in the year. Of course I couldn’t let that go to waste!
But as my springtime Transatlantic cruise had departed from Port Canaveral, I had flown to Orlando and my return flight was also slated from MCO. So I had to find a convenient way to get from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando without breaking my budget.
I am not overly keen on driving so I was quite excited to hear that a new train route was opening up in 2023. Brightline seemed the perfect solution for my needs!
The new line actually travels all the way from Miami to Orlando (an extension to Tampa is planned). The first part, Miami to West Palm Beach, has been operational for a couple of years but the route up to Orlando only got added this September.
Booking the Brightline Train from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando
A couple of weeks before my trip I checked out the Brightline website. It was fairly straight-forward and the price of $79 seemed okay given the distance/speed.
As I wasn’t quite sure yet when I was going to travel to Orlando I didn’t book right away – a mistake as I would find out.
A bit later I gave booking a shot on my phone but I wasn’t successful. No matter how I looked I couldn’t figure out how to make a reservation. There was nothing to click on! (Update February 2024: This issue now seems to be resolved!)
This may be an Android problem or possibly more isolated to my device but it did seem strange that there was no booking link on a phone!
Anyway, eventually I was back on my computer and ready to book. However, by now the price had risen to $119! I was shocked as I had not realized that the pricing was dynamic.
Kitty’s Tip 1: Do not wait – book as soon as you see a good price or sale!
Kitty’s Tip 2: If your phone does not show a booking link try on a PC!
Alternatives to taking Brightline
It was at that point that I first realized that Brightline is not the only train connection between Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
There has actually been an Amtrak route for years! This was news to me – I had seen so much hype about Brightlink that I assumed it was the first and only connection.
When I checked Amtrak pricing it was a lot lower with $35, about a third of Brightline’s prices.
But there were some negatives:
- Instead of three hours the ride would take between 4.5 and almost 6 hours
- There were only two connections a day, neither one worked well with my plans
Added to which, I of course did want to check out Brightline for my blog. So I repeated my earlier mistake (yes, I don’t always learn well) – I waited.
And when I eventually decided to take the much cheaper Amtrak connection both trains on that day had sold out. Who would have thought that people would travel over Thanksgiving weekend? (Yes, everyone but me)
Anyway, the only tickets still available on Amtrak were private rooms for over $300!
So Brightline it was!
Kitty’s Tip 3: Amtrak is an alternative but also requires booking early on!
Though not cheap, the Brightline ride is supposed to just take 3 hours from Ft. Lauderdale to Orlando
Considerations when booking Brightline
When I bit the bullet and booked the $119 ticket, it went well enough (on PC, still couldn’t get it to work on phone).
I booked their regular Smart Fare as compared to the Premium that comes in at a whopping $149.
However, I was a bit shocked to see that they charge extra for luggage! I have ridden trains in many countries and don’t remember there ever being any charges or restrictions on luggage. Generally, as long as you can handle your stuff and fit it in you are good.
Brightline charges extra. You get one free carry-on (and a personal item). Additional carry-on bags are $10 and each checked piece of luggage $25!
As I was travelling light with just one carry-on suitcase it made not difference to me. But with more luggage/a big suitcase it would increase the price difference between Amtrak and Brightline even more.
Kitty’s Tip 4: Check for additional/hidden fees when booking Brightline
The Fort Lauderdale Brightline station is inviting and modern
Getting to the Brightline Station in Fort Lauderdale
The Brightline Station in Fort Lauderdale is quite centrally located. I took a taxi from the port ($20) but if you stay in Fort Lauderdale you may be able to either walk or take public transit.
If you need to transfer between the Fort Lauderdale Airport and the Brightline Station and are on a budget you can take the Broward County Transit Bus 01.
The Brightline Station building looks modern, new, and very safe. It was almost eerily quiet though compared to most train stations I am used to.
Where was everybody?
The Brightline Station in Fort Lauderdale
On the Saturday morning right after Thanksgiving the ground floor of the station was almost empty.
Now to a definite plus: Like an idiot I had booked late when I was already on the ship so I didn’t have a chance to print out my ticket. And as I hadn’t yet had a chance to get data for my phone I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to access the ticket!
But there was no need to worry at all. Right in the entrance lobby you will find machines at which you can make changes to your booking or retrieve your boarding pass.
You input your reservation number/name and the machine will spit out your ticket. What a relief!
Looking back, I could/should maybe have changed my reservation at that point. As I wasn’t quite sure when we would disembark I had planned on plenty of buffer and got to the station about 3 hours early!
But at the time I didn’t really think about it and just resigned myself to wait.
I really appreciated the chance to print out my ticket!
In the entrance lobby you will also find a guest services counter and a luggage drop-off. I didn’t need either so can’t give more input.
There is also an elevator if you travel with stroller/wheelchair/more luggage
The main waiting area is on the second floor. You ride up the escalator (or elevator) and then pass through a security check like at the airport where they scan your boarding pass and x-ray your luggage.
This came as a surprise to me – no train station I have been to has done this. However, it did contribute to feeling very safe.
Still, do consider a possible delay at the security check when deciding at what time to get to the station. For my trip there was no one there and it only took a minute but if it got busy it might take a bit.
Kitty’s Tip 5: Be aware that there is a security check before you can get to waiting lounge/platform.
Lounges and other services are located upstairs
The Brightline Waiting Area
After this security check you will find a café/bar, a small store, bathrooms, and the waiting area.
You won’t have to go thirsty
This was definitely my favorite aspect of the Brightline experience. I have waited at many train stations in different countries and usually it is okay but here it was downright pleasant.
The tall glass windows provided a great view of downtown Fort Lauderdale, there were lots of plug-ins to charge devices, the waiting area was far from crowded, and the seating areas were modern, clean, and comfortable.
There was also free WIFI so I didn’t have to worry about being cut off from the internet!
If you have a longish wait for your train this is about as nice as it gets.
I loved, loved, loved the waiting area – what a difference from the usual grungy train station experience
Should you book Smart or Premium Fare on Brightline?
In addition to various promo offers, Brightline offers Smart or Premium fares. At $149 (full price) the Premium ticket is almost double the Smart fare of $79.
Per the website the differences are:
- Somewhat bigger seats on train (21 inch instead of 19)
- Complimentary snacks and beverages
- Access to Premium Lounge
- Lounge services, including iPads, Scanner & Printer
- Adapters and chargers upon request
Now based on my experience, there is no need to go for the more expensive Premium option unless you need the bigger seat.
The regular waiting area was very pleasant and the premium lounge area wasn’t that different. The main difference seems to be free snacks and drinks. But for the price difference you could get a lot of drinks/snacks at the bar right next to the waiting area.
So if you don’t have to have a bigger seat I recommend to just take your charger/adapter along and save money by booking the Smart fare!
Kitty’s Tip 6: Don’t bother with the Premium Fare unless you need the bigger seat
The Premium Lounge is beautiful but so is the regular one
Brightline Boarding Process
Even if you are at the station hours ahead, you won’t be able to get to the track until about 10 minutes prior to boarding.
There is a rope cutting off access to the elevators leading down to the tracks. Around 10 minutes before departure there will be an announcement and the rope will be taken down so you can make your way to the platform.
I am not quite sure how I feel about this procedure. People were starting to get a bit nervous as the time approached and if you need extra time it may be a bit stressful (though there is of course plenty of time to get down).
No matter how early you are at the station – you won’t be able to go down to the platform until boarding
Your boarding pass/ticket will state your carriage and seat. When you get to the platform you see signs overhead that tell you where each carriage is located.
This makes it easy to get in the train at the right door so you don’t have to walk through several carriages to your seat. A plus when travelling with luggage!
Make sure to stand at the right section as denoted by ticket/overhead signs on platform
Experience on Brightline Train to Orlando
What are Brightline Trains like inside?
The boarding is the same as on any other train. Just walk through the assigned coach to find your row and seat (similar to boarding a plane). There were luggage racks over the seats which should fit most carry-on without a problem.
I think there were also some luggage racks at the end of the coach but I didn’t see that until I had already heaved my suitcase up (though not huge it was HEAVY).
The trains are nice enough inside: clean and modern.
On the first section (Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton) the train was pretty full. In Boca Raton quite a number of people got out so it was less crowded.
The seats were okay. In Smart Class they are not awfully wide so it can feel a bit tight if sitting next to strangers but no worse than in many airplanes.
They weren’t uncomfortable but quite hard and not mega-comfortable either.
Smart seats on Brightline’s train are similar to nicer airplane seats
There were a couple aspects that didn’t impress me:
a) While all the seats had USB ports and power outlets I had problems charging my phone.
As expected, the plug-ins were standard US ones. I should have kept my adapter in my backpack but thought I would use USB instead and so had packed it in my suitcase. And I really didn’t want to heave my heavy carry-on down and rummage through it to find the adapter (there isn’t much extra space in the train).
This would have been fine but none of the USB ports seemed to fit my “regular” USB cable (I believe it is USB C?). Still not quite sure why/whether I was doing something wrong. I had no problems at hotels etc. during my trip but these USB outlets were just too small to fit.
b) There are small overhead screens in the aisle. I would have expected those to announce the next stop or maybe even provide additional information (like distance travelled/time etc.) but they were blank during my ride.
Not sure if this is always the case. If so it seems a lost opportunity. Especially for international travellers it is helpful to have destination/time until stop in writing as it can be difficult to hear/understand announcements.
c) Given the long ride (more about that in a minute), I did have occasion to visit the restroom. It was… fine.
It wasn’t horrible and pretty much in line with a decent train toilet. But given how new and expensive Brightline is I wasn’t impressed either.
Kitty’s Tip 7: Make sure to charge your phone prior to the trip or bring an adapter if you are from overseas!
How long did Brightline train take from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando?
Now to my main complaint about the trip. The ride was originally supposed to take about 3 hours.
But right after West Palm Beach the train stopped. And there we stayed for over an hour!
Apparently, there was an issue with a signal for a bridge. Obviously, safety is most important so I do understand the train not being able to go on.
However, I was unpleasantly surprised that the issue came up on such a new line on a perfectly ordinary (i.e. no bad weather) day.
And after the original 1+ hour delay we had some knock-on effects (having to wait for other trains to pass) during the rest of the trip.
All in all, my three hour trip took over five hours! I am not sure if this happens frequently or if I am just especially unlucky (this was not the first US train trip I had problems with this year). But if I had known how long it would take I would have taken the much cheaper Amtrak instead.
They did give out free water and a small pack of chips per passenger but definitely later than the 15 minutes after a delay they promise on their website (and not until passengers started asking/complaining).
One issue to remember is that once in the train you have no choice but to stick it out if there is a delay. There are very few stations and no way to leave the train en route. So you won’t be able to just get off and grab an Uber if you are in a hurry!
Kitty’s Tip 8: Make sure to plan in a possible long delay if taking Brightline to the airport!
Brightline Trains are quite distinctive
Arrival in Orlando
I had almost given up hope but eventually we did reach Orlando’s Brightline Station.
This is also a nice new facility (sorry – no pictures from here on as I was way too stressed and my phone was almost empty). It is also adjacent to MCO’s new terminal so quite convenient if you are catching a flight (as long as you are on time).
Signage was easy to follow and I had no problem getting a Uber right outside the station.
Unsatisfactory Surprising customer service after my delayed trip
After the trip I reached out to Brightline’s customer service as a two hour delay on a three hour ride on a high speed train seems excessive.
I did receive a reply that was in line with Brightline’s policy as stated on their website: they offered me a $50 credit for a future ticket.
Now, $50 isn’t too bad but as Brightline is restricted to Florida this credit can of course only be used if someone has occasion to travel there again in the near future. This may well be the case for Floridians but probably not for international visitors or even just for anyone from another state.
As I have no plans to visit Florida anytime soon, I wasn’t ecstatic about the reply so I replied to the email, asking whether it would be possible to get the money reimbursed instead (and remember I had paid a higher fare to start with).
Now, I was perfectly prepared for a polite email stating that this was against policy but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. However, I never got a reply and I feel ghosting customer complaints/requests is not acceptable.
Update: About five weeks after this I received an additional email that my request had been updated and a couple of days later I received a complete refund for my trip!
Now, I think a full refund was quite generous (after all they did get me to Orlando eventually) but I am not sure what to think about the delay. It is unclear if they just had a huge backlog, my request was somehow overlooked, or whether they actually saw this review.
I guess my recommendation would be to follow up if there are any major issues on your Brightline trip as it seems they will reimburse at least in some cases.
Kitty’s Tip 9: Based on my experience, I recommend to follow up if you have any actual problems during your trip. They did refund my trip but it took a long time and I am uncertain what caused the late reimbursement.
Brightline: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- The Brightline station felt very clean, safe, and comfortable
- The option to print your ticket at one of the machines was appreciated
- The Lounge area was great – the best I have ever seen at a train station
- There are frequent trains
- Ride time (normally) is short
- Station location at Orlando’s MCO airport can be very convenient (depending on where you plan to go)
- The original booking process worked fine on a computer (not so much on phone)
- The boarding process was organized but not outstanding
- Trains were modern and clean, but not especially comfortable or spacious
- Customer service after trip was wonky (see above)
- Price is very high
- My train was hugely delayed
- No regular USB outlets at seats
My final verdict on Brightline: Would I book it again?
All in all, my experience with Brightline’s high speed connection from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando was mixed: I loved the station, thought the train was fine but not impressive, was disappointed by the long delay, and and have mixed feelings about the customer service after my trip. Overall, I thought the tickets were overpriced.
So would I book Brightline again? Maybe. I would use Brightline again if I anticipated having a longish wait at the station (loved the lounge!), needed a train at a time not offered by Amtrak, or had the Orlando Airport as my final destination.
On the other hand, if the timing worked for me or if I had more luggage I would give Amtrak’s cheaper alternative a shot.
How about you? Have you used Brightline and if yes, what did you think? Was I just unlucky or are trains regularly delayed?