Florida Has a New High Speed Train Route—Here’s What It’s Like
Brightline launched high-speed rail service from Miami to Orlando in late September. AFAR correspondent Paul Rubio took the train between the Florida cities to experience this new car-free connection.
On September 22, high-speed train company Brightline launched its highly anticipated service between Miami and Orlando, connecting the two cities in just over three hours. The new 235-mile route follows the success of Brightline’s popular service that runs between the cities of Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach.
“Brightline’s Orlando Station sets a new benchmark for transportation between two of Florida’s busiest regions, with a seamless, convenient experience that caters to today’s modern traveler,” Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline, said at a press conference following the inaugural ride from Miami to Orlando. “We’ve curated an experience—both in our gleaming stations and onboard our trains—that exceeds the benefit of time-savings, alone. It’s comfortable and unique, and we are looking forward to welcoming guests onboard.”
Five weeks after the new route’s launch, I took the train from Miami to Orlando. Overall, the experience was hassle free, comfortable, and exciting. Plus, I was able to work the entire ride, while enjoying food and drinks aplenty. Here’s everything you need to know about Brightline’s service between Miami and Orlando.
As of November 1, 2023, Brightline runs 30 trains daily between Orlando and Miami, with 15 daily departures from each city. The first Orlando train leaves at 4:38 a.m. with the last one departing at 8:54 p.m. The first Miami train leaves at 6:41 a.m. and the last one departs at 9:41 p.m.
Total travel time between Miami and Orlando clocks in at around 3 hours and 25 minutes—a bit less than the amount of time it takes to drive between the two destinations without traffic. The high-speed train travels at 79 mph between Brightline’s five south Florida stations, while it maxes out at 130 mph for sections of the journey between West Palm Beach and Orlando.
Brightline’s sleek yellow trains run on clean biodiesel for lower emissions. Each train has four or five cars: The first one is reserved for Premium class, while the others are for Smart class, which offers fewer bells and whistles than Premium. The soft, gray leather train seats are actually identical in both classes and remind me of premium economy airline seats. All cars look and feel spacious but Premium has fewer seats in its cabin, making it feel less crowded. Plus, it includes food and drink.
In the seats of both cabins, an in-seat recline slides forward instead of back (still leaving ample leg room), so there’s no worry about annoying the passenger behind. All seats have a minimum of two USB ports and two outlets. The seating configuration is generally one-two in Premium and two-two in Smart, with a mix of forward- and backward-facing options. Each car has designated rows where groups of four can sit comfortably together with two facing forward and two backward with a table in between. Interior aisles measure an ample 32 inches in Smart—and even more in Premium—making it easy to maneuver suitcases, strollers, and wheelchairs.
Onboard, Brightline offers complimentary Wi-Fi for all using SpaceX’s Starlink. There are complimentary food and beverage options in Premium with paid options in Smart class.
Currently, one-way tickets in Smart class for the Miami to Orlando service begin at $79 for adults and $39 for kids age 2–12. (As a rule, kid fares run 50 percent of the adult fare.) Groups of four or more get an additional 25 percent off. Fares in Premium class begin at $149 and include checked luggage plus complimentary food and drink throughout the train ride.
In general with Brightline, purchasing several days in advance is the best way to get the lowest standard fare. When I checked Brightline’s site recently, for example, the $79 fare is available only for departures at least a week out.
What it’s like to take Brightline between Miami and Orlando
On October 31, 2023, I took the 12:41 p.m. train from Miami to Orlando with a scheduled arrival at 4:19 p.m. At the time of booking a few days prior, Smart fares for my desired train were $99 while Premium was $149. So I went for the latter, which comes with free checked luggage (in Smart class bags costs $10 each way), complimentary onboard snacks and beverages (including alcoholic drinks) for the entire ride, and access to the predeparture lounges at train stations, where bites, beer, and wine are also available at no extra charge.
I arrived 20 minutes before my scheduled departure at the futuristic Miami station to check out the Premium lounge. There, I enjoyed my first glass of sauvignon blanc and nibbled on cheese and crackers. (The lounge’s buffet-style spread also included charcuterie, salads, and fruit.) At 12:30 p.m., an announcement was made to start boarding the train. (Passengers can pass through the turnstiles to board up until five minutes before departure, meaning it’s possible to arrive late. However, it typically takes a minute or two to self-scan your ticket from the app and get your smaller carry-on bags screened, so it’s recommended to arrive 15 minutes prior (especially if checking bags at the check-in counter).
We left on time and a lovely attendant named Anna C. immediately greeted me with a cold towel (a perk in Premium) and asked to scan my ticket. Within a few minutes of departure, I was offered one of two snack boxes (vegetarian or nonvegetarian), the latter of which included chips, a dried fruit bar, and prosciutto wrapped mozzarella. I then had my first (of several) Tito’s and sodas and was given a choice of snacks from a tray that included M&Ms, Pringles, Planter’s peanuts, and more. After passing West Palm Beach, Anna came around with a choice of two composed meal options, one of which was a decent salami sandwich, mozzarella and tomatoes, fruit, and chocolate. Soft and hard drinks remained unlimited during the leg between West Palm Beach and Orlando (alcoholic drinks are restricted to two for those traveling between Miami and West Palm Beach). Later in the journey, Anna passed by with “dessert service,” which consisted of single bites of cheesecake, chocolate cake, and macaroons. While I got the most out of my Premium upgrade, those in Smart Class can still purchase food and drink à la carte at their leisure—attendants regularly stroll through the aisles with items for purchase.
Something that’s not different between Premium and Smart class are the affable and customer service–oriented attendants onboard. As someone who regularly rides the Brightline short- and long-haul and in both classes, I can confidently say onboard service is consistently excellent—and this particular journey from Miami to Orlando was no exception.
Besides eating and drinking the house down—and enjoying great hospitality—I found the train ride itself smooth and seamless. I got a solid three hours of work completed. The Starlink internet was reliable for the most part between Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, with just a few instances of connectivity loss. Between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, however, the connection dropped constantly (which was frustrating). Thankfully, I had a cell signal the entire ride so I could switch to a hot spot when needed.
There is no quiet car, but two small quiet sections are available on the train for those who need complete silence for calls or to concentrate. Brightline does ask passengers to keep voices and noise to respectable levels, announcing this policy over the loudspeaker at every station. Early in my ride, there happened to be someone using a phone without headphones (my pet peeve) but within minutes the attendant kindly reminded him to put on headphones (without me having to say anything).
At 4:10 p.m., we pulled into the Orlando station, nine minutes ahead of schedule. It’s located within Orlando International Airport (MCO), next to the glossy new Terminal C, but travelers don’t need to be flying in or out of the airport to access the train station and its facilities. From the Brightline Orlando Station, it’s easy to take an Uber to your final destination. (Be sure to flag the pick-up point as 10705 Jeff Fuqua Boulevard, Orlando, FL 32827, which is the exterior entrance to the Brightline station. Simply typing in Brightline Orlando may cause ride shares to try to retrieve you at an airport pick-up point.) Getting a rental car is a bit more effort as MCO has two separate rental car facilities (one in Terminal C, the other for Terminal A+B) and getting to them can be a good 15- to 20-minute walk and shuttle from the Brightline Station.
Is taking a Brightline train between Miami and Orlando worth it?
Taking Brightline versus driving is totally worth it for me to not deal with terrible Miami and Orlando traffic, not to mention the current price of gas and tolls (I typically go through 11 gallons of gas, which is $35 and pay about $20 in tolls driving this route). Plus, it’s easy to get work done thanks to spacious seating and good connectivity. Another bonus is that people are genuinely excited to experience rail service in the United States—and I have engaged in great conversations with many bright-eyed travelers on the Brightline.
True, there’s the issue of transportation once arriving in Orlando, but in many instances a car isn’t necessary. For those staying within Walt Disney World, complimentary Disney transportation is the way to travel between hotels, theme parks, shops, and restaurants. Disney parking can be a pricey nightmare—one that is easily avoided by just Ubering from the Brightline to your Disney hotel or resort. It’s a similar situation when it comes to Universal Theme Parks.
Furthermore, the area near the Brightline station and MCO is currently booming with cute neighborhoods with affordable accommodations and fabulous restaurants, proving Orlando to be more than just the wonderful world of Disney and a slowly emerging downtown. For Brightline riders, the most convenient neighborhood to stay for a quick trip is Lake Nona, a 17-square-mile community a 15-minute drive from MCO. I stayed at the Lake Nona Wave Hotel, a high-tech, all-glass 234-room hotel rich in design details and amenities. Thanks to an edgy sculpture garden, colorful lobby, and nearby Lake Nona Performance Club (with a rock-climbing gym and Chopra Mind-Body Zone classes), the Wave has quickly become one of Orlando’s most sought-after hotels. If you go, don’t miss eating at the Michelin recommended Bacán restaurant, where a recent meal included a sweet and savory lobster and burrata tostada, melt-in-your-mouth tuna crudo with aji panca soy and chili crunch, and filet mignon cooked to perfection.
In total, Brightline has made the often-stressful journey between Miami and Orlando into a productive, fun, and modern one. It’s a game-changing transportation improvement between the two metropolises and a smart choice for both business and leisure travelers who don’t require constant access to a car.