Should You Take the Brightline Train to Disney World or Orlando?

What’s the best travel experience?

The U.S. isn’t exactly known for having a robust rail system. While some regions of the country—like the Northeast—are luckier than others, Florida got the short, car-centric end of that stick. So you can understand my excitement as a South Florida resident when the Brightline high-speed train made its debut in 2018 with service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach (the cities are roughly 50 miles apart).

Since then, the company has expanded all over South Florida, but its most exciting development was the September opening of its Orlando extension. Now, you can travel between Miami and Orlando on a smooth 3.5-hour train ride.

With northbound and southbound trains departing hourly for a total of 16 daily round trips, Brightline is veering locals and tourists away from making the trip in their cars. Having made that drive myself numerous times, I was thrilled to try the Brightline on my recent trip to Orlando.

And now with both experiences under my belt, I’m here to break down the pros and cons of using the Brightline to travel between Florida’s biggest tourist hot spots. Here are a few things to consider when choosing your mode of transportation.

Pro: The Brightline Is a More Relaxing Experience Than Driving

When it comes to comfort, the clear winner is the Brightline. Just the ability to stretch my legs, walk around and go to the bathroom without making a pit stop is enough to make the train ride more pleasant for me. (If you absolutely love being behind the wheel, your mileage may vary.)

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The rail company offers two types of tickets: the business-class-style SMART Service and the first-class-style PREMIUM Service, which includes extra amenities like a light meal, drinks, and snacks. The PREMIUM Service also includes pre-departure lounge access with complimentary drinks and snacks. No matter which level of service you choose, expect comfortable hand-stitched leather seats and plenty of legroom—Brightline is not your average train.

In exchange for this comfort, you are giving up the flexibility to travel exactly when you want, but in my opinion that’s a small concession for such an excellent onboard experience. And with the number of daily departures, there’s bound to be something that fits your schedule. It’s also important to note that the Brightline is only slightly faster than driving, and when you factor in the extra time for arriving at the station ahead of your departure and catching a rideshare to your accommodations upon arrival, the door-to-door travel times are about the same for a road trip or train ride.

Con: The Brightline Is Probably More Expensive…but Do the Math

If you’re looking for the most economical way to reach Orlando, the Brightline is unlikely to fit the bill. Average one-way ticket prices for SMART Service seats hover between $79 and $99 per person but can go as low as $39 or up to $119 for popular departure dates/times—sometimes even more. PREMIUM tickets fluctuate less in price and usually cost $149 per person, one way. Each passenger is allowed up to two carry-on items. For larger suitcases, SMART Service passengers must pay $25, while PREMIUM tickets include one checked luggage.

According to a recent study by NerdWallet, car rental prices are still generally high after the pandemic-induced spike, with a weekly rental in Orlando costing $519, on average. Meanwhile, advises travelers to budget at least $415 for a weekly rental in Miami. Add the cost of gas, parking, and tolls (about $17 each way) and things could add up.

If you’re splitting the cost between two people, the train might be easier on the wallet. If you’re traveling with your family of four, and have lots of luggage, driving may be more economical. The best thing to do is check the prices for the dates of your specific trip and do the math.

Pro: A Car-Free Vacation

If you’ve never enjoyed a car-free vacation, let me be the first to tell you that it is wonderful to not have to worry about navigating and finding parking in an unfamiliar place. Luckily, it’s quite easy to go carless in Orlando.

If your vacation is all about enjoying the theme parks, tons of hotels offer complimentary shuttles to and from the theme parks. For example, I stayed at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress and was able to catch a free bus that took us to the Walt Disney World entrance. From there, it was a short Monorail ride to Magic Kingdom.

When we needed a break from all the theme park action, the hotel provided plenty of entertainment as well with its massive pool, mini golf course, rock-climbing wall, hiking/biking trails, and a lake with pedal-boat rentals and more. The hotel is also home to Michelin-recommended restaurant Four Flamingos, A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen.

All of this is to say: pick your accommodations wisely and you won’t need a car to keep yourself busy. And if you want to venture beyond your hotel, Orlando’s main touristy area is fairly compact, and I found rideshare services to be fairly inexpensive.

As for Miami, unless you’re ready to pay for expensive parking and drive like you’re in a real-life version of Grand Theft Auto, then stick to rideshares and public transportation. Take it from me, it’s wild out here.

Con: Exploring the Wider Greater Orlando Area Can Get Pricey

While lots of people go to Orlando for its theme parks, the city and its surrounding areas have so much more to offer. There are plenty of outdoors adventures to be had like ziplining, ATV rides, kayaking, or airboat tours through swampy areas, where you’re bound to see gators and other uniquely Florida wildlife. There’re also more relaxing activities like visiting the Beer Spa Orlando, where you can drink unlimited amounts of beer, wine, or sangria while soaking in a barrel-like tub full of hops. Finish off in the sauna then cool down on a surprisingly comfortable bed of hay. I can vouch for this experience. It’s a 10 out of 10.

A trip to nearby Winter Park is also highly recommended (I did this and loved it), where you can spend the day shopping and strolling through this totally walkable town; visiting the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art with its immense collection of Tiffany glass, art, and jewelry; and exploring the numerous gardens, parks, and lakes dotted with jaw-dropping mansions.

If you plan on taking advantage of these Greater Orlando offerings, public transportation is available, but can be tricky at times, requiring multiple transfers depending on where you’re going. Rideshares are convenient and relatively inexpensive but can still add up if you’re going to multiple places. This is just another factor to consider when you’re doing your math about going car-free to Orlando.

Conclusion: Ride the Rails

Like all travel planning, deciding between driving or taking the Brightline requires examining a careful balance of multiple factors. Think of it this way: The economy, economy plus, and firstclass seats on a plane will all get you to your destination. So will a private jet. But do they all provide the same travel experience? Absolutely not.

At the end of the day, it’s a matter of looking at your budget and determining what kind of vacation you want, and what you’re willing to pay for it. If you determine that going car-free will enhance your overall vacation experience and it’s within your budget, I can confirm that the Brightline provides a wonderful service and is absolutely worth it.

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