Brightline, an eco-friendly, high-speed train company, has been changing how people live, work, and play in Florida since it launched its first high-speed train service in 2018 between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Soon after, it expanded to downtown Miami. Then, in December 2022, it opened stations in Aventura and Boca Raton, two upscale—and traffic-heavy—resort and shopping destinations in dire need of public transportation. Now, Brightline’s latest plot point in a series of game-changing transportation improvements is service between the metropolises of Miami and Orlando.
On May 17, 2023, Brightline began selling tickets between its five south Florida stations–Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach–to America’s theme park capital, Orlando. Currently, the earliest tickets available are September 1, 2023. However, earlier dates are scheduled to be released, once final rail testing has been completed.
Currently, getting between Miami, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach feels effortless thanks to Brightline; soon this should be the same for connecting to Orlando. The privately-funded, multi-billion-dollar rail service whisks passengers at 79 mph between its hub cities on tricked-out trains (that run on clean biodiesel fuel), providing friendly, top-notch service all along the way (a rarity in travel these days). Unbearable traffic, pricey refuels, road rage, and steep carbon footprints already feel like a distant past as Florida enters an age of high-speed train travel.
Here, all you need to know about the state’s high-speed rail service—present and future—and why you’ll want to ditch the car on your next trip to Florida.
Current Brightline south Florida destinations
Brightline currently operates between three major metropolises—Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach—and the two smaller cities of Aventura and Boca Raton. Service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach runs almost hourly from early morning to late night. Trains make quick stops in Boca Raton (between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale) and Aventura (between Fort Lauderdale and Miami).
At press time, there are 18 trains daily between Miami and West Palm Beach, some which just stop in Fort Lauderdale, others which stop in Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, and Boca Raton. The trip clocks in at 17 minutes between Miami and Aventura; a total of around 33 minutes between Miami and Fort Lauderdale; 16 minutes between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton; and 40 minutes total between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. These times are less than half the typical travel time by car (and about one-third if accounting for rush hour).
Brightline travel to Orlando
Once travel to Orlando commences in late summer 2023, service will include 16 daily round trips with hourly departures between Miami and Orlando, the first before 7 a.m., the last before 10 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. Travel between south Florida stations will max out at 79 mph while part of the distance from West Palm Beach to Orlando will reach speeds of 130 mph.
The new 37,350-square-foot Brightline Orlando Station is located within a two-story glass atrium complex at Orlando International Airport, next to Terminal C. Travelers do not need to be flying in or out of the airport to access the train station and its facilities.
How much do Brightline tickets cost?
Before purchasing a ticket on the Brightline app or website, you’ll need to first choose between two classes of service: “Smart” and “Premium.” Both promise comfy seats, free Wi-Fi, and the greater Brightline train experience. However, Premium means seating in Coach 1 (versus 2, 3, 4 or 5), where complimentary snacks and beverages (including alcoholic drinks) are provided along with slightly roomier seats. It also grants access to the pre-departure lounges at train stations, where bites and tipples are also available. (Note: All six stations have Premium lounges.)
Currently, tickets in Smart begin at $6.50 for the journey between Miami and Aventura ($27 in Premium). Between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, fares start at $10 in Smart and $27 in Premium. For Miami to West Palm Beach, fares commence at $15 in Smart and $37 in Premium. Put in perspective, a rideshare typically costs $25–$60 from Miami or Fort Lauderdale to Aventura, $45–$75 from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, and over $75–$100 between Miami and West Palm Beach.
Tickets in Smart for the new Orlando service currently begin at $79 for adults and $39 for kids for the full journey between Miami and Orlando. Groups of four or more get an additional 25 percent off. Fares in Premium 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. In addition, Brightline runs plenty of promos at any given time, most of which you can find on its website. The best offers are typically for larger groups or frequent riders. For example, this South Florida–based writer is currently enjoying an unlimited monthly pass for $229 to commute between Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
The Brightline experience
The six Brightline stations bear similar futuristic aesthetics, underscored by wide reception halls and geometric furnishings. The south Florida stations are solar powered while all are rife with eco-friendly design elements like the highest tech Dyson hand dryers in the restrooms and water refill stations.
Riders are encouraged to arrive 15 minutes before scheduled departure, but boarding doesn’t close until 5 minutes prior for those who are not checking bags. (Note: At less than 5 minutes, tickets no longer work to pass through the boarding gates.) There are check-in counters upon entering for those who need to drop large suitcases, but those with carry-ons or personal items will skip this area and go directly upstairs to security screening. It typically takes a minute to self-scan your ticket from the app and get your smaller carry-on bags screened.
Once through, the pre-departure area consists of stylish seating areas and work pods aplenty, with no shortage of plugs or USB chargers. There are sit-down bars in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando, which serve hot food and artisanal cocktails. All six stations feature a grab-and-go market called MRKT PLACE that’s fully autonomous (think: a minibar that automatically charges when you touch things but on a much larger scale). There’s also a pre-departure lounge in every station for those who splurge on Premium class. In Orlando, look forward to a BrightKids children’s play area, accessible to all.
Once boarding is announced and the train approaches the track, you’ll notice Brightline’s signature yellow exterior. Inside, the colors skew neutral and the cars are spacious. Interior aisles measure an ample 32 inches, making it easy to maneuver rolling suitcases, strollers, and even wheelchairs. The train seats look and feel like premium economy airline seats; there’s plenty of legroom and elbow room plus an in-seat recline that slides forward instead of landing on the lap of the passenger behind. Each seat also features two USB ports and two outlets, so you can charge all your electronics at once.
During the journey in Smart class, attendants stroll through the aisles with food and beverage for purchase. In Premium on south Florida routes, riders receive one snack and two drinks of their choice from the roving cart. (Limits for Orlando have not yet been set.) When the cart does pass by, don’t be surprised if an attendant chats with you. In my experience, the on-board attendants are affable and customer-service oriented. This high service standard extends to the security screeners, baggage handlers, and bar staff, too. Such an elevated hospitality-driven experience is refreshing, especially when service levels at hotels, restaurants, and on airlines seem to be hitting all-time lows. On the other hand, if something goes wrong, and you need to contact customer service by phone, don’t expect the same caliber of excellence. In my experience of dealing with certain service issues, I’ve been asked to email in after calling, call in after emailing—and have often failed to reach resolutions.
On board, Brightline offers complimentary Wi-Fi. When the service first launched, said Wi-Fi raged at lightning-fast speed, strong enough for streaming and video calls. Then, in the past year it grew to be almost worse than mediocre Amtrak Wi-Fi (womp womp!). Thankfully, as of early May 2023, Brightline announced it was replacing its outdated Wi-Fi service with SpaceX’s Starlink to provide fast, uninterrupted service on all trains.
The future of Brightline
Once Orlando is up and running, Brightline will head to Tampa, Florida, while also embarking on a West Coast equivalent: an express train connecting Southern California and Las Vegas in a three-hour ride. Construction is expected to begin later in 2023.
For now, Brightline is actively transforming the way people live and vacation across Florida. The high-speed, state-of-the-art trains are continuously changing the face of local and regional travel.
This article was originally published in 2022; it was updated on May 18, 2023, with current information.