Florida is known for being a haven for tourism and cruising, welcoming more than 135 million visitors a year. But the 200-mile stretch that separates its two largest metropolitan areas of Orlando and Miami isn't one of the state's highlights for travelers or locals. In fact, it's an inconvenience: a distance that's too short to fly but too far to drive on congested expressways and toll roads.
In a bid to remedy this long-standing issue, inter-city rail company Brightline has emerged as an alternative. The high-speed train is not new, having covered the 80-mile Miami-West Palm Beach corridor since 2018. What's new, however, is the extension to Orlando International Airport (MCO) with the recent unveiling of the Brightline Orlando station. The modern, 37,350-square-foot building is connected to the airport's new Terminal C, which opened in 2022, turning MCO into the only airport in the nation with an intercity high-speed passenger rail station.
Brightline's Miami-Orlando route, set to debut this summer, will cover the distance in 2 hours and 59 minutes. On the other hand, driving takes a minimum of 3.5 hours -- and often more due to congested traffic.
Although Brightline's obvious advantage is eliminating the headache of having to drive between Florida's two biggest metro areas, cruise passengers can also benefit from the high-speed train's service.
Florida's east coast is home to the world's three busiest cruise ports: PortMiami, Port Evergaldes in Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral. All three ports attract long-distance and international passengers who fly into Florida to catch their cruise, and drive-to-port passengers that come from within and out-of-state.
The biggest advantage for travelers flying into Florida: the high-speed rail connection between Miami and Orlando makes both destinations and their respective attractions combinable in a single trip without the need for costly rental cars and parking.
A cruise passenger sailing out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, for instance, can consider adding Orlando as a pre- or post-cruise destination. Travelers can fly into MCO and spend a few days enjoying Central Florida's theme parks and attractions before riding down to South Florida to catch their cruise. Or, cruisers can fly into Miami or Fort Lauderdale, go on their cruise, and then ride up to Orlando to extend their vacation before flying back home from MCO.
Conversely, a traveler planning to visit Orlando's theme parks can now consider adding a cruise to their itinerary without having to worry about additional flights and/or car rentals.
For drive-to-port passengers, the upcoming high-speed rail connection between Central and South Florida affords the possibility of foregoing having to drive through densely populated areas on their way to their cruise port.
According to Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline, this is already happening.
"Of the 6 million people who cruise out of Miami every year, 1 million originate from points north of West Palm Beach by car," said Goddard. "And we've found that many passengers take Brightline in lieu of driving those last 75 miles, which is the worst, most congested stretch".
Goddard also pointed out that parking at a Brightline station is cheaper, with pre-paid rates of $7 per day, whereas parking in Port Miami can cost as much as $28 per day.
Although Brightline's stations in Miami and Fort Lauderdale are not within walking distance to each city's cruise port, they are reasonably close. In Miami, the Brightline station is roughly 1.5 miles away from PortMiami's terminals, or about 10 minutes by car. In Fort Lauderdale, the distance is about 3.5 miles to Port Everglades -- an easy and inexpensive trip in an Uber or taxi.
And, thanks to a partnership with Uber, passengers have the option of purchasing tickets not just to the Brightline station in the destination city, but from the first to the last mile of their trip. A traveler can, for instance, book a fare from Orlando International Airport to Port Miami or Port Everglades, switching to an Uber ride from Brightline's Miami or Fort Lauderdale's stations, respectively, all without having to book their Uber ride separately.
Riders can do the same if traveling to Port Canaveral from Brightline's stations south of Orlando and, conversely, can begin their Brightline journey from any of the three cruise ports (four, if you count the Port of Palm Beach). The cost of the Uber ride will be factored in the final ticket price.
Goddard mentioned that another feature Brightline is working on, by partnering with third-party providers, is to give passengers the option to check their luggage all the way to their cruise cabin.
This feature isn't available yet, but Goddard said the plan is to have it up and running later this year.
Brightline is currently operational between Miami and West Palm Beach, with the Orlando International Extension set to debut this summer. The line will offer a non-stop route between Miami and Orlando with a total travel time of 2 hours and 59 minutes. The non-express route will cover the distance in less than 3.5 hours and a total of 16 daily roundtrips will be offered with hourly departures.
While there are currently no plans to expand the Florida service beyond the downtown Miami and Orlando International Airport termini, the company has hinted at the possibility of extending to other points in Central Florida and as far as the Tampa Bay metro area.
And while no stops are currently available between West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport, the rail lines currently pass through Cocoa, Florida, some 10 miles west of Port Canaveral. The company has floated the possibility of making a station available in Cocoa in the future, which in turn would benefit cruise passengers sailing to and from Port Canaveral.
Brightline also plans to open a Las Vegas-Los Angeles (Rancho Cucamonga) route in 2027, covering the 230-mile distance between the two metro areas in about two hours. This line would also have similar benefits as the Florida route for cruise passengers sailing out of or into the cruise ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
One-way fares from Miami to Orlando will start at $79 per person for the Smart class, and $149 per person for the Premium Class. The company also announced a special family of four fare that will be available for under $199.
Travelers riding on Smart Class have access to complimentary Wi-Fi and 19-inch seats, with the option to purchase onboard snacks and beverages. On the Premium Class, the seats are 21-inches and snacks and beverages are complimentary. Travelers on this class also have access to the Premium lounge in Brightline's stations.
Prices on Brightline are currently dynamic on the existing Miami-West Palm Beach route (which also has stops in Aventura, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton), meaning fares can go up or down depending on seasonality or current events.