When you have a business trip in a city four hours away by car, there may be a few choices on how to get there. In my case, it was a meeting in Miami, four hours south of where I live in Orlando. Looking at my alternatives, flying out of Orlando is an option, as is driving my own car as well as taking a bus. No trains yet serve the two cities though this is in the planning stages.
On similar trips in the past, I have rotated between transportation options and have often regretted my choices. For example, on a recent flight from Fort Lauderdale, the aircraft had a multi-hour delay. Then the pilots timed out so our flight was cancelled for the night – “Sorry, come back tomorrow.” Due to a mass of disgruntled passengers, the airline ended up calling in a bus to get us to Orlando but that added another couple of hours. All in all, this 30-minute flight took 10 hours. Okay, nix that choice in the future since this was just one of many flight delays to and from South Florida.
On other trips, I have driven my own car. I love this option because I can stop where and when I want as well as pack whatever I desire. I’m fully in control of getting around but also responsible for staying alert and awake while driving this distance. Add in the often-heavy Florida afternoon rains and I’m frequently wishing that I hadn’t elected to drive. This option is a love-hate due to these various aspects, though lately has been winning over the flying.
On this trip, I bounced around both of these ideas. Airfares into Miami were running about $200 for the times I needed to fly and I would need to pay for transportation both ways between the airport and my hotel. Driving my car would cost about $60 including tolls but there would be another $40/day for hotel parking.
I then checked out the RedCoach bus service. They depart a few miles away from the Orlando airport and go directly to the Ft. Lauderdale and Miami airports. On the dates I needed, the round-trip fare was only $59 and this included a first-class seat on the drive south and a business class seat on the drive north. The only difference between the two is that first class means a single seat while business class means there are two seats side-by-side.
Adding in the $40 in ground transportation to get to/from my hotel and the cost is still less than driving my own car. Also – and this is a BIG plus to me – they do the driving while I get to sit in a comfy wide leather seat with Wi-Fi while using my laptop. I can be productive for these eight hours of travel versus almost no productivity with the flight option and very limited productivity with the driving my own car option. I do use my car as my university-on-wheels as that’s where I listen to podcasts, cd’s and audiobooks on business and personal development.
SOLD! I’m going on the bus!
So how’d my bus trip go?
Outbound from Orlando, we left the station (which, by the way, is clean, has bathrooms, chairs and vending machines with snacks and drinks) about 20 minutes late due to a delayed incoming bus. The bus wasn’t full and many two-seaters had only one passenger. I had a first-class seat, one of nine on this bus with lots of leg room. There are power outlets in the odd-numbered rows so I reached behind my Row 8 seat and plugged my laptop into the outlet in Row 9. On the two-seat side, there are outlets next to every window. There are window screens to pull down if the sun is too glaring and a bathroom on the bus, which I’m happy I didn’t need to use. The bathroom may have been perfectly clean, but I can live without knowing.
The skies opened up on the drive south and the pouring rain made me very glad I was not behind the wheel of my own car. Florida rains can be brutal to drive through so I did do a little prayer to help keep our driver safe on the road. Once the rain cleared, it was smooth sailing. Two rest stop pull-ins to pick up and drop off any passengers (Ft. Pierce and West Palm Beach rest areas along the Florida Turnpike). Then it was onto Ft Lauderdale Airport and finally Miami. Four hours in total – and I got a lot of work done on their Wi-Fi which the driver said had recently been upgraded. My email wouldn’t download but that wasn’t a speed thing, as the speed of the service was great. It must’ve been something with the security or the ports and I didn’t want to fiddle with any of my settings that would have to be reset later. Any urgent emails got replied to from my phone. Also, no video streaming from their Wi-Fi, similar to airplane service.
Heading back home to Orlando, my driver from the hotel pulled up to the Miami airport (Terminal H, Door 21 at Departures) at 4:45pm right behind the bus that was due to leave at 5:00pm. Perfect timing! My luggage went into the hold of the bus and this time I took a business class seat. I had a two-seater all to myself so I took one seat and my laptop tote took the other. I actually like this better than the one-seater for having my stuff right next to me, so long as there’s not a person in the seat next to me. Heck, I like it when this happens on a plane, too!
I asked the driver what time dinner was served. He smiled and said “10:00pm” knowing full well that we would be back in Orlando well before that. Can’t hurt to have a little fun. And speaking of dinner, I brought my own. No hot food that would smell up the bus, instead protein bars that go with me on every trip. A bar and a bottle of water and I was happy with my meal. A couple of other folks had snacks, and thankfully no stinky food by anyone. It really was a very quiet group of passengers (on both legs of the trip, actually). I sat in peace in my little world of laptop, music and my snack, with an overhead light to see my documents, while other passengers reclined in their seats, turned off their lights and took a nap.
The bus arrived back into Orlando right on time – about 4 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Miami at rush hour. Not bad at all. And again I was able to be online, chatting with friends on Facebook and working on my business. It was much safer than driving in the dark along the Turnpike after a mentally-exhausting day. Oh, and once more I was able to skip the bus bathroom experience. Not saying it would be a bad one, but there was no reason to leave my little cocoon.
I had left my car in their parking lot for the duration of my trip. It was confusing as to where to leave the car because I didn’t see any signage on where to park or how to pay. I started off by parking in the drop-off zone, went into the RedCoach building and talked with the on-site rental car agency representative. I learned that they both rent cars and manage the parking lot. They previously told me over the phone that parking was around $5 per day but they ended up not charging me and I’m not sure why. Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right?
Upon returning to the bus station, it was a dark walk to my car. Lighting isn’t that great and I was all alone on this walk. I should have gone into the RedCoach office and had someone escort me to my car. Instead, I called my husband and talked in a loud voice to him as I was walking so anyone lurking would know I wasn’t truly alone. Next time, I will ask for someone to walk with me. If you don’t leave a car overnight, it’s not an issue at all as their drop-off lot is very close to the RedCoach station door. Other stations throughout Florida may be different so best make a note to call RedCoach to find out your local station’s parking arrangements.
All in all it was a great experience. Next time you are traveling between cities in Florida or heading to one of the many universities that RedCoach services, consider the bus. It’s not the perfect answer all of the time but it’s a great choice when your origin and destination are both served by RedCoach. They also offer shuttle service to various hotels in some locales, or to the airport in the case of Orlando so ask about this as well.
RedCoach also offers a loyalty program. As a frequent flier, hotel stayer and car renter, I love my loyalty programs.
Since returning from this trip, I have told a lot of people who live throughout Florida (and even a visitor who was in Orlando and needed to get to Ft. Lauderdale for a meeting) about RedCoach. All are surprised to know that such a service exists, that it was such a great experience, and the reasonable cost.
So that you can give this bus service consideration when in Florida, I asked RedCoach for a discount code for us Smart Women Travelers and here it is, along with details:
Book your trip through RedCoachUSA.com and use the code SMARTWOMAN16 to receive your 10% discount. Valid to travel until October 31st 2017. Only available for web purchases. Valid for all days and routes except for blackout dates. Cannot be combined with other discounts. Additional restrictions may apply. Subject to change at any given time. Blackout dates: November 22nd, 23rd and 27th 2016.
Get on their mail list to get notice of their new routes, discounts and contests.
Disclosure: RedCoach comped my $59 fare in exchange for me sharing this info with you but I would have selected RedCoach regardless.