When Henry Flagler began to build the Florida East Coast Railway more than a century ago, he had real-estate and resort development in mind. Now another set of entrepreneurs has seen a local railroad vision come to fruition. Brightline began running trains in January nonstop between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, and just a few weeks ago added service to and from downtown Miami.
A trip to either end of the line takes a little more than 30 minutes. The initial service provides 11 week-day round trips between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale and 10 on weekends, with later evening service on the weekends. The same goes for Miami. However, evening service ends rather early not allowing you to attend a concert or play and still get a ride home. For theater-goers a matinee is a better option.
Passenger lounges in the terminals remind one of a mid-level hotel lobby, with large easy chairs, couches, work areas, and reservable conference rooms. The smaller stations in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale feature dual snack bars — one with ready-to-eat choices, the other do-it-yourself — and the much larger Miami station will eventually have a few fast dining outlets (Einstein Bros. Bagels, among others) along with a signature restaurant.
The trains have two classes of seating, though both feel more like first class seating on an airplane. Snack service is offered by attendants walking through the train. To promote the service, Brightline has offered introductory one-way fares of $10 for Smart class and $15 for Select, with the upgrade including free snacks and one free mixed drink for all passengers in the first-class car. Eventually the train line will extend to Orlando, but for now you can pop into each of these cities’ downtowns for shopping, theater and, of course dining. Each stop offers its own dining, shopping and entertainment options.
In West Palm the station is just steps from the Kravis Center (kravis.org) or you can hop on the free Palm Trolley just outside the station. The trolley stops throughout downtown, Exercise enthusiasts can rent a bike at the SkyBike station on-site. City Place is just a short walk away, where you’ll find dozens of restaurants and shops. Free concerts are almost always happening on Friday and Saturday nights. Check out the City Place event calendar at cityplace.com. Another option is to try the West Palm Beach food tour, $65 during the day on weekends. WestPalmBeachFoodTour.com
For an upscale dining experience, check out the Galley in the West Palm Beach Hilton, 600 Okeechobee Blvd., just a few blocks from the Brightline station. Try the ahi tuna poke with avocado mousse and lotus chips, arancini with citrus aioli or a pizza as an appetizer. Entrée selections include pan seared Scottish salmon, roast chicken, and an excellent bone-in rib eye. Save room for dessert, the Galley's sundae pairs vanilla ice cream with chocolate waffle crumble, wood fired s'mores and a cookie baked in its own cast iron skillet are all excellent choices. For reservations, call 561-231-6000.
The Miami train station is located in MiamiCentral, a new 11-acre complex that will eventually host the city’s first food hall, near the downtown corridor. Celebrity chefs Michael and Bryan Voltaggio will open Monger, an upscale market-based concept. The Voltaggio brothers’ restaurant will encourage diners to create their own dishes by visiting an onsite butcher counter, a fishmonger and green grocer.
Watch also for Parliament Espresso (a national chain of coffee bars) and Joe & The Juice (a Copenhagen-based chain of juice bars with specialty coffee offerings). As mentioned before, an Einstein Bros. Bagels franchise owned by Miami Heat star Udonis Haslem will be one of the food court offerings, as will a Starbucks. In the fall, additional purveyors will debut, including include Kuenko (casual Japanese-Spanish), 800 Degrees (wood fired pizzeria) and Rosetta, an Italian bakery.
A short walk from the Miami station, you’ll find Books & Books, in the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center. The bookstore café is a good spot for a quick meal before a show. Other dining options include the traditional Nicaraguan fare at Los Ranchos, or Niu Kitchen for Spanish tapas and wine.
A short cab or bike ride can take you to Little Havana, Brickell and Wynwood. The free Metromover is located in the station and stops at major nearby attractions and neighborhoods. There are also three Miami Trolley stops on-site. The trolley is free and stops throughout Miami.
The Fort Lauderdale station is at 101 NW 2nd Ave. The parking garage is at 300 NW 2nd St., and Brightline is currently offering limited-time, introductory free parking to all Brightline riders. To book tickets go to GoBrightline.com.