My cruise was departing from Miami, a six-hour drive from home, and I wanted to arrive in style. So, naturally, I took the bus.
Surprising? Definitely. But the proliferation of luxury bus lines has caused travelers to reconsider everything they know - or think they know - about bus travel.
We're talking onboard wi-fi, restrooms and electric outlets. The leather recliners are wider than some first-class airline seats, outfitted with leg rests, tray tables and drink holders. I half expected to see a beverage cart come rolling down the aisle.
RedCoach, part of the South American bus line Grupo Plaza, runs from Tallahassee south to Miami and back, with service to Tampa on the Gulf Coast. (The similarly swanky MegaBus also serves Florida, along with 70 cities in the U.S. and Canada.)
I would normally drive to Miami, but having seen a posh-looking RedCoach bus rolling through my hometown, I ran the numbers for both options. Gas for the trip would cost me about $45, tolls about $20, which matched the $65 business class ticket price before I even figured in parking and wear and tear on my car. (First class tickets, which offer power outlets and tray tables, are $90 for the same route.) Add to the plus column that I'd get six hours of solid work time instead of six hours of driving in interstate traffic, and I was sold. But when I told friends and family I was taking a seven-hour bus ride (the extra time comes from a snack and fuel stop, plus the slower pace of the large vehicle) to Miami, many were skeptical. For most, the last time they were on a long bus ride was a class trip. I assured them that these buses were different (see above: Wi-Fi!) but I wanted to find out for myself.
I arrived at the station - in this case, a regular city bus stop - with plenty of time to spare, because I wasn't 100 percent sure where it was. Spotting another gal with a suitcase, I felt confident I was in the right spot. Sure enough, the RedCoach bus pulled in right on schedule. A driver with a printed passenger list popped out, checked us off on his list, looked at our IDs, loaded our luggage (two bags for free) and welcomed us to the bus.
Stepping from the noonday sunshine into the dark-tinted bus was momentarily disorienting. I had expected the passengers, mostly college students, to be yapping away on their cell phones in a cacophany of conversations. Instead, most were sleeping, one of them covered from head to toe in a brown furry blanket. I took my seat and the bus rolled on toward Miami. Settling in, it took me a while to figure out the leg rest, which is attached to the seat in front and turns the seat into a comfortable chaise lounge. The seat back reclines about four times farther than a coach airline seat. No wonder so many people are sleeping, I thought. This is comfortable! Then I tried to figure out the tray table, which attaches to the armrests of the seat on spring-loaded pins. Laptop settled and plugged in, wi-fi connected, I was ready to get some serious work done.
After about 40 minutes, we stopped for gas, which meant everyone had to leave the bus. The roused sleepers shuffled in their pajama pants into a gas station/Dairy Queen/Wendy's. The bus and its passengers fueled up, we got back on the road and back to work. The bus driver started "Transformers 3" on the DVD player, which played on five screens throughout the bus, no headphones necessary. The volume was loud enough to hear throughout the bus, but not so loud as to be distracting to those not watching.
At the back of the bus was the bathroom, which I thought I should examine as part of a thorough review. I found a toilet and hand sanitizer (no sink, although this is hardly surprising) along with a sign encouraging users to sit down while using the facilities. I was contemplating the sign when the bus turned and I lurched into the wall, making the recommendation perfectly understandable.
Back at my seat, two things were making me perfectly giddy about my decision to bus it. First, I was plowing through my emails and getting lots of work done, which I wouldn't have been able to do if I were driving. Second, I was doing all that and still had full battery power on all of my devices, courtesy of the power outlet. I loved knowing that I wouldn't arrive at my destination with my phone and laptop on their last legs. Another bonus: When the scenery is absolutely awe-inspiring, like crossing Tampa Bay on the Sunshine Skyway, you're free to gape all you want without worrying about the traffic. By the time we arrived in Miami, I was a bus-travel believer.
Thanks to RedCoach for hosting my trip.
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Alisson is a freelance writer and journalism teacher based in Florida. Her first trip out of the country was to the Bahamas at age five, where she told everyone who would listen that she was from another country. No one was impressed, but the trip did leave a lasting impression of the transformative power of travel. Her writing appears in National Geographic Traveler, the Tampa Bay Times and mental_floss as well as newspapers, magazines and web sites in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Located: Gainesville USA
Likes: outdoors, family travel, Florida, off the beaten path