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Cruise industry gets on board with Brightline high-speed rail

Vicki Freed said Royal Caribbean Group employees tend to gravitate to cars 3 and 4 for their Brightline commute
Brightline's Orlando station is due to open soon, connecting riders between Central and South Florida, including four cruise homeports.

Nobody is a bigger champion of this high-speed train than Royal Caribbean International's Vicki Freed, SVP sales, trade support & service, who rides it daily between her home in Boca Raton and the cruise line's PortMiami office.

'I love it. It's game-changing for us,' Freed said. She's not the only Brightline fan: 'I think we're the largest corporate user,' she said of Royal Caribbean Group. 'So I meet all my buddies on the train.'

They've given up the hassles of driving on I-95, for a fast, smooth ride where they catch up on emails, work and sometimes have one-to-one meetings. 'We get a lot accomplished,' Freed said. 'None of us are stressed out any more because we've got our emails done. We don't sit in I-95 traffic. It's such a pleasure.'

Freed typically boards the 7 a.m. train in Boca for the 56-minute ride to the Miami station, where Royal Caribbean supplies shuttles to the office. So she's at her desk by 8:10 a.m.


Many Royal Caribbean corporate commuters like Vicki Freed are in the $99 a year coffee club, which covers Lavazza coffee or tea

Other Brightline commuters include regular employees from RCI, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea, and senior executives like Alfredo Suarez, SVP corporate finance and strategy, Royal Caribbean Group; and RCI's Kara Wallace, CMO; John Foulk, VP global contact centers; Vince Alesia, director onboard sales; and Ali Douglas, manager, national accounts — to name a few.

Many joined Brightline's coffee club; for $99 a year they get Lavazza coffee or tea in the station and on the train.

'It's so relaxing, like going first class on an airplane,' Freed said. 'It's clean, beautiful, a really great experience.' And Brightline hires 'amazing people. They're friendly. We all feel so welcomed.'

For cruisers

Of course Brightline's benefits also apply to cruisers. Stations currently serve three cities with cruise ports: Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Once the Orlando International Airport station opens, that will give access to Port Canaveral.  

Brightline will cover the 230-mile Orlando-Miami trip in 3.5 hours.

'We're excited about Orlando opening next month,' Freed said. 'For anyone in Florida, we're encouraging them to take Brightline for many reasons: No. 1: It's stress-free, it's easy, you don't have to drive. Our parking structures are full. People hate to have to park off-site. It's expensive to park.'

'Starting your vacation at the station'

'It's really about starting your vacation the minute you enter our station,' according to Johanna Rojas, Brightline’s SVP partnerships and sales. 'It's very important to us to offer a seamless experience. We think of everything, from food and beverage to customer service to the design of our stations to our onboard experience.

'The minute [passengers] are onboard, they're in that vacation state of mind. They're not stressed, stuck in traffic, thinking about are they going to get there on time? It's really about being laid back, enjoy your vacation, your time with your family and significant other.'

Royal Caribbean sales teams actively promote Brightline and tell travel advisors about the benefits for their clients. In future, it's planned that anyone booking a cruise from Florida will get communications, and Brightline reservations are to be incorporated into Royal Caribbean technology as part of the pre-cruise booking options.

Travel advisor commissions

Rojas said Brightline will soon roll out commisions for individual travel advisors. The company already has programs with AAA and other major travel sellers. International travelers are also targeted via wholesalers since many fly to Miami or Orlando and combine a cruise from either port with a visit to the Central Florida theme parks.


According to Vicki Freed, traveling Brightline is fun for families and kids

Freed tells travel advisors it's easy to book and encourages them to talk about Brightline as 'a mini-vacation on top of a cruise ... It's fun. It's fun for families and kids to travel on the train.'

For the full Orlando-Miami stretch, Brightline Smart fares will start at $39 for children/$79 for adults, up to $149 for adults in Premium (first) class. There are discounts for kids and savings for groups of four and more. Parking at Brightline stations costs $7 a day, versus what can be $28 a day at cruise terminals.

'A perfect marriage'

Brightline's reduced promotional fares for children 'marry beautifully with Royal Caribbean and us being the leader for families,' Freed said. 'We're promoting Icon of the Seas, particularly, as being the best family vacation in the world. So, for us, it's a perfect marriage.'


Icon of the Seas' Surfside neighborhood is dedicated to young families

She added that when Utopia of the Seas enters service with three-/four-day cruises from Canaveral, that will mean an incremental 15,000 passengers a week. And with many cruisers expected to come from Florida, 'We want people to take Brightline because ... we'll never have the parking.'

Seamless package with Uber included

Brightline's 'From Station to Vacation' package provides what Rojas called 'a seamless experience.'

Passengers booking a premium ticket get priority lounge access, mimosas on board and complimentary Uber pick-up for transport to the station and drop-off upon arrival within a five-mile radius, so that includes PortMiami, for example.

When the Orlando station opens, Brightline will unveil a transportation partner for the transfers to/from Port Canaveral; that will be an extra charge.

The parade of big new ships coming to Florida will drive a 'huge need,' Rojas said.

Brightline has targeted cruisers from the start, but it's working to grow the 'train market' — as opposed to 'drive market' — for cruising. Rojas said about 1m passengers a year drive to PortMiami, for example. 

'We hope to capture half of that, if not more,' she said.