When you want to get somewhere in the northeast, hopping a train is always an option. In California, cheap flights are fairly plentiful. If you want to travel around Florida, though, your options are limited. Amtrak covers the east coast of the state just twice a day, and at relatively odd hours, leaving the west coast uncovered. Flights into American’s hub in Miami are easy enough, even from as close as Orlando, thanks to the need to reposition foreign visitors from their Miami arrival point to the Magic Kingdom. If you’re looking to go elsewhere in the state, though, the solution is almost always to drive.
Though Governor Rick Scott put the kibosh on a high speed rail project the federal government wanted to fund within the state, even this option would have connected only Miami, Orlando and Tampa, leaving the Tallahassee, Fort Myers and Jacksonville areas out in the cold.
Just about 2.5 hours’ drive from Orlando, Jacksonville is far enough from the center of the state that enough trips will leave you craving a better solution than burning a tank of gas following the tiresome route of I-95 to I-4, but close enough and too thinly traveled to seriously entertain the thought of connecting flights. Jacksonville to Tallahassee is even worse: just a little longer than Jacksonville to Orlando by a watch’s objective measure, the trip seems to take days with nothing but endless trees lining I-10 for most of the drive.
And so it is: Florida’s most populous city, the largest city by landmass in North America, is cut off from the rest of the state because driving’s just a bit too convenient to merit any substantial improvement. Into this environment comes RedCoach, a new, luxury bus service seeking to ease the pain of yawn-inducing jaunts throughout Florida.
The Case for RedCoach
Luxury bus service might sound like an oxymoron, but RedCoach makes a fair case: its “First Class” buses have just 27 seats, in a 2×1 configuration. These are wide, plush chairs with a tremendous level of recline and a leg-rest that pulls into position from the seat ahead. Standard power outlets can be found ever couple rows, and RedCoach offers free Wi-Fi on its flights…errr, drives.
RedCoach offers service throughout the state, finally offering a way to get from Jacksonville to Orlando without driving. As Orlando is RedCoach’s hub, you may continue on from there to a variety of other destinations.
In the Orlando area, that means a fleet of shuttles ready to whisk you to any of the major hotels at Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, International Drive or Kissimmee, or even out to Port Canaveral’s cruise ships for a measly $5 up-charge.
I rode with RedCoach to Orlando and back for a 24 hour trip last week to see if riding the bus was really more convenient than simply driving myself and was surprised with what I found:
Booking A Trip With RedCoach
Since service to Jacksonville is still new, RedCoach is offering promotional routes as low as $19 roundtrip between Jacksonville and Orlando. It’s possible to book both nonrefundable and refundable tickets, with a few dollars’ discount offered for nonrefundable options. Tickets may be booked in advance at RedCoachUSA.com.
When booking your tickets, you may reserve your seat just like you would for a flight, choosing from an overhead map:
Due to some personal scheduling issues, I ended up booking two one-way tickets for $14 a piece rather than a roundtrip all at once, but this was still a fraction of what I’d’ve shelled out for gas driving myself.
Jacksonville to Orlando on RedCoach
I arrived at the Jacksonville station about 15 minutes prior to departure, a nice change from the 60-90 minute departure cushion you’d need at minimum for a flight. The only security screening was double-checking my ID for a match on the manifest; no TSA Pre-Check needed!
The bus driver handed me a free snack pack before boarding. Inside was a small bottle of water, a pack of potato chips and some Cheez-Its.
The seat was perfectly comfortable, and certainly a far cry from a school bus or even more standard commercial charter. The leg-rest that pulls back from the seat ahead seems a little weird at first blush, but is actually a great touch.
I worked for most of the ride down, taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi onboard. There was a power outlet just behind my seat, so I didn’t drain any battery power on my MacBook during the trip. Wi-Fi would come and go at times, but mostly in spots where I knew cellular signal was weak for my own devices. So long as the signal remained strong, speeds were better than the type of pitiful bandwidth often seen at hotels for a charge, so it’s difficult to complain.
The ride itself was smooth and quiet. The bus only had about eight passengers, most content to kick back for a short nap. After working for most of the 2.5 hour drive, I decided to kick back for a few minutes, too. The seat’s recline is exceedingly generous, more akin to a recliner at home than a bus seat.
Sure, this might not be a fully-flat Business Class seat on Cathay Pacific, but for the relatively short ride, it was perfect for a quick nap.
Because service is point-to-point, we arrived about 15 minutes early at the RedCoach station in Orlando, a short distance from Orlando’s main airport (MCO). I had a ride waiting and a car to borrow while in town, so I was in business as soon as we pulled up to the station.
A Word For The Locals
RedCoach just began offering service to Jacksonville recently, to both its hub in Orlando and to Tallahassee. The bus picks up from 1003 Kings Ave, better known as the Kings Avenue Skyway Station.
If you happen to live downtown, this is convenient. If not, the biggest challenge of a trip on RedCoach might be getting to the station. While JTA buses run to this stop, Jacksonville’s bus system leaves much to be desired in terms of convenience and practicality. An Uber ride cost me nothing thanks to a couple free ride credits. Otherwise, it would’ve cost me $21 each way to take UberX from the St. John’s Town Center to the station in minimal traffic.
I look forward to investigating parking options near the Kings Avenue stop or another Skyway station for future trips. However, it’s important to remember the Skyway doesn’t offer regular service on weekends. Your best bet is to hitch a ride with a family member or friend.
While RedCoach addresses the city-to-city pain point of traveling in Florida, the company can’t begin to fix the dreadful mass transit situation within cities like Jacksonville and Orlando. Simply getting to and from the stations can be enough of a pain to negate much of the convenience of being whisked 95% of the distance in comfort. If I were visiting one of the theme parks or heading out to Port Canaveral for a cruise, though, I wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of RedCoach again.
As for the more painful Tallahassee drive? For that one, RedCoach can have my business every time.