|Yours truly traveling on Red Coach USA.|
THE BIG RED BUS MAKES MAKES SCHLEPPING EASYRemember my Greyhound adventure from 2009 during which I flew to Atlanta only to wend my way back to Miami on buses and trains? That was the beginning of my journey as a professional schlepper, which in my book of life, is someone who manages to get everywhere and do just about everything without a car. A few years later, I would master the skill of schlepping in Miami as #miamischlep. Today, I can confidently add #floridaschlep to my list of schlepping accomplishments.
“Where have you been all my schlepping life?” is the only question I can ask of Red Coach USA, a transportation service connecting major Florida cities. If I had known about Red Coach USA sooner, I would've taken advantage of it to hit some of my favorite Florida destination hubs like Naples, Jacksonville and Tallahassee -- easy departure points from which to find adventure: fishing on the gulf coast, enjoying St. Augustine's historical charm and exploring north Florida's nature trails, to name a few.
Heck, with the right fare, I’d even consider Red Coach as an alternative to Uber or Tri-Rail for tri-county schlepping from Miami to Broward or Palm Beach and would recommend it to travelers considering transportation options between airports.
|The Red Coach USA stop in Tallahassee.|
On the afternoon I started writing this post, I had been sitting on a Red Coach USA bus since 7:30 A.M. It was a tremendously productive work day for this writer; so much so that I wondered why I didn't use Red Coach more often as a mobile office just to get work done, see friends who live in other cities and fulfill my insatiable Florida wanderlust.
"I don't care how long it takes to get from Kendall to Brickell," my friend Bohemian Babushka said. "Get your ass on the bus and meet me in Tallahassee for happy hour." Babushka, who schleps often between Tallahassee and Miami, was serious.
“It’s an upgrade from Greyhound,” she told me. "You'll love it."
I was incredulous and the schlepper in me was curious, so I gave Red Coach USA a try.
First, sped off to the Naples area (about two and half hours) where I spent a week writing while visiting some of those friends I rarely see because of distance; soon after the gulf coast sojourn, I headed to Tallahassee (about eight hours) where I spent a few days covering a cultural event, tooling around Wakulla County and enjoying the aforementioned happy hour with my friend.
Red Coach’s parent company Grupo Plaza began as a service in South America 57 years ago and came to Florida’s roads in 2010. In South America, it’s quite common to schlepear using coach services to travel long distances between countries or to destinations where flights are either cost-prohibitive or simply unavailable.
Until I heard about Red Coach, I had only considered Greyhound, which gets a bad rap as a po' folks travel option. But not everyone who uses it lives in a slum or just got out of prison. Never mind the irony that flying these days feels like prison.
Call me crazy, but unless you're flying baller style in a private jet, bus travel is, in many ways, more zen than traveling in the airline passenger cattle call. There's schlepping to the airport and then there's schlepping to the gate from check-in to boarding time. Let's call a schlep a schlep. Flying, while faster, is still a schlep.
Red Coach USA is more like a shared ride service; you schlep to the bus, then chill until you arrive at your destination in about the same amount of time it’d take to drive.
And then there's the comfort. Both business class and first class feature leagues of leg room, leg rests and wide, leather seats that recline 140 degrees. While business class seats 38, first class transports 28 passengers with wider seats and detachable seat trays. Wi-fi, electric outlets and a clean toilet make the ride practical.
|Wired-in while traveling on Red Coach USA.|
While a little pricier than economical Greyhound, it's definitely worth a few more clams to travel in a swankier bus.
The company claims to be a luxury bus service, but Paris Hilton types will miss the champagne and cashmere blankets. For the rest of us budget-conscious folks with good taste, Red Coach is just fine. They say health is wealth. Here's something luxurious to me: I didn't feel like a frazzled mess by the time I arrived at any of my destinations.
My rides were so comfortable, I even slept on the way to Naples. For me, sleeping while schlepping never happens. And on my way back from Tallahassee, I scratched a few writing assignments off my to-do list.
The wi-fi was spotty at times in the more remote areas of my Florida routes. Ask the driver to reset the router if logging in becomes an issue.
The only drawback to Red Coach, if we can call it that, is that it doesn’t have its own central terminals, save for Orlando. In Orlando, however, you can arrange for a shuttle to local drop-off points.
COMMUTING WITH RED COACH
|This lady, a snowbird and part-time Florida resident from Maine, traveled from Palm Beach to Orlando to meet other friends vacationing in Florida.|
On one of the Tallahassee legs of my trip, I met two folks who actually use Red Coach USA to commute between the state capitol and other cities in South Florida -- not on a daily basis, but on a week-on, weekend-off rotation. They both told me that the amount of money they save on gas is worth the investment, not to mention the enormous advantage of being able to sleep during the ride in a reclinable seat.
Another passenger told me she was visiting her grandchildren in the Naples area and that the service was ideal for her to relax without having to worry about driving at night.
THE MIAMI PUBLIC TRANSPORATION CONNECTION
|The Miami Intermodal Center connects Miami-Dade buses, Metrorail, Tri-Rail and Miami International Airport.|
In Miami, Red Coach can also pick up at area hotels but all buses make their final departure from the airport. So yes, you still have to schlep to the airport. Here's how I did it avoiding all manner of Miami traffic using Miami-Dade buses and Metrorail.
For my Tallahassee trip, I took the dedicated South Dade busway from Palmetto Bay to Dadeland South station and then hopped on the orange line Metrorail to the Miami Intermodal Center, where an electric rail delivers passengers to the airport terminals. A walk to the H gate at the departure level was all I needed to find the Red Coach bus.
For my Naples trip, I took the Metrorail from Palmetto station to Earlington Heights station, where I switched to the orange line train. Both rides were seamless, fast and enjoyable. Total time for each schlep: a little less than an hour. Cost: $4.50. Stress: zero.
|Find this North Florida delicacy at the gas station by the Orlando stop.|
If you try Red Coach USA, make sure to check their web fares, which are lower. (On the day I traveled to Naples, a one-way ticket was priced at an unbelievable $16.) Regular users of the service can join a free membership program for incentive points.
To make your experience even more comfortable, bring a neck pillow, a blanket, hand wipes, snacks or light fare. Food is not available on the bus and if there are any pauses at rest stops, they are very brief. The Orlando stop usually lasts 15 to 30 minutes but there's only a snack machine in the terminal and one food truck parked in the lot. A gas station within walking distance offers snacks and light fare (including the North Florida's ubiquitous boiled peanuts).
NaplesThe Naples arrival point is at a McDonald’s at a major crossroads off I-75 and Collier Boulevard. There’s a Dunkin Donuts next door where I waited for my friend to fetch me. Several chain hotels surround the stop, including the closest, a La Quinta Inn. To get to the city of Naples proper, you have several options.
Call ahead to rent a car, place a taxi pick-up request or use Uber. Enterprise Rent-A-Car offers pick-up and drop-off service for travelers who make advanced reservations at 239-643-3332. Arkway Taxi offers a flat rate $25 trip to downtown Naples. Call 239-777-0777.
For more information about the Naples area, visit Paradise Coast.
TallahasseeThe drop-off and pick-up point for my trip to Tallahassee was a Comfort Suites surrounded by many conveniences and restaurants. Comfort Suites is true to its namesake and was the ideal place to stay before my 7:30 A.M. departure. The hotel offers 15% off to Red Coach USA customers who book a room. Even if you don't stay at the hotel, you can sit in the comfortable lobby as you wait for a ride. The front desk is happy to help you call a local taxi service. Passengers who arrive during the day can call local car rental companies to arrange a pickup. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is a nearby option at 850-877-8929.
For more information about this destination, see Visit Tallahassee.
To reserve a trip, visit Red Coach USA.
Disclosure: Red Coach USA provided me with complimentary fare in support of my travel writing projects. All opinions about the service are my own.