So you’re in Orlando for a few days, and you want to see South Florida too. You can do it in a day, and you don’t even need a rental car. How? Take the Brightline train from Orlando to any of their South Florida stations: West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Aventura, or Miami. Then zip back up to Orlando that night.
A day in laid-back South Florida is a welcome break from the theme park rounds of Orlando. As a Floridian, I firmly believe everyone needs to see this corner of the Sunshine State at least once — it’s wonderful here. And it’s more accessible than ever with the new Orlando train route just opened in September.
Where should you go? It’s a tough choice. We picked Fort Lauderdale because it has a lot close to the station and the beach not too far away — plenty for a day trip yet not overwhelming. However, each of the cities has something different to offer, so see which fits your interests.
If you decide to take the train from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale, this guide has everything you need: logistics, ideas for what to see and do when you get there, and tips to make your trip better.
Ready for an adventure? Here’s your complete itinerary for a day trip by train from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale.
6:30 AM: Park at the Orlando Airport
You could start sooner if you’re an early riser, but it’s not necessary. The high-speed train takes you from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale in just three hours, and if you follow this itinerary, you’ll still get nine hours in your final destination.
I recommend allowing at least an hour between parking your car and boarding the train. The Brightline website outlines the Orlando parking options pretty clearly:
- You can choose Parking Garage C at the airport, a mere five-minute walk from the train station. That’s currently $24 a day.
- WallyPark, which is off-site and requires a shuttle, comes to just under $15 per day, including all fees.
- The South Park Place Economy Lot is a backup if Parking Garage C is full. There’s an airport shuttle that takes you to Terminal C, about a 13-minute walk from the station.
We chose WallyPark to save a little cash. The tradeoff is that you’ll need to wait for the shuttle. For us, from pulling into the lot to being dropped off at the Brightline station, which was after the other three terminal stops, it took about 35 minutes. But wait times and the ride over can vary, so building in extra time never hurts.
7 AM: Arrive at the Orlando Brightline Station
Once you’re there, navigating around the station is a breeze. Walk in, take the escalators up, go through security (not the airport-level screening where you’re shedding shoes and taking out every electronic you own), and you’re at the train platform in minutes.
We had Premium tickets so made sure to save time to enjoy the lounge, scanning the QR code on our phones for entry. There was a coffee machine and full breakfast laid out, including:
- Croissant sandwiches
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Muffins and bread
- Deli meat and cheese
The lounge is uncrowded and comfortable, a cozy place to relax before your ride. They’ll announce when the next train is coming in, and you’re right by the escalator down to the tracks, so you don’t need to worry about missing it.
When they make the announcement, head down to the platform, board in your coach, and make your way to your assigned seat. Easy peasy.
7:30 AM: Ride From Orlando to Fort Lauderdale
I’ve done a fair amount of train travel, but it’s all been in Europe. I think of trains as a pragmatic way to travel when I’m in another country without my car. I also tend to think of them as crowded and not overly clean. But Brightline isn’t like that. It has wide aisles and spacious seats. Everything is clean and fresh-looking.
Restrooms: It’s a three-hour ride, so this is an amenity you’ll probably use. These bathrooms aren’t like any I’ve seen on other trains. They’re handicap accessible (quite roomy) and touch-free for water, soap, flushing, and drying. Even the door between coaches opens automatically.
With free wifi and charging stations at your seat and a fairly quiet ride — though maybe our fellow passengers were particularly well-mannered — all in all, it’s a pleasant trip.
Riding premium makes it even more pleasant. Do you like snacks? They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Premium passengers, depending on the time of day you’re riding. I enjoyed my seasonal pumpkin muffin with seltzer (there are adult beverages too), but I ate light because I knew lunch in Fort Lauderdale was coming soon.
For kids: There’s a BrightKids Snack Box with a PB&J or cheese sandwich and goldfish crackers, apple slices, and a drink.
10:30 AM: Arrive Fort Lauderdale
Just like that, you’re here. When you step outside, it’s probably a few degrees warmer than Orlando, but it just feels different.
Now on to the fun stuff.
10:45 AM: Visit a Museum
The science museum is great for families. It has over 20 STEM-focused exhibits, one designed especially for ages 6 and under. On the weekends, don’t miss their special events (they had make-your-own slime the weekend we were in town) included with admission.
The art museum is best for preteens and up, though younger kids will enjoy the vibrant visuals and variety of artwork. The exhibits are always changing, so if you return to Fort Lauderdale, you’ll want to check them out again.
From either museum, you can take a detour down the Riverwalk as you mosey over to the world-famous Las Olas Boulevard. This urban-chic street is spilling over with sidewalk cafes, boutiques, art galleries, and murals. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to dining, so I’ll make it easy for you…
12 PM: Lunch at Java & Jam
With indoor and outdoor seating, the latter sporting lots of greenery and pull-down curtains for shade, Java & Jam is the place to go for a weekend brunch that can’t be beat. You’ve got breakfast all day if you’re feeling more eggs benedict and banana bread French toast (with mango compote, maple syrup, vanilla whipped cream, and coconut butter — drooling yet?) or lunchtime fare like burgers and salads.
I wanted to order about seven things but ultimately decided on:
- Grilled cheese and housemade tomato bisque, wisely called a soupwich because you know where that three-cheesy sourdough is getting dunked
- An arugula salad with a most astonishing list of toppings that included hummus, pecorino, grapes, grape tomatoes, bacon, a perfectly poached egg, and a lemon and olive oil dressing
The bisque was easily the best tomato soup I’ve ever had, and the grilled cheese was delicious — not a bit greasy as so often happens. But the salad kind of stole the show. The grapes were halved so you got just the right sweetness in every bite, complementing the salty bacon and cheese. The hummus wasn’t a hunk on top but rather spread throughout, and I’m here to tell you that this is how we should all be dressing our salads. It was even more refreshing with a glass of their seasonal rosemary hibiscus lemonade.
As the name suggests, Java & Jam knows coffee. I’d read about the crème brûlée cappuccino from multiple reviews and knew I had to order one. Breaking through the sugar crust into the vanilla and caramel cappuccino was deeply satisfying, but the churro iced latte with Cinnamon Toast Crunch milk turned out to be my favorite. They also have a lineup of seasonal drinks, so for our fall trip, we tried the peppermint white chocolate matcha latte (my husband’s favorite, though he typically doesn’t care for matcha) and a gingerbread latte, indulgent with whipped cream and a half-submerged gingersnap.
You can also upgrade to make any drink “dirty” or choose one of their cocktails like the housemade bloody mary or maybe a seasonal spiked eggnog chai. With friendly service, a chill ambiance, and next-level food and drinks, Java & Jam is a must-do while you’re in Fort Lauderdale.
1 PM: Head to Fort Lauderdale Beach
Fort Lauderdale Beach isn’t far away, and if you come to South Florida without seeing the beach, were you really here?
It’s only 15 minutes away by car, about 30 minutes by bus, or an hour and 15 minutes if you choose to walk. I recommend grabbing an Uber. This set us back $15 and was convenient, but you can always take Bus 11 down Las Olas to save a few bucks. A one-way fare is only $2 for adults and $1 for kids 18 and younger. Just download the Broward County Transit app in advance so you can buy your ticket online if needed.
1:30 PM: Relax at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort
Did you know you can get a day pass for certain resorts to take advantage of their amenities without needing to book a stay? It’s perfect for your Fort Lauderdale day trip.
Spend the afternoon living your best resort life at the luxury Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort. The sixth-floor wraparound pool deck is designed like a cruise ship with a view of nothing but that perfect blue ocean as you look out. And there was a cruise ship vibe, from a DJ spinning tunes on the weekend to us slurping icy sweet drinks from a coconut.
You can book your day pass online at ResortPass. It includes beachfront access and a 20% discount at their full-service spa, but we spent the day lounging on the sun deck with the heated pool and hot tub. It was especially relaxing in our cabana. Cabanas are a splurge but not a bad value for families since they accommodate up to four or six people. You get a fridge stocked with water, a cable TV, comfy seating, an outlet to charge your devices, and sun cover. It’s basically your own private retreat for the day.
When you’re hungry, just pick up a menu from Ilios and browse the options. The Mediterranean-inspired restaurant had everything from shakshuka and waldorf salad to wings and burgers. I tried the slider trio to sample their cheeseburger, lobster sandwich, and fried chicken on a sweet waffle biscuit. The lobster was the best, but lobster’s always hard to beat. There’s also a kid’s menu. Food and drinks are delivered right to your cabana or lounge chair (as the case may be) so you can enjoy your meal poolside.
6:45 PM: Return to the Fort Lauderdale Brightline Station
If you leave the resort by 6:45 p.m., you should be at the train station around 7. Depending on the time of year, you might catch sunset from the pool deck before you go. (Sure, you’re facing east, but the orange-pink glow suffuses the whole horizon.)
For both of our rides, we found that getting to the station 30 minutes before departure allowed plenty of time for the security check and a quick visit to the bathroom. Boarding closes five minutes before the train leaves, so you don’t want to cut it too close, and your Uber driver might get confused on where to pick you up as ours did, so build in some time for that.
The Smart lounge doesn’t have the perks of the Premium lounge (no free drinks and food here), but it’s still a nice place to relax, and the bar is right there if you want to order something.
7:30 PM: Ride the Train Back to Orlando
Plug in your phone to charge and browse through the photos and videos from your Fort Lauderdale day trip. Or just relax. The ride goes by surprisingly fast.
I had a Smart ticket on the way back, which worked out well since I didn’t get there early enough to enjoy the lounge. The seats are two inches smaller than in Premium — 19 instead of 21. I can’t say I honestly noticed the difference. Of course, I didn’t happen to have someone next to me on the ride back as our coach wasn’t full.
I didn’t get the dinner that I would have had with a Premium ticket, but I was full from a day of eating, so I didn’t mind. It was a quick and seamless ride back.
10:30 PM: Arrive in Orlando
You made it! Congratulations on a successful day trip by train from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale.
You could get in later, but if you have kids and need to get back to the hotel, this is a good end time. If you parked at WallyPark, just text “SHUTTLE” to the number they provide, and the driver will pick you up right outside the station.
Unlike in the morning, we had zero wait. The shuttle happened to be leaving the last terminal at just the right time, and we walked out to find it waiting for us. We were dropped off at our car around 20 minutes later.
Final Tips for Your South Florida Day Trip
Here’s a roundup of some tips that might make your trip better and a few logistics you should know before you go.
- Build in extra time to catch your train, but don’t panic. Brightline trains board about 10 minutes before departure. Both times I was headed to the station, I was worried I was cutting it close because I think in terms of air travel, but I was always on the platform as soon as they announced boarding was open. Above I used rounded times like 7:30 for convenience, but trains depart at times like 6:38 and 7:21. Take note of the time on your ticket and show up at least 15 minutes before departure.
- Enjoy BrightLine perks for families. BrightLine offers a discount on group purchases for four or more people, a kids zone at each station, and half off Smart tickets for ages 2-12.
- Plan for snacks. Brightline allows you to bring food and non-alcoholic beverages on board, so you’re welcome to picnic on the way. Most people seem to bring or purchase snacks. It makes the trip a little more fun, and it’s a perk of train travel worth enjoying. We all know how eating in the car is a mess.
- Get a free Uber ride. If you have a Premium ticket, you can book a complimentary Uber ride from any South Florida station to a destination within a five-mile radius. The Hilton resort we visited was only 4.2 miles from the station, so you could head straight there and save on transit one way.
- Bring sunscreen. This is South Florida, after all. However, the resort had sunscreen, so if you won’t be doing much walking, it could be one less thing to pack.
- Drink water, but don’t bring a ton. We packed four waters like we were going hiking in some remote village. The station had a water refill dispenser, the restaurants had plenty of water, the resort had water — I would have liked to carry less water.
So what do you think? Would you do it? Join the conversation on Facebook and let us know!
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Feature photo credit: Visit Fort Lauderdale