Happy Birthday, Brightline!
Hard to believe the nation's only private, intercity passenger railroad will reach its first year in operation on Jan. 13. What an amazing first year it's been -- 600,000 passengers, 8,000 trips between West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.
For Pam and I, it's been a game-changer.
Prior to Brightline, we approached every trip heading south on Die-95 with fear and loathing. Frantic, lane-changing drivers, the inevitable accidents, backups that can stretch for miles, not to mention encountering rain or storms on almost every trip.
Brightline changed all that, bigtime. Now we park in the adjacent garage at Brightline's West Palm station, check in and relax at the Select lounge before boarding a state-of-the-art coach, where we sip Prosecco, listen to music on our ear buds and watch the scenery go by. It's heaven.
Once in Miami, or Ft. Lauderdale, we summon a ride on Lyft -- Brightline's partner -- via the Lyft app and off we go to our final destination. Then it's back to Brightline's Miami Central for the trip back home. With the new, expanded train hours, there are lots of evening and late-night options.
Besides the convenience, we give major kudos to Brightline's personnel. From the security check-ins, to the lounge workers, to the attendants in the coach cars, we have found the Brightline people uniformly friendly and welcoming. They even gather by the tracks and wave you good-bye!
Hands down, Brightline is the best thing to happen to South Florida since those coconuts washed ashore on Palm Beach.
The best part? It's only going to get better in 2019.
Late last year, it was announced that Richard Branson's Virgin Group made a minority investment in Brightline, which would be rebranded as Virgin Trains. Virgin's trademark red and new signage will soon be making an appearance on trains and in stations. With the launch of Branson's new cruise line, Virgin Voyages, and a new terminal under construction at the Port of Miami, it makes perfect sense.
Also, Brightline's expansion to Orlando is well under way, and will begin operations later this year or in 2020. That's huge. But that's not all: Brightline also announced a new route from Southern California to Las Vegas is in the works. What a year it's been!
We've heard talk of possible future destinations that include Tampa, Jacksonville and maybe even the Florida Keys. Henry Flagler would be proud.
So, thank you Brightline, for making going to Miami fun again. Happy Birthday, and here's to many more!
I'm going to have to fall on my sword (and hopefully miss), but has it really been since last August that I posted anything here? More than anyone, I know the cardinal rule for blogs is "update, update, update," or readers wander off to greener cyberspaces. Mea culpa!
Well, it's a new year and I need to resolve to update this space more often. So here's a start.
OK guys -- I'm talking to you men out there -- when you think about things to do, does Afternoon High Tea make the list? I thought not. You just don't find many sports bars serving tea and scones while football players crash into each other on multiple TV screens.
No, if High Tea is your thing, you'll have to go somewhere else ... like the Biltmore Hotel, for example.
Pam -- my partner in adventure -- loves her some Afternoon Tea. So being the romantic and considerate husband I am (no applause, please), I recently took her to Afternoon Tea at the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
Maybe this is a good place to hit "pause" and delve into the history behind the afternoon tea thing. I want to know whose idea it was to dress up and sip tea just when my sports shows are coming on? Turns out it was someone named Anna. This from the website, Historic UK:
"Afternoon tea, that most quintessential of English customs is, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively new tradition. Whilst the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China and was popularised in England during the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza, it was not until the mid 19th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.
"Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her.
"This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock."
So there you have it.
I have to admit tea at the Biltmore is quite a production. Located in the spacious and elegant lobby, the tables are covered in white linen and the servers wear white gloves. A harpist provides the lilting tones of music to drink tea by (although I was taken aback when she played the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" at one point. Who knew that could sound so right for tea sipping?).
Our server was Nestor, who took care of our every need, including explaining what was on the three-tier tray of food that we got with our tea. Now normally I like my tea with lots of ice, sweet and a slice of lemon. But I wanted to be one of the fellows, so I chose a hot green tea while Pam went with traditional Earl Grey.
Full disclosure: We have had Afternoon Tea several times on various cruise ships, most notably on Cunard's Queen Mary II and Queen Victoria. Now that's the height of high tea, with a string quartet and scones to die for.
Scones, by the way, are these marvelous biscuit-like concoctions you usually eat with jam and clotted cream. And according to our friends in Bath, England -- Mo and Brian -- there is considerable debate about how you pronounce the word "scone." To wit:
Personally, no matter how you say it, they are the best part of afternoon tea in my book.
One other observation about the Biltmore Tea: I was the only male in a room full of women, several of whom were celebrating birthdays. Yes guys -- I took one for the team.
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."