Courtesy // The Celebration Hotel

Train tours through the Sunshine State

By Claire Sibonney

Imagine starting your day with breakfast poolside at a resort in Orlando and, by noon, you’re feeling the warm breezes of South Florida, in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale or Miami. It’s easier than ever with Brightline, Florida’s sleek highspeed passenger train, which has launched its eagerly awaited new route connecting Central and South Florida.

With trips from Orlando to Miami in just three and a half hours, Brightline whisks you through the Sunshine State, but the journey is about much more than getting there quickly. On this environmentally friendly biodiesel-electric train service, you can reduce your carbon footprint while experiencing the timeless luxury of low-stress train travel—in this case, replete with cushy hand-stitched leather seats, full windows for contemplative gazing and free mimosas for Premium guests. Just sit back and enjoy the scenery, including Florida’s famous citrus groves, bountiful wetlands and other glorious landscapes that change with every passing mile.

Start: Orlando and Kissimmee

After landing in Orlando, it’s easy to hop on the Brightline with a stop right at the airport, but I decided to take some time to explore Kissimmee first. My base was the Celebration Hotel, with its architectural nods to turn-of-the-century Florida—replete with picket fences—in an area known for its picturesque American-small-town vibe, including an idyllic view of Lake Rianhard from my balcony.

The quaint streets of Celebration Town, a community originally developed by The Walt Disney Company in the 1990s, unfolds like a storybook village, and the serene lakes and sprawling wetlands of Osceola County beckon for a quiet kayak trip and glimpses of wildlife.

Local Attractions

Gatorland: This 110-acre family-owned park and wildlife preserve south of Orlando doubles as a refuge for relocated wild alligators. The park features a heart-pounding zip-line track that soars over alligator breeding marshes, teeming with hundreds of the so-called swamp puppies.

Paddling Centre at Shingle Creek: Glide under a canopy of stunning cypress forest, past banks brimming with wildlife (including herons, turtles and alligators), while learning about the creek’s rich history.

Cirque du Soleil’s Drawn to Life: At Disney Springs, experience a world where animation and acrobatics intertwine in a performance featuring rhythmic gymnasts and aerialists animating drawings through movement.

Salt & The Cellar: This restaurant, located in the luxurious Ette Hotel, is helmed by Michelin-star chef Akira Back. Don’t pass on his signature tuna pizza. Note that the Ette is a dry hotel (BYOB still welcome). But it’s dramatic zero-alcohol libations showcasing fresh botanical ingredients are delightful alternatives—picture a fairytale forest tableau in drink format.

Columbia Restaurant: Renowned for its 1905 Salad—tossed table-side with ham, Swiss cheese, olives and the signature garlic vinaigrette—and for its saffron-infused paella, this old-world restaurant balances traditional Spanish and Cuban recipes with Floridian flair. Other dishes of note are the Devil Crab Croquettes and Original Cuban Sandwich.

Next Stop: West Palm Beach and Martin County

Back at the new bright and airy Brightline station at Orlando’s airport—with its cocktail bar and well-stocked market and gift shop—you can reach West Palm Beach in just over two hours. West Palm offers high-end shopping, art and a stand-out culinary scene, but I headed to Martin County for a more relaxed and small-town feel. Explore the rustic vibe of the Treasure Coast, starting with a stroll on Stuart’s picturesque Riverwalk.

I stayed at the Old Colorado Inn, which is comprised of several charming properties in downtown Stuart. Accommodations range from boutique hotel rooms in the main inn to quaint cottages and, close by, distinctive homes that include the historic Owl House, a 1904 riverfront home with five bedrooms and a private outdoor space, just steps away from lively shopping and dining venues and the scenic St. Lucie River.

Local Attractions

Treasure Coast Sailing Adventures: Set sail from Stuart on one of their classic sailing vessels that can be chartered for small or large groups. Join one of their daily group sails or create your own custom charter to visit the nearby sandbars or opt for a deep-water cruise to the Indian River Lagoon estuary, home to pelicans, osprey, eagles and dolphins.

Riverwalk Café and Oyster Bar: Nestled by the St. Lucie River, this restaurant is a Stuart local favourite with its fresh oyster bar and specialties, such as oysters Romanoff (aka “dirty oysters”) served with sour cream, shallots and caviar, complemented by an extensive list of 120 wines, 50 of which are sold by the glass.

Hobe Sound: Marvel at the unique limestone formations of Blowing Rocks Preserve and relax on peaceful Jensen Beach. A dolphin-spotting walk in Hobe Sound’s Peck Lake Park is just one of many free eco-tourism events available in Marin County.

Final Stop: Fort Lauderdale

Although you can take the Brightline route all the way to Miami, my final stop was Fort Lauderdale, often called the “Venice of America” for its extensive canal system. It’s a destination made popular by its crystal-clear waters, white sand beaches and buzzworthy restaurants. A water taxi journey provides glimpses of the lavish yachts and luxurious mansions of Millionaire’s Row. The modern all-suite Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort was my home base and I could have stayed there all day to enjoy the pools and private cabanas set against a wraparound deck framing the ocean views. But there was still so much more to see. The resort is a stone’s throw from the beach and Las Olas Boulevard, where you can stroll through historic districts, browse chic boutiques and explore art galleries. Also on offer are complimentary bicycles to tour the area’s many hiking an biking trails.

Local Attractions

Dune by Laurent Tourondel: One of the few restaurants on Fort Lauderdale beach, Dune is led by its French Michelin-star chef namesake and is a highlight of the city’s burgeoning dining scene. The menu melds Asian and Mediterranean influences, with specialties such as toro nigiri with lemon glaze and a stand-out branzino filet with fennel and artichoke.

La Fuga: Tucked in the Kimpton Shorebreak Resort, La Fuga with its coastal Italian flair has an indoor-outdoor dining room within view of the rooftop pool. Begin with a skillfully crafted Negroni, then try one of the handmade pastas, such as the tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese or lobster ricotta ravioli.

Flamingo Gardens: You could spend a full day wandering through this 60-acre sanctuary, featuring thousands of exotic plants, ancient trees and one of the largest collections of wading birds in America (including flamingoes, of course). The gardens also include a habitat where you can watch rambunctious river otters play. Don’t miss the 1930s Wray Home Museum and narrated tram tours through the historic oak trees and tropical groves.

One my flight home, my mind is filled with the beautiful sites I enjoyed—and a few new discoveries I caught a glimpse of as I whizzed past them on the train. Thanks to the convenience of the Brightline, I know that on the next trip, these and many more unexplored stops are just a short ride away.