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On the Scene: All Aboard the Brightline to South Florida

Brightline's Miami station exterior

When I was invited to the grand opening of Brightline’s train station in Orlando in September, I wanted to get on the train that day. I love train travel; get me a ticket on Amtrak from New York City to Philadelphia, or from Florence to Rome in Italy—it really doesn’t matter. There’s just something so romantic about train travel.  

I wanted to check out Brightline for myself. Given that I had been invited to tour the Hilton West Palm Beach and The Diplomat hotel in Hollywood, Florida, it seemed like Brightline was the way to go for me (not to mention the drive from Orlando to South Florida is both long and boring).  

Parked at Terminal C at Orlando International Airport, the walk to the train is easy and security a breeze. The Brightline station is shiny and new and a VIP lounge for PREMIUM ticket holders serves wine, beer and snacks, gratis. The waiting room for SMART ticket holders is not too shabby either, with Mary Mary bar as its centerpiece. (The bar, incidentally, is named for famed Florida developer Henry Flagler’s first and third wives, Mary Lily Kenan and Mary Harkness Flagler.) And as a bonus for groups? 25% off for up to 29 passengers.  

Brightline Orlando station's Mary Mary bar
Brightline Orlando station's Mary Mary bar

Two relaxing hours later, drinking in the views from our comfy seats, we were in West Palm Beach. (Naturally, with Wi-Fi throughout the cars, you’re welcome to work on your laptop.) The train station was close enough to the Hilton West Palm Beach to walk, even with luggage, so I did. As a PREMIUM ticket holder, I could have taken advantage of Brightline’s partnership with Uber that offers free rides anywhere within five miles of the station, but I wanted to stop for lunch. Burgers and craft beer were on the menu at Batch New Southern Kitchen and Tap, which prides itself on scratch cooking, of course.  

[Related: The Latest Developments in South Florida Locales Miami and Fort Lauderdale (2024)]

Refueled, I headed to the Hilton, the only hotel in South Florida directly connected to a convention center (Palm Beach County Convention Center). The hotel recently announced the completion of a $25 million renovation with 400 refreshed rooms, including 43 fully renovated suites featuring expansive, sun-filled views. The 81 rooms on floors 10-12 include dedicated business concierge services and priority poolside loungers. Galley, the hotel’s signature restaurant, has an extensive menu, and we dined on Tuna Tataki, Wagyu short ribs and a delectable beet salad with arugula, whipped goat cheese and candied walnuts.  

Hilton West Palm Beach Dining Room
Hilton West Palm Beach dining room

Back at Brightline’s West Palm Beach station the next day, I headed down the tracks to the The Diplomat Beach Resort on the Atlantic Ocean in Hollywood, just south of Fort Lauderdale and roughly 20 miles north of Miami. Channeling my parents, who visited the original Diplomat in the 1960s, I was really looking forward to my visit.  

Originally built in 1958, it was once the playground for the likes of the Rat Pack and the Kennedys. Raised in 1998 and rebuilt into the showplace of today, fresh off a $100 million transformation, amenities include eight new dining concepts and endless recreation and entertainment options. The lobby bar is drenched in natural light from the skylights that encourage the towering palm trees and other greenery to flourish. With more than 200,000 square feet of flexible event space, meeting planners will be spoiled for choice. Fully renovated guest rooms and suites bring a coastal vibe with water views (ocean or Intracoastal) from nearly every one of its 1,000 rooms, including 96 spectacular suites.

The Diplomat Beach Resort, Hollywood
The Diplomat Beach Resort, Hollywood

Signature areas include a magnificent indoor-outdoor lobby and bar with an unparalleled view of the resort’s infinity pool and two cascading waterfalls that tumble into a 240-foot lagoon pool. Beachside cabanas await: Groups have been known to host elegant pool parties here.

[Related: New Multi-Billion Dollar Brightline West Project to Connect Las Vegas and Southern California]

Dinner at the 108-seat Diplomat Prime was one of the highlights of the trip. The steakhouse boasts an extensive menu of prime, dry-aged beef, seasonally driven seafood dishes and a wine list that put the restaurant on Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence 2022. Inspired by the hotel’s iconic history, its private dining room incorporates a trip down memory lane with iconic photos from the 1950s. Desserts at the steakhouse are just as impressive, thanks to Henry Martignago, the resort’s executive pastry chef. A behind-the-scenes tour of the pastry kitchens (with yummy croissants and cappuccino) revealed several chefs creating incredible under-the-sea seascapes in white chocolate for the more than 1,000 revelers of the Diamond Angel’s Fairy Tale Ball supporting the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in the hotel’s Great Hall.  

Other impressive areas for group functions include South Palm Court, the Regency Ballroom, Polynesian inspired Monkitail and Nokku, a former karaoke speakeasy perfect for small gatherings. For groups that want to get away on property, Diplomat Landing sits across a footbridge from the hotel lobby and accommodates up to 700 for an outdoor extravaganza. It’s also the spot groups can board a yacht to see one of Miami’s spectacular sunsets. 

Read this next: New Hotels, Attractions and Restaurants Elevate Orlando as a Meetings Destination

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About the author
Jennifer Juergens | Contributing Content Developer, Florida and Caribbean