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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Half the Fun is Getting There: My Mega-Experience

Before I even start this blog, let me say that I am writing about MY personal experience here. You might have had a vastly different experience (feel free to share your thoughts on YOUR experience). I am only describing what I have found in terms of cost, comfort and overall experience. This is NOT an advertisement or an endorsement of this service.

Well, here it is, only January 23rd, and I have two trips to the Big Apple under my belt. If you follow my blog at all, you know that I have stated several things I've wanted to try. One of them was going to and from NYC on Megabus. Well, this past week, I did just that. And I have to say, so far so good! I think this might just be the best way to get to New York and back to my little Vermont town. Not that there aren't some drawbacks, but, really, aren't there drawbacks to every situation?




OK. The first thing I did was go to the Megabus website, megabus.com. It is extremely easy to navigate and very simple to make a reservation. The closest stop to me is the Albany, NY stop, which means about 40 minutes of driving for me. Already this is a plus. Driving to New York from my home takes about 3 and a half hours in perfect conditions and traffic free highways.


So I selected round trip from Albany to New York and back. There were departures both ways morning, noon, and night. Slight limitation here, as there are limited numbers of trips, and it would not be possible to catch two shows in one day without staying overnight. But for a daytrip, this is a great thing! (And if I did choose to stay overnight, I just change the departure date and pick a time. No extra fee for not round-tripping the same day - mini-bonus!)


Now experienced megabussers know when new trips are added, and know that the sooner you reserve, the cheaper the seat. I found, by searching a variety of dates that are currently available, I could get a seat as cheap as $1.00 (not a typo!) and as expensive as $23.00 one way. Again, this is a huge bonus. Even at its most expensive, ($46.00 + .50 cent reservation fee) it is still MUCH cheaper than gas, tolls and parking in the city. And did I mention that you are not driving!!?? Super bonus there! The bottom line is the sooner you reserve and the more flexible your schedule, this can be scary cheap to unbelievably reasonable. I also found out that if you need to change a reservation in advance, there is only a small fee, and you have to pay the difference between your original reservation and your new one if the new one is more. If it is less, you don't get a refund. Let's face it that is also a good deal. What airline offers that?


(My roundtrip was a total of $23.50 - $13.00 to NY + $10.00 back to Albany + the 50 cent reservation fee.)




Now about the bus. My friend is a regular Megabus guy, and he says what I'm about to tell you is the norm, not the exception. The bus pulled up to the lot at an assigned spot, where we lined up to wait. It was spotlessly clean on the outside. The bus driver got out, greeted each of us personally, checked our reservation print outs, and stored luggage (we didn't have any, but I could see the space. If it were heated, I'd volunteer to ride there - spacious and spotless!). We got on the bus, a very cool double-decker (not all of them are). Downstairs were a small lavatory and about twenty seats including two four-top tables. Claustrophobic as I am, the upstairs wasn't much of a choice for me - the ceiling is low (I'm 6'3"). But I still checked it out after we got seats down stairs. Everywhere on the bus, the seats are a decent distance apart - I wasn't uncomfortable, even being all legs, and they are super comfortable (for bus seats). They all recline, and each pair has light controls, air conditioning/heat vents and controls and access to plugs for laptops. And get this - FREE Wi-Fi! Nice! The only downfall to all of this is that you really need to get there early and get in line to have the best choice of seats, and be prepared, if you are alone or with an uneven number of people to share the seat next to you. They fill the entire bus if there are enough passengers.


There is a nifty, if somewhat hyperbolic, video that shows us all of the safety and convenience features, as well as some rules for moving around the bus while it is in motion. Just like on an airplane! Our bus driver, (Nick or Rick or something like that) was very pleasant, too. I was most impressed with the cleanliness, especially considering that in spite of no eating signs, everyone had coffee or water or a bag from Dunkin Donuts or Mickey D's. All the bus driver asked was that you take your trash with you. Sweet!



Cut to just under 3 hours later - Nick or Rick made super time - and we are dropped off at the corner of 7th and 28th Street at the Fashion Institute school, which is about 3 blocks downtown from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. A quick trek to Penn Station got us to the ACE123 line of the subway ($4.50 round-trip). Had the weather been a little warmer or if we hadn't wanted to get to the lottery at West Side Story, walking to the theatre district would have been just fine. 14 blocks up 7th or 8th Avenue isn't much.


Now it is about 5PM, and time to head back to get in line for the return trip. Remember, seats are first come, first served, so we tried to get there with a half hour or more to spare. The whole operation is pretty well organized, with lines forming depending on where you are going, and moving precisely when told to. In line some people mentioned that sometimes leaving the city is harder than coming in and they've been delayed. That was not the case this time. The bus pulled up about 10 minutes before departure time and we left just as the clock on Madison Square Garden showed our on time departure.

And we actually got to the drop off 25 minutes early!




Overall, the drawbacks are few: You have to wait in line, outside. You don't have an assigned seat, so getting there early is essential.


The benefits are many: You don't have to drive. You don't have to park. You don't have to worry about your car. You aren't paying for gas, tolls or parking. You can eat, talk, get online, read, and take a nap. You can get up and go to the bathroom (I didn't, but only because I have a thing about moving whilst I pee...) And even at its most expensive, you can't beat the price or the convenience.


And as my mother always says, "if you don't like the service, don't use it again." She also says, "you get what you pay for." So if there are snafus or drawbacks on your Megabus experience, keep those bits of wisdom in mind. As for me, I think I shall be a regular customer, even when I do overnight trips. And I think I might try to work an itinerary to Boston, Philadelphia, or DC! Not bad for a guy from the mountains of Vermont!




Comments? Leave one here or email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com.
Jeff




(Photos from the megabus.com website.)

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the report!

    I'm still not sure I could ride the bus although it does sound very comfortable. I opt for the most expensive mode of travel - Amtrak's Acela Express from Providence! It only takes 2 hours and 45 minutes. For me, I think the bus ride would be closer to 3 1/2 or 4 hours. I like being able to get up and walk around.

    Still, I could save a ton on the bus or even a cheaper regional train service. Definitely something to consider.

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  2. Hey Esther!

    Isn't it funny that the train for me is as inconvenient as it is convenient for you!?

    Oh, and thanks for the "links" tip... not this article, but have you noticed I'm using them? And you are right. It is an addiction!
    Jeff

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  3. $23.50 is amazing, and free wi-fi to boot. You'd think with what Amtrak charges, they'd provide it too. But much of the time, on-time arrivals seem beyond them so it's probably asking too much.
    If I'm going into the city from my parents' house in PA, I take NJ Transit (though I'm still taking Amtrak to get to my parents' house in PA). If I go from DC, I always take Amtrak, and that takes close to 3.5 hours (or about 30 minutes less on an Acela train). You can get inexpensive buses, but I can't imagine sitting in one for 5 hours. Also, I can't read in cars/buses but I can on trains, so that's another reason I prefer them. Fortunately, for my NYC trip two weeks ago, I had enough Amtrak points for a free ticket each way. And because December's trip was combined with work (a class I'd been approved to take), work picked up the tab. If I can just find more training courses only being offered in NYC...

    ReplyDelete

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