Normally, the announcement to board the bus from Washington to New York is as personal as a cattle call: “All A’s, line up!”
On the Royal Sprinter (202-590-0506, www.royalsprinter.com), I was a name, not an alphabet letter.
“Andrea, your ride is here,” said bus driver Andrei Talasman, who was dressed in a slim dark suit that fit his Romanian accent.
What a civilized and dignified way to travel, and I hadn’t even stepped inside the customdesigned Mercedes chariot yet.
In April, the new coach service dashed onto the D.C.-to-N.Y. scene, offering an uptown alternative to the low-fare coaches that resemble long caravans of clown cars. The company has elevated the travel experience from beginning to middle to end.
Of course, what goes up in style and comfort also rises in price: A one-way ride costs $90.
The midnight black eight-seater picks up at two locations in the Washington area. I met the driver at the Park Hyatt (1201 24th St. NW), where he found me relaxing on a couch in the hotel’s tasteful lobby. The bus departs daily at 7 a.m., and Andrei nudged me from my early-morning reverie about 15 minutes beforehand.
The 24-foot van has no restrooms, and he patiently waited for me while I used the hotel facility. Despite the slight delay, he still made it to the Embassy Suites at Chevy Chase Pavilion for the 7:15 pickup. (The bus also leaves at 9:30 a.m., and has two returns from New York, at 2 or 3 and 7 p.m.)
As the first passenger to board, I had the pick of the litter. I chose the third seat from the front and settled into the diamond-quilted black leather cushion — so fancy. But before I could seriously dig into the extras and amenities, we were stopping to grab a second traveler, a man dressed in dad casual wear.
The gentleman told me that he was experimenting with Royal Sprinter for the next few months. He lived in Washington but worked in New York and commuted weekly. He used to fly, then switched to a combination of Vamoose Gold Bus and Acela. But he was always on the lookout for another option.
“I’m rooting for them,” he said of the new company.
Once he settled in, I was free to poke around my home office/leisure center, which came with free WiFi (speedy and not skittish). I fully reclined my seat, head to toe, but the semi-horizontal position reminded me too much of being at the dentist’s. At maximum extension, a troubling thought also crossed my mind: If the bus were completely full, would I have feet in my face?
I banished the image by turning on DirecTV, pointing the remote control at the seven-inch flat screen. The 150-channel television was attached to a slinky neck that I could move around like a thick pipe cleaner. Normally, I don’t watch TV on bus rides, but then I stumbled onto HBO, and I was powerless.
Speaking of power: one 12-volt outlet, two USB ports and two 110-volt outlets.
The console also included a retractable desk arm for skinny laptops and thin elbows, plus a cup holder — perfect for cuddling the complimentary Pellegrino and Fiji bottled water chilling in the onboard mini-fridge. Unfortunately, the ride was so bumpy, my Pellegrino popped out of its holder and started rolling around the wood-paneled floor. The basket of Dean & DeLuca gourmet pretzels, however, didn’t budge from its perch on the fridge.
The jostling was unexpected, and not particularly soothing. On the New Jersey Turnpike, the other passenger moved to the backward-facing front seat to alleviate his aching back. When later asked about the bouncy ride, owner Andy Seligman said the company has since installed upgraded suspensions, and the experience will be much smoother and more similar to a car ride. (He also noted that the company will start a loyalty program. After nine rides, No. 10 is free.)
Andrei made only one stop, at the Delaware Welcome Center Travel Plaza. Bathroom break! Otherwise, we hummed along the highway, exiting the Lincoln Tunnel and entering Manhattan at 11 a.m.
The driver dropped off the other passenger near his office (it was on the route) and then pulled up to the Loews Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. Arrival time: 11:35 a.m.
Andrei helped me load my bags onto the sidewalk. I stood beside the curb, feeling well rested and ready to take on Manhattan. I checked my map and looked up, only to discover that the Royal Sprinter had already sprinted off.