I’m a sucker for travel deals — especially if it involves someone else doing the driving — so when I heard that BoltBus was coming to the Northwest, I knew I had to try it. Bolt, for the uninitiated, is an intercity bus service based on the East Coast that is known for its cheap fares (occasionally as low as $1!), leather seats, and business-friendly touches such as free Wi-Fi, electrical outlets and “extra leg room.” As of May 17, BoltBus offers service from Seattle to Portland and Vancouver, BC.
My opportunity came last Sunday, when we decided to head to Portland to visit my husband’s parents over the last part of Memorial Day weekend. To test it out before bringing everyone else, I booked a one-way ticket on Bolt while my husband and 2.5-year-old son drove. (I thought I’d evaluate it as a family option before bringing everybody else. Plus, I wanted to read the paper and get some work done. Such a sacrifice, I know.) My husband was game. The ticket cost me only $13 one way — on the higher end for a BoltBus fare, but still much less than a train ticket, which runs about $32.
The highs: For a solo trip to decompress and get some work done, it was perfect: Fast, cheap, clean, quiet and on time. The bus left right on time from King Street Station in Seattle, and arrived 15 minutes early for a trip time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. On the day I went, the bus was fairly empty, so I had the seat beside me as well. The bathroom was basic but fine. And cheap, wow! Prices typically range from $6–$15 one way (with the occasional promotional fare of $1) and the earlier you reserve the lower the price will be.
The lows: The biggest low was the Wi-Fi; despite Bolt’s prominent advertising of the service, it was spotty the entire trip. So if you’re hoping to get work done, bring work you can do offline (or, of course, your own connection). Also, leg room was tight — less ample than Amtrak, though better than my car. Finally, not all the seats have outlets, so make sure you pick the right seat if that’s what you need.
Bring the kids? Older kids who can entertain themselves with books and videos would do well on BoltBus (6 or 7 and up), which means a BoltBus trip could be a great beginning to a green, car-free weekend in Portland or Vancouver, BC. For very young children, such as my son, I'd expect that the train, where they can move around, is a better option.
Bottom line: With minor caveats, BoltBus is a welcome addition to the pantheon of Northwest intercity travel, especially for weekenders, business travelers, and families with older children. Let’s hope it expands to other cities soon.
If you go …
Tickets: Buy online at BoltBus.com; a one-way ticket to Portland or Vancouver, BC, prices seem to range from $1–$13 to both cities, and tickets are nonrefundable. If you're sure you're going, buy early.
Schedules: Bolt runs 4–6 buses to each city a day, and you can usually book 4 to 6 weeks out.
Tip: Don’t arrive super-early; the bus showed up 15 minutes before trip time on the day I went.