Review: Cabin, a Hotel on Wheels, From Los Angeles to San Francisco
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One day, California may have high-speed rail or even Hyperloop to get people between the big cities in the north and south of the state. Until then, travelers have to choose between more conventional means — that is, if you count riding on a bus in a sleeping pod conventional.
That’s what Cabin, a new “moving hotel” adds to the mix, with a customized double-decker bus that leaves each city at 11:00pm and arrives in the other the next morning at 7:00am. I usually fly or drive to San Francisco, but decided to test out Cabin’s northbound route from LA to SF on a Friday night to see if the new service was a better option. Investors certainly think it will be — Cabin raised more than $3 million in June from some notable venture capitalists — but is the future of travel sleeping on a boutique-hotel-bus?
The only way to book your bus ride is through Cabin’s website, which is simple and straightforward. Even on a mobile device, I was able to search for availability and book quickly with my credit card. Since I was traveling for business, I charged the $115 fare to my Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, earning 3x points — or in this case, 345 Ultimate Rewards points — for the travel purchase. The pricing is simple too: All routes are $115 each way. And while that may seem like a lot for a bus ride, as you’ll see, this isn’t just a seat on a Megabus. The fare is all-inclusive, even with taxes and two checked bags.
Cancellations are easy, too, and free up to 48 hours before departure. I had to change the date of my trip and doing so through the website took just a few minutes, with my refund posted to my card quickly. Cabin’s method of communication was also solid, with a thorough e-mail sent to my inbox the day before my trip.
Note that Cabin technically doesn’t depart from Los Angeles, or at least from Downtown LA. Its terminus is in nearby Santa Monica near Palisades Park (at Ocean Avenue and Arizona Avenue). There’s no terminal or building, no lounge, no bench, not even a sign. This may be a safety concern for those catching a bus at a park known for vagrancy at 11:00pm, but I did not feel unsafe. That said, I am a man who is very familiar with the area and who could wait in his friend’s car until the bus arrived.
When I did get there at 10:15pm, the easy-to-spot bus was parked and three people were already lined up. It turned out the early arrival was part of a training exercise; the bus pulled away at 10:20pm, returning 10 minutes later.
Check-in began right away and was as simple as giving my name and showing my confirmation e-mail. With no bags to check into the storage area, I was the first on board and within seconds, had climbed the six steps up to the top deck, where I had my pick of sleeping pods — Cabin doesn’t allow you to reserve a specific one ahead of time.
The Sleeping Pods
I chose one at the rear of the bus, one of the few that did not have another pod beneath it. Getting into the upper pod required a bit of dexterity and flexibility.
Two pods are also located downstairs and are ADA-compliant for handicapped passengers. Most are stacked one atop the other, like this:
I was impressed right away with the quality and cleanliness of these sleeping pods. Set on a long and thick memory foam mattress was a big fluffy pillow and duvet, both hotel-quality. Between them was a stack of welcoming gifts: LIFEWTR bottled water, a small bottle of Dream Water, earplugs, a shoe bag and safety/welcome card. Each pod has two power outlets and two USB charging ports. Near the head of the bed, there’s a small air vent and by your feet, a mirror. Everything was spotless.
The bed itself was very comfortable. I’m almost 6′ tall and still had some room past my feet. There’s just about a foot of headroom though, so I couldn’t fully sit up, but that’s not what this pod is designed for — from the get-go, Cabin wants you to get some sleep. There’s a tiny window sill but otherwise no place to put anything down. I could have really used a cupholder and some way to secure my eyeglasses while I slept. A thin curtain closed the pod off from the rest of the hallway.
The complimentary Wi-Fi connected easily with a password and tested at 4.68/7.58 Mbps. That’s better than in some hotels I’ve been to.
The two staff members on the bus were attentive, excited to show off Cabin’s features and offered me “sleepy” tea. One attendant stays in the downstairs common lounge area — home to two booths and a lavatory — throughout the trip.
The upper deck was already dark when I arrived and with the lights turned off, was pitch black — a small window in each pod could be covered completely with a sliding shade. An attendant distributed USB-powered reading lights, which I definitely needed.
At 11:01pm, a welcome announcement was made, saying “the route has been optimized for sleep comfort” and that we would be idling in place for 20 minutes to allow passengers to begin their drift into slumber.
Indeed, Cabin says that “all drivers have been trained to take specific routes that reduce the amount of ‘turbulence’ guests may experience when traveling.” If that’s the case, I would hate to take the regular route, because this one had more turbulence than Con Air. Despite the darkness, the tea, the bed and the late hour, sleep did not come easy. I couldn’t get past the rumbling of the engine, which was loud and fierce. My head vibrated as soon as it hit the pillow.
We pulled away from our parking spot at 11:20pm and immediately the bus started wobbling, causing everything I’d placed on the window sill to fall onto the bed — and we hadn’t even hit the California hills yet. Make no mistake, this was a jostling, bumpy ride. More than once when I had nodded off for a bit, I was thrown from my dream and back to the reality of lying on top of a huge engine as it rumbled us up and down various steep and twisty thoroughfares.
I finally had to take a prescription sleeping pill, which must have kicked in at some point because I awoke unprompted at 7:20am, feeling surprisingly refreshed. I made my way downstairs, where the attendant told me we’d been at our arrival spot in San Francisco since 6:00am. I appreciated that the attendants didn’t kick us out right away — in fact, I wasn’t even the last passenger still on the bus!
What I didn’t appreciate was that the lavatory sink was out of water and the toilet did not fully flush. It was otherwise nicely appointed, with mouthwash and cups provided. Even Cabin’s logo — pictured, below, made into lavatory wallpaper — seemed designed to make you sleepy.
I enjoyed a coffee in the lounge in the morning and packed my bag to leave.
The bus was parked in the Bayside Lot on Bryant Street near the Embarcadero. It was a short and pleasant walk to the Ferry Building, where I enjoyed the Saturday farmers market and took in views of the bay.
Cabin does a lot of things right. Booking was easy, the staff was great and the bus left on time and arrived early. As a transportation service, I give it high marks. But as a moving hotel, it’s still got a ways to go. There were some nice hotel-quality amenities, but once it gets moving, the ride is rough.
It’s not cheap either. Considering flights between LA and SF on the weekend I was traveling could be booked for $49 each way — or just 7,500 points + $5.60, using Avios to book the same flights on American — there’s a real question of value on Cabin. Is it worth paying more than twice as much to get there in 8x the time? And would you consider staying in a hotel if it didn’t have a shower? Maybe for some days when airfares are higher — especially with short-notice trips — Cabin becomes a deal. Or maybe sometimes you just don’t want to deal with the hassle at the airport or the effort of getting to and from it. I did like that I could start my day in San Francisco in San Francisco.
I’m not opposed to giving Cabin one more try. Next time, I’ll choose a pod farther from the engine and take my sleeping pill as soon as I board — and if Cabin decides to reduce the price, that would make me sleep even better.
Have you been on the Cabin bus before? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.
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