Photos by Leona Baker and Lisa Davenport
When a sudden road closure caused an epic traffic snarl that left hundreds of drivers stuck for hours on I-95 a few months ago, I confess the first thought that popped into my head was: “Too bad they weren’t on the ROX.”
I mean, if you’re going to be stranded on the interstate, why not do it aboard a luxury motorcoach outfitted with reclining Argentinian leather seats, Wi-Fi and streaming entertainment, a catered lunch with cocktails, beer and wine available, and a friendly attendant who will happily bring you snacks and spirits, hot towels or satin eye masks, noise-reducing ear buds, or even a sewing kit, should you find yourself in the throes of a sartorial emergency.
What company owner Jeff McWaters wants guests to experience when they ride the ROX, short for Rapid Overland Xpress, on its daily route from Virginia Beach to Washington D.C. and back, “is not really a word,” McWaters explains, “it’s more of a feeling.”
“It’s this: aaaaaah. It’s that feeling of ‘I am here, I am relaxed.’ Kind of warm and excited. When you get on, you don’t want to get off.” As he and his team like to say, this is “travel reimagined.”
The former Virginia State Senator and AMERIGROUP founder came up with the idea after observing the growing demand for business travel between our region and the nation’s capital—“arguably the most important city in the world.”
The coaches themselves cost about $1 million each, and the interiors are built out right here in Coastal Virginia by a Suffolk-based company called Featherlite Coaches.
Everything about the experience once you’re onboard is designed to be stress-free. “You get your day back,” as McWaters says, referring to the onboard conveniences and comfort that allow you to work, rest or recharge as you see fit, all while traveling to D.C. without the hassle and headache of dealing with traffic or parking. It’s a great option for both business and leisure travelers.
I had the good fortune of trying out the ROX, which started serving travelers in 2020, on a recent overnight trip with a colleague, and it was probably the single most relaxing travel experience of my life. Here’s a little taste of what your trip aboard the ROX could look like. And, by the way, ban the “b word,” because this is soooooo much more than a “bus.” Get ready to relax and say it with me now: aaaaaah.
The ROX departs promptly at 7:30 a.m. daily (except Saturday, when it departs at 7 a.m., but double check for the most current schedule.) Park in the garage for the Westin Hotel in Town Center. It’s free. I repeat, free. Leave your vehicle, grab your overnight bag and your laptop and head downstairs where the ROX and its team are ready and waiting in front of the hotel.
They pop your bags in the ample storage underneath the coach, invite you on and let you settle in for an ultra-relaxing ride. That’s it—no security gauntlet to get through like the airport, no waiting in line to check your luggage. Just smiling faces and beyond-attentive service. And you’re ready to roll. Boom and boom.
Ride to Washington D.C.
On our trip, we arrived in D.C by 10:30 a.m. —so, it took three hours. Of course, it depends on traffic. So, allow a little cushion if you have a scheduled business meeting. Otherwise, who cares? The great part is you’re not driving. That’s because you are busy kicking back in the reclining leather seats with optional footrests and removeable tray tables. The ROX has just 22 seats in all, compared to more than 50 on a standard bus. It’s spacious and cozy at the same time.
Your fabulous and friendly attendant will come by to welcome you, answer any questions and take your breakfast and drink order. The ROX partners with local favorite TASTE for its onboard meals, and it’s a win-win. We opted for a yogurt and granola parfait, a charcuterie box and freshly chilled mimosas to get the day started right.
After an insider tip or two from our attendant, we also figured out how to jump on the Wi-Fi and use the onboard streaming services for a selection of movies. Did we get any actual work done? Not really. Chilled mimosas, remember? But, rest assured, you could.
Arrival at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City
The ROX drops you off in front of the Macy’s department store at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, a high-end, fashion-focused mall in the Pentagon City neighborhood near The Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery—a stone’s throw or a few Metro stops from all things D.C. There are also hotels, shops and eateries galore within easy walking distance.
Check-in and Stay at the Ritz-Carlton
We decided to stay at the Ritz-Carlton hotel that is ensconced within and attached by a hallway to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. Thus, it took us all of three minutes to roll ours bag down the block from our drop-off point and into the Ritz-Carlton’s modern, luxurious lobby, past its recently revamped restaurant Santé (more on that in a moment) and up to our lovely, clean, comfortable and convenient room with a view of the Washington Monument and National Mall just across the Potomac.
Rent a car (the ROX partners with Avis in D.C.) or take an Uber wherever you want to go from there. And there’s a Metro stop right in front of the hotel. The ROX also has a partnership—including discounted room rates—with The Westin Crystal City, another hotel just a little bit further from the drop-off spot, but still walkable.
Meets, Eats and More in D.C.
Once checked into your hotel, dining and outing options are endless, of course. We did a little shopping in Fashion Centre and had a light lunch (BTW, if you miss the cafe inside the now-closed Nordstrom’s department store in Norfolk, there’s one in Fashion Centre). Then we took a quick trip to the National Mall to check out the Smithsonian Museums and people watch.
The restaurant inside the Ritz-Carlton recently got a Mediterranean makeover from its former life as Fyve. Now called Santé and set in an elegant, intimate space just beyond the hotel’s front door, this modern meze under the direction of Executive Chef Phil Skerman is big on global flavors using local ingredients.
We sampled from their “bites” menu with grilled oysters in a tangy citrus harissa butter and “social” menu with grilled octopus with confit potato and romesco sauce. Both luscious. From their main “plates,” we selected the pan-seared sea scallops with white bean puree, rainbow cauliflower and gremolata along with the 1855 black angus ribeye with peewee potatoes, charred peppers, Brussels sprouts and sherry black pepper sauce. All flavorful and fresh. A crème brûlée, decadent chocolate dessert and a craft cocktail, or two or three, made our night complete.
Next Morning Moves
Again, there’s lots of walkable stuff in and around the Pentagon City area. We grabbed some yummy bagels and caffeinated brews at Origin Coffee Lab & Kitchen, part of a collection of shops and eateries around the Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice-Skating rink on the back side of Fashion Centre.
Ride to Virginia Beach
The process for meeting The ROX for our return trip to Virginia Beach was just as easy-peasy as getting there. The ROX leaves D.C. daily at 1 p.m. On the way home, we streamed a rom-com and enjoyed our caprese sandwiches and orzo salads from TASTE, so much so that we barely noticed the extra hour or so it took to get home due to our famous HRBT stop-and-go traffic.
I should point out here, too, that the ROX drivers go through special training to make sure they deliver a smooth and safe ride. And, take it from a traditionally nervous Nelly passenger, you feel like you’re in good hands.
Arrival at Virginia Beach Westin
The ROX drops you off back in front of our very own Westin Hotel. Their partnership with the Westin goes for travelers coming from D.C. to Virginia Beach as well. Hop off the bus, have your bags handed to you from storage and that’s it!
Cost, Perks and Options
Tickets for riding the ROX run approximately $125 each way, making this a relatively affordable luxury, especially when you consider that the onboard meals are included (adult beverages are extra), and you don’t have to pay for gas or parking or checked bags.
They offer a military discount and regular specials such as limited time $99 tickets, and there are perks and extras available with their partner businesses, especially for frequent riders through the ROX Star Rewards program. Be sure to check their website and follow their social media pages for the most current info.
In addition to the regular ROX coach, there is also a private charter—the Executive Coach—available. Take your entire crew—up to 18 guests—to a sporting event, conference or gala in high style aboard your very own full-service and even more luxurious coach. Pricing varies depending on destination and onboard services requested.
Learn more at RidetheROX.com or by following @ridetherox.