Napaway: Is this America’s most luxurious night bus? | Travel

LLet’s start with a riddle. If a plane leaves Washington DC for Nashville at the same time as a luxury bus bound for the same destination, who will complete the 665-mile journey first?

The answer, according to entrepreneur Dan Aronov, is that we all asked the wrong question.

Aronov’s company, Napaway, is attempting to turn Greyhound-style travel between cities across America by taking the convenience of business class flying and mixing it with the convenience of bus travel. A bold move in a country where long bus journeys are generally viewed less favorably than the prospect of a colonoscopy. But Aronov thinks he’s struck the right balance – and it all starts with the seats.

“Being horizontal is so important to an asset A good night’s sleep,” says Aronov, 29, as I board one of his landmark buses to travel to Music City, Napaway’s first route. “There’s a reason all of our beds at home are flat—and we wanted to recreate that sense of calm on Napaway.”

The company’s luxury buses seat just 18 passengers, with everyone on board having their own personal “suite” with two seats that can be combined and pulled out into a comfortable bed at the push of a button. At first I’m skeptical. Why on earth would you spend 11 hours on a bus when you could fly the same route in two? But there are undeniable counterarguments: cost and convenience.

A Napaway bus passes the Washington Monument in the capital

A Napaway bus passes the Washington Monument in the capital

A nap from DC to Nashville last weekend cost around £200 return, while the cheapest fare for the same weekend was almost double that (£377). Plus, those airplane seats were basic economy, while with Napaway I had a flatbed, free Wi-Fi (most US airlines still pay), in-flight entertainment, and a handy “nap kit” that had everything from face towels and earplugs to a contained the most comfortable, velvety eye masks I have ever had the privilege of wearing. In the future there will be staff selling snacks, but for now bottled water is included – most passengers eat before boarding and bring some nibbles to quell hunger pangs at 3am.

Aronov, an Oxford graduate who founded the company in June, accepts that time will be an issue for most people, but gently pushes that analysis back as he sits in a pod across from mine. “Not all times are the same,” he says. “Wake time is not the same as sleep time; comfortable time is not the same as uncomfortable time.” As a regular flier in the US who has been turned away by more than one oversold flight and consequently spent time dozing on airport floors, I have to admit that it’s hard to argue this point .

Our bus leaves downtown Washington promptly at 10:00 p.m., passes the lighted US Capitol and continues onto the freeway. Almost immediately, my fellow passengers (there are nine of them, plus two drivers and one other member of staff who helps with the beds) pull down their privacy screens and settle in for the night. I push the button that turns my seats into a kind of double bed, in the loose “S” shape of a Tetris. The bedding is comfortably soft, especially with the addition of a deep, large pillow and cloud-like duvet.

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So far, so VIP. But then I’m faced with my first roadblock: The bus only has a tiny airplane toilet in the rear, which is too small to change comfortably. So instead I pull down my privacy screen, create a space resembling a cozy one-man tent, and try to put on my pajamas. It’s a simple endeavor that quickly escalates into a complicated vaudeville-style straightjacket escape, with my limbs twisting and flailing as the carriage bounces and sways through foggy Virginia. (From the thumps and curses audible from the pod behind me, I’m guessing a fellow passenger is having similar issues—a supposition confirmed when a brown brogue defiantly rolls into the aisle.)

Once I figure out the most comfortable position (an “S” that matches the mattress beneath me), I fall asleep almost immediately, being lulled into a childlike slumber by the rocking of the carriage.

In the bus

In the bus

JONATHAN THOMPSON

Before we left Washington, Aronov told me that almost everyone says the same thing after their first Napaway ride: “It’s surprisingly comfortable and they feel surprisingly rested when they arrive.” Waking up in Nashville, there’s no reason not to parrot those feelings.

Aronov has pulled off a strange kind of alchemy here, turning an uncomfortably long and bone-achingly boring road trip into a positive, almost blissful experience, ending on a crisp Saturday morning in one of America’s most vibrant cities.

It’s obviously no coincidence – everything from the bus manufacturer to the bespoke seat design has been carefully chosen, as has the destination. “Nash Vegas” is having a real moment right now, with booming boutique hotel and restaurant scenes complementing its world-class music venues — not to mention a roster of A-list homeowners including Nicole Kidman, Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey.

We stop just after 8am Central Time near the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum – right on schedule. And I’m not the only lucky passenger who folds up his bed, refreshed ahead of a big weekend in Music City. Jack Hawkins, a 22-year-old Nashville student studying in Washington, just completed his third Napaway trip. “Every time the sleep gets better,” he says with a grin as we disembark. “It’s a lot less claustrophobic than flying, and there are no kids climbing over the armrests. Plus, you don’t have to bother getting to the airport early and go through security — and you’ll need to sleep eventually anyway. I personally like to take it slow and that means 100 percent less stress than travel funds.”

Jonathan after a good night's sleep in his Napaway suite

Jonathan after a good night’s sleep in his Napaway suite

With other luxury bus operators like Hampton Ambassador in New York and Vonlane in Texas already doing well (albeit without daybeds), Aronov sees a real gap in the market – and more and more Americans are boarding. He has ambitious goals for the future and eventually creates a national network connecting major cities via a luxurious red-eye fleet.

For now, though, he’s cautiously moving things along, beginning next year on a carefully planned East Coast itinerary – even overnight success stories don’t become overnight successes.

Jonathan Thompson was a guest of Napaway, which offers one-way tickets from Washington DC to Nashville via Knoxville from £100 (napaway.com)

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