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The Ride: Cabin 'mobile hotel' lets travelers sleep between LA and San Fran

Cabin offers overnight transportation between LA and San Francisco in buses that feature sleeping accommodations.
Cabin offers overnight transportation between LA and San Francisco in buses that feature sleeping accommodations.

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When it comes to traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco, there are planes, trains, automobiles — and now a new bus service that bills itself as a mobile boutique hotel.

Called Cabin, it travels overnight between the two cities, putting up passengers in individual rooms outfitted with comfortable beds, high-end sheets, privacy curtains, power outlets, USB cords, ear plugs and other amenities. When travelers check in for their 11 p.m. trip, they're offered a cup of chamomile tea. When they arrive at their destination — at 7 the next morning — it's espresso.

Inspired by luxury travel of a bygone era and Millennials’ need to multitask, Cabin is designed to combine sleep and travel, much like luxury cruise liners or the classic Orient Express.

"What they would book is a cabin for that journey and that personal space, that cabin, was as exciting as the destination itself," said Cabin co-founder and president, Gaetano Crupi.

These days what makes Cabin an exciting destination is the price — it’s $115 each way — along with the service and thoughtful extras like Dream Water laced with melatonin.

The original concept for Cabin wasn't a bus. It was self-driving cars.

"We were especially intrigued by the idea of falling asleep on Friday night and telling your car to take you somewhere very far away so you could spend Saturday there," Crupi said. "That was the point that we really were interested in because this would make your neighborhood feel like it was a 500-mile radius area.”

Self-driving cars aren’t likely to become a reality for a few more years, so Crupi and his business partner decided a bus was the next best thing.

About a year ago, Crupi and his Cabin co-founder Tom Currier tested their idea. They rented a coach that was ordinarily used for a traveling hockey team and rechristened it the Sleep Bus. They built a web site, put a few ads on Facebook "and waited to see what happened," Crupi said. "It was pretty much a total surprise when we sold out all of our tickets within 36 hours.“

It was only a proof of concept, but the wait list grew. And grew — to the point that 20,000 people wanted a ride.

"We were making customers angry because we didn’t have availability," Crupi said. "It was never intended as the full thing."

Not bad for a couple Stanford dropouts. So Crupi and Currier pulled the plug. They’ve spent the last year raising capital while attempting to get a grip on what customers really wanted from the service.

"A lot of the guests were asking: Are there bed bugs on this bus? Do you guys even wash the sheets? Is it safe at night? And so we quickly arrived to the conclusion that we really needed to make this experience pretty buttoned up so people can relax and just enjoy the environment.”

And that’s when they decided they weren't offering a bus service. Rather, a chic hotel on wheels.

But will it fly?

"I think it's basically a nice niche product," said Bob Rauch, a hospitality expert and hotel consultant based in San Diego who runs the web site, “I don’t know that it’s going to be tens of thousands of people using it. I do think there’s demand for a bunch of reasons. L.A. to San Francisco, obviously driving it yourself is a pain in the neck. You can’t sleep while you’re driving.”

Amtrak is slow, Rauch says. And flying?

"It’s a few hundred bucks each way if it’s short notice and it’s a pain in the neck getting to the airport, having to park, get through security… and when you land you’ve got to deal with transportation in San Francisco, so it’s not a pleasant experience."

Even though Cabin thinks of itself as a rolling boutique hotel, it’s still a bus. But it might not always be. In the future, Crupi said, "We could provide a similar transportation accommodation experience on an airplane or a boat or a hyperloop or a drone or whatever transportation technology arises.”

For now, there’s the bus version of Cabin, which ran its maiden voyage from San Francisco to L.A. last Friday and will do so again this weekend. Starting September 1, it will begin nightly service both ways between the two cities.