Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A British tourist driving in Orlando for the first time - my experience

How to survive driving in Orlando

Our rental car

One of the key decisions we had to make when booking our vacation was should we drive or rely on transportation.  We knew that we wanted to do more than just visit Disney so we stayed off-property and rented a car with Alamo.  In the weeks running up to the trip I felt quite nervous about driving in America, there were so many things which seemed scary and alien to me:

  • Driving an automatic car
  • Driving on the right and sitting on the left
  • Different road markings and traffic signals
  • Turning right at junctions on red lights

I did some prior reading before I came and to be honest I am very glad that I did drive for the extra opportunities this gave.

Two essential things I found vey useful were:

I also managed to find a dashboard cam video of the journey from the airport to Disney which was really helpful.

So what did I learn?

  • Driving in Florida was really simple and I am glad I did it.
  • The traffic lanes are generally wider than in the UK
  • Traffic is generally slower
  • Some of the speed limits felt strange (35mph) and I had to really concentrate on those
  • Speed limits are not as well signposted as in the UK and at times it was not obvious when joining roads what the correct speed limit was
  • Other motorists are generally very tolerant of tourists who get lost
  • Our rental satnav wasn't all that helpful - it was obsessed with taking us on i4 all the time!
  • When turning left remember it is a long left before you have to turn!
My advice for first time drivers in Orlando is do it!  We saw quite a few people waiting for transportation at Disney and at our Condo and I definitely enjoyed the freedom of coming and going when we wanted.

Parking was lovely, the spaces are much longer and wider than ones in the UK.  Most cars parks at the theme parks cost $17 per day. Parking at Disney is transferrable if you want to park hop during the day.

Many roads have tollbooths and these can appear confusing at first.  We were offered the opportunity to buy a sunpass transponder when we picked up the car but decided that we would pay.  In total we spent $16 on toll roads of which $10 was for the journey to Kennedy Space Centre.  At manned booths you will need to use the very right hand lane and have notes no bigger than $20.  You can ask for receipts here which are worth keeping.  We only encountered one automated booth and had small change for that one.  There is a map here

A word of caution - We had a couple of very 'interesting' driving experiences during thunderstorms.  You will definitely need to be very careful as the visibility reduced very quickly and the roads became quite slippery.

In summary, if you are not sure about driving but know you will want flexibility hire a car. I would definitely have a look at your route in advance from the airport to your accommodation.  We left the airport at half past midnight, feeling very tired and stressed due to the rain and having a general sense of what we were doing was useful.