Driving in Florida
It is almost impossible to get around Florida without using a car, and this is certainly true of the area around Orlando and the main theme parks. Walking or cycling are not sensible options, particularly if the route involves a freeway! Most of the restaurants and shops are situated off the freeway network, so all in all, a car is a must. The following are some useful tips and advice about Florida driving.
Florida Driving Rules
The following are some differences in Florida rules relating to driving, compared to the UK;
- Driving on the Right – this is standard in the USA and is the key difference between the two countries. Any car you hire will be set up accordingly, i.e. the driver sits on the left.
- Undertaking is allowed, so you need to be alert when changing lanes, on all freeways and the Interstate
- You are allowed to turn right on a red light, providing it is safe to do so, unless there is a clear indication to the contrary. You must come to a halt before doing so.
- Speed limits are clearly shown and should be obeyed. Drink driving limits are very low and you are not allowed to have open containers of alcohol in the vehicle. If you are stopped by the police, do not get out of the car until told to do so by the officer.
- Carry driving documents and rental documents with you at all times.
- You are not allowed to pass a school bus (you can’t miss them they are bright yellow) if they are stationary and the lights are flashing. This applies even if you are on the opposite side of the carriageway
- Headlights must be switched on in reduced visibility, particularly if it is raining.
- Roads/lanes are wider than in the UK which makes driving easier
Most hire cars will run on petrol, called gas in the USA. At Self-Service stations you may have to swipe your credit card before filling up. In some cases it may be necessary to go to the pay desk and have your card validated before returning to the pump to fill up. Some of the older pumps require that you lift a lever before dispensing fuel, just follow the instructions on the pump.
In the land of the car, unsurprisingly there is ample parking wherever you go. Although typical American cars are larger than those in the UK, parking spaces are correspondingly larger as well, making parking much easier. Make sure you do not park in front of a fire hydrant.
Cars can be hired from many locations including the Florida airports. Most hire cars will be automatics. When hiring a car make sure it is big enough! It is very easy to forget that you have to transport people’s luggage as well as the people themselves.
Visiting the Florida Parks - Top Tips
While it is possible to just turn up at any of the main theme parks and pay to get in, there are occasionally, at peak times, queues to get in. A personal experience of taking nearly an hour to get into Universal persuaded me that it was better to get tickets in advance. If you don’t arrange this online, this can be done at a number of places, but I would recommend Wal-Mart, which has a dedicated ticket shop at the entrance where tickets to many venues can be purchased. The nearest Wal-Mart to Paradise Palms is on the northbound US 27, reached via Highway 192.
Many places advertise that they sell cheap tickets to the parks, but these are often unused portions of multi-day park passes which are not supposed to be re-sold. You take the risk of the park not accepting these tickets when you attempt to gain entrance. Cheap or free tickets are also tied to Time-Share sellers, so if you are prepared to put up with the sales pitch, you could save yourself some money.
Get There Early
If you are keen to make the most of your time at the parks, then aim to get there early, although this is easier said than done if you are part of a large group, particularly if it includes young children. Getting there early allows you to miss some of the queues for the major rides, which tend to build up as the day wears on. In addition, if you do your homework and have some kind of plan of which rides or attractions you are going to try first, this will help you to make the best use of your time.
If you are staying reasonably close to your chosen park, you have the option of going to the park early, leaving at lunchtime when it is hot and crowded (maybe going to your pool for a dip!) and returning later in the afternoon, as your ticket is still valid.
Most of the parks have parades at various times during the day, these are good times to go on the major rides as the queues are considerably shorter.
Most of the major theme parks have some sort of FastPass system which allows you to by-pass the worst of the queues on some of the rides. This can reduce an hour wait on a popular ride to 15minutes, so it is well worth investigating. Some of these cost more or are on top of the original entrance fee. Some of these are, however, free. At time of writing (August 2013) this is true of all Disney FastPasses.
NB: Please check online how the FastPass system works at the park you are attending, close to the time you plan to go as the rules are constantly changing. There is even some discussion that Disney may start charging for FastPasses, so please check.
The following are some points to note about the Disney FastPass system and are true at time of writing;
- They don’t cost anything on top of the entrance charge
- FastPasses have to be obtained from outside the ride they apply to, i.e. there is no central location for picking them up.
- When you find the FastPass machine for the ride you are interested in, just insert you park entrance ticket and you will be issued with a FastPass.
- FastPasses are for a given time slot, if you miss your slot they are invalid
- You can get another FastPass for a different ride, after 2 hours, even if you haven’t used your first FastPass
- You get one FastPass per entrance ticket, per ride, so one person can take all the entrance tickets and get a FastPass for each
- There are a limited number of FastPasses, per ride, per day, so they may run out if a lot of them are issued.
Well worth taking advantage of the FastPass system, even if it only saves you queue time on one or two rides.
Attending a theme park can be an arduous task. If you arrive early and stay until the evening parades then you are in for a long day. Wear a comfortable pair of shoes and take appropriate clothing depending on the time of year. During the hotter parts of the year, a hat and plenty of sun cream are advisable. There is always the chance of a shower, particularly during the rainy season (June through September) so take umbrellas, anoraks or ponchos, as necessary. You can buy cheap ponchos at a supermarket such as Wal-Mart. Some of the rides can get you wet, so wear clothes that dry quickly or bring a change of clothing. The Popeye ride at Universal Studios is particularly bad for this!
Wet ‘N’ Wild
If you are planning on going to a water park while in Orlando, you could do a lot worse than go to Wet ‘n’ Wild. This is a large water park with plenty of rides and attractions. If you are feeling particularly flush, you can hire a Cabana, which is essentially a private area with shade, personal fridge, sun beds etc.
Another point to consider is that once you have paid to get in once, you get free entry every day for the following 14 days. If you are likely to go to a water park more than once this can be a great saving.