Although it is possible to holiday in Florida without a car, if you want to get around, you really do need a car.
When you rent a car, check exactly what is included; otherwise you may have to pay additional insurance premiums on arrival that can run into hundreds of dollars. With the move away from a cash option to electronic collection at toll plazas, you need to be certain exactly what sort of provision your rental company has for toll collection if you plan to use any of Florida’s toll roads.
If you travel to Florida on a ‘fly-drive’ package, you will often be given free car hire as part of the deal. Note there is no such thing as free car hire!
If you travel to Florida on a ‘fly-drive’ package, you will often be given free car hire as part of the deal. Note there is no such thing as free car hire! We have seen families at Orlando airport suddenly discovering that they cannot afford to take their ‘free’ rental car.
The best way to hire a car is to hire it before you travel to Florida. After a long transatlantic flight you are in no fit state to cope with the high pressure selling of a typical airport car rental operator.
They will try to get you to upgrade to a more expensive model and take out additional insurance packages that you may not need.
Most US car rental companies have offices in Europe or you can buy on the internet. In our experience, the best option is to go for one of the ‘inclusive’ packages that include all necessary insurance and indemnities and a tank of petrol. Also think about having one or more additional drivers on the policy.
It goes without saying that you should check with the individual Car Hire companies about their terms and conditions. This is only a guide and each company may apply different policies.
Generally you need to be 21 before you can hire a car and of course you must hold a full driving licence which you need to produce when signing the agreement. If you are under 25 you will probably have to pay an additional premium.
In the past, if your driving licence was not written in English then you needed to get an International Driving Permit. A law was passed on January 1, 2013 stating that all overseas visitors required an International Driving Permit but following a couple of months of complaints from international driving organisations, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles did an about-turn and the law was repealed.
Type of Car
When thinking about the size of car you need, do think about the amount of luggage you and your group are taking with you. Four adults will fit in a compact or medium sized car but you will not get four large suitcases in the boot (trunk).
The hire companies will give you an indication of how big a car you need depending upon the size of your party and the mix of adults and children.
Nearly all cars are automatic and come with air conditioning. Most tend to be saloons (sedans) but you can also rent SUVs, mini-vans and convertibles.
If the type of car you have booked is not available the rental company should upgrade to the next size (larger) model without charge.
At Orlando International Airport, some rental companies such as Dollar or Alamo do not preallocate you a specific car. You simply go to the parking garage and find the line with the size of car you have rented. You can then choose exactly which car you would like to drive. This is great if you like to drive different types of cars and you can also sit in a car and decide if it is suitable before making up your mind.
Other companies like Budget will offer you a choice of model and then you have to go to a specific bay number to collect the car.
Travelling with Children
If you are travelling with small children then you need to consider how they will be restrained in the car.
From June 2014, all children up to the age of 6 must use some form of “child restraint device” such as a booster seat or a five-point harness. Safety experts recommend that children up to the age of 8 or 4 feet 9 inches tall should use a booster seat.
If you are renting a car and have small children then make sure you either bring the appropriate seat with you or ask the rental company to include it in your rental.
Leaving the Airport
Before you leave the airport there are two things you need to do.
Firstly check the car for defects such as scratches or dents and let the operator at the gate know otherwise you might find yourself being charged for damages upon your return.
Secondly, make sure you know where you are going!! The last thing you need is to find yourself lost late at night in a strange part of town.
There are loads of internet sites now that will give you detailed driving instructions from the airport to your destination or you can rent a satellite GPS navigation system.
Taking a Car Out of State
If you plan on going a bit further afield, perhaps driving up into Georgia, then make sure you have unlimited mileage and the hire company is alright with you taking the car out of state.
Also make sure the car does not have temporary licence plates as the police forces in other states may stop you (some brand new cars are rented out before their proper licence plate has been issued).
Amtrak Auto Train
If you live in the North East of the United States, you can even put your car on the Amtrak Auto Train to avoid the long drive south.