I always love road trips especially when all I have to do is ride buses and enjoy the views from my window and get short town to town stopovers along the way, but driving for over 10 hours in the interstate in a compact car is a totally different experience.
You can be in Orlando from New Orleans in an hour or so by plane but my travel buddy and I decided drive the 639-mile trip which he described as a “marshland-ey alligator-ey adventure” with lakes and rivers and marshlands all along the way from New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama and finally Florida.
We drove around the French Quarter a couple of times before finally heading out of New Orleans in a rented 2015 Volkswagen Beetle. I was having doubts how the little thing could take us all the way to Orlando and little did I know my doubts were not unfounded.
We were just crossing the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain when one of the lights in the dashboard began flashing. I fished out the manual from the compartment to check what it means and learned it was the water level and we were supposed to stop right away.
Not on the bridge and not just anywhere in the interstate though, unless we want to be towed. I’m an idiot when it comes to cars but women and their intuition is at most times reliable.
I suddenly missed driving in a small island like Saipan. We called the rental company and was instructed to drive on to their next outlet. It was scary driving on low water, knowing we could overheat anytime. We drove into Slidell and found the nearest Avis office and spent about an hour to change cars, this time a Kia Optima. It was far from clean as it was just returned but we didn’t have options.
We took to the road and five hours later were in Pensacola where we left the interstate and took the diversion toward Gulf Breeze coastal roads. We were expecting scenic views of the ocean for the next four hours but surprise! We found ourselves crawling along with the regular traffic as schools let out and we only saw glimpses of the blue sea from time to time.
After over two hours battling with the agonizingly slow traffic, we took the next exit out and went back to the interstate. We had to be in Orlando by 11 p.m. or else we will be charged for another day’s rental in our car and we were going to lose a paid night at the hotel we booked.
The sun set just as we entered Suwannee County and it was growing darker. When we reached the Florida panhandle, the weather changed. A thunderstorm was in progress and we were lucky it was not headed toward our direction. Soon rain started to pour in torrents and I couldn’t take anymore photos from the car window. Driving in the dark wet roads next to huge rigs and trailers is a bit challenging. My buddy had to drive all the way as my license already expired but I helped him by not going to sleep and supplying him with an endless stream of stories to keep him awake. We made it to Orlando Airport just after 11 p.m.
Road Tips: If you take this route, take the coastal road in Pensacola if you have the luxury of time. The long drive is worth the fun, and you get chances to shoot thousands of photos. Don’t sleep on the way and miss the tunnel to Mobile, Alabama. Just past the tunnel is the USS Alabama Battleship Park.
There are rest stops along the way where you can park and join the trailers and watch out for the road signs for the next exits, food stops, gasoline stations, hotels and yes, coffee stops.
Oh, don’t forget to have dollar bills and lots of quarters in hand. You will need them when you get to Orlando. The toll gates are just within shouting distance from each other.