Car rental can be mind-boggling at the best of times, and even more so when you’re renting in another country. However choosing to include a car alongside your Orlando holiday can be a great way to explore more of the city and the wider area beyond.
To help make your holiday run even smoother, here are our top tips on what you need to know when renting a car in Orlando.
Make sure you have all the correct documents
It’s assumed that you plan to have your passport when you’re traveling to Florida (we hope), but make sure that you’ve got your driving license too. The state of Florida doesn’t require you to have an international drivers license in order to rent a car, so no need to apply for that beforehand. You also need a credit card to register withdrawing the car.
Get a car with air conditioning
Air conditioning might be something we consider an added luxury here in the UK, but when you’re on holiday in Florida, it’s an essential piece of kit. Florida has a warm and tropical climate, meaning that it’s much hotter there at all times of the year. Air conditioning is therefore a must, to ensure that you arrive at each activity cool, refreshed, and ready for some fun.
Always get insurance
We hope that you’d always opt for car insurance, especially when driving in another country. While we trust that your holiday will be a fantastic, hiccup-free experience, it’s always best to be prepared. It’s up to you what level of insurance you opt for (some more expensive options offer the option to ensure against broken glass and scratches, for example) but it’s certainly better to be safe than sorry when it comes to protecting yourself and your family.
Think twice about renting a GPS
A lot of car rental companies will give you the choice to rent a GPS with your car for an extra daily fee. However, have a look beforehand if buying a cheap GPS in a nearby Walmart is actually more cost efficient - in many cases, it will be. You could also check and see if your phone network covers you for roaming in the USA too - if so, you can either ask a passenger to use the GPS apps on your phone, or attach it to the windscreen using a holder. A GPS is recommended if you’re planning a lot of day trips and covering some serious miles, but it pays to shop around and do your research beforehand.
There are plenty of car rental comparison sites out there, specifically tailored for companies in the USA. The largest and most popular car rental companies are Alama, Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Dollar and Budget, but they will most likely be offering different packages for varying prices. When doing your pre-holiday searches, check which of these potential extras are included in the price: third party insurance, airport fees, breakdown cover, local surcharges, loss/collision damage waiver, and unlimited mileage.
This kind of ties into the previous point, but always make sure to book ahead when renting a car in Orlando. Florida is a popular place for holidaymakers, as we well know, and the queues for inquiry could be long, chaotic, and managed by stressed out staff. It’s best to go with a reference number, so staff can quickly locate your car and have it ready for you. Furthermore, you may also be charged more than if you had pre-booked, and they may have limited availability on the car you need too.
Consider taking your own child seat
When hiring a car in Florida, you usually pay a daily extra fee to get a child seat for your rental. This price can obviously add up over the course of a two week holiday, but also, communication issues could mean that you’re stuck waiting for your seat, even if it is pre-booked. It may be a better option to check in your own child seat. That way, you can collect it at the airport before you go and get your car, pop it in the rental, and be well on the way to enjoying your Orlando holiday.
Keep in mind that gas prices are usually higher in the Orlando area, and they may be more than you're used to paying in the UK, too. Something to consider when calculating the costs of your car hire and Florida holiday. This handy website identifies the cheapest places in each Florida area to buy gas, which can help save you money.
Get a bigger car than you think you need
You may be used to your small vehicle in the UK, but we’re guessing you don’t usually have loads of suitcases in it! Always get a bigger car than you think you need - the roads in the USA are huge, so it will be much easier to drive than you may think. A bigger car means you can effortlessly fit all your suitcases inside, as well as any extra goodies you may go back to the airport with, too.
Driving laws and rules
You probably know that you’ll be driving on the other (e.g. the right) side of the road in Orlando, but have you made yourself familiar with all the other rules of the road? A quick Google search should give you a comprehensive list of all of these, which include:
Headlights on from dusk until dawn, as well as in fog or rain
Windscreen wipers off when stopping at toll booths
Wearing a seat belt is the law
In terms of renting, the minimum age for hiring a car is 21, however if you are under 25, some companies will charge you a surcharge, so keep that in mind too.
Always let your rental company know if your flight is going to be delayed, even if it’s just by an hour or so. You should include your flight number with your car rental booking, however it’s still worth contacting them as soon as you know your flight is delayed as the companies usually only hold hire cars for a couple of hours, especially in busy holiday periods.
Look ahead and see which toll roads you will be using during your visit and calculate your potential costs. These are private roads that you have to pay when you drive on, however there are ways to make this easier and cheaper. SunPass is Florida’s prepaid toll programme, allowing users to load money onto their account to use as they pass through the tolls. Many of the toll roads are converting to cashless (Florida was one of the first states to introduce this), so using programmes like the SunPass will soon be the only option. This website details which Florida toll roads are currently cashless, but it's always worth doing some further research beforehand too.
Other things like Toll By Plate may also be suggested by your rental car company, which allow you to make an account and pay your fees online with a card at the end of your holiday. There are ways to avoid the toll roads altogether, however they are usually the quickest and most convenient option for driving around the area.
The Central Florida Expressway Authority is also piloting a new automated toll payment solution for visitors traveling to FLorida and renting a car from the Orlando International Airport. This is called Visitor Toll Pass™ - you pay the tolls electronically while traveling on any toll road throughout Florida. Upon returning to the airport, you will remove your Pass from your rental car and drop it in one of the return dropboxes or at the airport counter. Your credit card will be billed within three days of the conclusion of your trip. Visitor Toll Pass™ say that you can "save as much as 80% compared to rental car toll programs", so it's definitely worth a look into if you're renting a car in Orlando.
Do you really need a car?
The major Orlando theme parks are incredibly well connected, offering a range of transportation including monorail, boat and bus. Uber and Lyft are cheap and readily available options too, so you may not even need to rely on a car if you don’t expect to be exploring anywhere away from the big theme parks and attractions. This is especially true if you are staying in an on-site hotel as well. Even for smaller attractions like Gatorland the Kennedy Space Center, there are usually transport options arranged through parks available at a little extra cost. It might actually be more cost efficient - and save you the hassle of driving and parking extras - to choose to get around via public and park transport instead.
Tips from our ATD travellers
"If hiring from MCO (Orlando International) Airport, it's definitely wise to take up the 'Skip the Counter' option from the larger firms like Alamo. For example, with Alamo, you do the registration/rental check-in online before you travel. You print off the forms with a barcode and take this with you. When arriving, you can then skip the queues at the rental counter and instead go straight to the car garage. You can pick the car you want from the relevant aisle (e.g. Full Size SUV) and drive it to the barrier where they do a quick process of that paperwork you've brought with you. It saves so much time (which is needed after a long flight) and it's great to pick the car you want." - Daniel via Facebook
"I've always hired a car and paid for Sat Navs and prepaid tolls but this year, the toll charge for 17 days was $159 and we wouldn't have spent anything like that on the tolls. Cars now seem to have Android Auto or similar, so we've used our phones for navigation." - Carolyn via Facebook
We hope this blog has answered some of your questions when it comes to car hire in Orlando. If we’ve missed anything, or you can offer some extra insight, do let us know via our Facebook and Twitter pages.
Ready to book your trip to Orlando? Browse our latest ticket offers here.
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