I always love road trips especially when all I have to do is ride buses and enjoy the views from my window and get the brief glimpses of the towns during quick stopovers along the way. Driving a 639-mile road trip from New Orleans to Florida for over 10 hours in a compact car is a totally different experience.
Through the US ‘marshlands’
You can be in Orlando from New Orleans in an hour or so by plane, but my travel buddy and I decided to drive the 639-mile trip which he described as a “marshland-ey alligator-ey adventure.” The route is filled with lakes, rivers, and marshlands all along the way from New Orleans, through 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 about how the little thing could take us all the way to Orlando. Little did I know my doubts were not unfounded.
Rented Car Troubles
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 a water level issue. The manual said we were supposed to stop right away.
There was nowhere to make an immediate stop. Not on the bridge, and not just anywhere in the interstate, unless we want to be towed.
Lost in Translation
I suddenly missed driving on a small island like Saipan where road trips are short and easy. We called the rental company and we were instructed to drive on to their next outlet. It was scary driving on low water, knowing the car could overheat anytime.
We finally drove into Slidell and found the nearest Avis office and spent about an hour changing cars. This time we were given a Kia Optima. It was far from clean because it was just returned, but we didn’t have options.
Taking the backroads
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. I was expecting scenic views of the ocean for the next four hours but we found ourselves crawling along with the regular traffic. 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. because if not, we will be charged for another day’s rental in our car. In addition, we were going to lose a paid night at the hotel we booked.
Driving in thunderstorm and darkness
The sun started to 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 any more 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. We made it to Orlando Airport just after 11 p.m.
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.
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