East Coast road trip: Florida to Massachusetts in 5 days

What happens when you find a $10/day rental car rate from Hertz with just one catch: You must drive one-way out of Florida? Hint: Road trip!

Normally, a rental car company will charge what they call a “drop fee” for one-way rentals that can add hundreds of dollars onto your total. But sometimes a rental car company will find that they have too much inventory in one location and want to move their fleet around. This situation can lead to some fabulous deals on rental car rates as long as you are willing to drive out and not return to the same location.

I hatched a plan to take advantage of this $10/day one-way fare from Florida. My husband would be at a conference in Orlando for a week in June so why not fly down one-way and we would drive back to New England? Perfect!

Day One – Getting There – June 18th

The first day of my trip featured stormy weather with lightning, a 4-hour delay, and arriving in Orlando just in time to meet up with my husband after his conference was over. Dinner was a non-event since it was so late, so onto Day Two.

Day Two – Orlando – June 19th

My first full day on the ground was spent mostly in Orlando. I had arrived the night before on a flight that was made horribly late due to severe thunderstorms so I was glad that we weren’t hitting the road right away. By the way, you may be wondering what $10/day will get you from Hertz. Answer: A 2013 Toyota Corolla with about 50,000 miles on it. Cheap beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.

In the Disney vs. Universal attractions tug-of-war, we opted for a third choice: Gatorland. At first I thought it looked kind of cheesy, but the more I read about Gatorland, the more it seemed like the perfect way to spend the day before we took off for Georgia.

Gatorland is a privately-held, 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve. Their marketing is all tongue-in-cheek and definitely displays their sense of humor. For example, their tagline is “Alligator Capital of the World and Orlando’s Best Half Day Attraction!” There is truth in that tagline. I can’t imagine spending more than a half-day there. That being said, there is plenty to do.

We chose the Screaming Zip Line + regular admission package which included a zip line tour via six lines that criss-cross the park. The schtick about zip lining over open pits of gators is absolutely true. Although we went zip lining through the forest in Belize, this outing was much more scary simply because of the open space. You are just as likely to fall and land on an alligator as you would the walkway next to the gator pen. (I don’t mean to imply that Gatorland is unsafe; it’s not. In fact, they take zip line safety very seriously.)

Road Trip - Day Two

Our guides ran through a well-rehearsed schtick filled with jokes. They clearly enjoyed working there and it showed. The zip line course itself was fun and fast. We had a 10am start time and finished up around Noon. In retrospect, I wish we had booked an earlier time since it was getting toasty right at the end of our tour.

Tip: Get to Gatorland early so that you are through the zipline course before the heat of the day hits.

The other highlight of our Gatorland experience was the Gator Jumparoo show, a daily skit put on by park employees designed to showcase the incredible jumping power of an alligator. The gators are fed store-bought raw chicken in several different scenarios so that visitors can see how fast gators can move through the water, including vertical jumps upwards of six feet in the air. Note to park employees: I’m not sure any amount of money would compel me to hand-feed an alligator as part of my job, but it was fun to watch you guys do it.  

Road Trip - Day Two at Gatorland

After spending another hour or so wandering through the park, we hit the road for a three-hour drive north for an overnight in Brunswick, GA.

Day Three – Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia – June 20th

Day three of our road trip started with a short hop from Brunswick to Savannah. Previously, my only exposure to Georgia was the city of Atlanta and I wanted to see if the rumors of Savannah’s beauty were true. First stop was a big, Southern breakfast at Tortuga’s Island Grille.

Road Trip - Day Three

We had time for a meal + one stop, for which we chose Bonaventure Cemetery.

For avid readers, Bonaventure Cemetery is the setting for the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The gents in the front office told me that nothing else in the book reflects the actual cemetery, though. I can’t confirm since I have neither read the book nor seen the movie.

Bonaventure is a Southern Gothic cemetery that is more than 150 years old and spans over 100 acres. We had time for a few stops, but you really could spend an entire day just wandering through each area and reading the headstones and memorials of the famous and not-so-famous people buried here. I can see why Bonaventure is so famous – for the scenery and for the history.

Tip: Stop in the cemetery office for a map of the grounds. The office is staffed by members of the Historical Society and can answer any questions you have.

Up next, we had a long seven-hour haul to  Virginia, with a stop at the famously kitschy roadside pit stop called South of the Border (SoTB) in between. There’s not much to say about SoTB, mainly because it has to be seen to be believed. You really can’t miss it either since they seem to have purchased every billboard in a 100-mile radius.

Tip: Make sure you take a minute to browse one of the many SoTB gift shops. You will find some interesting souvenirs to bring home.

SoTB has the feel of a roadside stop that had its heyday several decades ago, yet it still manages to expand/add enough attractions to keep people interested. You can gas up and get a snack, just like any other roadside stop, but I’ll let the photos do the talking here.

From SoTB, it was straight to Williamsburg, Virginia where we would spend our overnight.

Day Four – Aviation Goodness in Virginia- June 21st

Our next to last day of our road trip started in Williamsburg, where the weather was forecast to be 97 degrees and grossly humid. After talking it out, we decided that Colonial Williamsburg held much more promise than what we would probably experience. So, we opted for Historic Jamestowne and wandered around the settlement there. (Did I mention it was blazingly hot?)

Next stop, a three-hour drive to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s annex at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia. This was my third visit to Udvar-Hazy and there is always something new to see.

Udvar-Hazy Center - Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Annex

Tip: Leave plenty of time to explore. Better yet, get there in time for a free docent tour. Many docents are former military pilots or aviation hobbyists who have in-depth information about the planes there.

Udvar-Hazy Center - Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Annex

After a long day of looking at things, we headed to dinner at Plaka Grill in Vienna, VA before driving a few more hours to Baltimore for the night. I absolutely must mention that Plaka Grill has the best pita bread I have ever eaten. I could have eaten my weight in pita there!

Day 5 – June 22nd – Homebound!

The last day of the road trip was a straight shot home, or so we thought. We didn’t leave much time to see Baltimore, so we skipped that and opted to possibly get home earlier than planned. Well, traffic along the 95 corridor is horrendous, so we decided to take a detour to Philadelphia!

Yes, I know Philly isn’t exactly on the way, but it was worth a stop at Independence National Historical Park to see the Liberty Bell. I had made a weekend visit to Philly in December 2014, but my husband had never been. I gave him the quick highlights tour with promises that we would return over another weekend.

In total, we completed 1,425 miles from Florida to Massachusetts in five days. A successful summer road trip is now in the books!

See my complete road trip photo set at Photos.Frembes.com. 

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