Hiring a car is something I would definitely recommend because driving in America isn’t as scary as you might think. Read Mr Brit’s Drivers Guide and you will feel a lot more confident about driving on the wrong side of the road in Orlando. Many package holiday companies will offer you free car hire (without insurance). A good insurance will probably cost you more than hiring your own car with insurance included. Look to book your own car to save money instead of just accepting something because it is supposedly ‘free’.
If you are staying in a Disney World Resort Hotel you are already entitled to free transfers. You will be collected from the Orlando International Airport and taken to Walt Disney World for free. It could be a good idea to just hire a car for the last half of your holiday. When you are staying in a Disney Resort hotel your travel to and from their theme parks is also free. Disney World Disney buses, monorails and cable cars take you to the theme parks.
What hire package to take?
It can be confusing reading the different insurance and fuel options available to you when hiring a car. Some companies GOLD package is another companies PREMIER package so don’t pay too much attention to this. Just make sure you take the option that gives you the full insurance package.
Child Car Seats
Don’t rent a child car seat…
…when you can take your own or buy one in Orlando for a fraction of the price. Obviously you need a car seat when you leave the airport but if you rent a car part way through your holiday, buy one at a supermarket. The driver in your family can quickly nip down to a local Wal-Mart or Target store and buy a Child Car Seat for around £20. Remember that the airlines will not class your car seat as part of your luggage allowance because it is a necessity so just put it in a black bag and hand it over to the airline staff and you will be fine.
Florida child car seat laws
Florida state law requires children aged 5 years and under must be protected with an approved and correctly used restraint device. Children under 3 years old must be in a separate car seat or a car seat that is integrated into the vehicle. If your child is 6 or over you do not need a car seat. You may want to bring a booster seat if your child is used to travelling with one. Again these are not part of your luggage allowance.
GPS / SatNavs / Phones
Don’t rent the car hire company GPS SatNav system, you could buy one for what some companies charge. If your UK mobile phone package gives you data roaming included in your package and you have enough data, use this. I kept my eye on the Wal-Mart website a few years back and spotted a good deal for a new USA TomTom. I ordered one to be sent to a Wal-Mart store near my villa for just $55. It only has USA maps so I only use it for Orlando holidays. I have had around 8 holidays with it so have saved a lot of money down the years. If you have a UK TomTom or other SatNav system, check if you can add a USA map to it before you travel.
Sun Pass / Auto Toll
The car rental staff will also try to persuade you to rent a Sun Pass which supposedly ‘saves you money’…..it doesn’t. Instead of driving through the pay tolls and paying at each one, you can stay in the ‘Sun Pass’ lanes and progress on your journey. The thing is, they want to charge you for 14 days rental (on a fortnight holiday) but you will probably only pay tolls on two days. Going to and from the airport will probably result in you paying between $5 and $8 in toll charges. During the other 12 days you may not see another toll. You will probably not come across another toll while driving around the Disney World and Universal Resort areas. The car rental people know this so for them it is a cracking deal, for you, not so much.
A few years ago a car rental staff member tried to sell me the Sun Pass service. I refused and said I am fine with the tolls. She said “but the tolls are all over Orlando and you can’t drive anywhere without using tolls”. I told her I travel to Orlando every year and I know they are only on a couple of roads. She went on to say that over the last 12 months they have been installed on all main roads. I was really surprised and ended up agreeing to the Sun Pass.
And guess what…..
The same old toll booths were located in all the usual places on the journey from the airport. We didn’t see another toll booth for the next 12 days and we drove around all the main roads. On the return journey to the airport, the same old toll booths were there. The car rental representative was lying in order to get an extra sale. I complained about this once I got home and got a full refund. NEVER trust the car rental staff.
To Fuel Or Not To Fuel
When you collect your hire car it will have a full tank of fuel. Some insurance packages will state you can bring the car back empty because it includes a full tank of fuel. If this is what you selected, fine. If you chose a service where you need to bring the car back with a full tank of fuel, make sure it is FULL!. Even if you bring the car back 95% full, the car hire company will charge you for a full tank. Car hire companies like to charge British prices for their fuel. The cost will be a lot more than any gas station.
Ignore what the car rental staff tell you about bringing it back empty and that they will just “charge you the going rate”. The will probably tell you “we only charge you the same rate as the gas stations outside”. They may even tell you what litre price they will charge you. IGNORE IT ALL. Even if they tell you the price is just $2.70 a litre, IGNORE IT. This could sound like a decent rate but you will ALWAYS be charged way over the odds.
My dealings with car hire staff over the years have given me the opinion that these people are some of the most dishonest people I ever encounter whilst on holiday. Even if the rate sounds ok, you end up getting charged for a lot more litres than the car could actually hold. I have filled up a car that cost $40 from totally empty to totally full. I have taken the same car back to the airport with 3/4 of a tank and been charged $78 to fill it up.
Fill up just before reaching the airport
There are gas stations just off the main roads before you get to the airport. Fill up here and you will still have a proper full tank when you hand the car back.
Returning to Orlando (MCO) airport
You will get to the airport by using the 528 road. Copy this address to your phone/satnav and fill up here as it is the closest gas station…
Seven Eleven – 3911 McCoy Rd, Orlando FL. 32812
Returning to Sanford (SFB) airport
You can take the i4 which is toll free or you can take the 417 which is a toll road. Whichever you choose, the closest gas station to the airport is below. Copy this address to your phone/satnav…
Seven Eleven – 7500 County rd 427, Sanford FL 32773
Get a car rental VIP card…
…before you travel. Alamo don’t have one but we have used Dollar in the past so we have a Dollar Express card. This enables you to get to the front of the VIP queue at the airport so it saves time. This card could save you at least half an hour waiting in the normal queue. The best thing is, they will give them to anyone for free. You don’t have to have used them before to get a card.
If I ever use Dollar at Orlando MCO airport there is always at least 15 people in the queue. With my card, I am usually always the next person to be served. Visit the Dollar website and register for a card today if you are planning to use Dollar. Personally I prefer Alamo for many reasons as listed below.
If you are renting from another company, check their official American website to see if they offer a similar service. They don’t always mention it on the UK websites and they will probably still post it free to you in the UK.
Booking With Alamo?
I have been using Alamo as my preferred car hire company for around 6 years now. I used to use Dollar but they stung me twice on missed tolls. Being in a wrong lane when approaching a $1.25 toll cost me $50 with Dollar. Once I arrived back home I received a letter notifying me that I had missed a toll and they were charging me $50 for the pleasure. This happened twice and I thought it was a ridiculous charge.
I decided to give Alamo a try and funnily enough, I missed the same toll booth again!! I blamed Mrs Brit and the kids for nattering too much. Anyway when I returned back home I received a letter from Alamo requesting a payment of just $5. That is more like it I thought and I have used Alamo ever since.
Another thing I love about Alamo is they allow you to choose which car you want. With Dollar it was always the car that they selected and you couldn’t change it. Alamo point you in the direction of the car park and they tell you to select a car from a specific lane. Each car is open with the keys in the ignition. Open the drivers door of each car and check the mileage. Some cars have 30k on the clock and some could have 2k on the clock. Grab the keys to a car that has low mileage and that car is yours. You should have a trouble free holiday with a low mileage hire car. Obviously you want to check the bodywork of the car but if you pick a low mileage car it should be in pretty good condition.
Photograph any damage
Once you get your car, check for dents and scratches around the car. Take photos and video of the damage and inform the rental staff. You may need this evidence to help ‘back you up’ when you return the car after your holiday. Don’t trust their word that it has been noted, take your own pictures and video to cover yourself.
Read Mr Brit’s Driver’s Guide for some great tips for driving on the wrong side of the road in Orlando.