Getting There and Around
There are three major interstate highways that get you into Florida. I-95 runs down the entire eastern seaboard, the famous “Miami to Maine” route. It enters the state north of Jacksonville and hugs the Atlantic coastline through St. Augustine, the Space Coast, the Treasure Coast, and the Palm Beach–Fort Lauderdale–Miami megalopolis.
I-75 connects Florida to Atlanta, Knoxville, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Detroit, and enters the state south of Valdosta, Georgia. From there, it shoots down the middle of the state via Gainesville and Ocala before heading west through Tampa Bay, Sarasota, and Naples; in Naples it makes a hard east turn toward Fort Lauderdale via the northern section of the Everglades.
I-10 runs along the southern edge of the United States and terminates in Jacksonville. Driving west from Jacksonville on I-10, you’ll go through Tallahassee and the Florida Panhandle before exiting the state en route to New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, Tucson, Phoenix, and finally, Los Angeles.
The only other major interstate highway in Florida is I-4, which cuts across the state from Daytona Beach in the northeast to Tampa Bay in the southwest. Florida’s Turnpike is a toll highway that connects to I-75 in Ocala and goes through Orlando on the way to the Treasure Coast before running parallel to I-95 and terminating in southern Homestead.
The other major highways in the state are U.S. 1, which runs along the East Coast and continues on to the Florida Keys; U.S. 41, a.k.a. the Tamiami Trail, which runs from Miami through Naples, Sarasota, and Tampa and north into the midsection of the state on a path roughly parallel to I-75. U.S. Highway 19/98 is the main highway along the Gulf coast north of Tampa; U.S. 98 splits off in the Big Bend to run along the Panhandle shoreline. Also, beach-lovers need to remember that State Road A1A is the main road through most of Florida’s Atlantic beach towns.
All major car-rental agencies have offices at Florida’s major airports as well as numerous city offices. Many of them frequently offer specials for Florida visitors, but even without such discounts, car-rental rates in Florida are some of the least expensive in the country. This is a good thing, given the dearth of public transportation and the lack of population density in most of Florida, as you will almost certainly be driving.
The international airports in Miami (MIA) and Orlando (MCO) are two of the busiest in the country, and they are served by major and minor American and international carriers. American Airlines has a hub in Miami, and Delta has a substantial presence in Orlando. Tampa Bay International (TPA) and Jacksonville International (JAX) are both large and quite busy airports with service from most major carriers as well as several low-cost carriers, but international and direct flights into both of those airports are somewhat limited.
There are three small regional airports that serve the Panhandle—Pensacola (PNS), Fort Walton Beach–Destin (VPS), and Panama City Beach (PFN)—mostly via connecting flights on Delta, American, and US Airways. A good option in South Florida for avoiding the crowds at MIA is the growing facility at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International (FLL), which has major airlines but is best known for its selection of low-cost carriers.
Additionally, there are other small regional airports throughout the state—in Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Sarasota-Bradenton, Key West, and Tallahassee—that may get you closer to your destination than one of the big airports, but almost always via a connecting flight, and the fares are generally more expensive.
Amtrak (800/USA-RAIL—800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com) runs Palmetto and Silver Service trains connecting the state to rail lines along the New York–Washington, D.C., corridor as well as to Charleston, S.C. There are Amtrak stations in Jacksonville, Winter Park, Orlando, Kissimmee, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, as well as smaller stations along the route. Connecting bus service adds Ocala, Sarasota, and Fort Myers to the list.
Amtrak has two Florida-specific offers that should be mentioned. The first is the Auto Train, which is a nonstop train between the Washington, D.C., area and Sanford, just north of Orlando. The service allows you to pack your automobile onto a freight car, obviating the need for a car rental when you get to Florida.
Another good deal is one designed for Florida residents who want to check out their own state via train; the Florida Rail Pass ($249) is good for a year, and allows unlimited travel with no reservations on all of Amtrak’s Florida routes. You’ll need a Florida driver’s license or some other form of state-issued ID to purchase one at an Amtrak office; once you’ve got the pass, you just hop on board any train you want and show it to the conductor.
Greyhound (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com) has bus service into more than 50 Florida cities and towns. See the website for information on rates and routes.
There are four major cruise ports in Florida—Miami, Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades), Tampa, and Port Canaveral. Smaller terminals can be found in Jacksonville, Key West, and Palm Beach. Marinas dot the entire Atlantic and Gulf coastline; the Coast Guard’s District 7 is responsible for the Atlantic coast, the Keys, and the lower Gulf coast, while District 8 covers the Panhandle west of Panama City.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition