Before April 2, I thought people only ran to catch a flight in movies. Not so. It happens in real life; and so began my weeklong road trip up the southern East Coast with a great road buddy, my friend Colleen.
In December, Colleen and I began planning a trip to Orlando, Florida, after we decided we weren't going to miss the wedding of one of my close friends from college. Instead of just going to Amber's wedding, we decided to get there fast and turn the rest of the week into a road trip up the East Coast. We booked on Southwest the night we saw that a one-way flight to Orlando had decreased from around $125 to about $75 each.
Saturday, April 2
We left Morgantown around 2:45 a.m. thinking we had left plenty of time to get to the Pittsburgh Airport and get through security and relax before boarding our 5:15 a.m. flight. Little did we know the north-bound lane of I-79 between Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, and Washington, Pennsylvania, would be completely closed. Having to detour on a two-lane side road behind tractor trailers made me wish we would have left an hour earlier. The only reason we made our flight was because we went through "first class" security instead of standing in the long line.
Two hours later, we had landed in Orlando to temperatures in the 70s, stripped our cold weather clothes and bolted to pick a rental car. Instead of standing in line to process paperwork for the rental car, I had remembered the reservation paperwork, and we used a kiosk to charge the car to Colleen's credit card. (All of our mutual expenses, such as the car, gasoline and hotels were put on Colleen's credit card, and at the end of the trip we just divided the bills in half.) The kiosk put us on the fast track to the rental car parking lot, where we had first pick of economy cars. For $463 we got a Kia Rio, which is approximately the size of a child's Power Wheels. The only difference was that it runs on unleaded fuel. (It gets nearly 400 miles on a 10-gallon tank.) Although there were several cars from which to choose, we went with the gold Rio because it had New York tags. (I figured we'd need some excuse for Colleen's driving - she's originally from New Jersey.)
Before we left the parking garage, we armed our car with the necessities: Sirius satellite radio and Garmin. Being a fan of road maps, I didn't put much stock or faith in navigators. Now, I'd recommend them to anyone who travels to unknown areas for work or pleasure. However, a road map is still a must when you need a visual.
Being only shortly after 9 a.m., we had plenty of time to enjoy sunny Florida before a barbecue at Amber's house that evening. So, we were off to Cocoa Beach. Somewhat to my dismay, we encountered several tolls. Neither of us being the cash carrying type, we thought $5 would get us to and from Cocoa Beach. It didn't. By the time we were getting back to our destination, we had to run the final 25 cent toll because all we had left was about 4 cents. (Luckily, it didn't have a gate.) I certainly learned the importance of having plenty of cash on hand.
In Orlando, we stayed with our friend Brian and his wife, Tracey. That night Brian took us around the town, and the Saturday evening fiesta enabled us to experience the local flavor. With the exception of two nights, we stayed with friends throughout our journey. Their hospitality certainly saved us an abundance of money and allowed us to spend that extra cash on souvenirs.
Sunday, April 3
Not having to be at the wedding until the evening gave us enough time to see the local springs, DeLeon Springs and Blue Springs, which is labeled the "Winter Home of the Manatees." At both places, we were able to soak in some Florida and enjoy the beautiful waters. Colleen even felt compelled to spontaneously jump into the spring with all her clothes on. I had never heard of either places, but spending a day off the beaten path of major Orlando-area tourist attractions made our trip much more special.
Monday, April 4
We left Orlando and began our excursion north. We hadn't planned to stop in St. Augustine, but the guy we sat beside on the plane told us it was worth a visit. Following the suggestion, we were able to see one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Being someone who enjoys history, I would certainly recommend stopping there. My only regret about St. Augustine was not spending more time there. We were on somewhat of a tight schedule that day because we had to meet one of Colleen's friends for lunch, visit Savannah, Georgia, and make it to Charleston, South Carolina, in time to go out by around 9 or 10 p.m.
Savannah and Charleston epitomize Southern cities - beautiful, historic and hospitable. In Savannah, we spent time walking and shopping along the waterfront and seeing the historic homes and squares. From there, we were off to Charleston to stay the night. But with no hotel reservations, we decided to just wing it when finding a room.
We stopped at a hotel to see if they had vacancy, but it was booked. So, we decided to sit in the hotel's parking lot and use some free WiFi to find a hotel room on Priceline. In the mean time, I had posted on Facebook that we were in Charleston. My roommate from freshman year of college, who lives in Charleston, saw it and told us we should visit Market and East Bay streets for a night scene. It was great advice; and if you know people living in the vicinity you're traveling, be sure to ask them about the best areas to visit.
Tuesday, April 5
Monday night in Charleston, we had met some great people - one even gave us a tour of the city Tuesday. After our tour, we drove north and stopped in Myrtle Beach, explored the coast, had dinner and did a little shopping at Broadway at the Beach. We had planned to stay in Morehead City, North Carolina, that night so we'd be close to the Outer Banks. It was nearly midnight when we finally arrived in Morehead City. Once again, no hotel reservations. We started calling various hotels in the area, and decided to go with the cheapest room we could find. By the time we walked into our room, I wished we would have spent the extra $40 for lodging at the Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express.
Wednesday, April 6
At approximately 9:10 a.m., we were enjoying a much needed cup of coffee at Starbucks and some more free WiFi when we found out the 10 a.m. ferry was about 45 minutes away - if we didn't get stopped at a drawbridge.
With our low fuel light on and no time to stop to fill up, Colleen put the petal to the metal and got us to the ferry 10 minutes before it departed. Much to our dismay, there was a line of cars waiting to see if they, too, wouldn't have to wait three hours before the next ferry departed. Thanks to the fact the Kia Rio could fit in a closet, we were squeezed onto the back of the ferry while larger vehicles had to wait.
The two-and-a-half-hour trip across Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island was well worth the time, effort and minimal $15 charge. However, make sure you arrive in plenty of time if you're traveling in something larger than a Micromachine, and make a reservation.
We took our time driving the relatively unspoiled Outer Banks of North Carolina before we arrived at Virginia Beach that evening.
Thursday, April 7
Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, has been named America's Most Beautiful theme park for 20 years for a good reason, and has been my favorite theme park since childhood. I dragged Colleen there because I can't be within a 100-mile radius and not go.
Experiencing the park during a weekday in the spring or fall is great for the avid rider. Because there are so few people, and the likelihood of someone waiting in line for your seat is about 50/50, you can just stay on and go again. I was sad to see that the park had removed the Big Bad Wolf roller coaster; however, the Griffon roller coaster more than makes up for it. Riding in the front row is a must - especially when you're stopped and helplessly hanging at the top of a 90-degree drop for what seems like an eternity. The vantage point is perfect for those of us who are thrill seekers and have no desire to turn back. After we were finished riding, I drove Colleen around Colonial Williamsburg - one of my favorite historic sites - before we got back on the road for an overnight stay in Springfield, Virginia.
Friday and Saturday,
April 8 and April 9
Friday morning, after finally getting a good night's rest, we were off to Colleen's mom's house in southern New Jersey. After practically living in the Kia Rio for a week, we had to prepare our wheels for its return to the Philadelphia International Airport, and then meet up with friends to head to the Jersey Shore (Wildwood, New Jersey, and Atlantic City, New Jersey.)
By the time we arrived at our condo in Wildwood, I knew our trip was almost over. No more warm adventures in the South; only memories remained.
Sunday, April 10
At mid-day, we were on our way back to West Virginia. The nearly six-hour ride gave me plenty of time to sit in the passenger seat and reflect upon our trip and the personal memories I had made. When I began to see mountains and realized my trip was really ending, I started calculating how much money I had spent - approximately $850. During that time, I thought Master Card had already beat me to the word I decided would be appropriate for remembering my journey: Priceless.
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Contact Carra Higgins by email at email@example.com.