Everyone from the UK going to the USA by air or sea, even those just passing through, must fill out an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) form in advance. ESTA application's can only be filled in online and since 1 April 2016 you can only get an ESTA with an E-Passport (one with a chip). If your passport was issued after 26th October 2006 it should have the chip in it. Each ESTA costs $14 and is valid for two years. Be careful of websites offering to complete your ESTA application at inflated prices. It really is very simple to complete and can be done by clicking on the link here to the official ESTA application site. You can be notified within seconds if your application has been successful but if not keep checking back as it can take up to 72 hours for a decision.
Please note if you have a valid ESTA but have renewed your passport you will need to apply for a new ESTA with your new passport number
Driving in the U.S.
We are often asked about recommendations for car hire and to be honest the experiences we have had with a number of car rental companies has not been great (may have just been our luck but can only speak as we find). We have however found Sixt who although not located at Orlando airport, so needs a short journey to their offices, but this is provided by a free shuttle service, to be very competitive on price but also easy to deal with and their customer service excellent.
Although driving is second nature to most adults, driving in a different country presents challenges for even the most experienced driver. This is also just the tip of the iceberg in the United States because the rules of the road can vary from state to state, so it is worth checking the Division of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) Web site of the state you are visiting before hitting the road. To help you get started, here are the top ten tips that apply to all states:
• Carry a valid driving license, registration document and current insurance certificate with you whenever you drive. You can drive with an International Driving License for a limited period of time but will need to obtain a license from the DMV in the state you are living if you intend to drive for an extended period. To obtain a license, you will be required to pay a fee, take a theory test and a road test. You will also have to show a valid social security card, a green card or valid visa, proof of insurance and a proof of residence document.
• Drive on the right hand side of the road, drive defensively and adhere to all posted speed limits. In rural areas, the speed limit is generally 25-35 miles per hour (mph), but can be as low as 20 mph near schools at certain times of the day, and 10 mph in parts of some neighbourhoods. Highway speed limits can range from 55-75 mph. If you haven’t seen a sign in a while, make sure you are driving no faster than other drivers around you.
• Stop wherever you see a stop sign and whenever a school bus turns on its flashing lights and stops. Traffic must stop in both directions for school buses, even on multi-lane highways, unless the road is divided by a median (central reservation). When you reach a four-way stop sign (where all directions are required to stop), proceed in the order in which cars arrive at the intersection. If more than one vehicle arrives at the same time, the vehicle on the right has right of way.
• Slow down or change lanes away from emergency vehicles that are responding to an incident and pull over as soon as it is safe to do so if a police car is right behind you. If you are stopped by the police, stay in your vehicle unless instructed to do otherwise. Stay calm, be polite and present the requested documents.
• Give way to pedestrians crossing at an intersection even if your light indicates you have the right of way. Be especially observant when making use of the “turn right on red” rule. Interestingly, although U-turns are legal and commonly encouraged on American roads, be aware that the driver doing the U-turn with a green light has to give way to both pedestrians and drivers turning right on red across them.
• Park on the right side of the road in the direction of the traffic. Drivers are not allowed to park facing oncoming traffic.
• Wear a seatbelt if you are driving. Many states also require passengers to wear seatbelts, and require children 8 years and under and less than 80 lbs to use a special child seat or booster seat. Most states do not allow children under the age of 12 to ride in the front of the vehicle.
• Stop when involved in an accident. If no-one is hurt, you do not necessarily have to report the incident, but if anyone is injured or there is any doubt as to who is at fault, call the police (dial 911) and wait to answer any questions. If you leave the scene, you may be charged for “hit and run”.
• Take care when changing lanes. Although the right lane is intended for slower drivers, and the left lane for faster drivers, this distinction is not to be relied upon. It is perfectly legal to overtake in either lane. Be particularly careful when driving in the middle of three lanes because you will need to check both sides when switching lanes.
• Pay before you fill up. Most gas stations require you to swipe your credit card or pay cash before you use the gas pump. If you use Visa or Amex, and you are asked for your zip code, you may be able to convert your British post code by taking out the numbers and adding zeroes until you have a five-digit number, e.g. TS14 7LP converts to 14700.
Using common sense and common courtesy will make your driving experience less stressful. If you break the law, American highway patrol officers are not generally very forgiving. You may be able to talk your way out of a ticket with a smile and a strong British accent, but this doesn’t always work. Beware, penalties for breaking the law can be harsh.
For car hire we are happy to recommend Discount Florida Car Hire. We have used these and found them to be very competitive and offer good customer service. The contact is Andy Stevens and telephone number is 01482 935118. The link to their website is here
Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the most popular airport for flights into Orlando and covered by most of the major airlines, however there are alternatives such as Sanford (SFB) which is slightly further out, approximately a 55 minutes drive or Tampa Airport (TPA) around a 75 minutes drive. It may be worth considering Sanford or Tampa as you may find flights cheaper to these airports. The Thomson Dreamliner flies to Sanford but not all year round. We have heard from guests they can get upgrades for around the same cost as economy flights with the likes of Virgin and BA. Another option is Norwegian Air, who can offer lower cost flights. Although we haven't flown with them yet, we have spoken with a few people who have and they were very positive about them. From our experience we have used DialAFlight for quite a few of our trips and have booked the flight and car hire with them obtaining a good deal for the package. We have also found some very good deals direct with the airlines, but also sometimes found this to be much more expensive than the likes of using a comparison site like skyscanner (who can actually find you the exact same flight as if you had booked direct and considerably cheaper) but it is really a case of doing some research and knowing a good deal when it is offered so you can take advantage.
Holidaymakers are increasingly choosing to make their own travel arrangements, and are booking their flights, accommodation, and extras such as car hire separately. Obviously with package holidays you should be covered by the ATOL scheme but by booking separately there is minimal cover if any at all.
More comprehensive cover
Many people assume that their travel insurance will cover for all sorts of eventualities, including a company ceasing trading, but not all do.
The majority of insurers don't cover for financial failure of a travel agent, tour operator or airline; and even when policies do offer cover, this is often very limited. Similar rules apply to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
One of the reasons why premiums are so low is that most are written for “specified risks” and not “all risks”, but this means there are some major gaps in many policies.
As with all insurance, the devil is in the detail.
The good news is, there are now a number of policies offering more comprehensive cover against both natural and man-made disasters - to take account of changing needs. These include End Supplier Failure and Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance (SAFI)
Travel insurance including Scheduled Airline Failure Insurance (SAFI)
Scour the small print to see if your policy includes SAFI, as this will cover your costs if an airline or agent goes into administration. You may also be able to add this additional cover as a policy 'bolt on'.
Some insurers may also not cover particular airlines, so it is important to check this before committing to a purchase.
Swiftcover is one example of an insurer who can supply SAFI and they are featured on our travel insurance comparison service.
Travel insurance including End Supplier Failure
Many comprehensive travel insurance policies will also include cover for the financial failure of an “end supplier” such as a hotel or scheduled airline. Policies that offer this cover will protect you in the event of a travel company going into administration. Cheaper policies may not include this clause so do check before purchasing.
This cover will also usually allow you to claim back the cost of purchasing alternative flights should the airline go bust and you may also be able to claim back the cost of alternative accommodation if any problems arise with the hotel rooms you have booked.
Cover may also include ferries, villas and cottages, car hire, and coach and railway journeys - but you need to read the small print to check exactly what is and isn't included.
What can you do if your current policy does not include Supplier Failure Protection?
If your current policy does not include supplier failure insurance or SAFI, you may be able to buy these as stand-alone cover; this additional cover should not be too expensive.
When you come to renew your travel insurance, make sure you buy a policy that includes these features, while ensuring the rest of the policy is suitable for your needs. It's also important to avoid the temptation to base your decision purely on price, as you could miss out on valuable cover in key areas.
There is also a great Facebook group called It’s Orlando Time, with lots of friendly people who can help you with any questions you may have planning your Orlando holiday.
They also have a great range of merchandise available to purchase too !