Days 13-18: Florida and home

Even the 2014 Kia Sorento got to play on Daytona Beach.

Even the 2014 Kia Sorento got to play on Daytona Beach.

I reached my lifelong goal of driving across the United States when I dipped my toes into the Atlantic on St. Augustine beach.  That was on day 11, and there was much more fun to be had before I flew home on day 18.

I headed south along Florida’s Atlantic coast, stopped at the Daytona International Speedway, drove on the famous Daytona Beach (the birthplace of NASCAR). It only costs $5 per day to drive on the bright white sandy beach, and it’s a whole lot of fun even with a speed limit of only 10 mph.

The sand is so well packed on the beach that the Sorento’s all-wheel drive wasn’t even tested, and there are hundreds of parking spaces right on the beach.

A three-story Mickey Mouse greeted me at the Pop Century Resort in Walt Disney World.

A three-story Mickey Mouse greeted me at the Pop Century Resort in Walt Disney World.

From Daytona, I headed across Florida on the busy Interstate 4 through Orlando and onto my in-laws home near Tampa. In addition to great football Sunday hospitality, they’re experts on the next part of my adventure – Walt Disney World. While I know many people consider it to be one of the most dreadful places on the planet, I love Disney World. The only thing that could have made it better is if my wife had been able to join me.

The resort is so immense and constantly changing that you need a plan to maximize your visit.  There are four major theme parks – the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, the Disney Studios, and Animal Kingdom.  Each could easily take more than a day to tour.  I had 2 days to cover all 4.  Fortunately, I’ve been there before and I knew the highlights to hit.

There are thousands of hotel rooms in the area around the resort, but you want to stay on Disney property to take advantage of the transportation system and other resort guest benefits. I’ve stayed at every level of Disney accommodations offered on previous trips, and you get what you pay for in terms of amenities and location. This time, since I was traveling alone and didn’t plan on spending much time in the room, I chose the least expensive of the Disney options – the Pop Century Resort.  Really, if you are doing Disney right, you won’t be in the room much anyway.

Disney Studios' Rock & Roller Coaster features stretch limos that are catapulted from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds before going inverted three times.  It's best to eat after the ride.

Disney Studios’ Rock & Roller Coaster features stretch limos that are catapulted from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds before going inverted three times. It’s best to eat after the ride.

It was a great time to be in the resort. Weather was mild and not too humid, and the crowds were tolerable.  I have no idea why anyone would go to the parks during the height of the summer season, while crowds are massive, and the weather oppressive.

Even the top rides had short waits, especially for single riders. At Expedition Everest, a roller coaster in the Animal Kingdom, I was able to ride a dozen times in about an hour! During peak times, it can take longer than that to ride once.  I even had time to visit “It’s a Small World” and put the insidious music into the minds of everyone who read my Facebook post.  You’re welcome.

Disney’s use of technology is almost scary, with everything related to your visited activated with an RFID wristband.  Park admission, purchases, and even your hotel room door lock are activated by the wristband.

Disney's Magic Kingdom was lit for the holidays on the last night of my visit.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom was lit for the holidays on the last night of my visit.

As I said before, the resort is huge. In two and a half days, I walked 74,822 steps according to my FitBit fitness wristband. According to the FitBit GPS app, that equates to about 35 miles.

My final evening in the park was in the Magic Kingdom which was lit up for the taping of a holiday commercial. It made me want to return to see the full spectrum of holiday lighting throughout the parks.

Heading south, I wheeled the 2014 Kia Sorento down the Florida Turnpike tollway, and into Fort Lauderdale. It’s much nicer without the boat of top – very quiet and rather efficient. With the great Florida weather the panoramic sunroof was wide open, and Jimmy Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville was cranking from the Infinity audio system.  Finally the next day, I headed to my ultimate destination of Miami Beach to cover the 2013 Miami Auto Show.

Cadillac's 2015 Escalade luxury SUV made its first auto show appearance at the Miami Auto Show.

Cadillac’s 2015 Escalade luxury SUV made its first auto show appearance at the Miami Auto Show.

The Miami Auto Show kicks off the U.S. Auto show season, and offered the first time to see many of the newest models coming to the market, including the 2015 Cadillac Escalade and ELR, as well as the 2015 Chevy Suburban. Maserati presented the new Ghibli sedan for the first time in a US auto show. The $65K sedan could be a game changer for the Italian car company.

Special thanks to the Miami Auto Show and the Southern Automotive Media Association for graciously hosting a number of regional automotive media association leaders from across the country. We were in Miami to discuss the formation of an umbrella organization representing interests of automotive journalists nationwide.

Thanks to Kia’s provision of the Sorento for the journey I didn’t have to turn around and drive home. I dropped the SUV off with the valet at Miami International Airport, settled into an airplane seat, and took the fast lane home.

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