The USA is one of our favorite countries to road trip in, the endless roads and the sense of freedom you get with it. We’ve done several road trips through the USA and in 2015 we made a road trip from New York to Orlando. We took 21 days, with days in NYC in the beginning and days at the end for exploring Orlando. The New York to Orlando driving time non-stop would be 18-20 hours. But only stopping for gas and food would mean that you miss all the beautiful nature and attractions along the way. And there are so many stops worth your time. There are several options for a New York to Orlando driving route. You can follow the coast, or, what we did, go through the mountains.
Road Trip from New York to Orlando itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in NYC.
Day 2+3: Explore NYC.
Day 4: Drive from NYC to Philadelphia (107 miles, about 2 hours, via toll roads).
Day 5: Rest day.
Day 6: Drive from Philadelphia to Arlington (151 miles, about 3,5 hours, via partly toll roads).
Day 7: Explore Washington D.C.
Day 8: Drive from Arlington to the Blue Ridge Parkway (187 miles, about 3 hours).
Day 9+10: Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Day 11: Drive from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Hendersonville (25 miles, 34 minutes).
Day 12: Drive from Hendersonville to Titusville (556 miles, about 8 hours).
Day 13: Rest day.
Day 14: Drive from Kennedy Space Center to Orlando (57 miles, 1 hour, toll roads).
Day 15 till 19: Explore Orlando.
Day 20: Rest day.
Day 21: Going home.
Day to day itinerary
On our road trip from New York City to Orlando we made a combination of visiting the bigger cities on the route, but also staying in nature for days in a row. We covered the following states on our road trip: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Day 1 till 4: NYC
On the day we arrived at NYC, it took some time to get from JFK to our hotel. We had booked a shuttle, but were in rush hour traffic.
We visited Times Square, our neighborhood, Central Park, the 9/11 memorial and took the Staten Island Ferry for great and free views on the skyline of Manhattan. There’s so much to see and do in NYC, 2 days is nowhere near enough to see all. It was the second stay in NYC for Paul and me and Yuri’s first. He fell in love with New York. Foremost because of the large toy store at Times Square. Which sadly isn’t there anymore.
We wanted to go on top of the WTC tower, but the weather wasn’t cooperating and with zero visibility there was no point in going up. Other fun things to do are walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, visit the MET, Guggenheim or the Natural History Museum. Go on top of the Empire State Building (everyone who has seen Sleepless in Seattle, just has to) or on Top of the Rock.
On the fourth day we took a shuttle back to JFK and drove out of NYC towards Philadelphia. It took really long, the most part of NYC was one long traffic jam. So instead of 2 hours it took us about 4,5 hours driving to Philadelphia.
Day 4 till 6: Philadelphia
Due to it taking so long reaching Philadelphia, we only spent 2 hours in Philadelphia, but luckily there’s enough to do even if you can’t spend one day in Philadelphia. We walked around a bit and admired some statues like the Shakespeare Memorial and The Thinker. Of course we did the obligatory ran up the Rocky Stairs and had fun in the park in front where a kids festival was being held. We were too tired after this to walk to the Liberty Bell, but would have loved to have seen it.
The fifth day we had a rest day, with some swimming at the hotel pool. After all the walking around cities and driving in the USA and Iceland (we had been to Iceland prior to landing in NYC), so we needed some rest. If you don’t need a rest day exploring Philadelphia some more is a good option. We saw a bit of street art while driving around and a street art tour would be wonderful. Or visiting the Valley Forge National Historical Park in King of Prussia for some history on the American revolution. Or go chasing waterfalls, one of the 30 waterfalls in North America close to Philadelphia.
Day 7: Washington D.C.
From our hotel in Arlington we took the subway to Washington D.C. We explored (part of) the National Mall (it’s huge!) for approximately 4,5 hours, after that we couldn’t get our son to visit any more things. We all experienced exhaustion due to the heat. The things we managed to see where the Washington Monument, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The Roosevelt Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. They were all impressive. Sadly we had no energy left to visit one of the many outstanding museums on the National Mall. Will have to do that next time we’re in Washington, because I would like to visit them all.
Day 8: Shenandoah National Park
On day 8 we drove from Arlington to the Thornton Gap Entrance of Shenandoah National Park. This takes almost 2 hours for 85 miles. From here we drove the Skyline Drive towards the Swift Run Gap Entrance. This park is really beautiful, it has fantastic vistas and great hikes and numerous waterfalls. We spent 6 hours here hiking, driving and admiring the view. We were even so lucky to see a bear.
Day 8 till 11: Blue Ridge Parkway
After the beautiful Shenandoah National Park we entered the Blue Ridge Parkway. And well get ready for days of endless, perfect views and to connect with nature again. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of our favorite routes to take and is 469 miles long. We still think about these days with fond memories, and would love to drive it again during the fall foliage season.
We stopped at too many overlooks to name them all. It’s tempting to stop at each of them since the views are so mesmerizing. On those days we did a few hikes, suited to do with a 5 year old. We went off the Blue Ridge Parkway a few times each day to visit some attractions that were nearby. Places we stopped at are Natural Bridge State Park, The Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain and Mount Mitchell State Park. All offer splendid views on the Blue Ridge Mountains and good hiking opportunities. Don’t miss watching the sunset above the mountains at an overlook, at least one day when driving the parkway.
Day 11: Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg
So far we had had splendid weather since leaving NYC, well not for our visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We had fog and rain all day. So no beautiful vistas and for us no hiking in the national park. We drove to Gatlinburg and had some fun in the Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze and browsing through shops. We did the mirror maze with 3D glasses, but not our son, he found it enough to just walk through it. Gatlinburg is a very tourist centered city, with lots of attractions. Some would even call it a tourist trap. We liked spending about an hour here, just don’t forget your wallet, it’s costly doing things here.
Day 12: Savannah
Day 12 is a long driving day, but despite this spend your afternoon in Savannah. Do the driving in the morning and evening.
We walked a bit around Savannah and then decided to take a historical bus ride. In a bus you drive around the city stopping at landmarks. All while real and historical characters made their appearance in the bus and told their story. A fun way to learn more about the history of Savannah. After this fun afternoon we drove straight towards Titusville in Florida, only stopping for dinner.
Day 13 & 14: Titusville & Kennedy Space Center
On the 13th day we took a rest day and did some swimming at our hotel. After that long drive the day before and all the hiking and attractions we visited the days before we needed a break.
We visited the Kennedy Space Center on the 14th day. The attractions kept us busy all day long. We had visited the year before and loved it so much, our son wanted to come back here. He was a bit disappointed that the Angry Birds Center was gone, he had enjoyed that the most the year before. But overall we had a great time visiting.
Day 14 till 17: Disney World
From here on you’re in Orlando, among the top things to do in Orlando are Disney and Universal. Disney World is so large and magical, you could easily spend here a whole week or longer and not get bored. We had already been the year before and visited the Magic Kingdom and Typhoon Lagoon. This time we visited Epcot twice and Typhoon Lagoon once. Our son fell in love with Epcot and asked us to go twice, instead of going to one of the other parks. 3 Days to explore Disney World is not enough to see everything, but certainly enough to get a good feeling about it. Other parks to visit at Disney are Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach and Hollywood Studios. Disney Springs, the different hotels and golf courses are also there to explore. We visited the fireworks at Epcot, the year before we did the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom. Both are fantastic.
Day 17 till 21: Universal Studios
From Disney World we drove to Universal. We had visited Universal also the year previously and loved it. Then we only went to Universal’s Islands of Adventure and especially liked the Dr. Seuss part and the superhero area. This time we had 2 days for visiting both parks. We went both days to all 2 parks, so that we could take the Harry Potter train. The first day we started at Islands of Adventure and then Universal Studios Florida. The second day we did it the other way around. We visited different parts of the parks each day. The Minions ride being an absolute favorite with Yuri, which had a 90 (!) minute wait time.
On our last day we stayed at the hotel resort and went swimming. We simply love a good lazy river. You could also opt for another day at Universal, they have their own waterpark now: Universal’s Volcano Bay. The next day head back home or do what we did and start a road trip from Orlando to San Francisco.
Where to stay
We stayed 3 nights at the Best Western Bovery Hanbee Hotel, while in NYC. The hotel is in Chinatown and close to the Italian neighborhood. We love staying at Best Westerns and loved exploring this neighborhood of NYC.
Our second hotel was the Best Western Plus The Inn at King of Prussia, just outside of Philadelphia. We loved the pool and meadow here and stayed for 2 nights.
After this we moved on towards the Best Western Hotel Pentagon in Arlington. Which was our base for 2 nights while exploring Washington D.C.
On the Blue Ridge Parkway we stayed 1 night at the Buena Vista Motel in Buena Vista, then a night at a cabin at the Fancy Gap Cabins and campground in Fancy Gap. The 3rd night on the parkway we stayed at Best Western Asheville.
On our route towards Florida we spent one night at the Best Western Hendersonville Inn. In Florida we had 2 nights at the Best Western Space Shuttle Inn in Titusville, which is close to the Kennedy Space Center.
At Disney World we stayed at the Pop Century Resort, our second visit. At Universal we stayed at the luxurious Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which has its own Starbucks and waterpark.
Where to eat
I’m not going to name every place we had breakfast, lunch, dinner and treats at. It’s too long a list and I don’t remember them all. But I’m going to name the ones that stood out for us.
In New York we had dinner from Red Egg, which we loved. We also had Chinese food from a few local shops, and from an Italian restaurant. We ate it all at our hotel room, and loved the flavors. It was all delicious. We of course also had a hot dog from a cart on the streets, very touristy. We loved the 810 Deli & Café on 7th Avenue, so much we came back again the next day.
Throughout our New York to Orlando road trip we tried out various fast food chains, maybe not the healthiest, but truly American. Not all of them can be found in The Netherlands or are the same as in the USA. So we ate at Sonny’s, Popeyes, Chili’s, Desi Village, Denny’s, Papa John’s, Hardee’s, Sagebrush steakhouse and Waffle House.
We also had dinner at the Mount Mitchell State Park Restaurant and at the restaurant from Pop Century Resort and Cabana Bay Beach Resort. We had delicious macarons from Marché de Macarons in Savannah.
When to visit
We visited in July and the beginning of August. We arrived in NYC on July 14th and left Orlando on August 3th. In NYC we had rain and fog, not all day long both days, but big parts of the 2 days. It wasn’t cold, but definitely not the perfect weather Paul and I had on our first visit in 2009. NYC can be hot in the Summer, really cold in winter time. From what I’ve heard it’s beautiful in Fall and Spring time.
From Philadelphia to Asheville we had warm, even hot (some days) weather. In Washington D.C. we were almost melting away. The Blue Ridge Parkway and the national parks are crowded during fall foliage season. But I would love to visit during this time of year. In winter parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway can be closed off.
In the area of the Great Smoky Mountains we had rain and as far as I’ve heard this is more often the case, hence the smoky in the name. But the weather can also be beautiful here. I think you just have to have luck here.
- Book your stays at NYC and Orlando far ahead. These book out fast and options can be limited when you just drive up and try then.
- Take rest days, this makes you enjoy the other days more. On those rest days you can charge up again, so that you can go full speed ahead on the activity filled days.
- A few hotels we had a discount since we took folders with coupons on them with us at gas stations. We had a coupon for instance for the Best Western in King of Prussia.
An alternative to the itinerary for a road trip New York to Orlando Florida I gave in this blog, for people who don’t need rest days:
Day 1: Arrival in NYC.
Day 2+3: NYC.
Day 4: Drive from NYC to Philadelphia.
Day 5: Drive from Philadelphia to Washington D.C.
Day 6: Washington D.C.
Day 7: Drive from Washington D.C. to Shenandoah National Park.
Day 8 till 10: Blue Ridge Parkway.
Day 11: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Day 12: Drive from Gatlinburg to Savannah.
Day 13: Drive from Savannah to Titusville.
Day 14: Kennedy Space Center.
Day 15 till 20: Orlando.
Day 21: The end.
Or an alternative to the end:
Day 12: Drive from Hendersonville to Savannah.
Day 13: Savannah.
Day 14: Driving from Savannah to Jacksonville.
Day 15: Driving from Jacksonville to Titusville.
Day 16: Kennedy Space Center.
Day 17: Rest day.
Day 18 till 20: Orlando.
Day 21: The end.
You can change days according to how many rest days you need and how long you want to be in Orlando. Not everyone is a big theme park fan. We love driving, but if you don’t want to drive 8 hours in one day, then drive one of the alternative routes. It won’t change the New York to Orlando driving distance, but the driving distance per day will be shorter.
Thoughts on our road trip from New York to Orlando
Final thoughts on the road trip from New York to Orlando: I would love to have had a whole day in Savannah. Since we had already booked Disney World and Universal before embarking on the road trip we had to drive further that day. So in short next time I would add 1 or 2 days to the itinerary.