My family and I are lucky enough to live in Orlando, but we have family and friends in other parts of the country. We do a fair amount of traveling, and when we do, we usually drive. When we’re returning to Florida after a trip, a stop at an Official State of Florida Welcome Center is a must. I’m not talking about the places that advertise 14 foot alligators and “cheap tickets” on billboards, the centers that we stop at are run by the state of Florida. If you’re planning on driving to Walt Disney World, you’ll want to stop. Here are ten reasons why.
10) Five Different Centers
There are five different Welcome Centers that are run by the state of Florida. You’ll find them on U.S. 231, I-10, I-75, and I-95. The fifth center is located in Tallahassee, near the capital building. While the sizes and services of the buildings differ slightly, you’ll be sure to find a lot of great information at any of the Welcome Centers.
9) Plenty of Picnic Tables
Take a break from your drive, and save some money at the same time by packing a picnic. At most of the Welcome Centers you’ll find covered tables that are away from the traffic that is coming in and going out of the center. Stretch your legs, and let the kids play for a few minutes before continuing on to Orlando. If you didn’t bring a picnic with you, purchase a snack from a vending machine. You’ll find soft drinks, coffee, chips, ice cream, and the like.
8) Dog Walk Areas
Fido needs a break too. At most of the Welcome Centers you’ll find a designated dog walk area, complete with clean up bags. Please use them.
7) Clean Restrooms
The restrooms at the welcome centers for some states sometimes are not the best. They aren’t always clean, and often there aren’t many stalls. That is not the case in Florida. The restrooms are constantly being cleaned, and there are more than enough toilets. You won’t have to wait.
6) Kids Play Areas
Many kids don’t travel well. The state of Florida realizes that, and has come up with a solution. Known as “Kid’s Corner”, some of the centers have small sponsored play areas where the children can learn and have fun at the same time.
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5) Nighttime Security
The main buildings for the Welcome Centers are open 8:00am-5:00pm but don’t worry, the centers are still safe. Nighttime security is present and visible. Remember to use common sense on your trip. Lock your car and don’t leave any valuables visible, no matter what time you stop. That’s a good practice for your entire vacation, because thieves are always looking for an easy mark.
4) Stay Connected
Need to send an email or check your Facebook, but don’t want to use up too much of your data? Just connect to the free WiFi. You can catch up on what’s going on back home without having to worry about getting an extra charge from your carrier. If you’d like to make a phone call the old fashioned way, the Welcome Centers also have pay phones.
3) A Great Picture Opportunity
One thing that you’ll want to use the free WiFi for is to add a fun picture to your favorite social media account. The “Welcome to Florida” sign is recreated at the centers, and it’s in a location that is ideal for pictures. Take a few shots with your family in front of the sign and all of your friends back home will be jealous. You’re not bragging, they’ll want to know that you made it safely to Florida.
2) Free Orange Juice
If you arrive when the Welcome Center’s main building is open, you’ll be treated to a free cup of Florida orange juice and a smile. Grapefruit juice is available as well. It’s a small gesture, but it really does make you feel welcome.
1) Tons of Free Information
At the Official Florida Welcome Centers, you’ll be able to find information on just about any activity in the state, and it’s all free. You can pick up a state map, grab a few magazines, get some coupon books, and take brochures on hundreds of attractions. The state is divided by sections, making it easy to find what you want. The Walt Disney World information is located in the Central Florida section. You’ll find park guides, information on hours, and brochures on special events that might be going on during your trip. Flipping through the information will make you even more excited for the fun that lies ahead. Allow your kids to pick out a few items, and maybe they’ll stay busy (and quiet) for the rest of your drive.
If you hit the Welcome Center after the main building has closed you can still pick up some free information. While you may not find the Disney brochures outside, coupon books and some of the magazines are still available.