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Best/Cleanest/Safest I-95 gas/rest stops

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Hey there hi there oh you know the rest...
Like most WDW vacations, our next trip will be a road trip; Slappette and I live close to Trenton, NJ. In the past, driving overnight, stopping when necessary, walking into rest areas together and back out to the car together was the norm. But now we have Slapperina and Slappetina. And we're getting old and the kids are making us older, faster :D So it makes more sense to split up the trip with an overnight stay along the way, the question now is HOW to split it up.
Slappette prefers splitting it in half, which would put us around Lumberton, NC, and drive during the day. My concern is that, even with no traffic or delays, we have at least 16 hours of solid driving. To drive half of that, with kids who are awake and in car seats, we're going to have to make lots of stops. The 8 hours of driving each day will easily take 12 hours, and we'll be pulling into our overnight hotel (or into WDW the next day) right about the time the kids are usually getting ready for bed. Which minimizes our chaces of being well-rested and happy.
My preference is to leave early Monday night (we arrive in WDW on a Wednesday), give the kids a movie to watch, then letting them sleep the rest of the night. When they wake up Tuesday morning, we'll be about 2/3rds of the way there, about 6 hours of driving. At that point, we'll only drive a few more hours, stop around Jacksonville, get a room for the night, go to sleep very early, be back on the road by 8am-ish and in WDW by noon.
But that means when it comes to bathroom breaks, we can't walk in and out of a rest area together, since the kids will be sleeping in the car, and that worries Slappette a bit. If anything happens to either one of us, the other won't know it unless they leave the car, and the kids, to find out what's what. And to be honest, I don't find that to be a completely invalid concern. Some of our stops along the way last time we went down wound up being a bit sketchy.
Hence the thread title. For those who often drive down via I-95, which are the rest stops and gas stations that you feel are the "best?" Best lit, most secure, least skeevy, all of the above? Thanks in advance.
I also made the oh-so-sweet suggestion of using our bluetooth headsets to remain on the phone with each other while venturing out to the bathrooms and back. Don't tell me I'M not romantic!
 
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wdisneyw2000

Active Member
We have been driving from central PA since 2000. We been to WDW 8 times & 1 time to Sea world. We travel i-95 & at no point in time have we felt worried about rest stops & gas stations. Usually we do the gas tracker & try to pick the one that has the cheapest gas. We now have 3 kids we travel with. 2 daughters 7 & 4, & a son who is now 1. So yes sometimes you may have to split up staying at the car with the kids, but thats part of the trip lol. You hear horror stories about many places, the truth is anything can happen anywhere, but like i said we have not ever had any problems or close to any problems. With the kids we use the rest areas frequently. But we use the i95 website & have the mile marker of every rest area, which it helps. We also save the money & drive til we get to the middle of GA & pull into a rest area to sleep a few hours. Get up the next morning, get back on the road & then get to WDW around 11ish or noon. It's Roughly 2 1/2 to 3 hours from the florida GA line. When you leave is up to you we leave our place usually in the morning between 7am & 9am the day before our check-in, & always the 1st day we get there we don't rush to the parks, we use that day to wind down & doing the not so demanding events (downtown/mini golf/resort pool/around the resort pix). We usually have just 2 drivers, so what helps us is every stop, (it don't matter if the current driver is fine or not) we switch driver's, it helps us alot, even if your not sleeping, your atleast not getting into the zoning driving, gripping the steering wheel fighting the other driver's out there lol. Travel DVD player's help alot, & we pack snacks & a cooler as well, & plenty of travel things for the kids to do.
 

tor29c

Well-Known Member
Hey Slappy! I am literally right across the river from you! We will be driving down in mid April and I will try to take notes for you. When will you be traveling?
 

Master Yoda

Pro Star Wars geek.
Premium Member
I can help you for the last leg of your journey between J-ville and WDW. The three rest stops between Jacksonville and Orlando are all pretty good. In the course of a year I probably make 2-3 stops at each of them and have never had a problem with any of them. The only bad thing is there is about 1-2 hours of driving between the 2nd and the 3rd one. If you get desperate, exit 261 is a cutoff between 1-95 and I-4 that will not be too bad and is around 1/2 way between the 2nd and 3rd rest stop.

I would not really recommend getting off of I-95 anywhere in Jacksonville save for exit 363 (airport) on the north side of Jacksonville or exit 339 (Phillips hwy) on the south side of Jacksonville. Both have malls, multiple restaurants and slightly less "bend you over" gas stations close to the highway.

If you go a litter farther south you will find a Starbucks at the exit for HWY 210. The next exit will take you to the St Augustine outlet malls with some basic food options (Mc Donald's, Burger King, etc)
 

disneyfan56

Active Member
Hey Slappy, I am about 30 miles east of you right down 195.
My family usually drives down to Disney each year so I have lots of experience with this.

When the kids were little, we would carry them out to the car in the middle of the night between 2-3 in the morning. And then we drove and drove until we finally reached Brunswick,GA. The next day was just a 4 hour drive to Disney. Sure the first day was a killer for the adults but the kids slept through some of it.

We have never had an issue with feeling unsafe at rest stops. Occasionally I will ask my dh to stand outside the door of the ladies room, but that's just because of my over active brain from watching "Criminal Minds."

Really, you just have to figure out what works best for your family. Oh, and have fun. The drive down can be a fun part of the trip!
 

disney4life2008

Well-Known Member
I drove from Illinois to Florida last summer. Honestly, there were no rest stops along the way where I did not feel safe. Specifically in the GA and FL states - they were actually wonderful. Even at 5am - there was staff walking around and police. Once you get into Florida do not get thrown off by the Welcome to FL sign - you still have ions before you get to Orlando. The drive from the state line to Orlando is terrible. I did stop at the welcome to Florida rest stop and took photos but it was not anything spectacular
 
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slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I drove from Illinois to Florida last summer. Honestly, there were no rest stops along the way where I felt safe. Specifically in the GA and FL states - they were actually wonderful.
I take it you mean there were no rest stops where you didn't feel safe? Not snark, just checking.

Once you get into Florida do not get thrown off by the Welcome to FL sign - you still have ions before you get to Orlando. The drive from the state line to Orlando is terrible. I did stop at the welcome to Florida rest stop and took photos but it was not anything spectacular

We've actually made the drive multiple times. When it was just my GF/wife and I, we never really thought about where we stopped (except for South of the Border - she was instantly skeeved out and once we left the bathrooms she asked to leave, and we've never gone back). When we had our first daughter, we tried the Auto Train, which I enjoyed but we need to economize where we can so we can be a little more splurge-y on the trip. And when we drove last time with both daughters, we just had bad luck when it came to bathroom stops, wherever we went seemed sketchy, and having the kids makes my wife more skittish about bad things happening.

I'm figuring it might be better to either hit the state rest areas or hit the gas stations that cater more to truckers, like the Love's or the Pilot/Flying J locations. More populated, more security, versus a gas station with a terlet 'round back. I also figure if we refill around midnight, we can go nearly 350 highway miles and still have a quarter tank left, so it'll be closer to dawn by then. And if my wife is still concerned we'll use our bluetooths and moon-walk it: "This is Urinator to Base Honda, I'm entering Men's Room at 0310 hours, should return to Base Honda by 0314 hours for switching we'll be back on the road by 0320 hours. Over."
 

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
When the kids were little, we would carry them out to the car in the middle of the night between 2-3 in the morning. And then we drove and drove until we finally reached Brunswick,GA. The next day was just a 4 hour drive to Disney. Sure the first day was a killer for the adults but the kids slept through some of it.

Thanks, 56. When my eldest was nearly 2, we went to DVC Hilton Head. Our plan was comparable to yours, get her out of bed around midnight, check her diaper and get her in the car, and she'd probably still be sleeping how cute is that. As soon as we tried to pick her up, she woke up disoriented and acting like we were trying to kidnap her after a night of binge drinking. She cried, literally, the entire trip down...except for the last 45 minutes of course, at which point we were so exhausted that we couldn't fathom the idea of driving around more to let her sleep even though she needed it. So I don't think that's an option :D The eldest won't be a bear about it, but the youngest almost assuredly will. I'm not even 100% sure she'll fall asleep in the car, period. But it seems like leaving in early evening, doing most of the driving the first night, getting a room somewhere between South SC and North FL and then driving the rest of the way the next day is the best option.
 

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Hey Slappy! I am literally right across the river from you! We will be driving down in mid April and I will try to take notes for you. When will you be traveling?
Thanks tor, please don't think me overly paranoid but I try to no longer announce online when I'm going on vacation. Sometimes I forget and blare my intentions but I try not to. I will say this, it's not as soon as yours. I hope you have a great trip, and if you find any gas stations or rest areas that either seem great or frightening, please let me know when you get back?
 

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
You hear horror stories about many places, the truth is anything can happen anywhere, but like i said we have not ever had any problems or close to any problems. With the kids we use the rest areas frequently. But we use the i95 website & have the mile marker of every rest area, which it helps. We also save the money & drive til we get to the middle of GA & pull into a rest area to sleep a few hours.

-snip-


We usually have just 2 drivers, so what helps us is every stop, (it don't matter if the current driver is fine or not) we switch driver's, it helps us alot, even if your not sleeping, your atleast not getting into the zoning driving, gripping the steering wheel fighting the other driver's out there lol. Travel DVD player's help alot, & we pack snacks & a cooler as well, & plenty of travel things for the kids to do.

Don't get me wrong, because I know this post can come across as "they're out to get us and they're everywhere!" But as we've gotten older my wife has become, for lack of a better word, less fun when it comes to the drive. Fine when we're there, fine when we're back. But worried every minute we're on the road. We've not been in any accidents together but we have before we met, and we've been NEAR some doozies, seeing them as they happen. But at the same time, flying makes her ill and feel out of control, the AutoTrain, which would be my choice if money were no object, she didn't like because we were close enough to the lounge's smoking car to deal with immense second hand smoke in our private room. So driving is the easiest and cheapest solution, even with overnight stops. And I just want to keep her as much at ease as I can. Usually for any other trip she does most of the driving but the super long trips like this is mostly me, which is a big deal for her to give up the wheel. Knowing that I'm at least thinking about where we might stop, instead of just pulling over when the need for gas or bladder relief hits, helps immensely.

As I wrote elsewhere, I could be wrong but I'm thinking that the gas stops that cater more to long distance truckers might be better. They're usually well staffed throughout the night and better populated so even on the extreme off-chance someone gets grabby or stabby there will be people around to put a stop to it. Whereas one stop we had last time in Virginia was a 24-hour gas station with the bathroom around back next to trees and marsh, key attached to a giant filthy clipboard, etc. but it was a supposedly an emergency so I just went to the next stop with no forethought.

I get the "switch drivers every other stop" thing, and if we drive during the day, that's how we'll do it, but if we do most of the driving at night, I'll probably do most of the driving until dawn, because once our littlest is up she won't be happy if mom's not alert and talking to her, even if she's driving at the time. We do have a blu-ray/dvd/video file player wrapped around our headsets for the kids to watch, and plan to have coloring books and regular books and their kids' tablets and other activities. I think the plan is to leave the house around 6:30pm Monday night, watch a long movie like Mary Poppins, then take a break around 9, fuel up, if the kids are still up, bring them in to the station to pee. Put them to bed, playing Rockabye Baby lullaby tunes while I have one earbud in listening to news or Howard Stern or comedy albums. Drive till near midnight, gas up, hit the head, then another 2.5-3 hours, break, another 2.5-3 hours, by then it'll be near dawn and we should be well past the halfway mark barring crazy DC traffic. Breakfast, let my wife drive while I sleep (unless she took the previous leg of driving), break, then a little more driving and we should be close anywhere between Brunswick & Jacksonville by 12:30-1pm. Call it a day, get a room, sleep early then drive the rest of the way Wednesday.
 

slappy magoo

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I can help you for the last leg of your journey between J-ville and WDW. The three rest stops between Jacksonville and Orlando are all pretty good. In the course of a year I probably make 2-3 stops at each of them and have never had a problem with any of them. The only bad thing is there is about 1-2 hours of driving between the 2nd and the 3rd one. If you get desperate, exit 261 is a cutoff between 1-95 and I-4 that will not be too bad and is around 1/2 way between the 2nd and 3rd rest stop.

I would not really recommend getting off of I-95 anywhere in Jacksonville save for exit 363 (airport) on the north side of Jacksonville or exit 339 (Phillips hwy) on the south side of Jacksonville. Both have malls, multiple restaurants and slightly less "bend you over" gas stations close to the highway.

If you go a litter farther south you will find a Starbucks at the exit for HWY 210. The next exit will take you to the St Augustine outlet malls with some basic food options (Mc Donald's, Burger King, etc)

I've probably been using "rest stop" and "gas station" interchangeably. Usually when we stop for a bathroom break we refuel too just to be safe, so I'm thinking more of clean and safe gas stations versus rest stops.

If we do stop for an overnight in Jacksonville, I planned near the airport anyway, not getting too deep in the city, unless that's not such a hot idea?

And if Jacksonville is our overnight stop, I'll hazard the assumption that, barring an emergency bathroom break, then once we start driving the next morning, the kids won't let me stop driving until they see the Castle :D
 

ratherbeinwdw

Well-Known Member
I am amazed at all the people who can make those long drives and still have the energy for a week in Disney. Once it gets dark and I'm driving, I can't stay awake. When I'm going to be the only one driving, we leave at daylight.
If I wore a hat, it would be off to you.
We used to drive from west central Georgia to Carbondale Ill before the interstate was complete, and even though we were young, that drive wore me out.
 

Master Yoda

Pro Star Wars geek.
Premium Member
I've probably been using "rest stop" and "gas station" interchangeably. Usually when we stop for a bathroom break we refuel too just to be safe, so I'm thinking more of clean and safe gas stations versus rest stops.

If we do stop for an overnight in Jacksonville, I planned near the airport anyway, not getting too deep in the city, unless that's not such a hot idea?

And if Jacksonville is our overnight stop, I'll hazard the assumption that, barring an emergency bathroom break, then once we start driving the next morning, the kids won't let me stop driving until they see the Castle :D
The airport is a great place to stop. That exit is the location for a large shopping and entertainment center called the River City Marketplace. It is home to a number of retailers, restaurants and a movie theater. There is even an Aloft hotel right on site. From that point it is about a 2.5 hour drive to WDW.
 

brifraz

Well-Known Member
I have driven from northern Maryland more times than I can count at this point and have done it solo, in a couple, with 3 other gents, and with our daughter. She is 10 now, but has been doing the drive (well, I guess she is just doing the ride) since age 2 and this summer will be her 11th time driving it with us.

With only two exceptions, we have always driven straight there from there (900 miles almost on the dot, so about 14 hours of actual driving). I've have never felt unsafe at any rest area or gas station. Now, cleanliness is another issue entirely. We definitely feel like the rest areas are generally cleaner than the gas stations. For most of the drives, DW and I would just trade off when one got tired. It usually meant I drove until about 1am, then she did a couple hours while I slept and then we switched back. As we have gotten older, we now stop for a few hours along the way and sleep in the car in rest areas. It makes the trip take longer, but we are much happier when we get to the World!

When we have stopped, we make it a point to stop somewhere (central GA or further south) where a 6am wake-up call will get us to DW in time for rope drop at one of the parks. We want that full day (even with very little sleep) not to be spent waiting in lines, so morning park time is the best. Whenever our room is ready (sometimes even before 4pm) we can head back for a nap and some relaxed pool time.
 

flynnibus

Premium Member
I take it you mean there were no rest stops where you didn't feel safe? Not snark, just checking.

The rest stops attract more of the questionables in my experience. My wife has had people approach the car before when they were stopped.

We normally stop at a gas station or food place... so then it's just a matter of clean or not.
 

disney4life2008

Well-Known Member
I am amazed at all the people who can make those long drives and still have the energy for a week in Disney. Once it gets dark and I'm driving, I can't stay awake. When I'm going to be the only one driving, we leave at daylight.
If I wore a hat, it would be off to you.
We used to drive from west central Georgia to Carbondale Ill before the interstate was complete, and even though we were young, that drive wore me out.

Did you go to SIUC? I always drive from Champaign, IL (UIUC) down south. The drive through Illinois is treacherous and boring. KY and northern TN is a breeze. Southern TN is beautiful with the mountains. Northern GA through ATL is a breeze. Southern GA and Northern FL is racist coming and going I have been followed by a police car for about 30 minutes never pulled over just followed and looked at. The state line of FL to I4 is very boring - I always thought it was going to be a great drive but it worse than Illinois and seems to take forever. Once you hit I-4/Tampa/Orlando exits - it is smooth sailing from there.
 

ratherbeinwdw

Well-Known Member
Did you go to SIUC? I always drive from Champaign, IL (UIUC) down south. The drive through Illinois is treacherous and boring. KY and northern TN is a breeze. Southern TN is beautiful with the mountains. Northern GA through ATL is a breeze. Southern GA and Northern FL is racist coming and going I have been followed by a police car for about 30 minutes never pulled over just followed and looked at. The state line of FL to I4 is very boring - I always thought it was going to be a great drive but it worse than Illinois and seems to take forever. Once you hit I-4/Tampa/Orlando exits - it is smooth sailing from there.

My husband went to SIUC. We lived in family housing. He wanted a PhD instead of an EdD, so we went there. He took a year off his teaching job to be able to do this. It was well worth the investment.
We got there right after a tornado had practically wiped out Marion, Ill. I was nervous the whole time we lived there. One winter there was enough to let me know I couldn't live there permanently. As I have great respect for those of you who drive those great distances, I also have respect for your ability to live in that cold.

I know you don't have to come through our part of the state as you would take 75 or 95, but our community, which is 103 miles south of ATL, is really not like what you described as we touch Ft. Benning and are a very diverse community.

We have to drive back roads for the first 3 hrs of our trip before we can get on 75. The speed limits change constantly up and down. You have to be really careful driving through those little towns, as we see people stopped for speeding a lot. We even saw several who had been stopped at 2 a.m in these same areas. Who would even think a trooper would be 30 miles from the nearest town in the middle of no where giving out tickets at 2 in the morning.
 

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