DODGE Grand Caravan Goes to the Deep South

Trip to Florida

Plans for a Great Drive With Dodge Grand Caravan


How much can you “pack” into a 10-day automobile adventure as a family? I wanted to test this challenge and as I sat behind the steering wheel.

My father (R.I.P) had a dream: He wanted to take long journeys with a VW Bus once he retired. Unfortunately he passed away without fulfilling his dreams. And I pay tribute to his dreams whenever I take a long drive.

As I brought a Florida trip to the family agenda, neither my wife nor my daughter was much willing to take a nearly 6.000 km drive. My son gave me some support and after some hot debates four of us hit the road. I counted on the support of two ladies as co-drivers and they did not disappoint me.

And for the first time in our lives, we welcomed the New Year in a country of non-residence.

Escaping the nasty Canadian winter was not enough. My passionate target was the southern tip of the continental USA. In other words: As deep to the south as it gets.

We quickly visited the Nacar Racetrack in Daytona Beach

We quickly visited the Nacar Racetrack in Daytona Beach

The Dodge Grand Caravan, still by far the bestselling minivan in Canada provides a long-range comfort and versatility that no ordinary sedan or even an SUV can offer: Stowable second and third row seats. For a seven-passenger vehicle (including the driver) hosting only four people was even more promising. We stowed the second row seats of the Dodge Grand Caravan under the floor (so, no disassembly is required) and created a “huge” middle floor on which two people somewhat comfortably sleep while the “substitute” driver could continue the trip. This meant almost a 24-hour, 3-shift driving schedule. We did not need a hotel except lunch, dinner and other outdoor breaks in case of necessity.

We started our journey on an icy morning in late December with the Dodge Grand Caravan as I ignited the engine in Mississauga. We complemented our homemade sandwiches with coffee and honey-lemon tea from the nearest Tim Horton’s.

Crossing the Border to the South

Sunset in Fort Lauderdale

Sunset in Fort Lauderdale

In less than 90 minutes we reached the US border in Fort Erie-Buffalo with our Dodge Grand Caravan. Upon the question of the US border officer, I admitted that we had some food for our own consumption. My “testimony” rang alarm bells and we were invited to the waiting hall for a vehicle search. After about 30 minutes, the Department of Homeland Security reached the conclusion that our remaining sandwiches and sliced fruits were not a treat to the US health and security and the chief officer wished us a good journey to the south. We even felt privileged although we lost precious time.

With Dodge Grand Caravan built-in Garmin GPS navigation system working precisely we crossed seven states before reaching Florida, “the sun-state”.

On our way with Dodge Grand Caravan we quickly visited Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh is a living example of the most glamorous times of the US steel industry and deserves the nicknames “the Steel City” and “City of Bridges.” With 446 bridges in the metropolitan area, it holds a world record as well. We had a very long way to go and left Pennsylvania, state of independence behind before sunset.

As we crossed the border to West Virginia with our Dodge Grand Caravan, we could not enjoy the scenery. It was dark and night. Continuing our journey in Virginia, I remembered the eight presidents selected from here and why Virginia is known as “Mother of the Presidents State”. Virginia also hosts two very important institutions, CIA and Pentagon.

In the somewhat endless beaches of Florida

In the somewhat endless beaches of Florida

As we left Virginia with Dodge Grand Caravan the first drops of rain were falling. In North and South Carolina occasionally under heavy rain and darkness of the night, our impatience to catch the sun grew.

As we set foot in Georgia, known to me as the State of Coca Cola and the CNN, I felt more as a southerner. And under a torrential rain, we had to take a three-hour break and had some sleep in the Dodge Grand Caravan. As my daughter and my son snoring in the middle floor of the Dodge Grand Caravan, my wife and I recharged our batteries in almost fully reclined front seats of the Dodge Grand Caravan.

We woke up, drove the Dodge Grand Caravan about two more hours and reached Brunswick near the border to Florida.

In Florida

Following a long and deserved breakfast in Brunswick, we finally crossed the border to Florida.

Florida, nicknamed as “Sunshine State” and meaning “Feast of the Flowers” in Spanish, is about the size of one-fifth of Turkey has a coastline of 200 thousand kilometers. With some 19 million people, it is the fourth most populous state in the USA. My daughter took over the steering of the Dodge Grand Caravan and we reached Fort Lauderdale. After about 33 hours and 3,275 kilometers, we completed the longest and furthest driving of our lives in one direction.

Discovering Miami and its Surroundings with Dodge Grand Caravan

A cruise ship leaves Miami for a Caribbean Itinerary

A cruise ship leaves Miami for a Caribbean Itinerary

Since it is not possible to see all the important places of Florida in less than one week, we had to be selective. We focused on Miami, the most famous city of Florida and its surroundings. Miami, with a population of around 400 thousand, is home to Spaniards of Cuban origin in particular. If this trend continues it is not difficult to foresee that the Anglo-Saxons and the English language will turn to minority.

America has not fully recovered from the global financial crisis yet. However, even nowadays, Miami is a perfect example of American wealth. After touring the region for a couple of days, you get used to super-rich neighbourhoods, like Biscayne Bay, where you can park your 100 million dollar plus mega boat in front of your house, like poorer people do with their cars.

The South Beach in Miami Island is a vibrant place with its numerous restaurants and bars especially after sunset.

The Ocean Drive, a 2, 1 km thoroughfare separating the magnificent South Beach from the town is the heartbeat of the famous city.  In this neighbourhood and along the Ocean Drive, there are some 800 buildings representing the “Art-Deco” style from the 20’s and 30’s under protection.

Trying a Cuban cigar before dinner in South Beach, Miami

Trying a Cuban cigar before dinner in South Beach, Miami

Ocean Drive is occupied by people watchers in the evening hours and a parade of super luxury cars fills the narrow street at any time of the day. Here, in just a couple of hours, I saw tens of Panameras, Astons, Ferraris, Maseratis and Ferraris declassifying  brands like Mercedes, BMW, Audi and even Corvettes to the ordinary car status. You eat at one of restaurants and bars on the pavement and suddenly a Ferrari instantaneously invades a tiny parking spot a few feet from where you seat and you smell the exhaust fumes of a powerful engine.

Little Havana, with a population of 76 thousand, as the name reveals is a neighborhood with a majority of Cuban Americans.

Smiling faces in La Camaronera

Smiling faces in La Camaronera

While touring this part of the city with our Dodge Grand Caravan, we imagined ourselves as natives, and visited La Camaronera for a late Sunday lunch. In this humble seafood restaurant and market we waited for about 40 minutes to get a small round table for four. It was worth eating though. Among the different tastes we tried, I liked the Empanada most, pastry filled with shrimps, paprika and vegetables and deep fried. In the same evening we met our friends, from Mississauga for an early new-year dinner in Versailles. We enhanced our experience about the Cuban and Latino cuisine in this historic place. Versailles, arguably the best Cuban restaurant on the planet opened its doors in 1971 by serving Cuban exiles in Florida. And even today, it is an important meeting point of the Cuban community in Miami.  The most memorable dish I ate here was “Seviche”, raw fish marinated and cured in lime sauce. Despite the vibrant atmosphere and long waiting times, I was not convinced that this place was the best you can have as a Cuban restaurant.

Empanada in La Camaronera is a great taste to remember

Empanada in La Camaronera is a great taste to remember

We continued to explore Miami with Coconut Grove ve Coral Gables, two neighbourhoods with the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture must definitely be in your itinerary.

Obviously we added a beach visit every day during our stay in and around Miami.


The Florida Keys (The Keys)

Subjectively speaking, the most memorable part of our Florida visit was our drive the Dodge Grand Caravan to the Florida Keys.

The Florida Keys are Coral reef islands stretching from the southern tip of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico and connected by natural and artificial bridges. The islands offer a truly natural beauty and spectacular sceneries. For a car buff, driving Dodge Grand Caravan on this route is an experience of a lifetime.  When we reached Key West, a town at the southern tip of the continental USA, we were 2,624 kilometers away from our home in Mississauga, Ontario.

On our way to Key West, we took a beach break in Bahia Honda, the most important state park in the Keys.

In Key West, a 300-km drive the Dodge Grand Caravan from fort Lauderdale, we visited the Hemingway Home, which is a museum and where the famous author Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930’s. Even if Hemingway left this world several decades ago, his 40-50 beloved cats (namely the grandchildren of Snowball, the six-toed cat a ship’s captain gave Hemingway.) Those cats “circumnavigate” the house and do not care much about the visitors. There is even a cat cemetery in the backyard. Ernest Hemingway named all of his cats after famous people and the Museum Administration follows that same tradition today.

Key West is about 150 kilometers away from the Communist Cuba. The nearest Wal-Mart is further away.

Returning Home

On our way back home through the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia

On our way back home through the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia

On our way back home, we visited Palm Beach, known to be the richest town in the USA and originally built as winter escape for Floridians. Here we met a friend of us from Turkey as he and his wife visiting his son. This was an extraordinarily happy meeting.

We did not miss a visit also to Daytona, with its famous NASCAR Racetrack that can accommodate 160,000 spectators and with a century-old history.

When w returned home, we had 5,817 trouble free kilometers behind us.

Our Road Mate

The famous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables

The famous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables

Dodge Grand Caravan, with its 3.6 liter new-generation V6 Pentastar engine and with 286 HP output mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, was an excellent long-range people mover and perfectly suited with this “ultra-long” drive. Our average fuel consumption was around 12 liters. Even if the market shares of minivans in decline in Canada and the USA, the Grand Caravan is still number-one choice for tens of thousands of families. This vehicle also represents one of the milestones in the history of automotive innovation and rescued Chrysler from a total collapse in early Eighties. Thanks to an iconic figure, Mr. Lee Iacocca.

A Revolutionary Solution to Nasty Canadian Weather

The most difficult part of this trip was returning from the sunny beaches of Miami to the nasty weather of Southern Ontario in about 36 hours.

I am so jealous of the beautiful weather in the Deep South. Well, here is my solution to this problem: Rotating the 9,000 km-long Canadian-US border 90 degrees would give us our fair share of sun and warm weather, provided we convince our big neighbour.

For more information, you can visit the following websites:

Varol Karslioglu is a Certified Travel Manager licensed by TICO (Travel Industry Council of Ontario). He is a partner and Marketing Director of ATS Academy Travel Services Inc., in Toronto, a TICO-registered travel company.

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