We’ve travelled to Florida several times, taking a couple of weeks to drive from Orlando to Miami. This was the first time we were taking both of our children, age 3 and 7. Florida has become synonymous with Disney so many people assumed we were doing a standard theme park holiday, but the state has so much more to offer.
We flew into Orlando, picked up our hire car and took an easy drive to the Wyndham Resort, a lovely hotel with amazing pools, which is also conveniently on the corner of International Drive. We hit Universal Studios for a couple of days and the kids had fun but weren’t bothered about moving on.
Next stop Clearwater Beach, staying at the (relatively) cheap but very pleasant Quality Inn on the Beach. We drove up to Weeki Wachee to see the only live mermaid show in the world – a brilliant mix of 50’s style kitsch and impressive underwater feats by the performers.
On to Bradenton Beach (nr Sarasota), staying at the beautiful Bungalow Beach Resort, which as the name implies, has rooms opening straight onto the powder white sand. The nearby Mote Aquarium has manatees, huge sea turtles and a (dead) giant squid.
In Naples we stayed at the Bellasera Suites in a luxury 2-bed 2-bath condo. Naples feels glamorous and sophisticated and an evening walk down 5th Avenue S is a must, whether or not you eat in one of the many restaurants. We had the most incredible sorbets at Adelheidi’s Organic Sweets.
We drove from Naples to Key Largo down the US41 which runs alongside Everglades National Park, with opportunities to stop along the way for walks or airboat rides. Our last stop, the Hilton Key Largo Resort, is right on the waterfront with incredible views of the sea. Guests benefit from the hotel’s private beach which is partially shaded by trees. Combine this with clear, shallow water for bathing and an array of water sports and it’s pretty impossible not to feel relaxed.
While theme parks have their place, our children have seen wild dolphins, pelicans, sharks, alligators, tarpon etc. They have swum in the sea, seen many birds and insects in the Everglades (and acquired a few mozzie bites on the way). Every time I asked my son what he liked best about the holiday, he replied ‘today’.