You may think that Florida is all about Disney and theme parks but there is so much more as I found out in 2011. We explored south Florida and the Florida Keys and it was my best holiday ever!
As I mentioned in a previous article, in May last year, after inheriting some money along with my sister, we decided to spend some of the money on a much longed for holiday. We started with a couple of days in New York and then we were going on a road trip around the South of Florida and the Keys in a Ford Mustang Convertible. We moved around throughout the two weeks, staying a day or two in each location so I thought I will give you a guide location by location based on what we saw and did there and on the journey. We started with an internal flight from New York into Fort Lauderdale.
Our first stop was Fort Lauderdale where we stayed for two days. It is chilled out and a relaxing place, just up the coast from Miami and in my opinion, has nicer beaches than Miami. We spent the days wandering round and visiting all the inland waterways; after all, it is called the Venice of America due to its large number of inland canals.
After our two days in Fort Lauderdale, we drove along Alligator Alley (a very long and very straight road across the country, thank goodness for cruise control). There wasn’t loads to see in Naples but again, a nice, relaxing place and the Old Pier is definitely worth a look. It was a few meters away from the pier that we saw our first dolphins of the holiday and so close to the beach! It was amazing.
We Drove from Naples up to Sanibel Island, located in the Gulf coast of Florida. It is a barrier island, which means it has great sandy beaches and a large collection of shells washed up on the Island. There are lovely nature reserves on the island but equally great for just lying down and catching some rays.
From Sanibel Island, we drove all the way up to St. Petersburg. This was quite a way north out of our way but my sister had seen that they had recently opened a new Dali museum in a rather impressive building so it was decided that we would venture all the way up to see it and spend the night there. We spent the day getting to know the city, visiting the pier, walking through a local food market – their wide variety of food was amazing, and then finally onto the Dali museum. Not only does it have the most amazing Dali-esque exterior, they have the most extensive collection of Dali art and the tour was free and one of the best art tours I have ever been on. If you happen to be near St Pete’s in the future, it is well worth the detour to visit the museum on its own. Unfortunately as we neared the end of our trip round the museum, what I can only describe as a mini hurricane started outside, which meant our plan of taking more photos outside didn’t really happen as long as we tried to hang around to see if it would get any better.
After the torrential rain and wind that started in St Pete’s it didn’t stop for the rest of the day. This made for an interesting drive down to Fort Myers, our stop for the night, having only learned how to drive on the opposite side of the road a few days before, the weather was trying to test me especially the roads round there with the sea right next to the edge of it.
Fort Myers was just somewhere to stop for the night and luckily, the weather was better the next day. We had a long journey ahead of us going from Fort Myers along the bottom of Florida through the Everglades and stopping for a quick tour around one of the parts and seeing some alligators up close and visiting America’s smallest Post Office on the side of the road. It was so small and didn’t have a sign that we drove past it and had to turn around.
We then moved down onto the Overseas Highway to make our way down to the Florida Keys with our next stop for two nights being Marathon. The top and middle keys are a great place to stopover but are also very tacky. On our stay down, we visited the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which was destroyed by a hurricane and was replaced with the current bridge. We also visited the Dolphin Research Centre and got up close to the dolphins at the centre. The first morning there, we had arranged to go canoeing in the mangroves around the edge of the island with our guide, the aptly named “Kayak Dave”. This was an amazing, if not at times, slightly scary experience, due to the water level being high, lying flat in the canoes pulling ourselves under tree branches. This is definitely something I would recommend if you are in this area as it was a really unique experience.
After two nights in Marathon, we ventured down to Key West, which is an amazing place to go to. Given that is has the southernmost point in continental USA, only 90 miles from Cuba and many of its residents were immigrants from the Bahamas, it has much more of what I imagine as a Bahamian Caribbean feel to the island and is so different from the rest of the US and even Florida. If you stay in the Old Town and try to avoid the Duval Street area as much as you can, it is just a magical, wonderful place. The majority of the buildings are plantation-type houses that have been around forever. The best advice is to rent a bike and pedal around and take in the sights; the array of flowers they have are amazing.
There are so many places to visit and see and some I would recommend. Cycle round and you can see apart from all the lovely houses, the Southernmost Point monument, Key West Lighthouse, Ernest Hemingway House, and the winter White House, although we didn’t bother to go inside any of these, just took photos outside.
Other things we did included going into are the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory; sampling the Cuban cuisine at El Meson De Pepe; Key Lime Pie at Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shop; the Cuban special coffee of Café con Leche at the Cuban Coffee Queen; and watching the sunset over Mallory Square. We booked a trip to look for dolphins and saw loads of them; even baby dolphins that swam right next to the boat. We had a boat for just us and two other people, so it was relaxed and quiet and one of the best things we did while we were there. We then followed this with a snorkeling session and used the Krab with the LC-A+.
After our amazing time in Key West we drove up and spent the night in Marathon again. We didn’t do anything in Marathon this time as it was just a stopover, but the following morning, we did have to stop at a classic American roadside pastime, the giant roadside object for us, which was this giant lobster, amazing!
So by now we are nearing the end of an amazing holiday and the last couple of days were to be spent in Miami. We spent the first day relaxing and sitting on the beach and walking along the famous Collins Avenue and soaking up the atmosphere. After our relaxing couple of weeks, it was a bit of a shock reaching Miami as it is obviously very loud and busy. As it was the weekend, the beaches were full of people. The morning of the final day, we joined a tour at the Miami Design Preservation League, Art Deco tour. I would highly recommend doing this if you are in Miami, it wasn’t too expensive and we were there for a couple of hours going around looking at all the architecture, with a guide that was very knowledgeable, and we learned so much information that we wouldn’t have learned without the tour.
It was then time to navigate the Miami traffic to the airport and fly back home. This really was a lovely, most amazing holiday, which I hope I to do again. I hope this has shown you that Florida is just not all about Disney and theme parks, and I hope that it may have inspired you to visit some of these locations if you are ever nearby. This really was a memorable travel escapade!