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With the family through Florida

Updated: Mar 25, 2023


Florida - a dream come true. As I already mentioned in my last two travel blogs about the USA and New York, we are flying to Florida after our stay in New York at the beginning of July 2022. We'll be leaving in three weeks, which is why I'd like to share a few more travel details and the information I've gathered with you. Maybe I can whet your appetite for a trip to the Sunshine State. I have never been there myself, but the pictures and stories about this US state speak for themselves. My wife, our two children (7 and 12) and I can hardly wait and are counting the days, or no, the hours.


Fort Lauderdale beach is also nice to look at from above.


A brief history of Florida

The Spanish first ever landed on the coast of this subtropical part of the USA in the early 16th century. At that time, of course, the United States did not yet exist and the "conquistadors" thought they had discovered an island. They were not entirely wrong in this assumption, because the peninsula is very reminiscent of one of the typical Caribbean islands due to the tropical temperatures, numerous palm-fringed sandy beaches and the Caribbean sounds everywhere, which are actually not that far away. The shortest distance between Cuba and Florida is only 145 kilometres. To the Bahamas it is even less.


This holiday paradise was discovered by the Spanish during the Easter season and they christened it "Pascua Florida". Today, Florida is not only known for its seemingly endless beaches, but also as a worldwide centre for amusement park junkies. Nowhere is the density of these parks as high as in Florida. But the Americans are willing to pay a lot for this.


Nowhere are there as many different amusement parks as in Florida.


Destination Florida

Why Florida of all places? I can answer this question quite simply: Because it is a very appealing holiday destination if you appreciate beautiful beaches, good infrastructure and laid-back lifestyle. For a long time, Florida was considered a winter-only destination because the weather in summer, with its tropical rains and occasional hurricanes, doesn't appeal to all travellers. We don't mind. We have been to the tropics several times during the rainy season and love the short intense showers. It's great when the sky opens its floodgates and afterwards everything steams and the air smells of rain. Plus, the humid air is good for my always parched sinuses. As for the hurricanes, we are not afraid either. The people there have learned to live with it and tourism is also prepared for it. We will survive it. Probably.


Here you can see a storm on Key West. But Florida is well prepared for it.


Meanwhile, Florida is a popular year-round destination. Besides the beaches and amusement parks, it is above all the national and state parks that appeal to us with their rich fauna. Who doesn't know them, the classic airboats with which tourists are chauffeured through the Everglades and can wave to alligators. The good thing about Florida: the distances are relatively manageable compared to the rest of the USA and the tourist infrastructure is dense. In three weeks, we can do a considerable round of the sunshine state in a rental car without much stress. That is important to us. Deceleration is the order of the day.



Our route

Once again, our itinerary involved a lot of research. We love holiday preparations almost as much as the travelling itself, but Florida didn't make it easy for us. Never before have we had a destination with such a wide range of options. First the world metropolis of New York, a veritable wonderland for tourists. And then Florida - you can't see the forest for the trees! But what the heck, we appreciate the incredible luxury of being able to make such a trip as a family at all. For that we are infinitely grateful.


After intensive travel guide and internet research, we decided to drive along the coast until we reach the queue and then turn around and drive to the other side of the peninsula. Sounds strange, but it makes perfect sense. After four nights in the Big Apple, we'll probably almost have a bit of a culture shock, even though Florida itself is quintessentially American. We will fly from Newark airport (New York has three airports!) to Orlando on 5 July. This flight takes about 2 hours 45 minutes. Originally we wanted to take an overnight train from New York to Miami, but unfortunately the cost of such a journey for four people was exorbitant.


Arriving in Orlando, we first take a taxi to pick up our rental car. The information on many websites and travel guides that rental cars are so cheap in Florida is, in my experience, simply wrong. We also found these prices very high and had to do a lot of comparing to find a good and high-quality offer. We've had trouble with bad car rental companies before, so we only book with larger, international providers now, even if it's sometimes a bit more expensive. This time, the longer search was worth it, because we found what we were looking for through the Austrian motorists' association ÖAMTC. We found a large 7-seater from Hertz, which cost just over 1500 euros for three weeks. All other vehicles of equal value were well beyond the 2000 euro mark. But the pick-up station is not directly at the airport. What the heck, we have time.


This is what our route through the Sunshine State will look like: just over 1000 km/20 h driving time


Day 1 - Day 3

Our round trip begins at the rental car pick-up point in Apopka, about 30 minutes by taxi from Orlando Airport. The first leg is just over 71 miles long, i.e. a little over 114 kilometres, and already takes us to the coast, to Cocoa Beach to be precise. That should take about 1.5 hours. The town in Brevard County has a population of just over 10,000 and lies between the Indian River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Atlantic Ocean. Cocoa Beach became famous as the location of the television series Charmed Jeannie. The town has a beautiful beach and is not far from the Kennedy Space Center.


The John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is NASA's spaceport and is located northwest of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. All manned US space flights have been launched from here since December 1968. The large visitor centre and the guided tours are a major attraction for tourists. For us, it's even more exciting than a visit to the many amusement parks.


From Cocoa Beach it is possible to visit the Kennedy Space Center.


In Cocoa Beach, we stay two nights at the Cocoa Beachside Hotel & Suites. This hotel is only a two-minute walk from the beach and appealed to us because of its large pool and the small kitchenette in the rooms. There is also a coffee machine in the room for us coffee junkies and the breakfast is said to be exceptionally good for the USA.



Day 3 - Day 4

On the third day of the round trip, we travel from Cocoa Beach to Jupiter. The distance is 198 kilometres and should easily be done in 2.5 - 3 hours. The town in Palm Beach County has a population of just over 65,000 and is located at the mouth of the Loxahatchee River, about 25 kilometres north of West Palm Beach. Jupiter should have charm and is considered an insider tip not only among celebrities. A few stars had or have their winter residence here, such as Burt Reynolds (1936 - 2018), Kid Rock or tennis icon Serena Williams. Just beyond the river mouth is DuBois Park. This appealing lagoon is surrounded by mangroves and a sandy beach, a wonderful place to swim and relax. Jupiter is also a real highlight for golfers. If you are here, you should not miss the opportunity to make an excursion to Jupiter Island. On the south side of this small island is the Blowing Rocks Preserve, a nature reserve with a wonderful hiking trail down to the sea. Also the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, a wildlife park with alligators, birds and bears(!) and the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, a breeding and care facility for aquatic turtles are a must for nature and animal lovers.

In Jupiter we stay only one night. This is the shortest stop on our entire trip. For this overnight stay we have chosen the Hotel Jupiter Waterfront Inn. The down-to-earth 3-star hotel is right on the water, has very good reviews and a small but nice pool. What more could you want.




Day 4 - Day 6

From Jupiter, we finally head straight for the Keys. The Florida Keys are a chain of over 200 coral islands that stretch for a total of over 290 kilometres. They are located between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean at the southern tip of Florida and are a real longing destination. Today, the islands are connected by 42 bridges of the Overseas Highway - so you drive directly over the water. We make a total of two stops on the Keys. The first one is in the middle of the island chain, on Islamorada. It is about 270 kilometres from Jupiter and takes about 3.5 hours to drive there.

There are many unusual animal and plant species on the Keys that are found nowhere else in the USA. The sea around the Keys is part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Islamorada itself is a community of just over 7,000 people and is also the plot location for the television series Bloodline. Like many other islands in the area, Islamorada is a true tropical paradise. We will spend the three nights under palm trees at the Hotel Islander Resort. The quiet retreat directly on the beach convinced us based on the pictures we found on the web. Sometimes it just has to be something for the eye.




Day 6 - Day 8

On the sixth day of our round trip, we head to the end of the Keys. We drive the remaining 87 kilometres to Key West. The drive will take an estimated 1.5 hours. Don't forget, we are travelling at a very leisurely pace and have children with us, so everything takes a little longer. Key West is a city and an island at the same time. However, the population of just over 26,000 is spread over a total of four islands. The southernmost point on Key West is also the southernmost point on the mainland of the USA. In the last century, the island was a magnet and adopted home for famous writers such as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway, whose house is now a tourist attraction. Key West is also said to be home to many eccentric residents and attracts visitors accordingly, including us.


Florida has a lot to offer beach lovers. Here, all roads lead to the beach.


We will be staying twice on Key West and we have chosen the Hotel Parmers Resort for this. Parmer's Resort is located on Little Torch Key, 8 km from the Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve and has a small pool and a lovely private beach with turquoise waters. Bahia Honda State Park is 16 km from the resort and is said to be a great destination.




Day 8 - Day 10

The next two nights will probably be a bit more colourful. From 13 to 15 July we'll be in Miami, which means we'll have to drive the entire Overseas Highway back again, but I think there are worse things than roaring along one of the most beautiful roads in the world. The distance from Key West to Miami is about 130 kilometres and will take us a little over 3 hours. Miami is the administrative seat of Miami-Dade County with almost half a million inhabitants. The multicultural city is located at the mouth of the Miami River in Biscayne Bay and is part of the Miami metropolitan region with about 6.1 million inhabitants. Miami is also the filming location for many well-known films and series such as Miami Vice, Dexter, CSI Miami, Golden Girls, Scarface, Crazy for Mary, the Bad Boys series and many, many more.

Miami has it all: beaches, exotic cuisine, excursions and shopping centres. By the way, Key Biscayne with its fine sandy beaches is one of the most popular seaside resorts in Florida. We will stay two nights in Miami and indulge in this flair with all our senses. We have chosen the hotel RIU Plaza Miami Beach. It has a pool and is located only 10 kilometres from the historic Virginia Key Beach Park and just outside Miami.




Day 10 - Day 12

On the tenth day of our Florida round trip we drive across the Everglades. It is about 137 kilometres from our hotel in Miami to our next accommodation - with a few short stops in between, this will be a little over two hours' drive. Part of this tropical marshland is protected as Everglades National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, this great natural area is on the red list of endangered world heritage sites, so you should look carefully at how you approach it. A little restraint is certainly appropriate here in terms of environmental protection. In the park, there are several developed paths where you can observe nature and the animals on foot. For example, you can find a lot of wildlife in Shark Valley - it branches off Highway 41 about 35 km south of Miami. The Anhinga Trail, 1 km to the left after the park entrance on State Road 9336, also allows a visit on foot. From there, alligators, cormorants, herons, anhingas, several large fish and turtles can be observed at close range. We are particularly looking forward to this.


A visit to the Everglades is an absolute must for nature lovers.


We will spend two nights in the Everglades area. We will stay at the Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort. The hotel with pool and barbecue facilities offers studios with microwave, refrigerator and coffee accessories and also has a small marina with boat ramps. From there you have direct access to the Everglades.




Day 12 - Day 17

After the nature experience in the Everglades, an approximately 82-kilometre drive takes us to Fort Myers. The leisurely drive will take about 1.5 hours. Fort Myers is a city of just under 87,000 inhabitants and the county seat of Lee County. The region around Fort Myers and Sanibel Island is known for its long sandy beaches and the balmy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Sanibel can be reached from Fort Myers via a toll bridge. One of the highlights on this tranquil island is the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. There are several well-marked nature trails where you can observe many birds and other wild animals. Another tip is a detour to the marina and Lighthouse Beach Park in the far east of the island. Here you can also admire some very attractive yachts. With a little luck, you can watch dolphins on a boat tour in Tarpon Bay. By the way, the beaches on Sanibel are famous for the large number of shells.

If you haven't had enough of the cosy island life, you can continue straight to Captive Island. Here, too, relaxation is a priority. In the centre of town, we recommend a visit to the picturesquely located Mucky Duck Pub. Here you can relax with a drink and a view of the sea. Back in Fort Myers, you can treat yourself to some history and visit the homes and workshops of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. In any case, that's all on our programme.

With a wonderful rating of 9.4, the Hotel Tiki on the Beach appealed to us very much. This gorgeous accommodation is right on beautiful Fort Myers Beach and some rooms have a great sea view and a small kitchenette - always good if you want to save some money.



Sad addendum: The Tiki on the Beach was unfortunately completely destroyed by Hurricane Ian two months after our stay. We send our best wishes and much strength to Florida!


Day 17 - Day 22

Our last stop in Florida will be Bradenton. The city of about 56,000 people is the county seat of Manatee County and 182 kilometres from Fort Myers. We will be travelling by car for an estimated 2.5 to 3 hours. Bradenton is located at the mouth of the Manatee River and the name of this river already gives an indication of the animals that can be found there: the Manatees. These cosy river giants are also called round-tailed cows and can be visited in the Bradenton area, among other places. Contact with these gentle herbivores is an experience in any case, as the animals are very curious towards humans. Only sleeping animals or nursing mothers should not be disturbed.

The friendly Manatees also like to poke people with their noses.


From Bradenton as a starting point, we also recommend a trip to the two islands Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.


The last five nights in the Sunshine State we will sleep very well in the holiday home Shorewalk Full Condo Lake Walk. The holiday home has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a flat screen satellite TV, a fully equipped kitchen and a balcony with lake view, as well as a barbecue and a patio. A finish as it should be.





Back to New York

After this three-week round trip, it's back to New York for our little family, where we take the direct flight to Vienna after two more nights. In the meantime, the excitement is huge and we are already looking forward tremendously to this great trip. In any case, I will take my laptop with me and write about my impressions on the way. I hope I was able to whet your appetite for travelling and remain open to your questions and comments.


We look forward to your feedback and are open to a lively exchange. You also want to travel, like to travel often and have a question, just write us and comment.


Kind regards,

Steffi, Max and the kids

(Author of this blog: Max)


Also check out my New York tips:


 

Shopping tips for Florida


Within sight of Marathon, Florida, lies an island left to its own devices. While its harbor is picture-postcard perfect, abandoned and hurricane-ravaged Boot Key has a secret hiding deep in its mangrove tunnels and derelict fishing shacks. With its only bridge deemed too costly to maintain and its center span removed, Boot Key is accessible only by water. The authorities give the few residents a wide berth--until Mac Travis, working a salvage job, discovers the body of an old friend. His search for justice leads him down a road of murder and deceit.


Packed with scenic locations, boating, fishing, diving, and the usual cast of Conch Republic characters, Wood’s Honor will take you on a wild ride through the underbelly of Florida Keys counterculture.


 

Lonely Planet's Florida is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Snorkel in the Keys, explore the magic of Walt Disney World resort, and marvel at Miami's art














 

Perfect for planning and enjoying a stress-free family holiday, this easy-to-use guide book is packed with insider tips and information on Florida's best family-friendly activities and attractions.


Explore the magic of Orlando's theme parks, experience flight simulation at Kennedy Space Center or build sandcastles on the Gulf Coast beaches. From recommendations of child-friendly restaurants to suggestions for rainy-day activities, this guide book takes the work out of planning a family trip to Florida.


Inside Family Guide Florida:

- Each major listing includes details of the nearest places to grab a snack or meal, what do if it rains, the closest toilets, and where kids can play and let off steam

- Contains cartoons, quizzes and games to keep young travellers happy all day long

- Detailed coloured maps of all the major attractions and areas help you navigate with ease

- Colour-coded area guides make it easy to find information

- At-a-glance pages highlight all the best sights and activities in each area so you can plan your day quickly

- Features expert suggestions for the best places for families to stay, eat and shop

- Gives essential travel information, including transport, visa and health information

- Covers Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville, St Augustine, Tallahassee, South Walton, Pensacola, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Fort Myers, the Everglades and more


Only going to Orlando? Try DK Eyewitness Top 10 Orlando.


 
Dexter - The Complete Series

Dexter Morgan, a forensic scientist with the Miami police, pursues a somewhat different activity at night. He roams the night as a serial killer, killing people who have already killed in turn. At the same time, he tries to balance his professional and private life with his unusual nocturnal activity. But how can Dexter keep his dark secret from friends, colleagues and his family?


All eight seasons on 35 discs in one box set.





 
Bad Boys 1 - 3

Daredevil Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and his partner Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are still on police duty in Miami and continue to drive Captain Howard up the wall. While loner Mike is still married to his job, family man Marcus increasingly realises that he would rather spend the second half of his life surrounded by his loved ones. However, after Mike becomes the target of an assassination attempt one day, events come to a head and the two have no choice but to hunt down his attacker (Jacob Scipio), who is hiding a dark secret.






 

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