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With the family through Florida - the second part of our round trip

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

You can really enjoy yourself on the beach in Fort Myers.

The first 10 days of our Florida round trip are over, and they were days full of new impressions for our two children and us. Florida is incredibly well-kept, incredibly rich in many corners and incredibly hot everywhere. We were preoccupied with the wealth. In some areas, millionaire's mansions are lined up next to millionaire's mansions and one wonders how there can be so many rich and super-rich people at all. As a tourist, you rarely come to the area of the "poor". Life in the USA is hard if you don't have enough money, but with the right bank balance you can live a life like in paradise. People can't all live on credit here, can they?

Many residences of the well-heeled are anything but discreet. It starts with the entrances, which are reminiscent of large 5-star hotels. In front of the houses are gardens that have been transformed into green works of art by the best landscape gardeners and the houses would also have pleased a Louis XVI - columns, statues and fountains celebrate a not always aesthetic coexistence. How I would have loved to walk into one of these places and say, "Here I am, where's the pool and bring on the cocktails!" But quite honestly: I don't want to live like that. It's too much of a good thing.

After five nights in the Keys, which were very relaxing but surprisingly lacking the expected dream beaches, it was off to Miami. Unfortunately, my wife's smartphone went bye-bye, it just wouldn't turn on, and we headed to one of the larger shopping malls. We found what we were looking for in the local Samsung shop and got a new phone. Unfortunately, we didn't find any Huawei in the USA. The prices for them are not really lower than here. However, it was an experience to walk through a US mall.

We were already surprised at the entrance. There were "tablet strollers" - special shopping trolleys for children, each with its own integrated tablet. It would be terrible if the kids interfered with the shopping pleasure, so off they went in front of the screen with the annoying rascals. Interesting tactics, we thought, but not for us. Our offspring have to stroll through the Dolphin Mall the conventional way: On foot. After all, we had all earned a wonderful lunch there at the mall's food plaza. Here, the various eateries crowded next to each other and everyone could eat what they wanted, whether Mexican, Asian, BBQ or classic fast food. It was even very cheap for Florida.

Weird: At the Tablet Trollers in the Dolphin Mall, each child has their own tablet.

As an old series junkie, I was very pleased when I left the mall: a car with the inscription "Crime Scene Investigation" drove past in front of the car park - in Miami, of all places. I wanted to wait to see if Horatio would come by, but my wife wanted to go to the hotel.

We changed our accommodation a few days before arrival. We had originally booked the Hampton Inn by Hilton Miami-Coconut Groves, but received an email 5 days before check-in advising us of the rather strict Corona rules: Impersonal check-in, staff always wear masks and guests are also asked to do so voluntarily. We are not Corona deniers, but on holiday we really didn't want that, so we cancelled (free of charge, thanks to . There are enough rules in Vienna anyway. Finally, after numerous tips from online forums, we decided on the RIU Plaza Miami Beach. There are enough rules in Vienna anyway.

Very pleasant ambience at the RIU Plaza Miami Beach (as long as the lift works).

The RIU hotel chain is represented worldwide and is known for good standards, so we were very happy about our decision, especially because it was right on the beach and would have an excellent breakfast buffet. The drive through Miami to the hotel was a bit lengthy, but the reception was all the better for it. The large hotel lobby was a nice contrast to the smaller accommodations we usually booked. The room, however, was rather a disappointment. The washing shell was in the anteroom (so not in the bathroom?!), the bathroom door was made of frosted glass (I don't like that) and could not be closed and every shower flooded the entire bathroom and parts of the anteroom. No matter, the rest of the hotel was fine - we don't want to complain on a high level here. The breakfast was really a hit. Not at all good for my already too buxom body, but we were on holiday.

On the first evening, our son showed signs of sunstroke, or an infection. He wasn't feeling well at all and just wanted to sleep. He told us to walk around Ocean Drive and take pictures for him. We got him a cheese sandwich in the hotel shop, left a mobile phone with him and went for a walk with a guilty conscience.

We didn't want to be out for more than an hour and a half anyway.

Miami Beach has flair. The colourful city on the water itself has only about 450,000 inhabitants (the metropolitan region has over 6 million) and is the second largest city in Florida after Jacksonville. More than half of the inhabitants speak Spanish. The Miami Seaquarium on Virginia Key and the Cuban quarter of Little Havana are Miami's biggest tourist attractions. Ocean Drive is probably the most famous street in South Beach, the southern part of the city. The streamline modern style evolved from the Art Deco style and essentially dominates Ocean Drive. Particularly famous is the section between 5th and 14th Street, where Lummus Park is located, which merges into the sandy beach of Miami Beach. The atmosphere here is extraordinary - people want to see and be seen here, which is also shown by the particularly high density of high-priced horsepower cars.

Miami Beach lives up to its name. We drove on a little sadly.

The evening heat during this walk got to us, so we walked back to our air-conditioned hotel room quite quickly. We also wanted to check how our boy was doing. As it turned out, not so good. He apparently had a fever and was a bit confused, so I went out again and looked for a pharmacy in already dark Miami. After a 20-minute walk, I found what I was looking for and got some fever-reducing medicine. Fortunately, the next morning the spook was over and he was feeling better again. He has had a day like that on every trip.

For the next day, we had booked a combined bus and boat trip through Miami. We wanted to see the city, incl. Little Havana and the artists' quarter, and take a tour of the promi mansions in front of Miami. Especially the second part will remain in our memories, because we saw the mansions of Silvester Stallone, Puff Daddy, Shakira, Jackie Chan, Julio Iglesias, the Beckhams, Ricky Martin and the mansion where Scarface was filmed. The most expensive property, however, belongs to the inventor of Viagra. The stand-up pill must have made a lot of money. Sex sells, also in the pharmaceutical industry.

Tall houses and incredibly expensive and swanky celebrity mansions - that's Miami.

Finally, we also passed the island of the richest man in the world: Elon Musk. However, the eccentric multi-billionaire does not live there himself (I think he lives in his office anyway), but has had a residential complex built there for rich people. The island can only be reached by boat and offers every luxury you can imagine. Those who want to live there, however, need the necessary small change. Just to get on the waiting list, you have to take 250,000 dollars out of petty cash. I immediately checked our account balance and did not cancel the return tickets. It just didn't work out.

On the second evening, we said goodbye to Miami with a wonderful beach walk. We were thrilled by the wide beach with its well-known lifeguard huts. It is not directly on the street and even in the evening it is a meeting place for young people and families who simply have a good time here. We could have stayed here longer.

The following day, we had to leave the RIU Plaza Miami. We zigzagged along the Tamiami Trail, the old US 41 leading directly from Miami to Naples through the middle of the Glades. This road, seemingly drawn with a ruler over many miles, is worth the trip alone. It led us directly to our next accommodation, the Port of the Island Everglade Adventure Resort.

On the way to the Everglades, we stopped at the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Centre.

To the left and right of the road you can look directly into one of the most famous national parks. Here we also saw the first free-living alligator. He calmly crossed the road and I had to brake quite abruptly. Great. We passed several tour operators and campgrounds and the drive up to the Loop Road of the Cypress Big National Preserve. We definitely wanted to do this 2-hour round trip by car, but before that we stopped at the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Centre, got information about the surrounding area and walked a short logging trail back and forth. Here you can also go to the toilet for free. Always a good tip in the USA, where public toilets are a rarity.

After another half hour's drive, we arrived at our next accommodation. The Port of the Island Everglade Adventure Resort is a man-made harbour originally built for fishing. In the meantime, it has become a holiday residence for Americans from all over the country. Quite a few of them spend their retirement here in the wasteland. There are always nice houses for sale along the widely ramified canals, but house prices have risen sharply in recent years, as they have almost everywhere, we were told.

In this "resort" it was very quiet from the beginning. The large reception hall of the hotel surprised me. The resort is probably very popular with long-term holidaymakers, it has a pool that is pleasantly cool for Florida, a laundry, a restaurant with karaoke and several warning signs about the prowling black bears. Yes, that's right, in Everglades there are alligators, panthers and also quite impressive bears. We were all very surprised by that.

The hotel room was relatively dark and the small kitchen was not well equipped, but the pool and the excursion possibilities made up for it. Unfortunately we were charged twice for the room and only got it back 6 weeks later and after intervening several times afterwards. One of the few annoyances of this trip.

The Port grounds were large, very well maintained and the pool was comparatively cool.

At the top of our "to do list" was an airboat tour and the search for manatees! After our dolphin adventure, we really wanted to visit some of the large but peaceful manatees. On the first afternoon, however, we drove to Everglades City and took an airboat tour at Captain Jack. Although I almost got impaled by a tree sticking into the water (the driver just saved me), the ride through the canals of the Everglades was an experience. You have to do it when you are here.

After the happy boat ride, we continued down the road through the sleepy Everglades town to Chokoloskee. Here you are in the middle of nowhere and can join foxes and rabbits in saying goodnight. The atmosphere here is unique, it has to be said. The locals here, however, seem as if they don't often have visitors from abroad. I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien ....

Three excursions: airboat tour, manatee search in the canals and road loop ride. Great!

Back at the hotel, we visited the only restaurant in the area in our resort. The food there was seriously okay and the karaoke numbers by the local regulars made us feel a bit like we were in a weird road movie. These are exactly the moments we love about travelling. Moments that you never forget.

We had booked a manatee boat tour for the next morning. Our guide was a pensioner who earns extra money through the tours. He is happy to receive extra tips and he really deserved it, because he entertained us very well on the one-hour tour and told us about the peace-loving animals. Since manatees are often injured by propellers, the boats have an alternative electric drive at the front of the bow that cannot hurt the animals. Of course, we always like that. But we didn't see any manatees that day. Our tour guide gave us the tip to call the centre, then we would get another free tour the next day. Very nice.

Of course, we didn't need to be told twice. Before we even left for the Loop Road, we booked a Manatee Tour for our onward day.

The loop road is a 27-mile stretch through dwarf cypress forests, pine forests, hardwood hammocks and some of the most photographed scenery in the Everglades Nature Reserve. The route almost reminded us a bit of our travels through South Africa, as we were able to spot quite a few birds and alligators on the side of the road. However, you should allow a good two hours for this excursion. We spent the rest of the day at and especially in the pool.

The next morning we packed our bags once again. We still had two more stops in Florida ahead of us. Next destination: Fort Myers. But first we had to complete our second manatee tour. This time, too, it seemed at first that the cuddly manatees would avoid us or swim, but then we made a bull's eye in a narrow side arm and came across a group of eight or nine animals, which we accompanied for a while. It was great. Thanks to Manatee Sightseeing and Wildlife Adventure or this opportunity.

Off to the coast of Fort Myers. The region around Fort Myers and Sanibel Island on Florida's southwest coast is a true natural paradise. Exotic wildlife lives here, you can walk through mangrove forests and paddle through waterways, but you can also play golf and enjoy wonderful cycling. In the coastal area you can observe sea turtles, manatees and dolphins and relax on what we consider to be the most beautiful beaches in Florida.

We had booked the promising Tiki on the Beach accommodation, which we had booked once before two years ago but had to cancel because of the pandemic. The cosy flat resort offers rooms with sea or courtyard views and a superbly equipped kitchen. The Tiki is located directly on the white-sand beach and we fell in love immediately. We could stay here longer than five nights. By the way, our longest stay of the whole trip.

Trauriger Nachtrag: Das Tiki on the Beach wurde zwei Monate nach unserem Aufenthalt leider vom Hurricane Ian vollkommen zerstört. Wir schicken unsere besten Wünsche und viel Kraft nach Florida!

The "Tiki on the Beach" was our favourite accommodation in all of Florida - right on the beach. Unfortunately, this great accommodation no longer exists. :-(

From the very first evening, we made it a tradition to celebrate the sunset with a drink. We got to know and love this "practice" as a "sundowner" in South Africa. The sunsets here were fantastic. When a thunderstorm passes by in the background, two rainbows outdo each other in the front and finally a group of dolphins "jumps" by 50 metres from the beach, you can confidently call the whole thing mega kitsch. That's exactly what it was like, with goose bumps guaranteed.

From here we visited Sanibel and Captiva Island, 30 minutes away. And here the kitsch continues. If you drive over the bridges to the islands (be careful with the toll road), you end up in a real tropical paradise. However, it's not very easy to get around here by car and it's advisable to borrow a bike. Firstly, you can park your car for free at the bike rental (parking fees are sometimes enormous here), as there are no public parking spaces, and secondly, the islands are much better to explore by bike. There is a well-developed network of cycle paths.

With the bikes, we visited the Ding Darling Wildlife Park. There is a great, air-conditioned information and visitor centre here, you can take a tram tour and the cycling tour through the wonderful natural landscape is a real dream. Just don't forget that it's scorching hot here in summer. For us, this day was one of the best of the whole trip and we said to ourselves: If we ever come to this area again, we will book accommodation on one of the two islands.

Here are a few impressions from Fort Myers. It makes you want to go right back.

On another day, we visited the Sun Splash Waterpark in Cape Coral with the children. It was quite expensive but fun for the whole family, even though it was abruptly cut short by an oncoming storm. We parents were particularly taken with the Lazy River. Just the thing for relaxing. It was hard for all of us to say goodbye to Fort Myers and the Tiki on the beach.

In any case, the Sun Splash water park was a highlight for our two children.

Our last stop was in Bradenton. The town of 55,000 people borders Palmetto to the north and lies about 60 km south of Tampa. Here, too, we had booked a "full condo", i.e. a fully equipped flat, but this time not on the beach but a little inland, in the Shorewalk Full Condo Lake View complex, with several ponds, sports fields and two pools. Check-in was particularly easy here. We received the directions, the room number and the code for the key safe by e-mail and never had any contact with the staff.

From Bradenton we also visited the Rail Road Museum and the Myakka River State Park. The tall wooden tower took some getting used to.

The flat itself blew us away: Almost 100 square metres with 2 bathrooms, extra children's room, washing machine plus dryer, beautiful kitchen with hatch to the living area and view of a beautiful pond. We immediately felt at home here and the price-performance ratio was a dream.

Near our super-equipped flat there was also a Aldi.

As soon as we moved into the flat, we were greeted by a hungry drake begging for food at the patio door. We think the pushy little guy must have been a Labrador in his previous life. There was an Aldi and a Publix supermarket within walking distance of the flat, so we were well supplied. I got a pack of pancake mix on a trial basis and made fresh pancakes every morning. Good for the kids, bad for my weight.

From here, we explored several beautiful beaches (again, be prepared for a long parking hunt), the Rail Road Museum , the magnificent Myakka River State Park and visited the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. Even for the children, the exhibition of the world-famous painter was an experience. At Bradenton Beach we even had close contact with a group of manatees. The animals even nudged a few swimmers with their big noses. It was incredible.

On the way back from St. Petersburg, the sat nav guided us through a lower middle class residential area - that was also very interesting to see. We spent our last day in Florida on the beach again. Here, as on every trip, we said an intensive goodbye to the sea. We didn't know then that chance would bring us to another, surprisingly beautiful beach.

Das Dali-Museum in St. Petersburg hat sogar unsere Kinder richtig beeindruckt.

All I can say to anyone thinking of doing a round trip through the Sunshine State Florida is: If you have some money to spare, do it. It never gets boring in Florida and we didn't even begin to see everything. Even though it was incredibly hot at times, we can understand why many retirees spend their retirement in Florida. You really don't have to miss anything here. It could well be that we come back again.

On our last day in Florida, we said goodbye to the sea.

We look forward to your feedback and are open to a lively exchange. You also want to travel and 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)

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