Most people I’ve met that have been to Florida visit just for the theme parks. Well don’t! The closest I got to Disney was Orlando airport (allow a LOT of time for security checks) and I was more than happy to be headed away from Orlando. We travelled to Cocoa Beach, Stuart, Florida City, then on to the Keys, staying at Marathon then back up the east coast – Sanibel Island – and finished the trip near Ocala.
You’ll never find awesome mountain scenery but the beautiful beaches, sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico and gentle rolling hills in the north of the state are a delight.
In a fortnight we only encountered one other British couple. We assume the plane-load that crossed the Atlantic with us went purely for the theme parks. Their loss.
We encountered fabulous wildlife – manatee, dolphin, turtle, osprey, vulture, pelicans by the bucketload, fish of so many different varieties,and of course alligators and crocodiles for which the area is famed.
The food and the hospitality was legendary. I can’t go for a meal in the UK now without making comparison. We Brits really have to pull our socks up on the service issue. (British waitresses know the words to use but not how to deliver them.) After careful market research my husband declared the best Key Lime pie was indeed served on the Keys – namely Wahoo’s, Islamadora.
Another thing that made our holiday was the music. Several places we ate at had live music – and very talented musicians they were – but even the recorded music was so in keeping with the place it just felt right. Jimmy Buffet & Alan Jackson were played liberally and I thought I’d tire of that style but, even though I’ll probably never play it at home, whilst your eating a beautifully cooked Mahi-Mahi salad in a Tiki Bar overlooking a picturesque marina, dotted with pelicans – and the odd manatee – then it fits perfectly.
The only thing we had problems with were the hotels. The American star rating system seems to bear no resemblance to the British rating system. Beware! Even one of the well known chains let us down by serving breakfast on paper plates with plastic cutlery! So be very careful when booking. Oddly, the place we thought we may have problems was a roadside motel in Florida City but it was actually pretty good. And one of the places we thought would be great – Hidden Harbour Suites, Fort Myers Beach – was abysmal. Avoid at all costs.