Our 2 weeks in Florida began with a stay in Orlando and a visit to the theme parks, but we were keen to take this opportunity to do explore more of Florida and to holiday in the Florida Keys. We took some time working out the best places to stay in Florida with kids and worked out our itinerary in advance.
We hired a mid-sized SUV which was big enough for four of us plus luggage. We collected it from Orlando airport after landing and dropped it off at Miami airport on our last day. Having a car is pretty essential in the USA as everything is so spread out. The one extra we did bring was a Sat Nav, a lifesaver and worth every penny!
(Approximately 2 hours from Orlando hotels)
Over towards Tampa on the West Coast is the wonderful seaside town of Clearwater, often voted best beach in the USA (some accolade!).
It's perfect for families with small kids as the sea is so calm and the sands fine and white. Whilst paddling with the kids we were lucky enough to see a huge sea turtle swim quite close to the shore. There are plenty of places to eat and drink near Pier 60 and you can enjoy the daily mini-festival on Pier 60 which starts everyday 2 hours before sunset. On my wife's birthday we took the 'Little Toot' boat ride out into the marina, which offers Dolphin spotting. We were not disappointed and after a while we had a set of 5-10 dolphins happily jumping in and out of the boats wake, we were all spellbound!
(Approximately 1 hr from Orlando hotels)
Being a big space buff, I’ve wanted to visit the Kennedy Space Centre for years! The new Atlantis Shuttle exhibition was by far the best part of my day; there were loads of interactive exhibits for the kids to play with and the actual original Atlantis shuttle is there in all its glory, there is even a shuttle launch simulator which was great.
You can also take a bus ride around the greater complex to see some of the launch pads and you end up in a big hanger with a real Saturn 5 rocket overhead and plenty of exhibitions. Once you’re on this bus route, you have to go with the pace so you can’t go fast. Make sure you go to Atlantis exhibition first as this was by far and away the best exhibit.
(Approximately 3 hours from Kennedy)
We stayed one night in Fort Lauderdale to break the journey down to the Keys, but it was a lovely beachside town and is quite young and hip. My wife is a Coeliac and we found the best Gluten Free restaurant ever, a place called ‘Weezie's Gluten Free Kitchen‘ where we had a great breakfast of gluten free pancakes - even I couldn’t tell the difference!
(30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale)
Despite all the development and seasonal homes, much of Florida is still covered by swampland. The Everglades are a huge and important expanse of low level waterways and reed beds and are home to a lot of wildlife including Florida’s most famous resident the Florida Alligators.
I watched a lot of old US TV shows growing up and the airboats used in Gentle Ben always stuck in my head. We stopped for a morning at Sawgrass Recreation Park and Everglades conservation centre about a 30 minute drive from Fort Lauderdale. They offer both day or night time air boat rides into the Glades, as well as a small conservation area for rescued wildlife and cafe.
The Keys are a stunning set of small islands that fan out into the Gulf of Mexico from the southernmost point of Florida. There is a single road that interlinks them all the way down to Key West and you’ll pass through iconic places such as Key Largo on the way down to Key West. They all have a laid back and liberal atmosphere and it feels like a great place to unwind after Orlando's hectic parks.
We stayed on a Key called Marathon which is about half way down. Fishing, kayaking and boating and every other kind of water sports are on offer, along with lots of great seafood, locally brewed beers and of course you have to try the famous Key Lime Pie!
Key West is a great place to visit, with a vacation atmosphere and plenty of places to eat, drink and people watch. We spent a great evening around Mallory Square, with the world class street performers plying their triad for 2-3 hours whilst the sun sets over the sea, the kids were captivated and the fun loving atmosphere was infectious.
Ever since watching Miami Vice as a kid I've longed to spend a weekend in Miami, just to see if it's really as I imagined it to be - and South Beach didn't disappoint! Everywhere I looked I felt I was in a movie, TV show or video game. The old art deco area and esplanade with its stunning pastel neon lights is as stunning as I imagined it would be, the white beach is wide and well looked after.
We spent Friday night out with both the locals and tourists alike, all dressed to kill and out strutting their stuff. We just walking up and down Ocean drive people-watching and counting super cars, it was great fun. My son was over the moon to have sighted his 'full house' of a Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin all within 30 minutes. We stayed in an art deco hotel next to 'Espanola Way' which is a nice pedestrianised street full of Latino bars and restaurants and shops but was still only a few blocks back from the beach.
As you can use a card to pay for just about everything in the US, I’ve always been lazy and been stung by my UK current account for various exchange rates and transaction fees. This time I decided to investigate alternative payment cards before I went and opted for one called Revolut.
When you sign up online, you’ll receive a physical Revolut card with MasterCard through the post (takes about 1 week). Next, you download the Revolut App and link it to your UK bank account or debit card, and from here you can top it up via the App on your phone (very easy).
The card and whole service is free. There is a slight monthly limitation on ATM withdrawals in the USA, but on charged transactions the exchange rates we found were very close to interbank rates and so much better than my Barclays account on the odd occasion I did have to use it. After each transaction you get a text alert, showing the amount, exchange rates etc. which is reassuring. I think it probably saved me over £100 just in fees over a 2 week holiday, I was really impressed.
Having spent so long planning my own USA family holiday, I have plenty of advice on Florida trips for families! If you’d like to plan a 2 week itinerary that takes in more than just the theme parks, I can tailor-make your entire holiday. I will help you find flights (into one airport and out of a different one if you prefer), accommodation to suit your budget and style and find a car or campervan to suit your family.
To start planning your Florida itinerary and to book a trip like this, contact Jim.