Whenever I suggest the USA as the travel destination, I inevitably end up suggesting Florida as a must visit. I feel that it truly justifies the “Something for Everyone” tag as it has quite a lot to offer for the kids, the adults and the senior citizens (something of a rarity this far away from home).
The thing is that I personally adore Miami and Orlando and would give in to any opportunity I could get to head there. BUT in actuality, Florida has a lot more to it that just these two places! You have a lot to see, a lot to do and a lot to experience which you’d not find anywhere else in the US. I think that’s Florida’s USP other than the welcoming weather, the wonderful people and the comfort it has to offer.
For e.g. Tampa Bay is a surprise package that many seem to surpass while their stay in FL. However, for the Indian market with the IIFA 2014 awards taking place in Tampa, I’m sure people will realize what exactly Tampa is capable of and has to offer to the seasoned traveler.
There are many things to see and do in FL and I’m not even talking about the gastronomical offerings yet! To make it easier, I’ve made a suggestive 9 Day itinerary which could give you an insight into what all you can do in the respective places. I thought it was a better idea than listing them all here and then trying to connect the dots. You could these places either way and my aim is to show you exactly what FL is all about. Feel free to take an extra day or two in any of the stops I’m suggesting and you won’t be disappointed!
Fly into Miami and spend your daylight hours exploring the Design District, the Cuban American community of Little Havana, and the galleries and historic sights of Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. Grab dinner at one of the many excellent restaurants at South Beach and spend the night partying with the beautiful people along Ocean Drive.
Once you’ve shaken off the night before with a café cubano, suck in your gut and hit Miami Beach, where you’ll probably be convinced that the sunbathers next to you are famous. In the afternoon and evening, hit the sidewalks of Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive to shop, eat, and gawk at the art deco buildings.
Slather yourself in sunscreen and bug spray and head south to Everglades National Park or Miami Seaquarium to swim with the Dolphins!! Basically whatever matches your fancy. At everglades, you could spend the day exploring the swamps and nature trails that are accessible from the convenient visitors center.
At the Seaquarium, it’s a whole different game with water rides, displays and the Dolphin Experience. Also,when dusk falls, point your car south for a three-hour odd drive to Key West, where you’ll be able to whoop it up in the clubs and bars of Duval Street.
Spend the early morning taking a stroll on the sidewalks of Key West, exploring the historic buildings and soaking up the tropical vibe before the sun makes the heat and humidity unbearable. After lunch, make your way through the Lower Keys and Upper Keys, stopping in at Bahia Honda State Park to take in the rustic oceanfront scenery and beautiful beach area. From there, it’s about a three-hour drive back to a Miami hotel.
Get up early for the three-hour drive from Miami to Sanibel Island, which will take you through the northern edge of the Everglades via “Alligator Alley.” These are some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida, so you’ll want to allow yourself a relaxing day here to enjoy them completely and to explore the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the island.
From Sanibel, it’s about an hour to Fort Myers, where you can spend a leisurely few hours exploring the Edison and Ford Winter Estates before hitting the road again for the 90-minute drive to Sarasota, where you can catch an opera performance, stroll the downtown art galleries, or gawk at the gaudy architecture of circus magnate John Ringling’s mansion.
From Sarasota, it’s roughly an hour’s drive to Tampa, where you’ll want to explore the historic district of Ybor City, as well as the beautiful downtown area of St. Petersburg. Honestly, you could stay in Tampa for 3 days and always have a new thing to do every time! You have the Florida Aquarium, a relaxing eBoat journey and I’d definitely suggest that you pay a visit to Busch Gardens for all it has to offer in the form of daily Live Shows, some kick-a$$ rides and a whole lot to do for both the kids and adults alike. A friendly tip: Do save your theme-park energy (and funds) for the next few days.
As far as gastronomy is concerned, Tampa scores HIGH! Do visit this restaurant called Seasons 52 (changes its menu weekly, has some amazing Indian dishes and is mind-blowing in total, trust me!). For those who enjoy their breakfast like myself, Oxford Exchange is a must visit! It’s just so classy that it makes even your coffee taste better. For the seafood lovers, do visit Oystercatchers for amazing sea food, amazing views and a spectacular bar. What more could you want, right? Also, you HAVE to visit Columbia Restaurant (Since 1905) in Ybor City where I’ve had the tastiest complimentary “plain-bread” in my life and the food is exceptional to say the least. Finally, if you’re the kind of person who likes Sangria and Spanish food, don’t give Ceviche a miss. It has amazing entertainment, buzzing with energy and its amongst the best Spanish cuisine I’ve had away from Spain!
Depart Tampa as early as possible and head for the Walt Disney World Resort, which is only about an hour to the east. Spend the first part of the day exploring the fairy-tale fantasies of the Magic Kingdom or the eco-minded Animal Kingdom and your evening hours digging into the international food-and-drink possibilities in the World Showcase section of Epcot Center. I must say that if you really want to enjoy Disney, you need to have at least 1 day to each park. Other than the parks mentioned above, you also have Hollywood studios AND two separate Water parks! It’s just something else once you enter the world of Disney.
Spend your final day at Universal Studios, Orlando. If you’re a ride-junky, Island of Adventure is heaven for you. It has by far the best rides I’ve done, EVER and is updating its latest inclusion, the Harry Potter world, the newest addition being Diagon Alley! It’ll take me over a page to write about it so I’m not going to get into that. Just be sure to visit Universal and I’m sure you’ll thank me.
Tip for Shopaholics: Be sure to visit the Orlando Premium Outlets on either International Drive or Vineland Avenue. These outlets are THE place to find the best deals in town and you have the best of the best brands, etc. exhibiting there.