We recognize Florida for its sun-filled beaches, warm climate, world famous theme parks and great resorts. It is also the location to board a ship for most of the Caribbean cruises. If you are booking a cruise that departs from either Miami or Fort Lauderdale, why not extend your stay in Florida for a few days? Rent a car and see the state.
Florida offers large cities and small towns with a unique mixture of cultures. Parts of Miami remain entrenched with Cuban culture. You hear Spanish language in many locations. Cuban food can be found in many restaurants. Miami Beach has become, in recent years, a vacation spot for the fashionable rich and famous.
Further south are the “Keys” with the most famous being Key West. This town is rather special since it was once the Summer Whitehouse during President Harry Truman’s days in office. The town offers several festivals each year and provides some very nice lodging with great beaches. It is not large, but often very lively. Here, you can visit the Ernest Hemingway Museum, take a Conch Train Tour of the town, see the Key West Shipwreck Historeum and more.
Florida is known for diving and snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, championship golf courses and miles of wilderness hiking and biking trails. The theme parks are a must for many, especially if you have never visited them before. There is Disneyworld at Orlando along with Universal Studios and Park. Universal will show you their studio lot, which produces TV shows and itself is a theme park with Universal Island Adventure, plus a lot of nightlife.
There is more to Florida than theme parks. You might think of the entire state of Florida as a theme park when you consider all that there is to do. How about searching for alligators in the “outback” swamp area in an airboat? Or go deep fishing on either coast.
A couple months ago when Norma and I departed our cruise ship we rented a car in Fort Lauderdale and drove north on coast highway A1A that took us through the heavily populated towns of Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth and into Palm Beach and West Palm Beach. This covered a distance of some 50 miles. All the apartments, condos, resorts and private homes along this road are upscale to say the least.
We ended our journey at the famed Breakers Resort. This is one of the finest resorts in North America. It was constructed almost 100 years ago by railroad baron, Henry Flagler, who constructed a major rail line from the northeast to south Florida. His Breakers Resort was near the end of his line and provided northeasterners a luxury property to get sun, swim and relax away from the snow and ice 1,200 miles north. The Breakers is still in vogue and you can stay there for $500 a night in a standard room. Get fancy and your rate may reach the thousands per night. We enjoyed lunch there, facing the Atlantic and were treated to a very fine dining experience for a very fine price.
Going further north along highway I-95 you will pass near Fort Pierce, Vero Beach, Melbourne and then Cocoa Beach, Port Canaveral and Cape Canaveral. Just west of there is Orlando, Winter Park, and nearby you’ll find Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee.
Further north on the east coast from Orlando is Daytona Beach, Palm Coast and St. Augustine.
St. Augustine is very interesting with history of the Spanish explorers and buildings that resemble old Spain. Treasure hunter Ponce de Leon first sighted it in 1513 and named it La Florida, meaning “Land of Flowers.” St. Augustine was founded 42 years before the English colony at Jamestown, Va. and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, making it the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent.
In the early 20th century Henry Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil, established two grand hotels for his railroad passengers to stay in (in addition to The Breakers): the Alcazar and his masterpiece, the Ponce de Leon. Plan to spend at least one day here if time permits.
Further up I-95 is Jacksonville. West of there are White Springs, Live Oak and Tallahassee.
West is Panama City, Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Wherever you travel in Florida, there are wonderful experiences waiting. The people are usually very friendly and willing to answer your questions and give directions. They’ll recommend the best place to have lunch or dinner and the local sights to see that may not be in your travel plans.
How about viewing a sinkhole that occurred last week, or a snake or alligator farm that may not be on your map, or perhaps a roadside shack to purchase oranges? The locals are willing to show you the way.
If you have air reservations booked in and out of Fort Lauderdale or Miami, I suggest starting your land vacation with a night in this area; traveling north to perhaps the Orlando area for three or four days to experience the theme parks; then heading north for St. Augustine and Jacksonville; and finally south along highway 301/I-75 into the Tampa/St. Petersburg area for the excitement there.
The beaches in this area are some of the finest in the United States. Try a day in Clearwater just north of Tampa. The sands are pure white, soft and cozy. The water all along the west coast of the state is usually as calm as a lake. I have always liked Tampa. It is clean, modern and quite safe in most areas.
Then, go south along I-75 to the Sarasota area and find Beer Can Beach. It is rated among beachgoers as No. 1 in the nation and once the home of author Steven King, who resided there until he could no longer walk his dog on the beach.
Further south on the I-75 is Fort Myers and Naples. Here, you can decide whether you wish to continue south to Everglades City or head east on highway 75, known as “Alligator Alley” to Fort Lauderdale.
The other choice would be to continue south on I-75 to Everglades City and stay a night. Here, you have the opportunity to do some serious fishing in the “Mangrove Jungle” which borders the 10,000 Islands and the Gulf of Mexico. The Everglades is really not a huge swamp inhabited only by large snakes and alligators, but is rather a masterpiece of nature’s beauty. You might enjoy a ride through this area on an airboat to see the area and its delights.
From Everglades City travel east on highway 41 which will take you into Miami.
The best time to visit Florida is probably during the winter when the temperatures are in the 70s and 80s with lower humidity. The summers are hot and humid.
Don’t expect any mountains in Florida. It is flat, green, mostly tropical and very scenic. Give it a try sometime.
Rim Review readers recently submitted the following notes on Ken Brooks’ “Travel Talk” column.
“One of the resorts featured in the skiing article, which ran Jan. 13, is not actually operating this year. Tamarack Resort wasn’t able to open due to bankruptcy/foreclosure issues.”
“The article on someone’s trip to the Yucatan in the ’60s was a little off. First of all, it’s Puerto Morelos, not Morales; and Cozumel is east of Merida not south.”