By Jeannine Williamson | February 2018 | 6 minute read
Fabulous Florida is all set to welcome Brits to one of their favourite holiday destinations in 2018. Whether clients are looking for the thrill of the world-famous theme parks or downtime on white sugar beaches, the Sunshine State is unveiling a host of new hotels and attractions this year.
Despite Hurricane Irma last autumn, Florida is very much open for business and the tourism industry is upbeat. Reflecting the mood across the state, Jim De Keyrel, Sales Director for the Florida Keys Tourism Council, says: “All the Florida Keys’ major visitor attractions are open and nearly 75% of lodging units are back online, with more re-openings set throughout the first quarter of 2018.”
From the new Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to a year of special events marking the 250th anniversary of charming New Smyrna Beach – settled by Scottish physician Andrew Turnbull – and a three-storey retail extension at Miami’s Aventura Mall, there’s something on the agenda for every kind of tourist.
And those arriving via Tampa International Airport will appreciate the investment straight off – a one-billion-dollar expansion includes a new rental car hub and tram system.
Hotels & Resorts
The eagerly-awaited 200-room beachfront Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach will open this year.
Exclusive 37-room Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club is the first full-service resort on Anna Maria Island.
The Island Inn, the oldest accommodation on Sanibel Island, has undergone a multi-million-dollar refurbishment, adding 12 new suites overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. On the Paradise Coast, the 310-room Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort is reopening following a $40-million refurbishment which includes the al-fresco Deck restaurant and bar with an all-day happy hour.
At Fort Myers the Pink Shell Beach Resort has employed a naturalist to host morning wildlife walks and other activities. New Smyrna Beach welcomes its newest oceanfront hotel, the 114-room SpringHill Suites, occupying a prime position on the main road, Flagler Avenue.
On the Treasure Coast the 178-room ocean-inspired Hutchinson Shores Resort, is the first resort to open on Jensen Beach in almost two decades.
Clients can enjoy a cheeseburger in paradise at the all-new laid-back 187-room Margaritaville Resort Orlando or sip a sundowner at the recently reopened Amara Cay Resort in Islamorada on the Florida Keys.
Sell it: North America Travel Service was the first UK operator to sign a direct agreement with the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach and offers rooms from £85pp per night.
Toy Story Land comes to Disney’s Hollywood Studios this summer. The 11-acre site will transport visitors to lead character Andy’s backyard with rides including a roller coaster on the back of Slinky Dog. To mark the 20th anniversary of Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a new show with close-up bird encounters.
SeaWorld has two new rides: Ray Rush is a family rafting adventure comprising three different waterslides, whilst Infinity Falls, opening in the summer, will be a rainforest experience – thrill seekers will plunge 40ft down the world’s tallest river rapid drop.
Guests to Universal Studios can now select a time slot in advance for the latest Fast & Furious - Supercharged film-themed ride. The park also has a new night-time lagoon show.
This year Legoland Florida opens Ninjago: Master of the 4th Dimension, a 4D theatrical experience, plus the Great Lego Race, the first virtual reality roller coaster for kids.
Sell it: Gold Medal offers seven nights B&B at the Ramada Plaza Resort and Suites International Drive Orlando. Prices start at £649pp, including flights.
Arts & Culture
The institute of Contemporary Art Miami has opened the doors to its new permanent home in Miami’s Design District. In addition to showcasing established contemporary artists the gallery provides a platform for the work of local and emerging talent.
A two-year expansion and renovation at Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach will be revealed in 2018, with more gallery space and a sculpture garden.
In St Petersburg the Imagine Museum opened in January. It displays 500 glittering works charting the growth of America’s studio glass movement from the 1960s to the present.
Sell it: Carrier offers three nights at The Betsy, South Beach Miami, from £560pp room only.
Dine with superheroes including Spider-Man, Captain America and Cyclops at the all-new Marvel Character Dinner buffet at Universal’s Islands of Adventure .
Opening this year is the beachfront Crow’s Nest Bar & Grille in New Smyrna Beach, with an upstairs bar overlooking the Atlantic.
Eight new dining experiences are debuting at Orlando’s Disney Springs , including Wine Bar George, Florida’s only master sommelier-led wine bar, and authentic Italian Pizza Pointe.
January saw the opening of La Centrale , Miami’s first-ever Italian food hall with cafes, restaurants and food outlets. And Miami Beach will soon be home to the Time Out Market with 17 kitchens, three bars and a demonstration kitchen under one roof.
Sell it: Funway Holidays offers seven nights at Universal’s Aventura Hotel. Prices from from £829pp, including flights.
There is plenty for golfers in Naples where LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort has reopened after an eight-million-dollar renovation following a two-month closure due to Hurricane Irma. The resort offers golf packages for the 18-hole course which winds around lakes and water features.
Meanwhile the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club has completed a major redesign of its golf course, with input from Jack Nicklaus in collaboration with noted course architect John Sanford. The course is open for public play as well as for resort guests.
Top tip: Florida is the golf capital of the USA, with around 1,100 courses. Tailor-make holidays to coincide with professional tours that take place each year, such as PGA Tour’s Players Championship (pgatour.com) at TPC Sawgrass from May 8 to 13, 2018.
Cosmos has introduced two new tours for 2018: the 13-night New Orleans, the Old South and Florida itinerary, from £2,133pp, and the 11-night Florida Discovery tour, from £1,899pp, which takes in the Everglades, Kennedy Space Centre, Fort Myers and Florida Keys. Both include VIP home pick-up, accommodation with some meals, flights and transfers.
Three new hotels on Miami’s iconic Art Deco strip – SLS Hotel South Beach, Mondrian South Beach and Shelborne South Beach – are being featured by North American Travel Service. Rates start from £102pp, per night.
Funway Holidays launches its Florida Beaches brochure in early February, valid for travel until February 2019.
Sell it: Recommend clients pick up the Tampa CityPASS which is newly available for smartphones. It provides free and discounted admission to top attractions including Busch Gardens and Lowry Park Zoo. .