By Lauren Jarvis – September 2019 – 5 minute read
Family fun, eco-adventures and luxury escapes are all possible among the white-sand beaches, verdant parks and warm, turquoise seas of South Florida.
My head still virtually spinning from the rollercoasters of Orlando, I’ve headed south in search of some exhilarating experiences of a different kind.
In chic Sarasota and Naples, I wander boutiques and galleries, eat fabulous food and sink wonderful wine. On Sanibel island, I scour sunset beaches for shells, as pink-hued spoonbills stalk the shallows for fish. In the Everglades, I tramp through steamy swamps, searching for alligators and rare orchids, as bromeliads and Spanish moss drip from the trees. Kayaking the mangroves of Big Pine Key, I spend the day in shorts with salty skin and shaggy hair, as rays and nurse sharks cruise the seagrass beds below. And driving the Overseas Highway on Route 1 to Key West, I find freedom, adventure and an unexpected feeling of home
There are urban delights too, in Miami I sip cocktails at Delano’s and dance after dark under the stars.
From the unspoilt white-sand barrier islands of the Gulf coast, to the primordial, green wilderness of the Everglades National Park; the sparkling, golden lights of its cosmopolitan cities, to the blue sea swirls of the sun-drenched Florida Keys, South Florida showed me shades of the state I’d never imagined.
Lay of the land
There’s plenty for a standalone South Florida stay. Miami is a long-standing international gateway, but flight connections from major U.S. cities to Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Sarasota–Bradenton, Key West and Southwest Florida International in Fort Myers – which will see a $175 million expansion project completed by 2023 – make for a perfect dual-destination trip.
Families should also consider combining a week at Orlando’s many amusement parks (Universal, Disney and Legoland are all here) with another exploring the South’s exciting cities and natural wonders
“South Florida has so much to offer and discover,” says Gill Standeven, Visit Florida’s UK Account Director. “We’re working with tour operators on co-op marketing programmes to promote multi-centre trips, encouraging visitors to travel further.”
For the intrepid, the Everglades National Park has exciting swamp and kayaking tours; Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Dry Tortugas National Park off Key West offer excellent diving and snorkelling; Palm Beach is a surf hotspot, and Fort Myers a watersports mecca.
New for families
Curio Collection by Hilton property, Baker’s Cay Resort in Key Largo (curiocollection3.hilton.com), offers family-friendly activities, including marine science camps, and Eden Roc Miami Beach (edenrochotelmiami.com) has introduced an all-new BECO Kids Club, offering fun marine workshops, pizza making classes, kid’s yoga, mindfulness sessions and more.
On Anna Maria Island, Anna Maia Beach Resort (annamariaislandbeachresort.com) has opened, with a large pool and all rooms offering kitchen facilities.
A new Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville resort (margaritaville.com) will open in 2021 at Fort Myers Beach, with 254 rooms and a water park.
Key West’s newest attraction, the Sails to Rails Museum (historictours.com), leads visitors on an interactive journey through 500 years of fascinating Key West history.
Meanwhile, four new, daily trolley tours of Bahia Honda State Park (floridastateparks.org/BahiaHonda) in the Lower Keys will help nature loving visitors understand the region’s unique ecosystem and history.
Book it: USAirtours (usairtours.co.uk/agent-zone) offers seven nights room-only in the Florida Keys for a family of four from £1,245pp, including flights with Norwegian from London to Miami, car rental, and accommodation in Key Largo and Key West.
New for luxury seekers
Luxury boutique property, Lennox Hotel Miami Beach (lennoxmiamibeach.com), opened in the city’s historic district in August this year, with 119 rooms and its own private beach.
Nobu Hotel Miami Beach (nobuhotelmiamibeach.com) has introduced three new types of Penthouse Level Beach Villas, with a personal concierge, gym, pool and cabanas.
The Palm Beaches has five new, high-end hotels openings: Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences on Singer Island and Canopy by Hilton Hotel in West Palm Beach in 2019; The Ben, Autograph Collection by Marriott and Banyan Cay Resort & Golf, A Noble House Resort, in West Palm Beach in 2020; and Mandarin Oriental, Boca Raton in 2021.
Several multi-million-dollar renovations will be completed on The Paradise Coast this year, including JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa, the Ritz-Carlton Naples; and Naples Grande Beach Resort.
Sarasota has two new, luxury resorts: Art Ovation Hotel Autograph Collection (marriott.com) and boutique property, The Sarasota Modern (thesarasotamodern.com).
The new Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood Hotel and Casino (seminolehardrockhollywood.com) opens in Greater Fort Lauderdale in October 2019, with 1,200 rooms and a 7,000-seat Hard Rock Live entertainment venue.
Marriott opens a new Autograph Collection property in 2020, with the Luminary Hotel & Co. overlooking the Fort Myers River District.
Book it: Funway Holidays (vaxvacationaccess.co.uk) offers 10 days from £1,799pp, including flights from London to Miami, car rental and five-star accommodation for three nights in Miami Beach, three nights in Key West and three nights in Naples.
New for adventure lovers
The adults-only Bunagalows Key Largo (bungalowskeylargo.com) – the Florida Keys’ first all-inclusive resort – reopens in December 2019, offering paddle boarding, kayaking and snorkelling.
Marathon’s 199-unit Isla Bella Beach Resort, adjacent to the iconic Seven Mile Bridge, now has five pools, complimentary bicycles and on-site water sports.
Water lovers can participate in a Sip and SUP eco-tour experience (aquaholicadventures.com) at Islamorada’s Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina, kayaking or paddle boarding to local bars.
Key West HydroBikes (keywesthydrobikes.com) offer rentals from four Key West locations, tours to Castaway Island and Mallory Glow tours to watch the sunset in front of Mallory Square.
The Circus Arts Conservatory (circusarts.org) in Sarasota – home of the famous Ringling Circus Museum – runs circus arts classes and workshops for all ages.
Book it: America As You Like It (americaasyoulikeit.com) has a seven-night room-only holiday from £1,315pp, including flights with Norwegian from London to Miami, car rental, three nights in Naples (for travel to the Everglades) and four nights at Fort Myers Beach (with watersports included).