Florida’s sunny weather and its 1400 miles of sandy beaches bring tourists to the sunshine state all year long for the time-honored ritual of sun worship. Taking into account the millions who visit Orlando for a dose of the mouse, you can see that Florida is a top vacation destination for tourists the world over. But if you’re looking for advice on the best Florida vacation package, why not ask the locals? Here are some highlights of the best vacation destinations in Florida, according to residents.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands
This island chain, west of the city of Fort Myers, is a favorite day trip for the residents of the area, and a lovely spot for a vacation. There is an active Chamber of Commerce here that will help you find a hotel, cottage or rental with harbor or ocean views. Locals and visitors rave about the Sanibel Thriller, a boat tour that not only gives the best views of Sanibel and Captiva islands, but also gives you dolphins! The narrators offer the local history and geography of the area and along the way, show you a bevy of frolicking dolphins. Local tip: Arrive early and sit in the back. You’ll get wet, but you’ll have the best views of the dolphins.
Naturally, the Florida Keys are full of opportunities to enjoy the water, from boat tours of the islands to snorkeling, fishing, parasailing and kayaking (try the see-through kayaks at Key West National Wildlife Refuge). There are many resorts and hotels to choose from, and staying in Key West is an experience not to miss. But locals know the Keys also have a vast amount of natural landscape, preserved in ten state parks and numerous wildlife refuges. When they want to get away to the wilderness, without high-rise hotels and crowds, locals hit the walk-or-bike trail called the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. This planned 106-mile trail winds through mangrove forests and across historic railroad bridges from Key Largo to Key West. Much of the trail is shaded, and there are picnic tables and scenic rest stops along the way. And, if you’re not exactly an Olympic bicyclist, take heart. This trail is flat.
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Close to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport and Port Everglades cruise port, the city of Hollywood Beach is home to four large oceanfront resorts and many small hotels and inns that are worth a look. The brand new Margaritaville resort there has an on-the-beach Surf Coaster that is as entertaining to watch as it is to try. The Hollywood Beach Broadwalk (not Boardwalk) is a brick-paved, 2½-mile beachside walk with more than 50 restaurants and 30 shops. Here is where locals meet friends, take Sunday bike rides and generally enjoy the Atlantic Ocean and the easy beach access. If your Florida vacation package takes you near the FLL airport, take a couple of days and stay on Hollywood Beach.
Destin / Panama City Beach
Panama City Beach has had a reputation as a wild “Spring Break” destination, but the city has enacted some regulations aimed at suppressing the unbridled partying of teens. Lately, the destination has been marketed as family-friendly, and the setting is perfect for building sand castles and romping in the surf. This part of Florida is called the Emerald Coast, tucked into the panhandle and bordering the Gulf of Mexico. The sand is golden and the water is emerald green. Locals recommend a trip to the Panama City Beach Winery, where you can sample unusual local wines made from oranges, strawberries, guava and watermelon. For more active families with youngsters, the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise is a memorable 2-hour pirate ship tour catering to kids under 12. The photo opps are priceless.
If you’re coming to Florida by boat, please do yourself a favor and pull into the municipal marina at St. Augustine. This is the most boater-friendly city you’ll find in the state, and the St. Augustine Cruisers’ Net will be there to welcome you at the dock. The pirate ship, The Black Pearl, is docked there, offering tours of the harbor with a crew in authentic pirate garb. In fact, pirates roam the docks and streets all the time, delighting children. The historic city has a fun downtown area with lots of pubs and shops, much of it fashioned after Spanish-colonial architectural traditions with cobblestone streets. The St. Augustine Lighthouse has amazing views from the top, and it’s not a hard climb. In fact, if your family vacation package takes you near this ancient town, plan 3-4 days to see it all. You might consider one of ghost tours, too. Believer or not, you’ll love the spooky graveyard, the Old Jail and Potter’s Wax Museum’s Chamber of Horrors. Ooooh!
Family vacation packages in Florida can cover lots of different interests, and if your family is like mine, different generations that travel together have varying ideas of fun. Let Dunhill Travel Deals help you find a beachfront resort, a great flight deal and a rental car and let the fun begin, no matter where in the state you find yourself. There is something here for everyone.
By Kay D. Harrison
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