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4 things to do in Fort Myers & Sanibel

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel is Florida’s secret paradise. Imagine warm Gulf waters, sunny skies, pristine beaches, and uninhabited islands. Spend your days on a boat spotting dolphins or exploring the islands and spend your evenings soaking up the low-key nightlife and watching beautiful sunsets. If it’s a calm oasis you’re looking for, […]

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10 must do’s in the Florida Keys and Key West

The Florida Keys is one of America’s most iconic road trips. Starting in Miami and extending south until Key West, this 113-mile stretch of road takes only three hours to complete. But to drive end-to-end with no breaks would be doing yourself a disservice.That’s because this island chain is beautifully diverse and feels a world apart from the theme parks and shopping malls of mainland Florida. While it is Key West that typically gets all the attention, anyone who has taken the time to stop at all the islands will tell you that they each offer a unique experience. Before you start your journey, ensure you have a read through our top 10 must do’s in the Florida Keys and make a point of stopping at least once on each island.

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The Florida Keys is one of America’s most iconic road trips. Starting in Miami and extending south until Key West, this 113-mile stretch of road takes only three hours to complete. But to drive end-to-end with no breaks would be doing yourself a disservice.

That’s because this island chain is beautifully diverse and feels a world apart from the theme parks and shopping malls of mainland Florida. While it is Key West that typically gets all the attention, anyone who has taken the time to stop at all the islands will tell you that they each offer a unique experience. Before you start your journey, ensure you have a read through our top 10 must do’s in the Florida Keys and make a point of stopping at least once on each island.

1. Dive/Snorkel at John Pennekamp State Park (Key Largo)

The crown jewel of the state park system and the first undersea park in the U.S., John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park encompasses approximately 70 nautical square miles. It is also home to one of two coral reef formations in United States waters. You can view the coral reef system from a glass-bottom-boat, or snorkelling. Other activities available in the park include canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, picnicking, swimming and wildlife viewing.

2. Kayak and explore Everglades National Park (Key Largo)

This is the only ecosystem of its type in the world with the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States – boasting rare and endangered species. It has even been designated a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and a wetland of international importance. 

3. Fish in the Sport Fishing Capital of the World (Islamorada)

Take a charter boat out to one of the only places on Earth where it is possible to catch a sailfish in the morning, and then venture into the backcountry in pursuit of bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook and redfish in just inches of water.

4. View art at Robbie’s Marina (Islamorada)

A nostalgic destination reminiscent of why some of the most talented artists, writers, fishermen and presidents have called the Florida Keys home. Robbie’s Marina rests peacefully among coconut palms with shimmering views of the unspoiled Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean converge. With free entry, a private sandy beach, restaurants serving fresh food, and quaint art and craft pavilions, it’s not hard to understand why so many artists have chosen this place to immortalise in paintings.

5. Learn about local marine life at Dolphin Research Centre (Marathon)

The Dolphin Research Centre on Marathon is a not-for-profit research and educational facility that offers several exciting daily presentations demonstrating the dolphins’ high flying athletics, educational fun facts, dolphin research, new behaviour training, medical behaviours, and much more.

6. Turtle Hospital (Marathon)

Visit the Turtle Hospital and see how they rehabilitate injured sea turtles and return them to their natural habitat. Learn how they conduct and assist with research aiding sea turtles and work toward environmental legislation to ensure that the beaches and waters are safe for sea turtles.

7. Visit Bahia Honda State Park and Recreation Area (Big Pine Key)

With its white sandy beaches and abundant wildlife, Bahia Honda Key frequently makes the list of most beautiful beaches in America. Experiences available in the park include biking, bird-watching, boat tours, camping, fishing, and snorkelling.

8. Spend time on Big Pine and the Lower Keys

Spend a half day exploring the backcountry waters off the lower Florida Keys. Encounter key deer, sea turtles and dolphins in their natural habitat as well as exploring the Great White Heron National Sanctuary.

9. Day trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park (Key West)

Almost 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West lies the remote Dry Tortugas National Park. The 100-square mile park is mostly open water with several small islands. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park is known the world over as the home of magnificent Fort Jefferson, picturesque blue waters, superlative coral reefs and marine life, and the vast assortment of bird life that frequent the area.

10. Sunset at Mallory Square (Key West )

Celebrate the end of your road trip at Mallory Square where every evening you can enjoy free live music and street entertainers, art and craft stores and enjoy a cocktail as the sun goes down.

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How to spend 48 hours in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a popular city for a weekend break – whether it’s a stopover on the way to the Pacific Ocean or Asia, or as part of wider Western America road trip. Thing is though, it’s a big city and it can feel like a mammoth task planning how to see as much of it as possible in two days. So we’ve done it for you. Including where to stop for lunch and dinner, and how to get around the city.

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Los Angeles is a popular city for a weekend break – whether it’s a stopover on the way to the Pacific Ocean or Asia, or as part of wider Western America road trip. Thing is though, it’s a big city and it can feel like a mammoth task planning how to see as much of it as possible in two days. So we’ve done it for you. Including where to stop for lunch and dinner, and how to get around the city.

Arriving in LA

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Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, is located southeast of the city, about 15 miles from downtown and 20 miles from the San Fernando Valley. There’s an Airport Bus that connects the airport to three stops in LA. Van Nuys, located in the Valley; Westwood, about halfway between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills; and Union Station in downtown LA. These buses usually don’t cost more than $10 per person, but they only take debit and credit cards. Alternatively, you can get a cab at the airport, which will cost more but can drop you at your hotel doorstep. Now you just need to get ready to start your 48-hour whistle-stop tour.

Saturday Morning

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Time to rise and shine and beat the queues, because we’re heading north to Universal Studios Hollywood™. There’s a full day of adventure to be had here, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™, King Kong 360 3D, Springfield U.S.A, The Walking Dead Attraction, and (of course) the world-famous Studio Tour.

When it’s time for lunch you’ll be spoilt for choice with real-life replicas of fictional places – such as Three Broomsticks™, Moe’s Tavern, and Jurassic Café. You can also head into City Walk, where you’ll find restaurants, cinemas and souvenir shops.

Transport links: the Los Angeles Metro can drop you right outside Universal Studios Hollywood™ if you take the Red Line and get off at the Universal City/Studio City station.

Saturday Afternoon

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Photo by Anthony Ginsbrook on Unsplash

It might take you a full day to get around Universal Studios Hollywood™ but if you do make it out within the afternoon, head over to Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood (which is less than a ten-minute drive away). On the tour, you’ll come across outdoor sets and soundstages used to create productions such as The Big Bang Theory, Pretty Little Liars, La La Land, Argo, and Gilmore Girls.

Studio Tour guests will also stop at the DC Universe – DC Comics Exhibit, the real Central Perk Friends set, and the original Batman Museum – Batmobile Collection.

Side note: working your way through both Universal Studios Hollywood™ and Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood will be tight, but it’s not impossible if you book tickets in advance and plan which attractions you want to see.

Saturday Evening

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Before you head back into Central LA stop by the Griffith Observatory, which is open until 10pm. This art deco landmark from 1935 features a high-tech planetarium, public telescopes and some of the best views of Los Angeles including the famous Hollywood sign.

Transport link: hailing a cab is your best way to get from Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood to the Griffith Observatory, though you can take a scenic 2-hour walk through Griffith Park. When you’re finished, The Griffith Observatory is an hour’s walk from Sunset Boulevard and there is a bus between the Observatory and the Vermont/Sunset Metro Red Line Metro Station.

Saturday Night

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Los Angeles is celebrated for its nightlife, and there are plenty of places to choose from. Though the Downtown Arts District in the east of the city is definitely LA’s neighbourhood of the moment. It’s an industrial district turned chic nightlife epicentre, and home to delicious restaurants like Bestia, the inspiring Hauser & Wirth Gallery, and a bevy of breweries. In the wider Downtown District, you’ll also find several nightclubs to party away in until the early hours.

Sunday Morning

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Saturday’s itinerary was quite adventurous, but don’t worry because Sunday is more relaxed. Head out to The J. Paul Getty Museum in Bel Air, one of the world’s largest arts organisations. Its collection includes Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art from the Neolithic to Late Antiquity. As well as European art—including illuminated manuscripts, paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts—from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century. Take a slow wander around the decorated halls to wake yourself up.

Transport links: this is up a hill with not much else around it, so we recommend booking a taxi, Lyft, or Uber.

Sunday Afternoon

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Make your way back into the city, firstly stopping off in Beverly Hills. Even if this area is out of your price range, it’s still well-worth a visit to admire the lavish boutiques, take a picture with the iconic Beverley Hills sign, stop by the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM, and book a tour of the most extravagant houses in LA.

There are also a lot of restaurants in Beverley Hills to choose from, including Mastro’s Steakhouse, The Cheesecake Factory, and Ocean Prime.

Afterwards, head up to Hollywood Boulevard and find your favourite stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Then explore some of the nearby landmarks such as the Hollywood Wax Museum®, Museum of Death, and the Capitol Records Building.

Transport links: there are no direct buses or metro line between the Getty Museum and Beverley Hills and Hollywood so we recommend getting a taxi, Lyft, or an Uber (which will take little over 10 minutes).

Sunday Evening

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While you’re in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, you have to catch a show. This is the home of showbiz after all! Along Sunset Boulevard you’ll find several famous venues – from the Laugh Factory for comedy, The Roxy Theatre for rock music, ArcLight for showing first-run movies, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre where many well-known actors and comedians started their careers, and Hollywood Palladium for the big name performers.

Have you been to Los Angeles? What attractions would you recommend to someone only in the city for 48 hours?

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10 places to stop on Route 66 in Illinois

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Illinois is famous for a few things – but one of the most notable is the starting point of the famous Route 66. Three hundred miles of this iconic road stretches through the state of Illinois and passes by some incredible attractions and sights along the way. If you’re embarking on your first Route 66 adventure, here are a few of the places we recommend you stop at.

1. The Route 66 Sign

The famous Route 66 starts right in the heart of Chicago, and you’ll find the iconic Route 66 Begin sign on East Adams St./Jackson Blvd. & South Michigan Av.

2. Illinois Route 66 Association Hall of Fame & Museum

Route 66 is home to numerous great museums – but if you can only visit one, we recommend the Hall of Fame. Among the artefacts, you’ll find the bus and van of Route 66 icon, Bob Waldmire: an artist famous for his whimsical maps of the Mother Road and its human and natural ecology. Remember to get a photo with the World’s Largest Route 66 mural in Pontiac.

3. The Muffler Men

In Wilmington, Atlanta, and Springfield, you’ll notice each town is home to a giant and colourful statue (they’re not hard to spot). They were all once used for promotional purposes by local businesses, but are now iconic in their own right. Tall Paul is located alongside Route 66 in Atlanta and cannot be missed as you drive past. The Gemini Giant stands alongside the Launching Pad Drive-In in Wilmington. While the Lauterbach Tire Man is found outside Lauterbach Tires on Wabash Avenue in Springfield.

4. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum

The city of Springfield was the home of Abraham Lincoln for the 17 years leading up to his election as the 16th president of the United States. There are a few Lincoln themed attractions in Springfield, but the best is undoubtedly the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It’s home to the world’s largest collection of Lincoln-related documents, including realistic holographic presentations, a show reel of the 1860 presidential election, plus clothes and toys of that era.

5. Original Historic Route 66 Brick Road

Step back in time to Old Route 66 at its best. A short drive outside of Springfield, you’ll find Brick 66: a beautiful 2.5-kilometer-long stretch of restored, hand-laid brick road from 1931 that is beautifully framed by rolling hills.

6. Cosy Dog Drive-In

Welcome to the home of the all-American corn dog. Established back in the 1940s, Cosy Dog Drive-In is not just a restaurant but also a souvenir shop and mini-museum with an impressive collection of Route 66 memorabilia.

7. Henry’s Rabbit Ranch

For something a bit out-of-the-ordinary, head to Henry’s Rabbit Ranch Home – where you’ll find rabbits of both the hopping kind and the VW kind. You’ll also stumble upon a giant fiberglass jackrabbit that visitors can climb onto the back of, and a bunny graveyard paying tribute to some of the ranch’s previous residents (plus a gift shop with Route 66 souvenirs).

8. Pink Elephant Antique Mall

The Pink Elephant Antique Mall features a number of unique roadside attractions and multiple photo opportunities! The mall itself sports larger than life sculptures including a pink elephant and a large male statue from the move ‘Flatliners’. In addition to a retro-looking ice cream shop, the newest edition is the Mother Road Fudge-n-Candy shop. Enjoy retro candy, chocolates and homemade fudge!

9. World’s largest Catsup bottle

The World’s Largest Catsup Bottle stands proudly next to Route 159, just south of downtown Collinsville, Illinois. This unique 170ft tall water tower was built in 1949 by the W.E. Caldwell Company for the G.S. Suppiger Catsup bottling plant – bottlers of Brooks old original rich tangy Catsup.

10. Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

As you leave Illinois, remember to snap a selfie at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge out of Collinsville. Built in 1927, it’s the fifth bridge to cross the Mississippi River – and was part of the original Route 66 road – the perfect way to wave goodbye to Illinois as you carry on your Route 66 adventure.

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A beginner’s guide to Chicago

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People tend to fall in love with Chicago very quickly – and it’s not hard to understand why.

The city has plenty to do including sports, shopping, fun fairs, museums and even a beach! But there’s a vibe about Chicago that you can’t mistake. It’s buzzing, but it’s also friendlier than your average large metropolitan. We recommend that every city-lover stops by Chicago at one point in their life – and here’s our guide to making the most of any visit. 

What to see and do

Chicago’s vast size can be daunting for first-time visitors with so many attractions to pick from. While we’d encourage you to research everything Chicago has to offer and decide what’s right for you, we’ve pulled together a selection of Chicago’s best sights.

Boat tour

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One of the most relaxing ways to take in the beautiful sights of Chicago is on a boat tour along its river and lake. Choose between Chicago’s First Lady and Shoreline Sightseeing, or get adventurous with Kayak Chicago.

Stroll through Millennium Park

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You’ve probably seen the pictures of a bean-like structure in Chicago? You’ll find it here in Millennium Park. Amongst the 25-acres of public space, you’ll find FREE art installations, outdoor concerts, film screenings, outdoor workouts, and tours. In winter there’s also an outdoor ice-rink.

Shop along Magnificent Mile

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Chicago is home to a very eclectic and stylish shopping scene, with the Magnificent Mile as its epicentre. This cosmopolitan, history-packed strip on downtown Michigan Avenue (between the Michigan Avenue Bridge and Oak Street) is home to department stores, multi-story megamalls, luxury boutiques and brand name retail chains.

Visit larger-than-life galleries

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The world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago hosts one of the biggest collections of late-19th-century French art in the world. While the Museum of Science & Industry is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. Oh, and The Field Museum is home to Titanosaur, the largest dinosaur to roam the Earth.

You could spend a week just exploring the museums and art galleries. There’s museums that document and celebrate African-American heritage, Jewish tradition, Mexican art, Lithuanian culture, Ukrainian history, Puerto Rican culture, military history, maritime history, and even an American Writer’s Museum.

Catch a sports game

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Chicago loves its sports, particularly soccer, baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. There’s always a game happening in Chicago so it’s worth searching for one while you’re in town. 

Eating

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Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza, and while there is more to the city’s food scene than this – you will still find a lot of pizzerias. Lou Malnati in the River North area is generally regarded as the best place to stop by for a slice of this famous dish.

Other foods that are quintessentially Chicago include their own style of hot dog (it’s topped with vegetables), Italian beef (a style rarely found outside the city), and steak (Chicago is the meat-packing capital of the world). For something a little different, you can visit the old haunts of Al Capone, such as the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge or the Green Door Tavern.

LGBTQ+ Chicago

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Chicago was once awarded “City of the Year” by GayCities.com, and its gay district Boystown was named “best gay neighbourhood in the world” by Out Traveler magazine. It’s no wonder though as Chicago boasts a rich and proud LGBTQ history, which you can learn all about with an LGBTQ+ Landmarks Tour, or by strolling the Legacy Walk in Boystown. There’s also a selection of LGBTQ+ businesses, ranging from bookstores to nightclubs.

Getting to Chicago and finding your way around

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Chicago is the home of United Airlines, so there’s no shortage of flights. There are several flights to Chicago a week from the UK, including a new service from Edinburgh to O’Hare International Airport. O’Hare International Airport is home to an on-site hotel, a yoga room, mother’s room, and an aeroponic garden.

Once you’re in Chicago, The El (short for the CTA’s elevated train, which also includes subway trains) offers a quick and inexpensive public transportation option. If you need to get out to the suburbs, Metra Trains from Union, Ogilvie, and La Salle Street stations provide several convenient routes.

If you’re not going very far and just want to explore the city centre, it’s easy enough to hail a cab. Lyft and Uber also have a presence within the city.

If you’re a keen cyclist, you can also make use of the city’s bike-share service, Divvy. Their bike rental stations can be found across the city, where you can pick up one of their unmistakable blue bicycles. If you’re walking, Chicago’s streets are laid out in a handy grid system.

Other important information:

  • Chicago is at its best during the summer months (though we recommend wearing layers)
  • You’ll need a US Visa and US Dollars
  • Tipping is customary in Chicago
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5 family-friendly attractions in Tampa Bay

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The perfect family destination is somewhere that expertly combines excitement and relaxation. In Tampa Bay on Florida’s Gulf Coast, you’ll stumble upon a pleasant mixture of both. Whether it’s roller coasters, museums, or nature – families will discover plenty of attractions where they can create memories that will last a lifetime.

1. Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay offers the perfect blend of theme park and animal adventures. Within its 300 acres, you’ll find thrilling rides, one of the country’s premier zoos with more than 12,000 animals, live shows, restaurants, shops and games.

Admissions: Adult tickets are $84.99, while children aged 3-9 get in for $76.99 (children 2 and under are admitted for free).

2. Adventure Island®

Just across the street from Busch Gardens® Tampa Bay you’ll find Adventure Island® waterpark. It’s perfect for all the family with thrill-seeking water-rides like Colossal Curl™ (the tallest ride at Adventure Island® at nearly 70 feet and 560 feet in length) and private cabanas where quieter members of the family are able to relax with a book.

Admissions: Adult ticket prices are $44.89 plus tax, and children ages 3 to 9 are $40.61 (children ages 2 and under free).

3. Florida Aquarium

The Florida Aquarium is one of the most celebrated aquariums in the United States. Here you can immerse yourself in interactive programs like Dive with the Sharks, Shark Swim and Swim with the Fishes or take a Wild Dolphin Tour on board the Bay Spirit II (a 72-foot powered catamaran). And after exploring all the exhibits inside, make sure you visit the Aquarium’s new water play area The Splash Pad!

Admissions: Adults are $24.95, seniors (60+) are $22.95, and children under 12 are $19.95 (Children 2 & under are Free).

4. ZooTampa at Lowry Park

ZooTampa at Lowry Park is home to more than 1300 animals and famous for having one of the most beautiful, tropical zoological settings in the world. The Zoo brings together animals and visitors to create unforgettable, natural connections. Guests get closer to wildlife than ever before by touching a giant tortoise, feeding a giraffe, getting nose-to-horn with an Indian rhino, hand-to-fin with slippery stingrays and more! Families can also splash in water play areas, feel thrills on rides and take in educational shows.

Admissions: Adults are $34.95, and children 3 to 11 $25.95.

5. TECO Manatee Viewing Centre

Manatees are a unique marine mammal local to Florida – but they are endangered.  This viewing centre is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. During the centre’s open season, Nov. 1 through April 15, displays, interactive exhibits and more educate visitors of all ages about the life cycle of the manatee and the challenges this animal faces.

Admissions: the centre is run by volunteers and is completely free.

Have you been to Tampa Bay with your family? What attractions do you recommend they visit first?

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