A row of pastel houses in Fort Myers & Sanibel

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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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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Things to do in Sarasota (aside from visit the beach)

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Sarasota boasts an interesting backstory. In the 15th Century, Spanish explorers expelled the Calusa people – leaving the place virtually empty until the Seminole Wars. While the place was once again populated – it was isolated until 1902 when the Tampa railroad was built. Sarasota then grew popular as a winter resort for the affluent, and the city’s arts institutions followed. Then circus magnate John Ringling decided to relocate his circus here, building a winter residence, art museum and college, and setting the town on course to become the artistic hub that it is today.

This all led to Sarasota rising as one of Florida’s most diverse holiday destinations – which offers a lot more than just a pretty shoreline. It is also just south of Tampa, and is easy to reach from the UK. Here’s your guide to making the most of your time in Sarasota.

Ringling Museum of Art

If you’re looking to discover the local art scene, you can’t get much better than the official museum of Florida. Established in 1927 – in memory of Mable and John Ringling – it offers twenty-one galleries of European paintings as well as Cypriot antiquities and Asian, American, and contemporary art. The museum is in total home to more than 10,000 objects, but it’s most celebrated items in the museum are 16th–20th-century European paintings, including a world-renowned collection of Peter Paul Rubens paintings.

The museum is open daily 10:00am – 5:00pm, Thursdays until 8:00pm, and can be found in north Sarasota towards Bradenton.

Sarasota Ballet

The Sarasota Ballet has been around since 1987, but it was in 2007 that is became a big player on the world stage. This is when the renowned English ballet dancer and choreographer, Iain Webb, was appointed director and revolutionised The Company’s catalogue, introducing 146 ballets and divertissements through the 2017 – 2018 Season.

Ballets by Sir Frederick Ashton are his personal favourite, but under his watchful eye The Sarasota Ballet has become recognised for orchestrating American premiers of international pieces, and commissioning new works (both from budding choreographers from within The Company and established choreographers from around the globe).

2019 performances include The Sarasota Ballet Gala, Transcending Movement, The Sarasota Ballet – Martha Graham Dance Company, and Giselle. You’ll find the Sarasota Ballet near Indian Beach / Sapphire Shores. 

Visit the art galleries on Palm Avenue

Palm Avenue is known amongst locals for its collection of art galleries – and they are definitely worth visiting. If you’re in Sarasota on the First Friday of the month, stop by Palm Avenue between 6pm and 9pm for Palm Avenue’s First Friday Walks, when members of the Palm Avenue Arts Alliance sing, dance, and serenade the community and guests.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Since 1973, scientists from Selby Gardens have ventured into some of the world’s wildest places to identify, study, collect and learn from exotic and remarkable plants – which has led to the gardens becoming a world-leader in the study and conservation of plants, particularly epiphytes.

Some of the highlights at the gardens include Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden, Tropical Conservatory, Towering Bamboo Garden, and the Koi Pond.

Shop till you drop

Sarasota also boasts some incredible shopping opportunities. To start with, there are a few outlet malls within the area. The new Mall at University Town Center, located at Interstate 75 and University Parkway, is a shopping and dining destination, with more than 125 stores and restaurants. The Mall at UTC’s anchors are Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Dillard’s. Westfield Southgate in south Sarasota features retailers like Talbots and Chico’s, and even has a movie theatre.

But if you’re looking for something independent and distinctive, Pineapple Avenue offers a row of antiques shops. While Main Street, also downtown, is home to boutique clothing stores and other fun shops.

Sarasota Orchestra

If you require any more convincing that Sarasota is the centre of Florida’s cultural scene – it is home to Florida’s oldest continuous orchestra. Opened in 1949, the 80-member Orchestra performs more than 100 classical, pops and family concerts each year. Upcoming shows in the 2018-2019 schedule include Legends, Perfect Pairs, Tis the Season, and La La Land in Concert.

Play a round of golf

The golf courses in Sarasota are the perfect balance between being well-known enough that keen players will be impressed that you’ve teed-off there, but not so famous that they’re overrun. University Park Country Club is a members-club that also allows members of the public to play. All three nines (all are Ron Garl designs) are top notch, with speed and true rolls, and the course is noted for its great overall condition. And with all the different sets of tees you’ll feel like you are playing a different course every visit.

Taste the local cuisine

Sarasota County is home to award-winning chefs and 21 Zagat-rated restaurants – so a trip round its local restaurants is definitely in order.

If you’re in Sarasota with your other half, Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key is known as one of America’s Top 200 Most Romantic Restaurants. While Michael’s On East is Sarasota’s only AAA Four Diamond Restaurant.

However, if it’s really important that you have a nice bottle of red with your dinner, The Crow’s Nest Restaurant & Tavern boasts 950 varieties of wine and has been awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and the “Best Of” Award of Excellence. While The Bijou Café claims the largest collection of South American wines in Florida.

For something a bit more unusual – how about a trip to one of Sarasota’s two Amish restaurants? Both Der Dutchman and Yoder’s restaurants are the epitome of casual, home-cooked dining and are perfect family-friendly restaurants. The Amish pies have been recognized as some of the best in the country.

There are also several food-based festivals throughout the year. Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week during the first two weeks of June offers a multi-course culinary experience at more than 60 restaurants. Let’s Eat, Englewood in the fall also celebrates dining, with multiple restaurants offering special menus. Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival, a multi-day event by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, includes food and wine seminars at various restaurants. The Whiskey Obsession Festival showcases more than 200 spirits to taste, ranging from the elegant to the sublime. Finally, the Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash in Venice brings award-winning pitmasters to Venice.

Enjoy a night out in Downtown Sarasota

Finish your holiday by letting your hair down in the centre of Sarasota nightlife scene, where you’ll find craft beer, cocktails, light bites and unique characters. Some of the most popular places include Jack Dusty at The Ritz Carlton, Selva Grill, Social Eatery & Bar, and State Street Eating House + Cocktails.

Have you ever been to Sarasota? Leave us a comment letting first-time visitors know what should be first on their list.

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A Fort Lauderdale beach during the day

10 things to do in Greater Fort Lauderdale

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If you’re looking for a destination that combines city and beach, you won’t find much better than Greater Fort Lauderdale .

Located on Florida’s east coast, Greater Fort Lauderdale boasts 23 miles of blue-wave certified beaches alongside a cosmopolitan playground (that is still home to a relaxed beachy-vibe). No matter what kind of city-type culture is your favourite – whether it’s dining, art, nightlife or shopping – you’ll find it in this sun-drenched destination. Here’s how to spend your holiday in Greater Fort Lauderdale.

1. Indulge in Floribbean cuisine

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The south of Florida is home to a unique blend of culinary flavours that are descendant from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Europe and Asia – and can be traced back to when the Spanish first landed on US shores. Popular Floribbean dishes include key lime pie, conch fritters, mango salsa, rice and bean dishes, jerk chicken, plus seafood gumbos and salads.

2. Visit the Downtown Hollywood Art Mural Project

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Head to Hollywood’s Downtown Area to admire street art by local and international artists. Artist names include Tatiana Suarez, Evoca1, Rone, The London Police, Jessy Nite, Ernesto Maranje, Logan Hicks and Kenny Scharf. You can stroll through the streets yourself or book a guided tour. Afterwards, why not check out the area’s cafes, bars and restaurants or dip into Greater Fort Lauderdale’s craft ale scene?!

3. Explore Bonnet House

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Bonnet House is a historic home found in the Fort Lauderdale Beach area. It dates back to 1895, when Hugh Taylor Birch, a successful Chicago lawyer gifted it to his daughter and new husband as a wedding gift. The husband, Frederic Clay Bartlett, was a self-taught architect and the main house is based on his interpretation of Caribbean plantation-style architecture and also features his eclectic art collection. When Bartlett’s second wife died in 1997, she deeded the property to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation (the largest donation in state history).

The main properties in the estate include the main house, an art studio, a music studio and a guest house. Plus, there are also five different ecosystems: primary and secondary dunes, mangrove wetlands, a freshwater slough and a maritime forest. It is also licensed for private events, including weddings. 

4.Shop till you drop in Sawgrass Mills

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Welcome to the largest designer outlet mall in North America. You’ll find many quintessential American names here including Barneys, Bloomingdales, Kate Spade and Super Target – alongside international brands like Armani, Valentino, and Versace. Bag yourself bargains of up to 70% off!

5. Paddleboard in the ocean

Watersports are plentiful in Greater Fort Lauderdale – but paddleboarding is definitely the most popular. There are numerous tour companies who’ll take beginner and experienced paddle boarders out into the Atlantic – including special tours like sunset boarding, full moon boarding and yoga boarding!

6. Dock and Dine

If you’re feeling peckish while paddleboarding, you can paddle over to one of Greater Fort Lauderdale’s many waterfront restaurants. We mean this literally, as many have a Dock and Dine policy where you can park your boat or board up front and get out. If you opt for one of the many seafood restaurants, you can also witness crates of fish being freshly delivered that day.

7. Hop on the Jungle Queen Riverboat

Explore the city (and beyond) on-board the Jungle Queen Riverboat. You can choose between either a 90 minute sight-seeing cruise (which takes you along the New River where you’ll pass by Millionaire’s Row,  spotting mega-yachts and celebrity homes) and a Tropical Isle cruise (which takes you on the same route, but this time you’ll end up on Tropical Isle where you can watch an alligator show, see exotic birds, lemurs and monkeys, and hold a baby alligator).

8. Escape the city to the Everglades

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Greater Fort Lauderdale is the gateway to the Florida Everglades. Here you can awe at exotic flora, fauna, and wildlife from alligators to Florida panthers. It’s also home to the Seminole Indians, who invite visitors to learn about their proud, ancient culture.

9. Stop by Riptide and Tortuga Music Festivals

If you like music, time your visit alongside one of these music festivals. Rock the Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival was founded to help raise awareness about ocean conservation and focuses on country and rock music. Riptide, however, is held at the end of the year and past acts have included Weezer, Pvris, Boyz II Men, and Salt-n-Pepa.

10. Explore the city by canal

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Greater Fort Lauderdale is known as the Venice of America thanks to its 300 miles of canals. There are numerous boat tours that can take you along these waterways including the area’s very own water taxi– the perfect way to relax on your final night.

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10 reasons to visit Tampa

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As Florida’s most diverse travel destination, Tampa Bay packs an entire Sunshine State getaway into a single location: thrilling roller-coasters, historic Cuban culture, year-round outdoor activities, fantastic food, and waterfront sunsets. There’s so much for all the family, no two days are the same.

Here are 10 reasons why Tampa should be part of your next Florida adventure.  

1. Amusement Parks

Florida is famed for its larger than life attractions, and Tampa Bay is no exception. The main amusement centre is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, which is home to nearly five miles of thrilling rides and Falcon’s Fury, the tallest drop tower in North America. There’s also a waterpark, Adventure Island, which is home to both fast-drops and lazy rivers.  

Remember to pick up a Tampa Bay CityPASS, which provides a 51% discount to Busch Gardens and the rest of Tampa Bay’s most popular family attractions.

2.The amazing shopping opportunities

From luxury labels to big bargains, Tampa is home to an amazing selection of shops.

International Plaza and Bay Street, moments from Tampa International Airport, features 200 luxury shops and dining experiences unavailable elsewhere in the area. Historic open-air Hyde Park Village brings together a unique blend of high-end brands in a walkable environment. Twenty minutes north of downtown, Tampa Premium Outlets has 100 stores packed with discounts.

3. It’s a popular cruise port

Tampa is home port for four cruise lines, making it a convenient jumping-off point for journeys to sun-drenched Cuba, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Carnival and Royal Caribbean are even adding new, larger, or upgraded ships to meet the demand in Tampa Bay.

4. Its foodie scene

Tampa is home to Florida’s oldest restaurant, the Columbia, along with some of the Sunshine State’s most cutting-edge culinary experiences. In dynamic Tampa Heights, Ulele, Armature Works and The Hall on Franklin feature diverse local specialities in unique environments.

Florida’s hub for craft brewery offers 25 breweries within 10 square miles. Wine lovers will find the largest private collection in the world at Bern’s Steak House, a family-owned local restaurant.

5. It’s home to a rich history

People have treasured Tampa Bay for 12,000 years, but Spanish explorers truly put the region on the map 450 years. In 1885, the arrival of the railroad and the cigar industry turned Tampa Bay into a boomtown nearly overnight. Immigrants from Cuba, Spain, Sicily, Germany, and Eastern Europe gave Tampa Bay a flavour unique to Florida. In 1914, the world’s first commercial flight touched down here after leaving nearby St. Petersburg. Explore Tampa Bay’s deep roots at the Tampa Bay History Center or hop a ride on a historic streetcar and stroll the brick streets of historic Ybor City, where artisans still roll cigars by hand as they have for 130 years.

6. Boating and water activities

With a stunning harbour on its doorstep, Tampa Bay is the perfect place to get out on the water. Captain your own e-boat for a self-guided tour of the local waterfront. Or try a self-propelled trip via water bike, paddleboard or kayak. The bright yellow Pirate Water Taxi makes regular stops at the waterfront’s most popular destinations.

Discover Tampa Bay’s treasures by strolling the Tampa Riverwalk, which links downtown’s most popular attractions like gems on a string.

7. The nearby beaches

While Tampa Bay has no beaches of its own, the world-famous sugar sand strands of Clearwater and St Pete’s are less than an hour’s drive away. The beaches regularly rank among the finest in America for everything from sand quality to environmental management. 

8. Broadway-style shows

For live entertainment, book your tickets at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, home to The Florida Orchestra, Opera Tampa, and an annual Broadway season. The largest theatre complex in the southeastern United States, the facility boasts five stages and a prime spot along the Tampa Riverwalk.

9. Artistic street art

Tampa Bay is home to some incredible street art that makes for great holiday snaps. Say you were here beneath the enormous “Tampa” postcard mural at Franklin and Royal streets. Ponder the sculptures along the Tampa Riverwalk and the open-air gallery along Bayshore Boulevard. Guided tours will take you past some of the unique pieces.

10. It’s a great stop-off on a Florida road trip

Tampa Bay makes a great base of operations for a wider itinerary. Orlando’s sprawling theme parks are just over an hour east. To the south, you’ll find Bradenton 50 minutes away, Sarasota an hour and a half away, and Fort Myers 2 hours away. Even Havana is within reach – just a 70-minute flight from Tampa International Airport (perfect for a day trip!).

Direct flights to Tampa Bay via British Airways run out of London Gatwick, making the urban heart of Florida’s Gulf coast a convenient place to start and end your Florida road trip.

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