Florida beyond the theme parks


By British Airways Holidays

Photography by Rauluminate/Getty Images

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February 2017

Yes, there are the famous Orlando attractions, but there’s more to Florida than rollercoasters. With wildlife spotting in the lush Everglades, beaches with powdery white sand, and more golf courses than anywhere else in the US, there’s a piece of the Sunshine State for everyone.

Life’s a beach

Florida has over 1,300 miles of coastline, over 800 miles of which are beaches. You can ‘walk’ around the beaches with Google’s Street View Trekker tool, designed to take you on a virtual tour of Florida beaches – think of it as the beach version of Street View – so you can get a sneak peak of which one you want to descend on before you travel. St Petersburg and Clearwater’s beaches are some of the finest, known for their soft white sand and stunning sunsets. Take a sunset cruise from Clearwater on a double-decker catamaran around the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t blink or you’ll miss the green flash as the sun sets.

Where to stay: Nicknamed the ‘pink palace’, it doesn’t get more glamorous than Don Cesar, which opened in the 1920s and is perched right on St. Pete Beach. Be sure to feast on fresh and juicy langoustines in the award-winning Maritana Grille restaurant.

St Petersburg and Clearwater’s beaches are some of the finest, known for their soft white sand and stunning sunsets

Tee time

With over 1,300 courses, Florida has more golf courses than any other state in USA. Seminole is consistently ranked as one of the best – though you will need to make friends with a member to play there. But for many golf fans, catching a glimpse of the notorious and infamous island green on the 17th hole at the Stadium Course at legendary TPC Sawgrass will set the pulse racing, no matter how many balls end up in the water.

Where to stay: Perfect your putting at PGA National Resort and Spa in West Palm Beach. When you’re taking a break from practicing your swing, there’s a world-class spa, an outdoor pool and the even has its own food truck serving up barbecue pork sliders and crab fritters.

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  • The dazzling sands of Clearwater Beach © Image Source/Getty Images

    Bit of all white

    It’s not called Clearwater for no reason – it’s a regular on ‘best beaches in the world’ lists. You can also find fresh water springs in the area, which make excellent dive sites.

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The Keys

Key Largo is known for its terrific diving – it calls itself the Dive Capital of the World, but we’ll let you be the judge of that). The Benwood shipwreck between French Reef and Dixie Shoal is home to moray eels, glassy sweepers, snapper, lobster, grouper and hogfish, as well as sea whips, brain coral and fire coral. Don’t miss a trip to Key West, where you can sail, snorkel or kayak in the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Fun fact: Key West is credited with having the warmest and sunniest climate in the whole of the USA.

Where to stay: The upmarket Hyatt Centric Key West has 120 rooms, each which designed to look like a cool beach hut decorated with island-style décor. Not that you’ll be spending too much time indoors – the hotel offers scuba diving, snorkelling, jet boat rentals and fishing.

  • Underwater love at the Florida Keys © Image Source/Getty Images

    Take the plunge

    Dubbed the ‘diving capital of the world’, the Florida Reef is one of the world’s largest coral reefs at 160 miles long. Visit the spectacular Christ of the Abyss statue off Key Largo.

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  • Bright lights, big city: Fort Lauderdale © traveler116/Getty Images

    Venice of the USA

    There are more than 300 miles of canals in Fort Lauderdale, with 100 marinas and 50,000 yachts. Visit during the International Boat Show (every November), which is the biggest event of its kind in the world.

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  • The chic Alchemist concept store in Miami

    Shop ‘til you drop

    A great place to people watch, pedestrianised shopping street Lincoln Road is crammed full of quaint pavement cafés, colourful characters and high-end design stores.

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Go wild

The Everglades National Park encompasses 2,100 square miles and contains both the largest mangrove forest and the slowest moving river in the world. Sneak up on a ‘gator in the safety of a kayak or canoe, spot unique birds or camp under the stars.

Where to stay: Just a short hop from the National Park, Naples Grande Beach Resort is geared towards luxury family breaks. Kids will love the 100-foot waterslide in the family pool, while adults can indulge in the spa or play a round of golf. Keep your eyes peeled for more wildlife: the hotel is surrounded by a mangrove estuary and the 200-acre Pelican Bay nature reserve.

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  • Take an airboat tour of Everglades National Park © typhoonski/Getty Images

    A ride on the wild side

    The Florida wetlands are the only place in the world where you’ll spot alligators and crocodiles living side by side. Take a tour and learn about the interlinked ecosystems in the park.

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Water world

Fort Lauderdale is often referred to as the ‘Venice of America’, as it’s home to over 300 miles of navigable inland waterways. See eye-popping mansions along Millionaire’s Row or get active with the huge selection of watersports available in the area, such as jet skiing, paddle boarding and scuba diving.

Where to stay: Courtyard Fort Lauderdale East is a brilliant option for those on a budget. As well as featuring huge bedrooms with balconies, it’s also close to the Sun Life Stadium, home to NFL Football, as well as the Pompano Park Racetrack.

Retail therapy

Florida is a shopper’s paradise, especially when it comes to bagging a designer bargain at one of its many outlet malls, from Orlando Premium Outlets (America’s largest outlet chain) and the supersized Sawgrass Mills in Fort Lauderdale area to the Miromar Outlets on the Gulf Coast. For something a little quirkier, try the boutiques of Miami’s South Beach. Just be sure to leave some space in your suitcase…

Where to stay: Sheraton Vistana Resort is a five-minute drive from Orlando Premium Outlets. The luxury self-catering resort is also home to an American diner-style food court with classic fast-food joints. Kids will love the seven pools, eight whirlpools and basketball and volleyball courts and video game rooms. And if a trip to the theme parks does end up being on your agenda, the resort provides free transport to Walt Disney World.

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