Florida Road Trip Review

A fun-packed family holiday in Florida

St Augustine

Our first stop and although touristy we really enjoyed it. Great fort which has reenactments/live cannon fire at various points during the day with lovely views over the bay – felt very European (Castillo de San Marcos). Ate lunch in a great little Spanish bakery & sat out under the trees and dinner out on the pier where you could feed fish though trap doors in the restaurant (standard American fare though). There is a good museum in the old Flager Hotel – worth going to see the actual hotel with it’s Turkish baths etc and they have a good scavenger hunt for the kids.

We were told the Alligator Farm there was very good, we didn’t do it as we knew we were doing that kind of thing down in the Everglades.

We stayed in a Days Inn at the I95 junction which was about 10 minutes out-of-town. Plenty of parking at the tourist info in town so you don’t need to pay a premium to actually be in the town.

We left VB at about midday and got to St Augustine at midnight with stops for lunch, dinner and at least one other loo stop.

Daytona Beach

We did a last-minute stop here on the way back home & so glad we did. Had lunch on the pier (which had parking on the beach) and then drove along the beach – absolutely fabulous. We just drove past the Daytona race track but there is meant to be a good museum into Nascar there if that fires your rockets.

Kennedy Space Centre/Cocoa Beach

As the space centre is in a wildlife preserve you can’t stay too near to it. We stayed at The Faulty Towers Motel in Cocoa Beach. A funny pink motel right next to Ron Jon’s huge surf shop. Liked the very chilled out Cocoa beach (although it is still very American!) & chatted to surfers who were camping on the beach. There are military bases at Cape Canaveral but the motel worked out cheaper. Space Centre was good and you get a tour out to see the launch pad but I think we were a little jaded after having done NASA in Houston in the summer as well. It is expensive but tickets are actually valid for two days if you want. Would recommend going onto their website before you go to see if there are any discounts. They don’t honour NATO military & so we couldn’t get a military discount however there was a discount coupon on their website but you had to print it off.

Orlando

We visited The Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom (both twice as the kids thought they were both fab) and the Disney Studios for one day. The latter was good for younger ones who hadn’t seen anything of Playhouse Disney and there were Belle & Little Mermaid musicals but then there was a lot for older ones (Hannah Montana & High School Musical etc) so we only did it for one day. Downtown Disney is ok, basically a shopping & eating mecca – expect to spend money! There is a great dinosaur restaurant there along the lines of the Rainforest cafe that we went to twice! Due to the times of our hotel shuttle we got to the Magic Kingdom early and saw the opening show which was fun and got to Animal Kingdom before it opened but you can get into the Rainforest cafe there for breakfast which worked very well.

 

TOP TIP for little girls – you have to do a meal with the princesses in Cinderella’s castle. The highlight meeting 6 princesses up close & personal! You can pre-book this but we actually just turned up in the morning and booked for a later slot (I think we were very lucky) ; unfortunately, no alcohol is served….

We had got our free passes to Sea World, visit hero salute before you visit which was a great saving. The children really enjoyed the day even though it was pouring with rain all day. You can book lunch with Seamu & the Killer whales, but we just enjoyed the show.

Miami

We stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown which was a brilliant location and we walked to all the things we wanted to do downtown – right opposite Bayside Market (a little like Covent Garden) and the harbour cruises. We took a cruise as it came with our hotel package and it was very Miami-vice ish, a good way to get a feel of the place. We spent New Years day on  South beach which was fantastic – great beach but amazing people watching place – a lot of men in skimpy things and women in even less! The Art Deco area was great but very busy as Ocean Boulevard was closed for New Year but we sat out on a street cafe and it felt like we were in the Med somewhere.

We were also recommended Monkey Jungle, where the monkeys run wild and the humans are caged but we didn’t get a chance to go there.

Everglades

We stayed in Homestead – lots of chain hotels – as it was much cheaper than remaining in downtown Miami. Went to the Alligator Farm which was quite low key & felt very family run. They did an alligator & snake show and air boat rides. As our hotel was so close we got there soon after it opened which worked very well, it also meant we were able to drive to Key Largo (about 50 minutes) and have dinner out on a deck watching the sun set, it was fantastic. We went to Sundowners which looked like nothing from the highway but did have great views over the water – standard American fare.

We also went into the National Park and they have a number of good walking trails. Saw the most amazing number of alligators just by the side of the path which was a contrast to them all behind fences in the farm. You can’t get air boat rides in the actual park so need to find somewhere on the outskirts. It was really fun to do and certainly a must. Homestead is the main entry point to the park and is really just part of the wider Miami sprawl (about 50 mins from downtown).

Key West

Would strongly recommend Hemingway’s House, the most southerly point and Sloppy Joes. Duval Street was very touristy but streets either side very chilled and laid back.

We were meant to stay in the Navy Lodge on the actual Naval Base which is really close to downtown and benefits the only beach in Key West plus MWR boats etc. and I think there is a Gateway Inn there as well.

You can also stay at the Naval Air Station Key West which is a little drive into town but they have 3 bed houses for rent as well as trailers & cabins.

South of the Border

On the way home we stayed at South of the Border as we’d seen it so many times. Kind of had to be done. Very 70’s but good indoor pool for the kids to burn off some energy.

Driving distances

Virginia Beach – Exit 99 (Savannah) is about 7 hours driving

Virginia Beach – Orlando about 11¼ hrs driving. This costs about 2½ tanks of fuel.

Virginia Beach – North Carolina: 100 miles

North Carolina border – Charleston – 200 miles

Charleston – South Carolina border: 85 miles

Fuel: at exit 119 going South, and 164 heading North there are cheap, or rather reasonably priced fuel pumps, close to the road.