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A Florida Funshine Holiday

Florida is known as the Sunshine State and its sizzling climate is perfect if you want to have a fun holiday making the most of beautiful beaches and exciting theme parks, with some fabulous shopping and dining thrown into the mix.

By Helen Foster

If you’re thinking ‘Florida’ you’ll be thinking Mickey & Co, and I don’t have to tell you about the delights of holidaying with the larger-than-life Disney cast in Orlando, or the thrills of the white-knuckle rides at Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure theme parks…

That’s not everyone’s idea of holiday heaven, however, and if, like me, you’re looking for a break with a more chilled vibe, then Florida is a great place to go for that as well.

Coastal adventure

Everyone goes casual on Florida’s southeast coast, where you holiday at your own pace, and not Mickey’s. Sebastian sits on the Intracoastal Waterway and sports an air of old Florida, in the days before the theme parks. Nestled along Indian River Lagoon, said to be North America’s most biologically diverse estuary, boat trips are a must here. Enjoy dolphin or manatee spotting out on the waterway, and back on dry land there is plenty to do. Browse the rare antiquities washed up long ago in a shipwreck from the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet, and then as the sun goes down, stroll the pretty riverfront past the ribbons of restaurants and bars to choose your dining spot for the evening. Being the east coast’s premier fishing area, the ‘catch of the day’ here will be as fresh as it comes.

Life on The Keys

A coach trip to The Keys is a must on a Floridian holiday. Travelling by coach not only allows you to view the passing scenery instead of concentrating on the navigation of strange roads, it also means you can enjoy as many cooling cocktails as you can handle. With six hours to spend in Key West you can take in so many eclectic sights and iconic attractions, such as the ship made famous in the Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart movie, African Queen – to be found on Key Largo, one of the tour stop offs. The Key West tour will also give you some downtime on Miami’s South Beach. A classic treat is a Key West Old Town Trolley tour, which will see you travelling the vibrant city streets in a comfortable open-sided old-fashioned trolley bus. You can hop on and off to enjoy a taste of beach, dining, shopping and to admire the architecture for which the city is famed. As the day draws to a close, make sure you head for Mallory Square where the spectacular sunsets are possibly outshone by the street theatre, which includes fire acts and jesters. A memorable end to an extraordinary day.

Shop ‘til you drop

Most of the shopping here is mall based, giving you lots of opportunity to take some time out to take the weight off your feet and enjoy some refreshment. It also has the advantage of letting you window shop in air-conditioned comfort. The Florida Mall is the place to go for high street fashion. In the Lake Buena Vista area of Orlando, at the heart of the theme parks, among its 250 shops you will find familiar names such as Gap, Zara and H&M. This mall is great for the little ones too, having M&Ms World, plus a Crayola Experience with 25 unique attractions, from augmented reality to a host of craft workshops.

If your style is designer, then you will love the labels you’ll find in the Mall at Millenia. Elegant walkways ooze luxury, from Bloomingdale’s, Chanel, Gucci and Jimmy Choo to Prada and YSL. This is truly a VIP shopping experience. Bargain hunters with an eye for value will head for Orlando Premium Outlets in Vineland Avenue and Orlando International on International Drive. Home to some of the most exclusive department stores and hottest fashions in the US, savvy shoppers here snap up designer labels at outlet prices. If it is high street you’re after, you are catered for here too, with factory outlets for Levi’s, Converse and Calvin Klein. Discounts are varied but can go deep, with as much as 80% off the RRPs.

Enchantment in the Everglades

It’s hard to believe that this exotic swampland – the Everglades National Park – is just an hour away from glitzy Miami. Mangroves, alligators, manatees, bobcats and several endangered species, such as the American Crocodile and Florida Panther, call these wetlands home. There are many tours to be taken to guide you safely through this tropical and subtropical habitat, one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Airboat tours are great fun and holders of a Go Miami Card get this tour free! There are several self-guided walking tours which are both easy to access and safe. The Mahoghany Hammock Trail is a 0.5 mile loop on a boardwalk through one of the Everglades' unique ecosystems, taking you past the largest living mahogany tree in the US. December to April is the dry season, with low humidity levels making it the most popular time of year to visit. May through to November is the wet season during which temperatures soar and the rain is very warm!

 

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