12 days´ Florida round trip
Arrive in Miami
If you arrived after flying overseas it is a good thing to stay for 2 nights in Miami. If you want to see more of this vibrant city you could very well spend 3 nights here and shorten the stay in Key West.
Miami is the perfect place to spend a holiday in Winter time. It is warm without getting too hot and the temperature in the Atlantic Ocean is a nice to swim in. There are lots and lots of shops, restaurants, clubs and outlets outside Miami.
To be honest, we never felt at home in Miami. We felt we had to go by car everywhere and the traffic around Miami is crazy. We also did the mistake not staying in Miami Beach but in Miami just because we had checked out a hotel years before.
The Biltmore hotel is a huge 5-star hotel with everything you need - tennis courts, golf, pool, different restaurants, valet parking. The service was great but everything is super expensive so we got the smallest room ever in probably the darkest part of the hotel. Luckily we quickly found out we did not have to use the valet parking but could park the car by ourselves at the open parking lot - for free!
Where to stay in Miami Beach: There are so many large hotels in Miami Beach. Those small and personal boutique hotels seem difficult to find. Try for example 1 Hotel South Beach.
What to do in Miami: Lazy days on the beach, shopping, day trip to Ft Lauderdale and a cruise on the canals.
Swim with dolphins and drive to Key West
This is a lovely day! Drive for one hour to Key Largo, the first of the Florida Keys Islands to swim with dolphins.
You need to book in advance and prices start at around 200 USD per person. You get the chance to swim in different ways with the dolpins holding onto their fins, dancing with them and kiss them goodbye.
The adventure lasts for 3-4 hours. You are divided into smaller groups of 4-6 people per leader. It is super easy to get in close contact with the dolphins and even if you might not be sure what to do the dolphins will surely show you.
After the swim you are probably hungry and you find Snook´s Bayside Restaurant just a couple of kilometres away.
Key West is the most southern of the five Florida Key islands. The Overseas Highway that runs all the way from north to south crosses 42 bridges and the five Florida Key islands. The total distance is 170 kilometres.
After Key Largo (the first island) you drive across the islands of Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key before you reach the most famous one of the islands, Key West.
The famous Seven Mile Bridge connects the island of Marathon with Big Pine Key.
Starting in Key Largo you have about 2 hours to Key West. Forget everything about multi-lane highways! This is a small road passing through all the little villages along the way.
Arriving in Key West you park your car and will not need it until you leave. This place is perfect for walks and going by bike.
You will stay for 3 nights in Key West.
Where to stay in Key West: Key West is a very popular destination and the hotels are expensive. You can probably rent a really nice apartment or cottage through AirBnb since a lot of houses seemed to be holiday homes only.
We chose to stay at Southernmost Beach Resort lovely situated by the Atlantic and right at the starting point of the main street Duval. The hotel has one of Key West´s beaches just by, a pool and a really nice garden with hammocks between the palm trees.
Parking is complementary. You can have breakfast in the hotel, at the beach restaurant or in one of the lovely restaurants along Duval Street.
Some of the rooms come with two queen sized beds so if the kids are younger you can very well fit in a family of four. Our kids were 12 and 14 at the time of our visit.
The hotel also has some lovely villas and guest houses but those are for adults only.
Where to eat in Key West: There are a lot of restaurants along Duval Street. Most of them are really good. This time we did not book in advance but just popped in at different restaurants and got great food everytime. The portions are huge so my daughter and I ended up sharing for dinner.
Lazy days in Key West
Key West is the southernmost point of the US. It is situated only 140 kilometres north of Cuba and today you can go there by boat from Key West.
Top 10 things to do in Key West
1. Walk along Duval Street
Walk along Duval street and admire the lovely colonial style houses, visit the cafés and rstaurants. Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and chat with the friendly locals.
2. Eat Key Lime Pie
The Key Lime Pie is the signature desert of Key west. It is like a cheesecake with lime. Superb!
3. Visit the Ernest Hemingway museum
There used to be a lot of painters and writers going to Key West. One of the more famous writers who lived here was Ernest Hemingway. His house is open to the public and you can go on guded tours there. It is well worth the time and money!
We had a really fun guide who gave us the feeling that it was Hemingway himself that gave us a tour around the house and garden.
Hemingway loved cats and had a lot of them. They all had six toes. When they died he buried them in a special cat cemetary in the garden!
4. Visit the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory
This place is beautiful and you find the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory along Duval street.
5. Water sports
One of the world´s third largest coral reef is outside The Keys. You can also go deep sea fishing.
6. Fort Zachary Taylor
A little further from the city center you find the nature reserve Fort Zachary Taylor. There you find a restaurant and larger beaches. Perfect for snorkling.
7. Rent a bike and go around Key West
There are a lot of really nice houses in Key West and the atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed. Bike along the smaller streets stopping by to talk to the locals
8. Visit the photo and art galleries
There are some amazing photo and art galleries along Duval Street to visit.
9. Get up early to see the sunrise
This is a really big thing in Key West. Lots of tourist were up at 7 a.m. to take photos of the sunrise. So did we!
10. Celebrate the sunset
Sunsets is one of the main attractions in Key West. We were stunned by all the people waiting for the sunset, bells ringing, people applauding it and that there were special sunset boat trips. In Sweden the sunset lasts for hours so you don´t stand waiting for it this way.
Drive through Everglades and
continue to Ana Maria Island
This will be an exciting day passing once again across the 42 bridges along the Overseas Highway and through Everglades. It is is a full day with lots of spontaneous stops along the way. Driving straight from Key West to Ana Maria Island would take you 6 and a half hours.
The North 41 Tamiami Trail runs trough the Everglades National Park and starts just south of downtown Miami. It then ends 144 kilometres west in Naples on the west coast.
Driving along the Tamiami Trail through Everglades Natioal park is a great adventure that is for free.
Take your time and do a couple of stops at the visitor´s centers (there are several along the way) in the park to see the alligators and talk with the guides. They can tell you all you want to know about the alligators, how the live and what not to do when you approach the alligators.
You can also do a lot of other things like going for a round trip with kayak among the 10 000 islands, go with an airboat or on a few hours sightseeing in the park. To find out more about exciting adventures. Check out this website: the National Park Service.
After a long and exciting day you will arrive late in Ana Maria Island. This is a hidden gem that many people totally miss. Driving here straight from Miami would take you 3,5 hours.
You will stay here for three nights. An option is also to spend one night in Naples or Fort Myers on the way to shorten the drive during this day.
Where to stay in Ana Maria Island: The main reason we ended up staying in Ana Maria Island instead of, for example Fort Myers along the west coast, was that we found the loveliest B&B here - the Harrington House. This charming, familiar and intimate B&B is set just by the long sandy beach. It is also one of our favourite boutique hotels. You won´t find this hidden gem on booking.com.
We stayed here at New Years Eve and several of the other guests were there for the second, fifth or even tenth time.
You can choose between staying in fully equipped bungalows or double rooms. A la carte breakfast and parking is complimentary. If you choose to rent a bungalow there is a supermarket along the main road just before arriving in Ana Maria Island.
Ana Maria Island
This place is about the beach. Do not expect the Mexican Gulf to be warm in Winter time, it is colder than the Atlantic Ocean in Miami. Walk along the neverending beach, relax by the pool by the hotel or go by kayak (free at the B&B). There are a lot of dolphins here so if you are lucky you might see some when kayaking.
About 1 hour away, crossing the famous Sunshine Skyway Bridge is the town St Petersburg. If you are interested in modern art why not visit the Salvador Dalí museum? It is very well worth a visit and the guides are great. You can either go there on a day trip from Ana Maria Island or visit it on your way to Orlando.
Drive to Orlando
Driving straight from Ana Maria Island to Orlando is 2 hours. It gives you plenty of time for a lunch break in St Petersburg.
When arriving in Orlando you might want to check out one of the huge outlets. There is one really close to Universal Studios. You will stay in Orlando for two nights.
Where to stay: There are lots and lots of hotels around Universal Studios Florida. We checked up different places and ended up at a hotel within walking distance from the Universal Studios. That saved us the money for parking.
If we had known before that we would buy an Express Pass we would have stayed in one of the hotels in the park. Then the Express Pass is often included in the price of the hotel. Adding to that you get an Early Park Admission for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
There are hotels in different price classes in the Universal studio´s are. Don´t expect any of them to be cheap though!
Universal Studios Florida
This will be such a fun day! If your kids are into Harry Potter this is a dream come true!
For us, the choice between Disney World and Universal Studios Florida was easy an easy one. Our kids were at this time 12 and 14 and more interested in adventure attractions at Universal than Disney.
It is not an easy choice to buy tickets for Universal Studios Florida. After calculating and comparing we ended up buying a 1-day ticket for 2 parks plus Express pass. The Express pass gives you faster access to the attractions. We figured out that we thereby should be able to cover all the things we wanted in one day.
So instead of staying for 2 days in the park, paying for a hotel an extra night and standing in long lines (up to 3 hours) we had one superfun day without standing in lines and saved the money for an extra night at the hotel.
Find out more about which tickets to by here. Be prepared to be "pushed" to buy a 2-days or 3-days package for all three parks.
There is not much point driving from Orlando to Miami. A better choice is to fly home from Orlando.
We actually drove back to Miami, stopping by at West Palm Beach and Ft Lauderdale, but we came to the conclusion that it was not worth that extra day.
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