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Discover The Real Florida   by Fiona Napier


The following guide has been written for those who are interested in going on holiday to Florida. Whether you seek the fun and fantasy of Walt Disney World®, great shopping and dining, or recreation and relaxation on fantastic beaches, Florida, the 'Sunshine State', has it all!

Kissimmee & Orlando

The Kissimmee resort area lies at the heart of the 'Sunshine State', with the highest concentration anywhere of theme parks and attractions. The choice of entertainment is practically endless. Walt Disney World's® four parks - The Magic Kingdom®, Epcot® , Disney-MGM Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom™ - as well as Universal Studios® and Universal's Islands of Adventure® and Sea World are all fabulous theme parks you won't want to miss. Each park is wonderfully unique, providing fun and adventure which is sure to delight visitors of every age!

The action is virtually non-stop, with the parks open late and a nightlife that is equally unique and entertaining. In the Summer months you can even spend a balmy evening at a water fun park like Wet 'nWild® or Typhoon Lagoon. There is a wide choice of good quality restaurants often with an all you can eat buffet, as well as a full range of fast food places. You can combine dinner with entertainment at one of the themed dinner attractions in the area. In case you find free time on your hands, you can 'shop till you drop' in one of the enormous malls or factory outlets. The bargains are great!

The Florida Suncoast

Central to the Suncoast are the communities of St Pete Beach, Madeira Beach, Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach. These are uncrowded beach resorts close to a host of activities that make for a perfect beach holiday. The beach and sea are the areas' greatest attractions, but tourist attractions are plentiful, giving you the opportunity to do as little or as much as you please. For years visitors from all over the world have enjoyed Busch Gardens, the Salvador Dali Museum and Sunken Gardens, among the many fun and interesting places within easy reach. Sports enthusiasts will delight in the range of activities whether you are a participator or a spectator: fishing, boating, golf, tennis and baseball to name just a few. The proximity of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa offers an even wider choice of places to explore, restaurants to enjoy and shops to discover. The restaurants range from the deliciously sophisticated to the irresistibly informal, from fresh lobster to pizza and beer! Madeira Beach has outstanding fishing and is particularly famous for John's Pass Village and Boardwalk - a unique collection of shops, boutiques and restaurants built on the water. From here you can hire boats for the day (or forever!). Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach are the 'friendly island' towns with a welcoming and laid back Florida lifestyle.

Sarasota Area

The Sarasota/Bradenton area is easily accessible from Orlando. The area contains some lovely beaches, local shops and good family restaurants. The Sarasota area offers botanical gardens, fine museums, performing arts, world class golf courses, upmarket shopping, boating and other watersports - there is something for everyone!

Anna Maria Island is a peaceful seaside community with no high rise hotels, lovely sandy beaches and turquoise-blue Gulf waters. You can even enjoy the serene beauty from the island's delightful beachfront dining facilities. A perfect year round location for families and couples.

At the southern end of the Sarasota area is the island of Siesta Key. Siesta Key's award winning beaches are officially recognised as having the most pristine, powdery white sands in the world. No sand is quite like it; even under the burning subtropical sun, it feels cool to the touch! To the visitors who flock here each year, the enchantment is many-fold: miles of wide white walking beach, elegant gourmet restaurants, a quaint village with resident artists and interesting shops, and an island ambience all of its own.

South of Sarasota lies unspoilt Manasota Key. With an average year-round temperature of 75ºF and the sea nearly always in the 80's, it is not surprising that those who have discovered one of Florida's best kept secrets have not been in a hurry to tell others! You will often see dolphins at play just off the beach and logger-head turtles in the sand. Collect shells, take a relaxed dip in the sea and watch the sun go down. The small charming seaside town of Venice is just minutes away.

The Englewood area offers a choice of restaurants and shopping. Fabulous Boca Grande Island with its excellent beaches and quaint village is closeby. The area's smaller keys such as Palm Island and Little Gasparilla have regular ferry services and tempt you to try a real desert island day out.

Sanibel, Captiva and Fort Myers Beach

Sanibel and Captiva islands are a vacationers' paradise, enjoying an average yearly temperature of 82ºF. The area is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico to the south and west. This unique position makes the area a mecca for seashell collectors. The only 'main' road on Sanibel is Periwinkle Way which winds its way through the centre of the crescent shaped island lined with trees and bike paths. Biking is a must on Sanibel. The "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel is a 5000 acre preservation area which can be enjoyed via a scenic biking, walking or driving route. Two public golf courses, tennis, boat rentals and charters are readily available. At the south end of Periwinkle Way are clusters of shops and boutiques tucked unobtrusively among tropical landscaping and offering a most delightful melange of clothing, souvenirs, arts and crafts.

Fort Myers Beach on Estero Island is 7 miles of sugar sand beach-front along the inviting Gulf of Mexico. The gentle sloping shoreline, calm waters and relaxed atmosphere make Fort Myers Beach a favourite with families. The location is also ideal for a day trip to the Everglades or a visit to the secluded islands of nearby Sanibel and Captiva. The town of Fort Myers is a short drive away and offers many golf courses, shopping malls and attractions including the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Back on the beach enjoy sporting activities such as cycling, tennis or boating, or take a leisurely stroll at sunset on the crystal-white sandy beach. Dine at restaurants right on the beach, where fresh local seafood awaits you or enjoy the casual atmosphere of the many eateries and bars.

Naples and Marco Island

Naples is a great après-theme-park escape for the discerning visitor to Florida. Just 3 1/2 hours drive from Orlando and 11⁄2 hours drive from Miami, its sweeping Gulf beaches are just a stones throw from the Everglades. The superb Naples lifestyle is still relatively unknown to visitors, but a visit here will reveal why so many people want to return again and again. Every corner of Naples holds an image of tropical bliss, from swaying palm trees and technicolour sunsets to landscaped communities and sparkling waterways. Naples is known for its upmarket shopping. Both 3rd Street South and the Village of Venetian Bay offer a unique cluster of speciality shops, open air cafes and restaurants. Cultural pursuits include a resident Philharmonic orchestra, theatres and first-rate art galleries and museums. Other entertainment includes the Pier, Jungle Larry's Zoological Gardens, Collier Automotive Museum, and even a Teddy Bear Museum! For those who are passionate about golf, you'll find paradise on a par with the unparalleled lifestyle.

Situated at the corner of the Sunshine State is Marco Island, the largest of the 'Ten Thousand Islands' and a gateway to the Everglades. Just six miles long and four miles wide, the island has over three miles of beautiful white sandy beach and waterways reaching into every corner of its inland landscape. Marco Island simply surrounds you with opportunities: over thirty golf courses conveniently closeby, close to seventy restaurants, the Everglades National Park, a historic trail with charming boutiques, factory outlet shopping and an endless range of watersports.

Florida Keys and Key West

The Florida Keys, Highway 1 'The Overseas Highway' and forty-two bridges connect this string of coral rock islands. Bounded on the east by the clear blue waters of the Atlantic Gulf Stream and on the west by the tranquil Florida Bay and the outlying fringes of the Everglades, the Keys enjoy the second largest coral reef system in the world. The reef protects the Keys and is the reason why there are no sandy beaches on these islands. America's foremost underwater parks - John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the adjacent Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary - cover approximately 178 nautical square miles and are the area's star attractions. You must see and experience the wondrous enchantment of the ancient coral landscape, home to an extensive variety of fish and undersea life, either as a shallow water snorkeller or a deep-water scuba diver. Dive shops, guides, charters and equipment in the Upper Keys are abundant.

133 miles from the southernmost tip of the Florida mainland is Key West an island where the famous and infamous alike come to enjoy a lifestyle with a European flavour and an all-American flair. Key West is home to poets, writers, artists and craftsmen all lured by its special way of life. Stay in Key West and leave your car parked. Key West is a town that never seems to sleep, but instead seems to come alive as the sun goes down. Each evening jugglers, musicians and street artists convene on the Mallory Dock for the Sunset Celebration. The streets are filled with sidewalk cafes, open-air bars, legendary pubs and world-class restaurants. Discover Duval Street, 'the longest street' in America because it stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico! Here you will find the world famous Sloppy Joe's, Rick's Cafe and the home of the Pina Colada. The nightlife is exceptional with theatre, cabaret, and so many dining experiences from fresh seafood to Cuban cuisine.

South East Florida

Palm Beach offers a rich variety of water pleasures, which include boating, fishing, snorkelling and deep-sea diving, and features more than 150 golf courses. On the western border lies the Everglades, a truly unique ecosystem. Enjoy a quiet al fresco lunch in Palm Beach itself and watch the rich and famous go by. Palm Beach, charming and elegant, is located entirely on a barrier island and is home to the historical mansions of some of the world's best-known families.

South Beach is the red hot destination for visitors from all over the world. South Beach has long been a magnet for celebrities, sophisticates and fun-lovers from all over the world who thrive on its cosmopolitan atmosphere, chic restaurants and night-clubs and fabulous beaches. Seen around town ....Cindy Crawford, Will Smith, Jennifer López, Cameron Diaz, Robert De Niro and Gloria Estefan to name a few. South Beach is also a mecca for shoppers looking for trendy boutiques. Adding to the light-hearted fun of the colour palette are the pastel painted Art Deco hotels, the landmark of the historical area.

Fort Lauderdale is characterised by broad esplanades and boulevards, shaded by tall palm trees, elegant sidewalk cafés and marinas filled with gleaming yachts. Sawgrass Mills, with over 400 name brand stores and the world's largest outlet mall. Las Olas Boulevard, in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale is a beautifully landscaped, gas-lighted street and is lined with chic boutiques and fine dining spots.

About the Author

For more information about holidays in Florida, please see The Vacations Group website

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