Part 1 – Miami, Delray Beach, Naples and Everglades : Places to visit in Florida
Dreams do come true!
When I got my USA Tourist Visa approved in October, I knew that my dream to travel to the States would soon come true! I really wanted to go to Florida because Disney World and Universal Studios are there, as well as the fact that some of my favourite TV series are shot in Florida! (Big CSI Miami fan!) We read a lot of information online about the best things to do in Florida and contacted the Tourism office about our plans. Luckily, Summer of Visit Florida responded to us and was really excited to help us with my first-ever visit to Florida and the United States! Feel free to list down these places to visit in Florida!
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Florida.
One great advantage is that we’re currently based in Bogota, Colombia, which is only a 3-hour flight from Miami! We booked our flight, Visit Florida sent us our itinerary and off we went!
So far this has been one of the best trips I’ve ever had in my whole life!
We will be writing much more about everywhere we went on this trip in greater detail soon, but for now, here’s a roundup of our Florida adventure!
Related Article: Planning to give yourself a luxury holiday? Here’s the Ultimate List of Best Luxury Hotel in Florida.
MIAMI BEACH – December 6
We landed at Fort Lauderdale airport at around 7 pm at night and drove all the way to Miami Beach to check in at our beautiful boutique hotel which was only a two-minute walk to Miami Beach.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Fort Lauderdale.
Where did we stay?
Circa 39 Hotel (compliments of Diamond PR) where we had a lovely room which included our dinner and breakfast buffet the next day! The property is newly renovated and has a really cool style, color scheme, and design which is perfect for millennial travelers! Another great thing is that they had their own parking area for our rental car, which is a rare occurrence in Miami. Retaining its art deco roots, Circa 39 has been renovated and updated for today’s modern traveler, with a heavy emphasis on travel – ‘A happy home for explorers at heart’ is their motto and is reflected in the details and décor throughout the hotel. Our room was also followed the unique styling of the rest of the hotel, with the pastel green and orange so familiar to the area and plenty of natural light. In the heart of Wundermile, the city’s arts and design district and only a street away from the seemingly endless stretch of white sand that is South Beach.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Miami.
The hotel’s aptly named Wunderbar has a classic cool atmosphere and a laid-back approach, with friendly and approachable staff from various different countries, which all add to the eclectic feel. We chilled at the bar for a couple of hours with a cocktail, a beer and some fantastic food, cooked up in the in-house Jules Kitchen, who also has an incredible breakfast (More on that later!).
What we did:
- Just hang out at the bar! – Wunderbar was the perfect relaxed introduction to Miami. With a great selection of cocktails and drafts ales to complement the simple, fresh food menu of American-style classics fused with international flavours.
- Walked along South Beach – As we only had one night to enjoy Circa 39 and Miami Beach, we decided the best thing to do was head to the beach in the morning before breakfast. It was really nice to see one of the world’s most famous beaches early in the morning before it was filled with crowds of people and with all the sun loungers still all stacked up around the pastel-colored lifeguard huts.
Tips for your trip: Make sure that the hotel you’ll be staying at includes the parking fee as it’s a relatively expensive extra if you’re not expecting to pay for it. (approx. $50 per night) Opinions seem to vary on drinking tap water, but you can buy your own water from the grocery store next door. Another important tip is to learn some Spanish. A little will go a long way in a city where more than 60% of the population is Hispanic!
DELRAY BEACH – December 7 to 9
Described as a ‘vibrant, intimate town with big city sophistication,’ Delray Beach sits right in front of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an affluent and upscale area and with that comes all the benefits like upmarket shops, fine dining from a range of cuisines, a surprisingly lively nightlife and two miles of stunning, award-winning beaches! In our two days here, we got the impression that this is a place where people move to enjoy a relaxing lifestyle, filled with the finer things and the health benefits that come with living on the beach. While the majority of the visitors seemed to be off the older generation, the same cannot be said for the local population – at night the renowned downtown came alive and locals of all ages came out to play in the cool bars and restaurants which line the main street.
Where did we stay?
2 nights in the Delray Sands Resort (compliments of the management). This 5-star hotel is located in one of the most desirable areas of Delray, Highlands Beach, a peaceful area with the Atlantic Ocean on one side, the Inter-coastal waterway on the other and numerous holiday homes and mansions all around.
As the only hotel within the high-end niche of Highland Beach, Delray Sands boasts an exclusive location and the ocean view, unless you plan to buy home here! Designed as a secluded retreat, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a romantic break in the elegance of Palm Beach County.
The hotel is right on the beach, with a central pool and a heated Jacuzzi, which came in handy as the weather was uncooperative and cloudy for most of our time there. Our room was large with a king size bed and a balcony overlooking the pool. One of our favourite things about Delray Sands Resort was the beachside restaurant with open decked terrace where we sat for our breakfast on our final day. Sitting in the morning sun, with a cooling sea breeze and the sound of the waves on the sand, eating fresh fruit, natural yogurt, crispy smoked bacon, and sausages, was the best way to start a day!
What we did:
- Beach time – Relax by the beach and in the heated Jacuzzi when the sun went away.
- Mexican Meetup – We had an amazing dinner with our lovely readers, an American couple, Ate Khrissy and Josh, at the Mexican restaurant Roccos Tacos in Delray Beach. It was our first time eating in Rocco’s Tacos and we loved the authentic Mexican experience in an American beach town setting. We had Guacamole prepared from scratch at the table, which was incredible to see and even better to taste. We have a full and in-depth food story of our meal coming soon!
- City Oyster – This was a food experience like no other we’ve had before. Starting with fresh oysters, then following up with sushi prepared to order, Oysters Rockefeller, lobster tails and much more, all capped off with an extravagant assortment of deserts. Keep watching this space for a full, in-depth food story coming soon!
NAPLES and EVERGLADES – December 9 to 12
A small city of only about 21,000 people, Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the whole United States, with the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita in the country. But there is much more to Naples than wealth, high-end shopping, culture and fine dining! It’s also becoming a favourite beach destination for families on affordable holidays and couples escaping for a romantic break. As well as all of the shopping and eating that goes on around here, there’s a huge amount of things to do in Naples and the local area to suit any tastes. Sea fishing is always a popular activity, but if observing and conserving wildlife is more your thing then check one of the many state parks and wildlife reserves in the area, like the Fakahatchee Swamp, where we spent several hours wading through the swamp to see the wildlife and rare orchids. Naples is also the perfect place for kayaking, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, botanical gardens and of course the infamous airboat rides!
Where did we stay?
3 nights in Naples Grande Beach Resort (compliments of the management, complete experience review in another article). Located within 23 acres of waterfront land and direct access to the Clam Pass Park and Outer Clam Bay, a mangrove waterway filled with wildlife, we spent three nights in the Naples Grande, exploring the local area, paddle boarding, relaxing in the spa and swimming in the several pools. On our first night, we enjoyed dinner in the hotel restaurant, Catch of the Pelican, with locally caught seasonal Stone Crab claw, pan-fried snapper, and glazed pork belly.
On our second day, when we returned from our excursions, we indulged ourselves with a relaxing artisan massage, incorporating a variety of different styles and techniques specifically suited to our needs. After the massage, we soaked in the outdoor hot spa pool to relax and let our muscles soak up the goodness of the massage. On our final day, before we checked out, we tried out one the area’s favourite activities – SUP Paddleboarding! Beach access is via a wooden walkway through the mangroves of Clam Pass Park, then we paddled out into the bay and back around into the mangroves, where the water is peaceful and the wildlife abundant. Jonathan was even lucky enough to share the moment with a 4-foot alligator! Keep watching for our full Naples Grande story coming soon!
You can check details and latest rates on Agoda or Expedia or visit their website directly at Naples Grande Beach Resort. Don’t just take our word for it though, check out their reviews on TripAdvisor
What we did:
- Lunch and Sea Salt – We met with Jonnel Mody, the Manager of the CVB for Naples who organized our amazing stay and activities in the area. We had lunch together in Sea Salt restaurant in the centre of Naples, with battered shrimp on a bed of seaweed, octopus, pan-fried grouper and more!
- Botanical Gardens – Naples Botanical Garden is an oasis of nature, conservation, and natural habitats, designed to connect people with plants and with nature. Run almost entirely by volunteers, the garden is designed based on the natural habitats found at the exact same latitude around the world – Florida Garden, Asian Garden, Brazilian Garden and Caribbean Garden – plus a Children’s Garden, Water Garden and Preserve. All kinds of activities and events take place here throughout the year – we joined in a Tai Chi session on the lawns of one of the gardens and one of the most successful events is Night Lights in the Garden, with thousands of light displays decorating the gardens, plus live music and drinks.
- Fakahatchee Swamp hike – We drove to the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, also known as “the Amazon of North America” – a twenty mile long by 5 miles wide linear swamp forest, which is home to a wide array of habitats and supports many highly endangered plant and animal species, including the much-coveted Ghost Orchid. We went hiking through the swamp with the lead biologist, Mike Owen, who took us deep into the swamp to introduce us to life in the swamp and show us how he and his team keep track of rare species. Fakahatchee Strand means a lot more to Mike Owens too, as this is where he met and married his wife, waist-deep in swamp water! Full story coming soon.
We did drive over to the Air Boat stations to see if we could squeeze in a quick ride, but we just didn’t have enough time for this trip. That said we wouldn’t have missed the swamp walk and it’s as good an excuse as any to come back again, not that we’re short of reasons – we’ll be back!
This is Part 1 of 3 – Jump to Part 2 (Fort Myers, Sanibel, St Pete and Clearwater) or Jump to Part 3 (Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Christmas Eve in Miami)
Note: This trip wouldn’t have been possible without the help and support of Diamond PR for our Hotel in Miami, Carma PR for the Restaurants in Del Ray, Paradise Coast for our itinerary in Naples and Everglades and to Visit Florida, the official tourism office of Florida in Tallahassee, and especially Ms. Summer Gilhousen, who arranged the whole trip and coordinated with all the local tourism boards, private companies for our sponsored hotel stays, tours and car rental. Thank you!
Thank you to everyone we met along the way who all helped to make this such a special experience. It was an incredible first visit to the USA and I will never forget it!
Many more detailed articles about our Florida experiences coming very soon!