Florida: 5 favorites in the Sunshine State is written by Jesper Munk Hansen.
Family-friendly and fun-filled Florida
Florida i USA is known for its many amusement parks such as Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and even Legoland and is, on the whole, very obvious for the big one family trip. However, the Sunshine State is also full of great experiences for those of you traveling without children.
In the Everglades National Park you meet alligators, on Miami Beach you meet the relaxed beach life, and everywhere in Florida you meet the well-known American hospitality. Live out the big travel dream in the sunshine state of Florida.
The Sunshine State – sun, sun and more sun
I have wanted to experience the USA for several years. A country I've never been to. Neither has my partner. When I get an idea, I always start to work on it and explore the possibilities.
The obvious place in the USA was Florida, which has been described by several as a good place for first-time visitors to the USA. We considered booking the flight and hotel ourselves, just as we usually do in Europe. But after a few offers from travel agencies, there was little doubt that we wanted USA Rejser to stand for it. A travel agency with expertise in the USA and the small "hidden places".
USA Rejser not only gave the best price; they also provided an additional service in terms of follow-up, information and adjustments during the process. If something needed to be fixed or we had questions, they got it sorted quickly. Therefore, on October 23, 2022, we got on the plane from Copenhagen to Tampa in Florida with a stopover in Toronto in Canada. Now we were going on a tour of Florida and staying in four different places The Sunshine State.
We would never have thought of Tampa in particular, if it wasn't because the travel agency had a good idea and knew the smaller town of Clearwater on Florida's west coast: a small town next to the Gulf of Mexico. Clearwater is only a 30 minute drive from the airport in Tampa, so we flew into that airport.
The travel agency had also arranged for a car to be ready for us. Then we had arrived in Florida.
Clearwater – a small relaxed harbor town
As mentioned, we had never even thought of either Tampa or Clearwater if we were to book ourselves. So it was exciting to experience the unknown Florida, so we didn't just want to see Miami and other major cities. Clearwater – and Clearwater Beach, where we lived – is a small city by American standards, with just over 100.000 inhabitants in total.
The area is characterized by a 'surfer atmosphere' and people spend a lot of time on the beach and in the sun. It is also paradise for pelicans, which are everywhere near the water.
We had two days in Clearwater, and it was interesting to experience some of what you don't normally associate with the United States. No tall buildings or skyscrapers, but instead a small harbor environment with surfers and a relaxed atmosphere. Of course, you can also experience it in e.g California, but in Clearwater the scale ratio is just much smaller.
Cocoa Beach – a bright and vibrant sea
After Clearwater, we were originally supposed to head south to Naples. It was planned for over half a year, but three weeks before we were to go to the USA, as some may remember, there was a violent hurricane in Florida. The hurricane had devastated the area around the cities of Naples and Fort Myers, so the hotel could not accommodate us.
With three weeks' notice, we quickly changed the plans with the help of the travel agency. Again they worked quickly and efficiently and we got a hotel booked in Cocoa Beach on the east coast of Florida Atlantic.
It was a stroke of luck that we came to Cocoa Beach instead of Naples, because Cocoa Beach is an area with a lot of 'bioluminescence' that we wanted to experience.
Bioluminescence is biological light, which is the production and emission of light by a living organism. We had to sail out in kayaks in the evening and experience that small living organisms in the water lit up when there was movement in the water. You could only see them by movement. It was a very different experience and not something I had expected beforehand.
The atmosphere in Cocoa Beach was also characterized by a part of the surfer environment combined with reggae and beach life.
Florida Keys - see dolphins and get close to Cuba
You can't miss the Florida Keys when you're in Florida. It's worth the whole trip, even if it was a nearly six-hour drive from Cocoa Beach.
The Florida Keys are right down on the southernmost part of Florida and actually also the southernmost part of the US mainland. We were going to live in Key Largo, which is at the beginning of the Florida Keys. From here, it is a two-hour drive to the farthest point of the US mainland, Key West.
Just Key West was planned for another day. It was the day I had my birthday and what better way to celebrate your birthday than to go on a boat trip and see dolphins and snorkel? We first saw a lot of dolphins from a distance, and later we sailed into an area where we could snorkel and swim. Unfortunately, there were no dolphins in that area.
Key West is definitely recommended to visit, but there are a lot of people everywhere, so we were glad we stayed at a hotel in Key Largo and had the option to drive to Key West instead of staying there. Both because of the quieter surroundings in Key Largo and because of the price, which is 3-4 times as high if we were to live in Key West.
It is also in Key West that you can find the southernmost point of the continental United States, only 90 miles – or 145 kilometers – from Cuba. Key West is one must see, when you are in Florida.
Key Largo, where we stayed in a hotel, is a quieter area. Our hotel was small houses in a row and looked a lot like a campsite, but without caravans and mobile home. The hotel had its own private beach, and you could therefore swim undisturbed in the Gulf of Mexico, which we had returned to after our stay at the Atlantic Ocean.
Miami Beach – beach life, culture and big city in one
The last stop on the Florida trip was, of course, Miami Beach. Although I mentioned earlier in the article that it was good to see places other than big cities like Miami, I'm still glad that we got the chance to experience this place as well.
Miami Beach is the place where people roller skate, running or cycling on the boardwalk, lying on the beach, listening to music by the water and just enjoying life. We also had the opportunity to experience Halloween in Miami Beach, and it was something out of the ordinary, and not at all as we know it from Denmark.
Americans are much more into dressing up, and it doesn't necessarily have to be creepy dressing up like in Denmark. They can just as well be dressed as cartoon characters or superheroes like Batman, Superman or Spiderman. There was even someone dressed as Santa Claus, although we were only at the end of October at the time. Today's Halloween is a huge party in the United States and is not about scaring people. It assumes that everyone is happy.
Miami Beach is a fantastic place and an area that we could easily spend longer in. We were also once over on the other side of the bridge in the city of Miami, where we saw the Wynwood Walls, among other things, but otherwise we spent most of our time in Miami Beach. Despite the name, it is not just a beach area. It is an independent city the size of Esbjerg.
If you ever come to Miami, I would recommend you stay in Miami Beach instead of Miami. The town is a bit smaller and there is enough to do on the other side of the bridge.
Everglades National Park – Florida's wildlife
During the days we lived in Miami Beach, we chose to take a trip to Everglades National Park, which is only a 30-minute drive from Miami.
We had booked a guided boat trip through the swamp area, where we had the opportunity to see alligators in their natural environment. This is one thing that we generally pay a lot of attention to when we have to experience wildlife; it must be on the animals' terms, and we must not disturb them. This was true both when we saw the dolphins and when we saw the alligators.
The Everglades is a really beautiful natural area, and after the boat trip of about 30 minutes and a subsequent story about alligators, we simply couldn't get enough.
We drove a little further in the national park and came to a place where we took another guided tour. This time with the Tram in Shark Valley, which is part of the Everglades National Park. Tram is an open minibus with several carriages. Here we were once again allowed to enjoy the wildlife and birds of all kinds, while we drove through the countryside for approximately two hours. Animal life in USA's third largest national park is something out of the ordinary. On this trip with Tram, we again saw alligators lying at the water's edge of the swamp.
After 13 days in Florida it was time to return home. My first meeting with the USA made a big impression on me, and my meeting with the Americans fortunately did not live up to some of the prejudices that have been heard. On the contrary. I have not experienced very many countries where the locals are as welcoming as in the USA.
So if you are thinking of experiencing the USA and Florida, I think you should do it. It is highly recommended. Just remember that August and September are hurricane season in Florida, so it might be a good idea to travel in October and November, like we did. Here the temperature was constantly at 28-30 degrees, and it only rained for 15 minutes on a single evening.
Have a good trip to Florida and the USA.
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