Florida: Three generation joy - Part 1
cheers for a three-generation trip to Florida - with not one single theme park
on the agenda.
By the end
of a fortnight’s holiday with Gran and Grandad, the smiles all round were a
good indicator that we had three times the fun, as well.
We were on familiar territory, having been across to the lovely Sunshine State a good few times over the years, but it was a first time for daughter and 10-year-old granddaughter.
the mists of time, my daughter had been to Vermont and New York State on a ski
trip; and as a business travel pro she had been on an ‘educational’ trip to
Hollywood and Beverly Hills in California, but this was quite a difference.
late family connections in so-chic Sarasota,
on the Gulf Coast, and a circle of friends now taking in Venice to the south
and Bradenton, Tampa and St Petersburg further north, so there was a lot to
share with our ‘newbies’.
decided from the word go that the triple delights of Disney World, Universal
Studios or Busch Gardens could wait for another time, with plenty of the real
Florida to see first. The temptation was to say ‘ordinary’ Florida, but there’s
nothing ordinary about this really special part of the world, which is
consistently winning recognition in the States as one of the very best areas to
live and work and to retire to.
option is fairly obvious in many subtle ways, not at all like the unkind jibe
of being God’s Waiting Room, because
apart from numerous, very attractive retirement communities, no effort is spared across the area - and
across the State - at making all manner of shops, restaurants, attractions and
even country parks accessible. And there are always plenty of vital free
restrooms, even miles from anywhere!
arrival was the first big surprise all round, because instead of our more usual
flight into huge, bustling Tampa from Manchester, via Atlanta, with
Virgin/Delta, we wanted to make the most of our limited time and instead flew
into Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, a grand title for about the most
friendly, and user-friendly, small airport I have had the pleasure of using for
a long, long time.
bags on a not-very-busy evening took a matter of minutes and it didn’t take
much longer to pile into a hire car (with a free upgrade!) before we had a
ten-minute drive to our overnight stay at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn, a spacious, modern and fairly
basic hotel popular with airline crews and just across the road from the
The following morning, we headed through downtown Sarasota, just a few minutes down the US 41 Tamiami Trail, pointing out landmarks on the way to our initial base in Venice, at the Best Western Plus Ambassador Suites, chosen because it’s about halfway between the centre of the lovely coastal town and my friend’s ranch out in the wilds near Myakka River State Park.
was duly impressed with her huge, spotless en-suite room and the hotel facilities;
and after barely pausing for breath, granddaughter was changed and heading for
the pool where she would have been happy to stay for the rest of the day.
But the snow-white quartz-sand beaches beckoned and we drove over to Nokomis
Beach on Casey Key, where Saturday night is Drum Circle night and families and
hangers-out of all ages join all manner of drummers and percussionists, along
with dancers, hoolah-hoopers, posers and a sprinkling of old-fashioned hippies,
to celebrate the almost-always amazing sunset.
family-friendly fun, followed by a detour up Casey Key to have a quick look at
the $5million-plus mansions (Hi there, Stephen King!) before a slap-up dinner
just round the corner from the hotel at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, where you can sit in a rocking
chair on the porch and pretend to be very Deep South and even buy the rocker,
plus all sorts of other rustic goods and souvenir foods if you want. The menu
is simply vast, with enough permutations to make you dizzy, but I love to have
a go at the Breakfast Y’all Day variants, with pancakes, bacon and syrup to be
going on with, washed down with ice-cold ‘soft’ cloudy cider, seeing as there’s
a no-alcohol policy.
hearty-eating offspring were taken aback by their first visit to this Southern
institution, but duly polished off their homestyle helpings, with a warning
that this was just a foretaste of what to expect in the Man vs Food environment
you find in almost every American restaurant.
almost a rerun of this the following morning thanks to the all-you-can eat
breakfast included at the hotel, where granddaughter soon mastered the DIY
waffle machine as well as tucking into a comprehensive spread, which also had a
few healthier options like fresh fruit, including lovely local oranges.
the breakfast launchpad, it was sightseeing time, and over the next few days we
explored an eclectic mix of attractions to suit us all, underpinned by a
fascination with American food and a quest to find youngster-friendly eateries.
Not that it proved difficult, and almost
inevitably, the first ‘tick’ on a the list was McDonald’s,
but the choice widened to include The Old Salty Dog, with its whiff of Britishness,
plus Carrabbas, Longhorn, Daiquiri Deck, Applebees
and Red Lobster, plus the occasional huge, made-to-order sandwich from Publix
and super-fresh Italian food at Trattaria Da Mino in downtown Venice.
Mino himself helped cook up some alligator for lunch at my pal’s house one day, and very much alive and kicking alligators were a huge hit with my granddaughter when we got up close and personal with a few as they stole fish from an angler’s line only feet below us on a bridge at Myakka River State Park. The park offers airboat trips on the massive, shallow Myakka Upper Lake, which is home to around 1,000 ’gators; and safari tram tours through the near-wilderness wetlands to vantage points where you can see an enormous variety of wildlife, birds, plants and mosquitoes.
mozzies can be a problem in some areas at certain times of year and Avon’s Skin
So Soft body spray is a fragrant favourite to keep the bugs at bay. I use it
when I go fishing and if it’s good enough for the Royal Marines, it’s good
enough for me!
sweetly, and with smiles to match after exploring some great coastal scenery as
far south as Punta Gorda (where it’s worth a stop at TT’s Tiki Bar on Charlotte
Bay), we all headed back to Sarasota for
the rest of our stay and to make the smiles even wider.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends American Sky.