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East coast tour - Part3: Florida

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as we - meaning my better half and I (both in our late twenties) - are planning a four week trip to the east coast of the US, I'd love to hear some suggestions regarding our itinerary. Basically, we'll kick off with five nice days in NYC, next heading towards Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, taking a day-trip over to the Niagara Falls before we spend about two more weeks in Florida. As covering all of the stuff in one big topic would be messy, I'd rather go bit by bit. You can find the first part regarding NYC here (http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/east-coast-tour-part1-nyc.cfm), and the second part here (http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/east-coast-tour-part2-phily-washington-niagara-falls.cfm) respectively.

Now, the last part of our trips seems a bit trickier than the others. I know it's hurricane season etc., but it's not that we are to worried about one shower or the other. Fwiw, we'll definately rent a car down there in order to be flexible. So, our plans towards Florida look as follows:

Part3: (days in brackets)
Orlando (2) - transfer to Tampa/St. Petersburg via
King's Landing, Mount Dora and/or Crystal River (1)
Tampa/St. Petersburg (2)
Sarasota/Venice (1-2)
Fort Myers, Sanibel & Captiva Island (1-2)
Naples (short drive-by) plus Everglades bike tour (1)
Fort Lauderdale (1)
Everglades by boat (1)
Keys (2)
Miami (3??)

In general, we'd like to stay at one hotel per area, so that it's gonna be Orlando, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fort Meyers, Miami and the Keys. That should somewhat correspond to the plans. If you made different experiences, feel free to share. I'll be more than glad to hear about it.

As aforementioned, it was and still is somewhat tricky for us to sort out proper plans. We've never been to Florida, know people favouring Orlando over Miami and vice versa, some say the east has its merrit, others claim the Gulf area to be far more interesting. For us it'll be nice to combine some nice beaches with great nature, good food and some shopping possibilites. Departing from Miami Int., Miami itself should probably be last on our list.

Regarding the list, I'd like to hear how to explore Orlando the best possible way. Further it'll be great if someone shared their knowledge about Mount Dora, King's Landing and Crystal River. For the latter, I heard it was the best place to watch manatees, having a great country side, too.

For Tampa/St. Petersburg, we're targeting Honeymoon Island, Caledesi Beach and Anna Maria Island. Is there anything else you''d say is a must see?

We are still a little hesitant as to Sarasota vs Fort Myers. Sarasota is said to have beautiful places such as Siesta Key, Nokomis Beach or the Punta Gorda. I've also heard of Gasparlla. Can anyone elaborate on this? I'd be grateful.

Some friends repeatedly tell us to rather cut a day off the Fort Myers stint in favour of Sarasota or Fort Lauderdale. Sanibel Island is on our list, followed by Naples. Anything you would say in favour or against it, if you had to decide yourself?

As to Miami, I'd like to hear your opinion whether two days instead of three would be sufficient. How about Fort Lauderdale? One day, two days? Or maybe even something totally different. Thanks in advance for all your remarks and input, it's very much appreciated!

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    You don't mention when you are making this trip, at least not in this thread. Since you mention hurricane season, I'm assuming summer or fall.

    Crystal River - yes, that is the place to see manatees - in the winter. They swim up the river to the Crystal River nuclear plant where the water is warmer.

    For the Tampa/St Pete area, honeymoon and caladesi islands are both state parks and both beautiful places to visit. You reach Caladesi Island via ferry from Honeymoon Island. Anna Maria Island is your outlier here as it's down by Bradenton and about 2-3 hour drive south of the other two, depending on traffic. Tarpon Springs is a quaint town with old Greek roots and home to sponge fishing and much closer to Honeymoon and Caladesi Islands.

    Not sure what your interests are to make recommendations on other 'must sees'. If you like some nightlife, then Ybor City area in Tampa is your best bet. If you like sporting events, there is a Yankees minor league team that plays in Tampa and several others in the Bay area. The major league team is the Tampa Bay Rays which play in downtown St Pete and have started off the season fairly well. The University of S Florida has a decent college football team these days though not up to the level of the other major universities in the state. Again, depending on when you'll be there, the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning may be playing, again in Tampa. There are several places you can do waterway cruises - lunch or dinner - either on the intercoastal or in the Tampa channels. There are often outdoor festivals and shows year-round in the area - music, markets, Shakespeare in the Park, etc. Try googling and see what you find for your timeframe. Your best bet though is spending some relaxing time at the beach. The beaches in the area are beautiful with fairly clear water, nice white sand and generally beautiful weather.

    Gasparilla - I would assume you are referring to the Gasparilla Festival? That is held in Tampa the 1st weekend in Feb. Big outdoor party lasting all day and most of the night but don't believe you will be there at that time.

    In terms of taking off a day in Ft Myers for Fort Lauderdale, it really depends on your interests. Sanibel Island off the coast of Ft Myers is going to be more quiet while Ft Lauderdale will have more of a party atmosphere. Certainly you can find quiet in Ft Lauderdale and bars and night life in Sanibel, just not as much.

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    You don't say what your interests are but if you are looking for a great beach make sure you go to Siesta Key. Also, spend some time in Naples where you will find much more to do than Sanibel/Captiva. Old Naples, specifically 5th Ave. and 3rd St., has great shops and restaurants and is just blocks from the beach.

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    Some good advice here, but I'm not quite sure what the Mt. Dora attraction is for you. Since I live nearby, perhaps that explains my lack of enthusiasm. But glad to help out if you are looking for something in particular?

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    Part3: (days in brackets)
    Orlando (2) - transfer to Tampa/St. Petersburg via
    King's Landing, Mount Dora and/or Crystal River (1)
    Tampa/St. Petersburg (2)
    Sarasota/Venice (1-2)
    Fort Myers, Sanibel & Captiva Island (1-2)
    Naples (short drive-by) plus Everglades bike tour (1)
    Fort Lauderdale (1)
    Everglades by boat (1)
    Keys (2)
    Miami (3??)

    Why not switch the keys trip around to when your on the gulf coast? There is a ferry boat that travels to key west from ft myers beach and back daily. 3 1/2 hour boat ride...It beats the heck out of driving down there, which could be mind-numbing on the little 2 lane highway. You can spend a couple nights there and they would bring you back a different day, or even just do a day trip :)
    check it out... seakeywestexpress.com

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    Hey guys,

    first off, thanks a lot for all your remarks and advice so far. It's a great piece of information.

    Due to being busy with work and planning the first two stops of our trip, the Florida part has been left aside a bit. However, now that all the other mayor issues are solved, I'll be focussing on that part.

    tarfan24,
    we'll be arriving in Florida around the 20th of September. I konw about the weather and the hurricane season but am not too worried about that.
    That being said, Crystal River is probably not worth a stop during that time of the year. This means, we'll be directly heading to Tampa then. Honeymoon as well as Caledesi Island are both included in our plans. So is Anna Maria Island, probably the day on transit.

    As to sport events: We are trying to catch a football game for sure. Any chance of the Rays still playing in September? I have to admit I am not following the ML and therefore am quite clueless as to that. I'd love to see an NBA match, too, but it's probably only going to be pre-season and hopefully there won't be any lockouts. Once the NBA schedule is out, it'll make it easier to explore our options.

    Thanks also for the culture stuff. We'll try to mix things up with beach/shopping/festivals or other stuff and try to find some nice local restaurants in the evening.

    --
    KathyK,

    we're still young and vivid, and besides loving sports, we surely want to get some rest and simply enjoy vacation in Florida more than jumping from sight to sight. However, we love exploring new things, enjoy rhythmic music, really like good food, natural beaches and countryside. By the time we come to Florida, we'll have visited quite a number of different museums in NYC, DC, Philadelphia etc., so that we'll surely prefer to spend time on the outside with some occassional shopping being the exception.

    Since we originally had three days in total in mind for Ft.Myers/Sanibel/Naples, how would you spend the time? We've had friends staying in Naples for a week and while they said they enjoyed it, they'd mix up the location on their next vacation.

    ---

    sludick,
    we've only come across it when trying to find all sorts of possible locations that might be different/interesting for us to visit. Going by car, it's a lot easier to switch locations obviously. That said, would you rather spend a day at the beach/any other location than in Mount Dora? If so, why? Maybe that way around it'll be easier for us to understand why Mount Dora can be neglected in our itinerary.

    ----

    Vacaytaytay,

    it would surely be an option to consider, though at first sight it seems we'll not be as flexible as to visiting the parts of the keys we've targeted. Also, there's no cruises scheduled during our stay.

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    Sounds like you have a wonderful trip planned! Since it seems like this is the "relaxation" part of a lengthy journey, I would encourage you to consider visiting fewer locations in Florida, staying longer in each. For example, only go to Orlando if you are interested in theme parks. If you're not, add those nights to the keys or other city. You could choose several nights in either Miami or Ft Lauderdale, rather than a short time in each.

    The time you spend traveling (and checking in/out of hotels, getting oriented to a new place) eats into the time you get to spend actually enjoying the beaches, so personally, I would opt for a minimum of 3 nights in each destination.

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    msteacher,

    your advice in mind, we'll fly into Orlando in the morning coming from Buffalo. We are set to actually visit one of the theme parks and also do some shopping in Orlando.

    Further, staying three nights a location is definately a better idea in general but I guess it'll be way tougher to realize in practice. Maybe a quick try though:

    Orlando (2) - Shopping and maybe Sea World or Aquatica later on, with a theme park on the 2nd day

    What would you recommend: staying near Clearwater (3) for Honeymoon Island, Caledesi Island and e.g. the Pass-a-grill beach, then moving to Sarasota and visiting Coquina Beach, Anna Maria Island, Siesta Key and Nokomi or do it as follows:

    St.Pete (4) - Honeymoon Island (1), Caledisi Island (2) with a night at Pier60 in Clearwater, Coquina Beach (3) and Anna Maria Island (4) with shopping at the Ellenton Premium inbetween...

    and then move towards Sarasota (2-3) for only two or three nights?

    It seems a bit tricky as I know Siesta Key and Nokomis Beach are also only an hour's drive as well from St. Pete, which was the place to stay that we had in mind originally. I am not quite sure what we prefer, as staying a full week in St. Pete seems to be a legit option as well.

    Any opinions or recommendations?

    For the latter part, it's most likely going to be:

    Ft. Meyers/Naples (2) from were we take the Tamiami Trail to do the Buffalo Tiger's airboat tour and then heading to the Keys afterwards
    Keys (2)
    Miami + Ft. Lauderdale (3) with a single hotel anywhere inbetween

    Should be about alright?

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