We planned a four Beach Hotel Fly Drive in the sunshine state in March, the perfect time to swap the 80 mph winds of Storm Gareth for warmth and white sands.
Arriving at Tampa airport, assistance took us on the shuttle train to pick up our car. After an hour and a half’s drive, we arrived at the Longboat Key Club Resort, part of a secluded barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico.
From the extensive balcony of our luxurious suite on the 10th (top) floor, we overlooked turquoise waters of the Gulf, whilst the front entrance looked over the tree-lined harbour and golf course.
We have experienced how resort fees, incidentals and valet parking can inflate costs in the USA but this resort offers free parking, an all-terrain wheelchair (making beach access easy) and complimentary bikes.
The island has sidewalks and bike lanes throughout to explore the vast area of waterfront mansions, golf courses and a ride across the scenic bridge to the charming St Armands Circle with its quaint shops, restaurants and street bars.
We took advantage of our large suite living and kitchen area by buying ribeye steaks, extra large shrimps, beers and wine from the nearby Publix supermarket, thus making the most of our spectacular ocean view.
We drove into the vibrant harbour town of Sarasota, stopping off for happy hour at the Chart House waterfront restaurant overlooking the stunning Gulf waters of Sarasota Bay and enjoyed a casual outdoor lunch at the Spike n’ Tees restaurant commanding views of the sublime links on the hotel golf course.
In glorious sunshine, we drove 30 minutes north to the end of the key and over the bridge to Anna Maria Island. A lunch of beer, shrimps and clam chowder on the beach at the Sandbar Restaurant was a reminder of why we love our holidays and the island streets and shops are equally memorable.
The Florida beaches are soft, white and enticing. We made sure to leave enough time to relax with some sunbathing, before playing cards and savouring wine and olives on our spacious balcony watching the blazing colours as the sun set over the waves.
After four nights we made the two-hour drive to Pink Shell Beach Resort and Marina for a three-night stay.
On the way, we stopped off at Siesta Key, another Gulf barrier island renowned for its dazzling sandy beaches, and parked in the Village for lunch. The traffic is always ponderous over the bridge to our resort on Fort Myers beach, but the unceasing sea views compensate.
This is a family-friendly hotel in an amazing location with really friendly staff. However, if you need specific adaptations such as toilet handrails and a roll-in-shower, this hotel may not be suitable.
There is a regular accessible trolley bus that goes the length of the island and on Saturday we rode the short distance into town for the annual Prawn Festival, when the place is buzzing with endless parades, street bars, and a substantial market selling fresh seafood and local produce.
On another day we travelled the entire length of Estero Island (1.4m / 30 mins) for 75 cents to Cape Coral and Lover’s Key, a park and beach area with canals where we saw three manatees.
Afternoons were spent around the adults-only pool before eating at the hotel restaurant in the evening, which also offers dining on the beach, followed by a nightcap at the outdoor poolside bar.
Next, we drove 1:30 hrs down the west coast to the Hilton Marco Island where we were booked into a fabulous double deluxe ocean view room for three nights.
Across the road from the hotel car park is the Marco Walk shopping centre with several excellent restaurants each with a daily happy hour, where we enjoyed craft beer, wine, chicken wings, tacos, prawns, fish dips and snow crabs at half price.
We were torn between people watching around the increasingly buzzing square as fashionably dressed diners arrived in their the top of the range cars or going back to the pool and beach area to watch yet another indelible sunset.
Despite the temperature being in the high eighties, the sea breeze prevents it being unpleasant, and we went on a three-mile walk around the streets, past the costly condominiums and canal waterfront homes. We learnt, from visiting the Marco Island museum, that the once swampland was inhabited by Indians 5000 years ago, yet it was only in the 1990s that development took place and the house prices have since boomed.
Abbotts Travel pre-booked us the Wooten’s Everglades airboat tour. It’s a 40-minute drive from the hotel and the entire area is accessible; I was easily lifted into the front of the boat in my wheelchair getting a wonderful view skimming along the brackish water across the unique grasslands with several sightings of alligators up-close.
Next up was a three-hour drive to Grand Beach Hotel Miami through Little Havana and over the bridge to Miami Beach Island which is nine miles long and one-mile wide.
During our stay, we used the accessible free trolley and local bus to Lincoln Road, South Beach. There is a boardwalk behind the hotels overlooking the beach all the way to the pier at South Point Park and the Marina, along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue, the Art Deco historic district and mecca of fashion, restaurants, nightclubs and bars. Jane used the Citi Bikes to explore all these areas, the Holocaust Memorial and Botanical Gardens.
We loved the pedestrianised Lincoln Road with its Sunday market and enjoyed brunch and lunch at this world-famous shopping and dining promenade. At the end of the day, I would Triride back to the hotel along the boardwalk and Jane would jump on the trolley.
The nearby Fontainebleau Hotel has several high-class restaurants and we ate at the Italian and Sushi - although we had ribeye and salmon - excellent food and service.
The hotel has an adults-only swimming pool on the 7th floor with great views of both the Ocean and Bay where we did our late afternoon sunbathing before enjoying a cocktail in the bar.
Jane found driving in Florida very straightforward - the GPS and road signs are excellent - so dropping off the car at the airport was stress-free and included being driven to departures to avoid using the shuttle train.
Thanks again to Sharron for more great experiences and memories.
Roger and Jane