Talk about culture shock. Last time I went to Florida was as a single girl, you know the all day party vibe, sleep all night for the 2010 Superbowl.
Fast forward five years and I’m trading in my party dresses for an extra pack of diapers and a giant Peppa Pig in my suitcase.
I’m on a mission to discover Florida’s hidden gems and see what the sunshine state has to offer for those looking for more than the obvious in a family destination.
So we grabbed a budget rental car and headed to the laid-back beaches of Fort Myers, versus the more hedonistic Miami, where a night at the Loews Hotel gave us a glamorous glimpse of the city, complete with a swimming pool super safe family run and the famous Nikki Beach. brunch close by.
It was time to look at another side of Florida. So after a two-hour drive to the quiet, scenic, and idyllic beaches of Ft Myers and Sanibel, it honestly felt like a whole other world, a sanctuary away from the fast-paced life.
Dancing Dolphins in Cabbage Key
Education was at the top of my list – how to engage a three year old with fun and learning at the same time. So, after checking into the DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa, we headed to the Imaginarium Science Center.
As a mom, I was so impressed because it was like a scene from Back to the Future. You could turn your little ones into nutty mini teachers. My toddler got to do his own science experiments when he was three years old!! The piece de resistance was a puppet scene that you could perform on yourself, playing the whimsical characters to engage your child’s imagination. I was so jealous that we didn’t have anything so cool in England!
Mad Professor: Science is fun after all!
Car enthusiasts should visit the historic Edison & Ford Winter Estate. As we get into some of Henry Ford’s early motors, we had our boy ride his own set of mini-wheels inspired by Olympian Greg Rutherford’s Little Triker campaign to get the kids in shape.
Boarding a Captiva cruise to Cabbage Key was something special for everyone – as a family of dolphins expertly accompanied us on our way to the tiny island just an hour from the mainland. The views were fantastic, but mosquito spray is a must – although it’s definitely worth seeing The Bubble Room restaurant decorated with Christmas nostalgia and toys from the 1930s.
Revved up: the first engines on display
Sometimes the simple pleasures are the best, and our hotel’s beach was perfect for collecting seashells off the Gulf of Mexico. There’s Time Square for pizza, burgers or sushi dinners or you can stay at the hotel to enjoy the sunset and the fabulous Ed Sheeran impersonator during happy hour! While it’s great to entertain toddlers with Dragons Race to Edge on Netflix before bed, the epic Leapfrog was a great alternative with its interactive library of educational games to brush up on math and English. Luckily, the FtMyersSanibel Facebook page also has plenty of activity ideas.
Orlando was fun in a more obvious way. Why not love Disneyland and its magical worlds? The Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa had shuttle service, so it was no drama between Disney and Universal, late enough to witness the brilliant nightly fireworks. It was an adventure every day just looking out the window of the family apartment, which overlooked a giant pirate shipwreck in the pool where you could even step on the board.
Pirates of the Caribbean – a splashy time in Orlando
But outside of Disney, I was keen to explore what’s new in Orlando, and I-Drive 360, a new entertainment complex that included The Orlando Eye, Sea Life Orlando, and Madame Tussauds, was a great day of fun and adventure.
I mean, how often do you find yourself huddled in front of Taylor Swift statues, smart boxing with Muhammad Ali, and stepping back in time to think up strategy with the likes of Albert Einstein?
Nosy: Einstein is always full of ideas at Madame Tussauds
The Orlando Eye also impressed us with the incredible views of the city from the 400-foot-tall observation wheel.
What I liked about the restaurants was that they were quite unpretentious – and the sports-themed Marlow’s Tavern had a great kids’ menu and family atmosphere. Massive appetizers, signature chicken wings, and pizza keep even the pickiest eaters going for hours, and get ready for ace Gatorland, where hopefully the crocs won’t be too happy!
A taste of America: fueling up for the rides.