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Visiting Florida in 10 Days: What to Do and See
Planning a vacation requires thought and pre-planning\research. Once the plan is made of the main attractions you want to see, you develop a sequence for them and allocating a time for them. The research part requires a lot of time long before you go. I suggest you use TripAdvisor extensively to see what others have thought of what you want to see. It has proven very accurate. By doing planning, you avoid surprises when you are actually there. Developing a sequence of when you are going to visit a location helps with the overall picture of the trip. This is especially important when renting a car there.
Florida has so many things favoring it, but there are drawbacks. The summer months are their wet period. This means expect daily outbursts of short rainy periods in the day with little warning and in the late afternoon. Expect some monsoon periods also, when the rain comes down in sheets that make your windshield wiper totally useless. Expect weather to change. The summer is also when most visit the state, so everything tends to be more crowded in places. Expect highway tolls in many places ranging from $1-3. So, buy a sunpass before you go to use in your rental car. You will need to register it and add money to it so tolls are automatically deducted. The sunpass can be bought on Ebay. Be prepared for thunder and lightening and if bad enough, these will close down any theme park.
Having just got back, we used Orlando has our home base and rented a small car, a Chevy Spark. Our first day, we stayed local going to theme parks (Universal, Disney, Fun Spot). But in truth, without the theme parks there, Orlando has nothing being in the center of the state. The second day we went to Tampa to Busch Gardens, which is far cheaper and better than either Disney or Universal. Busch Gardens has both wild African animals and thrilling rides, including some wet ones. Across the street is their Adventureland water park, which is fine, though none of the rides are terrifying like at Wet and Wild in Orlando. We had unlimited use for 14 days. You can easily to Busch Gardens in six hours and its waterpark in 4 hrs. We also went to St. Augustine on the Atlantic to the St. Augustine Beach. The 1.5 hr drive cut through what looked like the Amazon jungle. Along Interstate 4 on both sides is a wall of 20 ft. jungle vegetation. It was so green. This is also along I-95 in places.
On the third day, we made the road trip from Orlando to the Florida Keys. This was a six hour drive, all interstate with tolls. Once we got to Hwy 1, which is a two lane road from Key largo to Key West, things slowed. The road speed averaged not more than 50 mph because of slow traffic, so reaching the end of the keys can easily take up to two hours. Even from the center of the Keys at Marathon, it takes almost an hour to reach the end at Key West. The Keys are beautiful, but beaches are very limited. The best ones are at Bahia Honda State Park and in Marathon at Sombrero Beach. Key West has some OK ones, but the previous noted beaches win hands down. The water was 83F, the air temp 90F. Even if it does rain, one does not care when on the beach because all the water is warm.
Key West, itself, reminds me of a miniature New Orleans in style and atmosphere especially in the Mardi Gras area. All buildings are old and it is a party type atmosphere. There are not a lot of things to see there but if you are into water sports, it is paradise but expensive.
On the fourth day, we drove to Miami Beach and took the Ocean Blvd. along the beaches and stayed awhile. Miami is just how it looks in a photo- beautiful but congested wherever you go and high rises string all of the beaches until you get closer to Hollywood when they are less frequent. Once Miami was out of our system, we drove back to Orlando.
On the fifth day, we stayed local to Orlando. On the Sixth day, we went to Clearwater Beach, which is a good 100 miles from Orlando. We got there at 11 am, found parking for $20 for all day and beached the rest of the day. Clearwater is 20 miles from Tampa. This area is among the best places in Florida. While it was busy, it was not like Miami with built up high rises. There is great paved boardwalk and wooden pier to walk about on and the sand is white powder. The Gulf of Mexico is here and there were some nice waves hitting the shore. This area has miles and miles of white sand beaches. Just arrive by noon at the latest or you will not find a parking spot. Public parking costs $2.75 hr.
By the seventh day, we had hit our main objectives. We would return to Tampa again for the theme parks again since we had unlimited use for 14 days. By the ninth day, i had put 1200 miles on the rental car and saw what Florida has to offer. Gas averages $3.40\gal and food was about the same as in California. The little Chevy Spark car I had rented barely held our three bags and was totally gutless on acceleration and swayed in monsoons, but it was comfortable and once a level speed was hit, cruised fine.
Next time, I would fly into Tampa and stay on the west coast of Florida and the Keys. To sum up, go to Orlando, Tampa, Clearwater, Florida Keys, St. Augustine and Miami area.