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Florida 2005
9 - 29 April

Overview Travelogue Picture Gallery Preparation Tips Useful Links Conclusion


Destinations (alphabetically):


Map downloaded from http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/index.html

Total driving distance : 2087 miles


Tour Details
(Personal Rating: 5 points “very good” to 1 point “poor”)
09th Apr. 05
Fort Myers Beach
Distance: 4750 miles air travel, 21 miles by road
Weather: 26 °C, sunshine but partly cloudy

LTU flight from Düsseldorf to Ft. Myers,
rental car pick-up


Mariner's Lodge (3), Ft. Myers Beach, reserved via hotel.de for $75 instead of the regular $100 per night, 2 beds, no fridge, small pool, 1 mile from beach: could have been better for the price but okay for 2 nights and a good price for the location


10th Apr. 05
Distance: 58 miles
Weather: 27 °C, sunny

Sanibel and Captiva Islands

Highlights: Wildlife Drive on Sanibel



Mariner's Lodge, Ft. Myers Beach





11th Apr. 05
Naples Beach

Distance: 72 miles
Weather: 29 °C, sunny

Lovers Key State Park, Naples, Marco Island

Highlights: Watching the pelicans at Lovers Key and Naples pier


The Boat House (4), Marco Island, $104, large room, 1 king bed, fridge, quiet, right by the water, small heated pool:
good but expensive



12th Apr. 05

Distance: 153 miles
Weather: 29 °C, partly cloudy

Everglades (Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, Shark Valley)

Highlights: Cycling tour with wildlife-watching opportunities in Shark Valley


Travelodge (5), Florida City, $68, 2 queen beds, fridge, quiet, nice heated pool, in commercial center, but right next to restaurants, good continental breakfast:
good value for money



13th Apr. 05
Snowy Egret
Distance: 78 miles
Weather: 30 °C, a.m. sunny, p.m. partly cloudy

Everglades (Anhinga Trail, Canoeing at Flamingo)

Highlights: Anhinga Trail with lots of wildlife


Travelodge, Florida City





14th Apr. 05
Tall Ship

Distance: 135 miles
Weather: approx. 26 °C, a.m. cloudy, p.m. sunny

Florida Keys, Dolphin Research Center, Key West

Highlights: Watching the dolphins in Grassy Key and watching the tall ships sail into the sunset in Key West


Days Inn (3), Key West, €58/$74 (via FTI), 2 queen beds, no fridge, quiet, nice pool, not in walking distance of Key West's old town, very good price for Key West: we were disappointed that they put us in a smelly smoking room, but otherwise the rooms were fine


15th Apr. 05
Florida Bay



Distance: 70 miles
Weather: approx. 24 °C, a.m. partly cloudy, p.m. sunny

Florida Keys, Snorkelling at Big Pine Key, Key West

Highlights: Snorkelling Looe Key Reef and meeting up with my pen pal Ellen


Days Inn, Key West






16th Apr. 05
Miami Beach


Distance: 160 miles
Weather: 22 °C, a.m. sunny, p.m. partly cloudy, very windy

Florida Keys, Miami Beach

Highlights: Driving along Overseas Highway and strolling along Ocean Drive


Hotel Atlantica (4), Miami Beach, $78 (via hrs.de), 1 queen bed, fridge, small room, no pool, central but quiet location, good continental breakfast: good price for the location


17th Apr. 05
Fort Lauderdale
Distance: 70 miles
Weather: a.m. sunny (25 °C), p.m. cloudy and windy with a bit of rain (20 °C)

Key Biscayne, Fort Lauderdale

Highlights: Lighthouse tour at Key Biscayne


Tropic Cay Beach Hotel (1), Fort Lauderdale, $50, 2 queen beds, ocean view, fridge, not very clean, dirty pool, quite noisy due to beach road traffic



18th Apr. 05
Fort Lauderdale
Distance: 190 miles
Weather: 22 °C, partly cloudy, windy

Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Cocoa Beach

Highlights: Cruise along the canals of Fort Lauderdale


Motel 6 (3), Cocoa Beach, $83.50, 2 queen beds, no fridge, nice pool (but not heated), 2 min. walking distance to beach and fastfood restaurants, clean but no extras: bit expensive for what was offered

19th Apr. 05
Kennedy Space Center
Distance: 45 miles
Weather: 25 °C, sunny

Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach

Highlights: KSC bus tour


Motel 6, Cocoa Beach




20th Apr. 05
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
Distance: 165 miles
Weather: approx. 26 °C, a.m. cloudy, p.m. sunny

Daytona Beach, St. Augustine

Highlights: Watching people drive their cars on the beach in Daytona Beach, strolling around St. Augustine's old town


Ramada Inn (4), St. Augustine, $55.50 (with coupon), pool, 2 beds, no fridge, quiet location, 10 min. walking distance to old town




21th Apr. 05
Alexander Springs

Distance: 148 miles
Weather: 28 °C, sunny, partly cloudy

Ocala National Forest (Alexander Springs)

Highlights: Snorkelling in crystal-clear spring water and watching the squirrels in the park


Travelodge (2), Ocala, $46 (with coupon, otherwise $55 plus tax), 2 beds, pool, no fridge, continental breakfast, very noisy because of adjoining traffic junction



22nd Apr. 05
Juniper Springs
Distance: 105 miles
Weather: 28 °C, a.m. sunny, p.m. partly cloudy

Ocala National Forest (Juniper Springs)

Highlights: Juniper Springs Canoe Run


Budget Inn (2), Gainesville, $49, suite with kitchenette, rooms were a bit old and smelly, no pool, quiet: you can do better with a discount coupon at one of the larger hotel chains for the same price


23rd Apr. 05
Cedar Key
Distance: 80 miles
Weather: 22 °C, a.m. heavy rain, p.m. partly cloudy

Cedar Key

Highlights: Watching the pelicans at Cedar Key pier


Beach Front Motel (4), Cedar Key, $98, 1 queen bed, fridge, nice pool, right at the sea, ocean view available, quiet: not cheap, but very nice



24th Apr. 05
Distance: 75 miles
Weather: 16 °C (record low), sunny

Homossassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Highlights: Watching the manatees



Park Inn (5), Homossassa Springs, $60 incl. tax with discount coupon (regular price would have been $63 plus tax), nice big room, 2 beds, no fridge, heated pool, everything was great: location, price, cleanliness (since 2006 Bella Oasis)


25th Apr. 05
Tarpon Springs
Distance: 110 miles
Weather: 24 °C, sunny

Tarpon Springs, St. Pete Beach

Highlights: North Beach in Fort de Soto Park



Best Western Beachfront Resort (5), St. Pete Beach, $68 (with coupon), 2 beds, fridge, 2 pools, beach access, beach bar with live entertainment, quiet location




26th Apr. 05
Siesta Key
Distance: 154 miles
Weather: 27 °C, a.m. sunny, p.m. cloudy, from 4 p.m. rain and thunderstorm

Myakka River State Park, Gulf Beaches Sarasota Area

Highlights: Canopy Walkway and Siesta Key Beach


Best Western, St. Pete Beach




27th Apr. 05

Distance: 70 miles
Weather: 28 °C, a.m. cloudy, p.m. partly cloudy

Tampa Bay Beaches, Honeymoon Island

Highlights: Ospreys and armadillos on Honeymoon Island


Best Western, St. Pete Beach





28th Apr. 05
Sunshine Skyway Bridge
Distance: 128 miles
Weather: 27 °C, sunny

Ellenton Prime Outlets

Highlights: Good shopping


LTU aircraft





To summarize our trip I would say that we were most impressed by the wildlife and the beaches, especially Naples Beach on the west coast, Sombrero Beach at the Florida Keys, North Beach at Fort de Soto and Siesta Key Beach near Sarasota. On the east coast I quite liked the beach at Fort Lauderdale. We saw lots of alligators and wading birds in Shark Valley and on the Anhinga Trail, both part of Everglades National Park. The wildlife drive on Sanibel Island was good for bird-watching.

The canoe run at Juniper Springs was great fun and we saw some beautiful sunsets on the west coast. On most days the weather changed from a cloudy morning to a sunny afternoon or the other way round, but we had sunshine every day. The sea water was still fairly cold, but okay to go for a swim. The pool water was too cold if the pools weren't heated.

We did like Key West with its sidewalks and historic turn-of-the-century houses, so untypical of most cities in the US. The same goes for St. Augustine on the east coast and quaint Cedar Key on the west coast.

We enjoyed the American food, especially the fantastic beef burgers, but after two weeks of eating a lot of meat and fries, it's enough for a while!

As our average spending per day (for 2) I would estimate: $70 accommodation, $50 food, $10 gas, $20 admission fees. Gas was around $2.30 per gallon, approx. $19 per tank filling. And the exchange rate was very favorable for us: 1 US Dollar = 0.77 Euro / 1 Euro = 1.29 US Dollar.

What I like about Florida is the abundance of wildlife, the sunshine, the ease of traveling. What I don't like are the mosquitoes and no-see-ums, the hurricanes and tornadoes and that you have to pay for nearly everything including beach access in many cases; and for every state park you have to pay separately. The National Parks Pass that we used in the western states was much more convenient.

We didn’t go to Orlando. We already went to Universal Studios in California and I had already been to Disneyland Anaheim, so it wasn’t a must for us. If we'd had 1 or 2 days more, we may have gone there, but as it was we had other priorities.

If I'd ever go back to Florida, what I'd still like to do is visit Corkscrew Swamp, take a boat ride in the Ten Thousand Islands, drive the dirt road through the Everglades from Monroe Station, visit Pennekamp State Coral Reef Park, snorkel at Red Reef Park and visit the Panhandle region which I often heard is even more beautiful than the south and less touristy.


We made our flight reservations at the end of November. We tried to avoid Easter and the spring break in March which is high season and opted for the month of April which is already warm but not humid yet. We paid 505 Euro for the LTU flight (German charter) and we weren't disappointed. The planes were new and the service was good, and the big advantage was that it was a direct flight from Düsseldorf to Fort Myers (alternative destinations would have been Miami or Orlando).

In mid January we booked the rental car (Alamo). We got the best all-inclusive price with a 20% early-bird discount rate from FTI.

We made a few hotel reservations at the end of February/beginning of March: the first two nights in Ft. Myers plus two nights in Key West and one night in Miami to make sure we had a room secured. After the long flight we didn't want to look around and Key West tends to be busy, especially at the weekends, and I thought on a Saturday night in Miami Beach it's best to be on the safe side. We were glad eventually that we didn't have to drive around in Miami Beach looking for a hotel in the Saturday afternoon beach traffic. It would have been a nightmare!

For Miami the Miami River Inn , Miami’s only B&B, looked very good for $89 plus 13% tax including parking and continental breakfast. Most cheaper (2 star) hotels in Miami Beach had rather poor reviews (tripadvisor.com), but with the Hotel Atlantica we found a great value hotel ($89 + tax on their website) for just $69 plus tax (€ 52) including continental breakfast (parking was extra at $10) via hrs.de right in the Art Deco District, South Beach. It had very good reviews on tripadvisor.com and Friday and Saturday nights appear to be booked several weeks in advance.

For Key West the El Patio Motel had very good reviews (tripadvisor.com) and a central but quiet location, but their $83 (plus 11.5% tax) rooms were already booked for the nights of our stay. So we booked the Days Inn instead for which we got a very good rate (€ 58 per night) with FTI (via flugboerse.de). The following hotels which we came across locally in Key West also looked good from outside and they seem to be a good choice: Southernmost Hotel, Best Western Key Ambassador and El Rancho Motel. In the winter season it’s not easy to get a room for under $100 in Key West.

For Fort Myers Beach the Days Inn Island Beach Resort (2 stars) would have been in the right location right on the beach and it seemed to have very good rates, but it was no longer bookable via the web. I think we saw it when we were there and it looked still closed and rather run down (maybe damaged in the last hurricane?). Besides we noticed that the area is indeed very central but also noisy and busy. The Holiday Inn (3 stars), right on the beach at the southern end of Estero Island, had a good offer for $99 + 9% tax per night for 2 nights stay. Most other resort hotels were much more expensive. It's in a quieter location but quite a way from the main part of Fort Myers Beach with all the restaurants. Eventually we decided on the Mariner's Lodge which is located right next to a marina just one mile from Estero Island (Ft Myers Beach) and only 5 miles from Sanibel Island and 7.5 miles from downtown Ft Myers for 69$ plus tax (via hotel.de). It also had a good review at tripadvisor.com.

Hotel Prices are cheaper between May and November. Spring break in March and Easter in March or April are high season. Many motels are more expensive on Fridays and Saturdays and reservations may be advisable.

We tried Priceline in February, but it was obviously still too early to get a good price. Apparently the hotels are trying to fill their rooms last minute that way, otherwise why should they give a large discount on their normal rates long in advance?!

For the rest of our trip we wanted to be more flexible, so we didn't book in advance. And it's usually not a problem to find a motel in Florida because there are so many of them. Of the motels we stayed at during our tour I would recommend The Boat House on Marco Island (not cheap, but quite nice and with a waterfront setting), the Travelodge in Florida City which offered good value for money, the Beach Front Motel in Cedar Key, the Park Inn in Homossassa Springs and the Best Western in St. Pete Beach.

We often tried to get a cheaper rate with the hotel discount coupons which can be found at MacDonalds and it always worked very well. But we believe it is usually better to try one of the larger chains because the small cheap motels are often not very good quality.

And two double or queen beds are often the same price as one bed.



For hotel reservations I would recommend the above.

The weather in April was lovely. It was mostly sunny but didn't get too hot and it always cooled down sufficiently in the evenings so you could get refreshed again.

The water was still fairly cold, however. It was just okay for me to swim in the sea. We did go swimming on the west coast a few times, but we didn't try the east coast as the sea was too choppy when we were there. If the hotel pools weren't heated, they were normally too cold. And I don't like cold water!

Restaurants tend to get most busy between 6 and 7 p.m. At that time you may have to wait for a table, but from 7 p.m. there shouldn't be a problem. We usually finished dinner within 30 minutes. You never have to wait long for your food as in Europe. Ordering meals can be complicated as there are lots of choices. But once you know the menu of a certain restaurant chain, it gets easier!

From friends in Florida we heard that 10-15% tip in restaurants is usual, or double the tax.

Don't mistake "sandwiches" on a menu for what we know as sandwiches in Europe, they are usually what we know as burgers. A sandwich (and not a burger) from Subway was a good choice for us for a quick lunch. But in the end I could hardly bear Subway anymore either as we went there nearly every day! There wasn't really much of an alternative that didn't involve cheap burgers and fries. I don't like fastfood burgers, but I do like the juicy big burgers with fries which you get at family restaurants. Grouper was the most common fish on the menu.

You don't get good coffee at a café or restaurant. For good coffee you have to go to a coffee bar such as Starbucks. Unfortunately they are not very frequent.

It is a complete mystery to me why they have to turn the air-conditioning in the restaurants and especially supermarkets so high that it feels like you are stepping into a fridge!! So it's always advisable to bring a jacket!

Between May and November you should expect to get eaten alive by mosquitoes, but wherever or whenever you go bring mosquito repellent. We heard that the mosquitoes would be even worse if the state of Florida didn't regularly spray against them.

And beware of no-see-ums, a sort of tiny mosquitoes also known as sand fleas or sand flies. They are especially troublesome in coastal areas or in the vicinity of mangrove swamps and they can make a morning or late afternoon at the beach quite unbearable, especially in the summer and early fall. They appear in large numbers when the spring warming trend begins. Any insect repellent with DEET, e.g. Off! Deep Woods should keep them away.

For most beaches you have to pay, either a parking fee or $5 admission if it's a state park. It can be a bit much to pay $5 every time just to have a quick look around and take a photo. At least the restrooms are free, clean and you will find one nearly everywhere!

Useful Links

Travel Forums:

Area Information:

Snorkelling and/or dolphin watching at the Florida Keys:



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