Sites of the Sunshine State

Sites of the Sunshine State

My roadtrip across the states was well underway by the time we hit Florida and here there was so much to see but managed to cover all of the best parts without getting totally covered in sunburn blisters, only slightly which seemed to be just unavoidable. One thing I learnt is you can never have too much suncream when you’re a fair skinned Brit, you need an unlimited supply in this sweatbox!

First stop was Panama City Beach. This reminded me of a much more upmarket version of Skegness; there were all the donkeys parading up and down giving rides to the little children on the most beautiful looking sand with crystal clear sea water,all the cafes and bars along the promenade, the nearby campsites, the souvenir shops and of course the never ending number of ice cream and snow cone shacks and doughnut stands. It was basically just a posh version of a British seaside trip. Even the town was a typical seaside town. I cam across a store which was full of bargains, I managed to come away with a crazy amount of souvenirs and clothes costing next to nothing despite it being such good quality, the only issue was trying to cram it all into my suitcase. Our time here was short but sweet; it consisted of lounging on the beach, playing the usual beach games like volleyball and digging a deep enough hole in the sand to bury an elephant while getting burnt and turning into lobsters. The perfect end to an amazing day was discovering the Hershey’s Ice Cream store across the road from our camp where I got the most incredible looking and tasting ice cream you could only dream of! It was heaven!
The only downside was having to eat it at such speed before it dripped onto the ground in a creamy puddle.

Our next stop was Orlando; me, being such a big Disney fan, was most excited to stop here. The only disappointing fact was knowing we only had 2 days here rather than the 2 weeks you would usually have but we definitely made the most of it. We began by heading to Manatee State Park which gave us the most beautiful setting for a picnic. It’s home to majestic forests, an 800 foot boardwalk and a historic river. Great for a pit stop or an afternoon out. It overlooks one of Florida’s breathtaking first magnitude springs, so have your cameras ready to grab some astonishing pictures!

We continued and soon arrived at our accommodation located on International Drive which is the main part of the city, home to a variety of shops, accommodation and of course the famous Disney World and Universal Studios. We made it in time to cook a BBQ, settle in to the cutest Disney themed cabins and watch the fireworks being set off at the Cinderella Castle as we were close enough.

The following day was a long one as we made it into the park for opening time. I could waffle on about this day forever… We sped around, rode all the big and best rides including Space Mountain (twice) and Aerosmith’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster, had photos with my favourite characters (it doesn’t matter how old you are, like they say, you’re never too old for Disney!), had the most magical Mickey shaped snacks in Magic Kingdom, Disney Studios and EPCOT by using the shuttle bus service which is incredibly efficient considering the amount of people it serves. The perfect day came to a close when we stood on Main Street, Churros in hand, watching the fireworks. Of course I had to pick up some souvenirs before the mad rush to the ferry to get back out. It was like a mob, a fight to the death! In my opinion, Disney World is impossible to do in a week let alone a day. I was shattered but it was so worth it!

Following the next 3 days we spent in the Florida keys (which you can read about in one of my previous posts), we headed into Miami and oh boy was I out of my comfort zone! Do not ever expect to fit in here unless you are famous or a millionaire. All you could see on the drive in was mansions the size of shopping malls, jets flying overhead and a marina overflowing with yachts nicer than the inside of a goldmine. Even the hostel we stayed at had glass chandeliers, espresso machines, several bars and the nicest patio area with a little bridge lit up by fairy lights that were hung all around, shaped hedges and expensive looking furniture. It actually felt like a 5* hotel especially with the buffet breakfast we had.
However, Miami is a great place to shop, it must be nice when you’re rich enough to actually go on a shopping spree here but the area was nice enough to go for a wander and a bite to eat and there is also the odd store and souvenir stand that offers some affordable things. Smartly, we cooked for ourselves because most of the restaurants were out of our price range serving lobster and caviar, we were happy to stick to our homemade lasagne true middle class style. Although I was a little nervous at first about being out and about in the evening down in the hostel patio area where everyone was dressed in tuxedos and ballgowns (not your usual clubbing attire), I just thought what the hell and toned down the place by marching through, pint of coke in hand, wearing my pyjamas and flip flops. Classy I know. But, despite all of this, If I ever win the lottery, I have a strong wish to retire here.

On our way out of Florida we stopped at St Augustine, home to Daytona Beach. It came as no surprise that this was another Skeggy look a like. All of your typical sandy car parks, mini amusement parks, rock shops, they were all there. It was a home from home. Daytona Beach is known for its Speedway which hosts February’s iconic Daytona 500 NASCAR race. It’s also popular for its diving, boardwalks and arcades along with activities such as go-karting, laser tag and waterslides. More than enough to keep you entertained!
We stocked up on beachwear, fudge and of course souvenirs (because I didn’t have enough already) and took a walk on the overly crowded beach. It was full of all the usual types; the sunbathers wearing next to nothing,the kids running riot, the surfers and the sport enthusiasts. We ended up at a mini mall where we discovered a place I’d always wanted to go… The Cold Stone Creamery. Let me tell you, the wait was worth it! After a long time of standing in line trying to choose from the billion options, I was given a plate of heaven consisting of churros, cookie dough, ice cream and enough toppings to be its own pick and mix stand. We sat and stuffed our faces until we could barely walk but I will never regret licking up every last bit and the stomach ache that followed was definitely worth it! Our campsite was one of the many along the beach front so was within walking distance of everything. This was convenient when I decided to have a wander and catch a glimpse of the gorgeous beach at night. It was so quiet. No crowds of people, no kids screaming and running around, no kids screaming running around, no havoc. Just the sea, the sand and me. It was so peaceful and was so relaxing to just sit and listen to the sound of the waves. It was on my way back to camp when I called in at a ‘gas station’ and had my best discovery yet… 64oz refillable drinks machine (slushies, coke the lot) and for only 79¢! Bargain or what!

The next day we took a ride to Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the US. Although we didn’t stay long, we were there long enough to learn it’s a national monument and is over 315 years old. It was Spanish built to defend Spain’s claims in the new world. It’s a great excursion if you’re a big history buff! There are regular daily programs and ranger led tours, canon firings and weaponry demonstrations throughout the interior courtyard, gun deck and rooms which once housed soldiers and prisoners. After this brief history lesson we wandered around the surrounding town which was full of cute little market stalls and shops including this one tea cafe which sold every kind of tea you could possibly imagine (and there were some bizarre flavours). It’s every Brits dream!

All in all Florida stole my heart in more ways than one and (storms aside) is great all year round for all kind of holidays so start saving them dollars and get yourself there pronto!

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