Shorter evenings and creeping grey skies can mean only one thing: summer is over and the English winter is on its way. But that doesn’t mean you have to just grin and bear it. Now’s the time to book up your winter sun holiday and escape to the Sunshine State.
With over a thousand miles of amazing coastline, fine powdery white sand and clear blue waters, Florida is a tried and true cure for the winter blues. But in September this year, the popular holiday destination faced an enormous challenge in the shape of Hurricane Irma, and in several major tourist areas the infrastructure was severely damaged.
Fortunately for us, Florida has bounced back with a vengeance and is welcoming visitors with open arms. In some of the hardest hit areas like the Florida Keys, almost all power and water has been restored, the Overseas Highway and most hotels have re-opened and upcoming special events like Marathon’s Stone Crab Eating Contest, Key West Fantasy Fest, and the Key West Film Festival are all taking place as planned.
So if you’re in need of a large dose of winter sun and want to support Florida’s recovery efforts, there’s never been a better time to make plans. Here’s some of our favourite island picks to get you started.
When you need reliable temperatures and clear blue skies, look no further than the Florida Keys: this jewel-like string of islands arcs 120 miles off the southeastern tip of the US along the Florida Straits. From the northernmost Key Largo to the furthest tip of Key West, you’re sure to find great sunsets, cool cocktails and a delicious slice of key lime pie on every corner.
Looking for a hotel with a difference? You can spend a night under the waves in Key Largo at Jules’ Undersea Lodge. Named for French novelist Jules Verne, the rooms of this hotel are located about 30 feet underwater. You’ll have to put on your scuba suit to get down to your bedroom for the night, so make sure you don’t forget your toothbrush. You’ll also need to have your SCUBA skills up to scratch before you head down, but you can then get a totally new perspective on life as you drift off below the waves.
Just 90 miles from Cuba, the party town of Key West lies at the furthest-away end of the island chain. Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina is the place to stay for exciting water sports, delicious seafood cuisine and a chance to just gaze out to sea while working on your tan.
Sanibel Island & Captiva Island
Off the west coast of Florida are Sanibel and Captiva; two barrier reef islands home to long sandy beaches and a trove of seashells. At the far eastern end of Sanibel is one of the island’s most photogenic spots, complete with historic lighthouse which is still in working order. Further along, there’s Gulfside City Park with its rustic nature trails and secluded picnic areas – perfect for getting away from it all.
The two islands are connected by Blind Pass Bridge, which links two of Florida’s best beaches for sunset-watching. It’s also one of the finest shelling and fishing spots on the west coast, and you’ll often see redfish, snapper and Spanish mackerel.
Just off the coast of northeast Florida is Amelia Island. The southernmost of the Sunshine State’s Sea Islands chain, it’s another barrier island known for its golf, beaches, and a fun-packed line-up of events, festivals and water sports. With 13 miles of shoreline, diverse wildlife and pristine blue waters, it’s the ideal location for lounging on the sands and taking to the waves.
But there’s more to Amelia than beaches and water-based fun. The island also a fascinating history to explore. It’s the only place in America to have flown eight different flags, including French, Spanish, British and Mexican, so be sure to take the Eight Flags Tour to find out more about its colourful history.
When hunger strikes, head to Marina Seafood Restaurant. Located just steps from the harbour front, it’s the oldest restaurant on Amelia Island and serves delicious local specialities like blackened grouper or crab burgers.