We planned a 3 week road trip for our Florida holiday (avoiding all things Disney) it’s good to be back in the USA!
Millions of people visit Florida on holiday each year and don’t venture further than the theme parks and hotels near Orlando. Whilst Disney & Universal Studios tick the boxes for many, we’re not a family that particularly enjoys theme parks. We decided on a Florida road trip instead. We are a bit too restless and like to explore different places and really enjoy travelling around. We prefer to only have a loose plan and make it up as we go along.
That being said, we did use UK based FloridaTix website to pre-book our tickets to Kennedy Space Centre. We found this provided good value and helped get in quicker on the day. This company does provide access to many Orlando attractions including Disney World & Universal Studious.
Our broad itinerary for our Florida Road trip…
- Cocoa Beach – chill out on the beach and visit Kennedy Space Center.
- Fort Lauderdale & Miami – experience the atmosphere of the city & South Beach
- The Florida Keys – more relaxing and some scuba diving.
- Homestead – explore the Everglade National Park and see some “Gators!”
- Naples – dining, shopping and time by the pool.
- Sanibel Island – more relaxing and beach time.
- Tampa – base for Crystal River and hopefull Manatees (& seeing some old friends)
When is the best time to go to Florida on holiday?
Like many families, we are restricted by school holidays and as we wanted to take a three week road trip. This had to be in July and / or August.
The best time to go to Florida for warm weather is May through until September.
Be aware though that heat and humidity will be at its worst from June to August. These are also the months with the highest average rainfall.
Don’t worry though as whilst the rain was heavy, it was also quick short lived and often later in the day.
Florida road trip on a budget
The strength of the dollar was quite high at the time of our Florida road trip versus the UK pound. This meant that we had to be conscious of cost. We were getting a lot less for our money compared to previous travel to the USA. We’re used to travelling in our VW California campervan, so we’re accustomed to staying in simple accommodation. We always try and find somewhere based on its location. We use Booking.com frequently to find somewhere suitable to stay.
Florida Road Trip - Cocoa Beach & Cape Canaveral
Our Cocoa Beach Motel
Our Cocoa Beach little motel for the first few days was right on the beach in a quieter area on the way towards Crescent Beach. It was slightly more luxurious than camping, though not by much. The location more than made up for it. We had lucked out and ended up right on the best beach in the world for nesting loggerhead turtles (and as scuba divers we love turtles!)
Each morning we would be up to see the Florida sunrise (travel jet lag and time difference helped!) and to find newly laid turtle tracks and nests. The amazing Bravard County Sea Turtle Preservation Society volunteers were on hand everyday monitoring the turtle nests. They were more than happy to explain to us about the nesting and the risks to both the mother turtles and the turtle hatchlings.
Sea turtles in Florida
We’ve been lucky over the years to see many turtles whilst diving and it had been on our bucket list to one day see a turtle hatchling. The volunteers have special permission to excavate turtle nests three days after a hatch to monitor how many eggs had or hadn’t hatched.
Occasionally they find a live hatchling that has been buried alive that they are allowed to recover and then let it find it’s own way to the water. We were so fortunate to see a little baby turtle get rescued. Watching this turtle hatchling take it’s first steps out to the water will be a memory that will stay with us forever.
We visited the small visitor centre for the Sea Turtle Preservation Society which had some very cool models of turtle nests and lots of information. If you would like to make a donation to this charity you can by clicking here.
It was nice to have some relaxing time on our first day In Florida where we spent time on the beach and body boarding in the surf. There were some cool places to eat out including Squid Lips Grill and Taco City … which we ate at on Monday and not Taco Tuesday (doh!) as we were continuing our travels by then.
Add to this the amazing sunrises and sunsets (Cocoa Beach is actually one of the few places to see a sunrise and sunset over water on the same day!) We had the best start possible to our Florida road trip.
Visiting Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, FL
Cocoa Beach is a great location if you wish to visit Kennedy Space Center as it is less than half an hour drive away. This means that you can arrive early before the coach trips arrive from Orlando. As parents we grew up watching the shuttle space missions, so it was very special to visit the space centre as a family and to see the Atlantis shuttle and Apollo rocket.
It can get very hot so remember to take you sunglasses, hats and water bottles. We took our isothermal cool bag rucksack with plenty of cold drinks. A selfie stick & tripod is also good if you want to get photos with the rockets in behind you too. They are huge!
Travel shopping at Ron Jon Surf Shop – Cocoa Beach, FL
Whilst staying at Cocoa Beach we also managed to almost bankrupt ourselves at Ron Jon Surf Shop, the largest surf shop in the world. We bought lots of cool new clothes and several new 4 Ocean bracelets. No road trip is complete without picking up a few things that we can’t get back at home … including a cool laptop sticker
Fort Lauderdale & Miami
We had a disastrous journey south down the east coast from Cocoa Beach to Fort Lauderdale. The hire car AC broke and the temperature inside nearly hit 40’C (fortunately we had our favourite cool bag packed with cold drinks).
This forced an unplanned detour to Sixt rental at Miami airport where we swapped the car for a Jeep Grand Cherokee (this had cooled seats – WOW!!)
After the chilled out vibes at Cocoa Beach, everything got louder and busier! The Fort Lauderdale beaches were nice and so was the food. We found a lovely Italian restaurant tucked away and also an amazing Peruvian restaurant which we all loved.
We’re glad that we’d stayed in Fort Lauderdale. It felt more relaxed and family orientated than Miami South Beach.
Miami was loud, colourful and fun…even early in the morning! We’re not sure we’d like it as a family later in the day. There was a lot of heavy drinking on Ocean Drive as we found out whilst having brunch. We enjoyed walking around and seeing the Art deco buildings though.
The Florida Keys
After a few days we were ready for something a bit quieter and we made our way to the Florida Keys… a big bucket list tick for us. Kokomo by the Beach Boys on the car stereo as we drove the Florida Keys Highway. It was time for some Island Life!
We visited the Marathon Turtle Hospital which was upsetting and uplifting at the same time. Seeing the effects humans have on turtles from the pollution to boat injuries and tumours caused by toxins was hard. The hospital treats ill turtles and then releases them back to the ocean
We spent a day at Key West. It was fun for a visit to be at the southernmost point of the US, loved the houses and sunsets, but was also a bit too touristy. We had to join the queue to have the obligatory photo at the southernmost point of the USA though! We stayed on the Keys for a week in total, first at Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo. We loved being by the sea, scuba diving and being lazy.
The second place we stayed was Looe Ley Resort on Ramrod Key. Here the scuba diving was excellent. The waters were so warm and blue that we could dive just in our swim gear. For British divers familiar with diving in dry suits, this was such a luxury! Our evenings were spent the tiki bar drinking cocktails, meeting locals and other tourists. We even joining in with karaoke and a quiz night (and didn’t come last!)
We would have loved to have stayed longer in The Keys, but it was time to make our way to Everglades National Park. We had a great couple of days exploring the park and spotted crocodiles, alligators and best of all the lovely manatees. We went on an airboat ride, which conjured up memories of British children’s TV of the 80, Gentle Ben!
Naples, Sanibel Island & Tampa
Leaving the Everglades we drove up the west coast and stayed in upmarket Naples and then Sanibel Island where we spent a lovely relaxing couple of days right on the beach.
We then drove up to Tampa for the last few days of our trip, spending time with friends who now live there. We visited the excellent Dali Museum and enjoyed some nice evenings out.
Our last day trip was to Homosassa Springs and Crystal River, before the journey back to Orlando and then home to the U.K.
We really enjoyed our road trip through Florida and would one day like to go back and explore some more.