Twenty-six years ago at the tender age of 16, I embarked on a dream family holiday to Orlando, Florida.
I have been back to the ‘land of opportunity’, but never returned to the Sunshine State, even though fond memories of those care-free teenage days remain.
And after spending a week indulging on a Caribbean cruise, it was time for an adventure and opportunity to explore more of this fascinating corner of America.
The journey began at Miami Airport and after checking in with Hertz and hopping into our impressive Chevrolet soft-top rental car, it was time to roll down the roof and head off to our first destination.
After a short drive up the US Interstate highway, we landed at our hotel in Stuart, the four-star Marriott Hutchinson Island Beach Resort and Marina, before sunset.
And it was a good job we were on time as our first planned activity was a relaxing sunset sail with Captain Fred and his First Mate Jamie aboard the Schooner Lily.
Raising the sails on the St Lucie River and kicking back to watch the sun go down was incredibly romantic, as there’s nothing quite like a Florida sunset!
After dusk, dinner was enjoyed at The Gafford, where we were given a warm and friendly welcome before tasting the delights of ‘Lump Crab Cakes’ and beer roast chicken.
Back at the Marriott, which has three outdoor swimming pools and a golf course, we finally unpacked our cases in our spacious balcony room before hitting the sack.
A big breakfast at Jan’s Place was required next morning to fill us up for a day of activity and you can’t get any more hearty than a chicken pot pie omelette, which is as filling as it sounds.
Next up was a scenic ride in the Chevy to view the impressive murals at Hobe Sound, where award-winning artists have created beautiful colourful paintings on a number of walls and buildings throughout the area.
After stopping to dip our toes in the water at Hobe Sound beach, we headed for a mosey round the wildlife haven of Jonathan Dickinson State Park, before cranking things up a gear with a ‘Riding the Waves’ Treasure Coast eco-tour.
Lifejackets donned, I was in my element as I took control of the speedy catamaran to ‘treat’ my wife to an exhilarating, but rather bumpy, boating experience up the Martin County waterways.
The two-and-a-half-hour drive to Orlando was seamless, but we barely had time to drop our cases in our luxury apartment at Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa because Universal Studios was calling.
Once through the giant gates of the park we were like kids again, enjoying all the thrills and spills on rides such as Shrek, The Simpsons, Fast & Furious and Transformers. The addition of so many exciting new animations, film sets and roller coasters made it far more impressive than I remember.
The next day was spent at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, which is arguably bigger and better than its older neighbour.
Standout attractions were the magical Harry Potter world and its Forbidden Journey and Hagrid’s Motorbike rides, which were only just trumped by my favourite, the hair-raising Incredible Hulk roller coaster.
Back at the apartment, soaking our weary feet in the jacuzzi bath while enjoying a bottle of fizz was the best way of winding down from a hectic, but fun-filled day.
For a more sedate experience, The Wheel at ICON Park is a must-visit. With 400ft-high views across the city, it’s Orlando’s answer to the London Eye and is surrounded by a number of restaurants, funky bars and boutique shops.
Before arriving for an overnight stay at Margaritaville Resort, we were back on the water at Shingle Creek Paddling Center, where we were booked in for a two-hour Cypress Forest kayak eco-tour.
Floating along admiring the picturesque landscape and riverbanks was a great way of exploring Florida’s natural beauty, with knowledgeable guide Alex feeding us information on the area’s wildlife, plants and local history.
It was a quiet and therapeutic experience, with the heart rate only slightly raised as we paddled our way through an area frequented by the local alligator family.
After working up an appetite, lunch was enjoyed at Columbia restaurant in the picture-perfect town of Celebration, where we sampled a selection of the Spanish tapas plates which included ‘Empanadas de Picadillo’, ‘Stuffed Piquillo Peppers’ and the delicious ‘Ybor City Devil Crab Croquettes’.
Back at Margaritaville in our stunning deluxe one-bed king suite with pool view, there was an opportunity for some much-needed downtime before a spot of poolside sunbathing and a few evening drinks in the Euphoria bar during happy hour.
Soon time to go home, our final excursion was a drive out to the wilderness of the Florida Everglades for a Boggy Creek Airboat Ride, where we we whizzed through the wetlands to see alligators, turtles and many species of birds in their natural environment.
Sad to be leaving, but with the feeling of doing lots in a short space of time, the only question that remained was why did I leave it so long?
FIVE-NIGHT FLORIDA MUTLI-CENTRE TRIP
Stay two nights room only at Marriott Hutchinson Island Beach Resorta and Marina in Martin County, two nights at Lake Buena Vista ResortVillage and Spa, Orlando and one night at Margaritaville Resort, Kissimmee, from £980pp. Package includes flights from London Heathrow based on two adults sharing. To book visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com. For more information on Florida visit www.visitflorida.com.
HIRE A CAR
American Collection Car hire in Florida with Hertz starts from £24 a day. Check out Hertz American Collection at hertz.co.uk/american-collectionOnline.
Florida – www.visitflorida.com
Martin County – www.discovermartin.com
Kissimmee – www.experiencekissimmee.com
Attraction tickets – www.attractiontickets.com