Coronavirus upended many travel plans, but stay-at-home orders are slowly easing, leading those with cabin fever to dream of hitting the road once more. For many, that means heading south to the Sunshine State. Whether your idea of the perfect getaway calls for a decadent spa indulgence, connecting with nature or the thrill of the latest Disney rides, a dream vacation awaits in Florida when social distancing restrictions are eased.
Big Cypress Swamp
Visitors to southern Florida can stay in a five-star hotel or a 5-million-star hut. Nestled in the heart of the Big Cypress Swamp west of the Everglades, Trail Lakes Campground is part of an international star-gazing destination with virtually no light pollution.
Scan the Heavens for your favorite constellation at night, and embark on a guided eco tour of the Everglades during the day. Take a pole boat tour in a slim, low-sitting vessel that easily navigates narrow waterways and plops passengers right in the lap of nature.
Camp in one of four thatched chickee huts on the grassland prairies at the fringe of the swamp. They don’t have electricity or running water, but a bathhouse with hot showers is nearby. Other accommodations include rustic Old Florida cabins, RV sites and primitive tent sites.
Boat tour $69 per person an hour; huts $179-$199. 40904 Tamiami Trail, U.S. 41, Ochopee, Florida. 800-504-6554, www.evergladescamping.net, www.evergladesadventuretours.net
Winslow’s Bungalows, part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group’s Kimpton boutique hotel collection, takes the pet friendly hotel concept to the next level. Bring your iguana, miniature horse, llama or chatty macaw to this new 85-room hotel in Key West, and it will be greeted as warmly as any other guest. If the creature fits through the door, it’s welcome.
Those traveling with less exotic species, like a dog, can rest assured their furry companion will be made comfortable with a soft bed, food bowl and other amenities.
Even if you’re headed to the Conch Republic without a four-legged friend, it’s worth the trip to check out these inviting historic structures that sprawl over an Old Florida tropical landscape. Each room has its own personality, so repeated stays afford a unique experience every time.
This tranquil oasis in the heart of Old Town offers plenty of relaxation (in room yoga mats are available), but you’re never far from the non-stop party on Duval Street. One way to get there is to hop on one of the hotel’s loaner bikes. Those baskets are perfect for small pets.
$209 and up. 725 Truman Ave., Key West, Florida, 877-219-4500, www.kimptonkeywest.com
When nocturnal explorers in clear kayaks dip their paddles into the Indian River Lagoon on moonless nights on a guided tour with BK Adventure, it’s like a magic wand has set the water aglow with a million tiny emeralds and sapphires.
This dazzling light show in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Orlando is caused by a natural phenomenon called bioluminescence, the emission of light produced by single-celled organisms called dinoflagellate. The swish of the paddle disturbs the tiny organisms, causing them to glow bluish green. From June to October, the river is teeming with them, creating a magical world that illuminates on command.
“People say it’s the real Pandora,” said BK Adventure owner Ram BK, referring to the Disney attraction based on the film, “Pandora-The World of Avatar,” where visitors sail through an enchanted garden shimmering with bioluminescent flora. $55-$75. 487 N. Washington Ave, Titusville, Florida. 407-519-8711, www.bkadventure.com
“Bonjour, Madam and Monsieur” is the typical greeting at the new Riviera Resort, Disney’s 15th Vacation Club property that opened near Orlando in December. It may be in the heart of Florida, but the 300-unit property with mansard roofs and quaint, sea-blue shutters captures the essence of the sun-drenched Mediterranean coastlines of France and Italy.
Accommodations range from compact rooms in Tower Studios to spacious three-bedroom villas that sleep up to 12, perfect for multi-generational travelers. Perks include a streamlined check-in process that means never waiting in a long line with antsy kids and the Skyliner transportation system that provides easy access to Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
Dozens of custom artworks, many featuring Disney characters, are on view throughout the resort. If you want to take home a little Disney magic, visit the Art on Demand kiosk in La Boutique.
$362 and up, 1080 Esplanade Ave., Lake Buena Vista, Florida. 407-828-7030, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com
Looking for the next big thing in spa services? Beauty buffs are booking their cryotherapy treatments now at the five-star Acqualina Resort & Spa, home to British-based spa company ESPA. This 20,000-square-foot waterfront sanctuary has rolled out three new anti-aging treatments for the face and body that reportedly improve skin texture, thanks to a device called the Cryto T-Shock that alternately heats and cools targeted areas. Other treatments include massage with Himalayan salt stones or volcanic stones, a hyddrating body wrap, and a salt and oil scrub. For the VIP treatment, book a private spa suite.
Cryto T-Shock treatments $375 and up. Rooms $450 and up. 17875 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. 305-918-8000, www.aqualinaresort.com
Bungalows Key Largo is an all-inclusive resort in the Florida Keys, attracting honeymooners and others who are all about taking the guesswork out of that final bill.
Tucked into a botanical garden at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Bungalows Key Largo is an all-inclusive, adults-only property designed to let romance blossom. Accommodations include 135 private cottages with alfresco soaking tubs and garden showers dotted throughout a 12-acre paradise.
Those looking to unwind will wat to start the day with yoga and move on to the Zen Garden Spa. The Himalaya Salt Room delivers a host of physical and mental benefits through nourishing minerals.
Work on your tan at one of the two pools or kick back in a cushy beach cabana. Eventually, simply admiring that cerulean water won’t be enough, and you’ll want to take a dip. When you do, you’ll have easy access to snorkeling equipment and paddleboards.
A seafaring adventure awaits those eager to explore beyond the resort. An entire fleet of boats is at your disposal.
The resort boasts many luxurious amenities, but the real luxury is time away with that special someone.
$1,185 per night, minimum two-night stay. 99010 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, Florida. 866-801-0195, www.bungalowskeylargo.com
Freddy should be roaming the African savannah surrounded by a pride of lionesses and their cubs, but it wasn’t meant to be. His parents were rescued from a private zoo and brought to the Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary, and that’s where Freddy was born. He’s the king of this Jacksonville jungle, lording over his feline companions that include tigers, leopards, cougars and bobcats.
A guided 45-minute tour does more than showcase the majestic predators that have found a forever home here. Visitors learn about how poaching and habitat loss threaten these big cats in the wild and about the perils of keeping them in captivity as pets.
$10-$17. 1860 Starratt Road, Jacksonville, Florida. 904-757-3603, www.cattyshack.org
Take a tour of Ca’d’Zan, the 56-room mansion once owned by John Ringling of Ringling Brothers Circus, and time travel back to the ostentatious lifestyle of the Roaring ‘20s.
By the time Ringling and his wife Mable made Sarasota the winter home for the circus in 1927, construction of their 36,000-square-foot Venetian palazzo had been completed and filled with art and antiques collected on their extensive travels. Now you can admire their treasures, including Persian-pattern Tiffany flatware, a triple-panel silk French screen and a gilded clock/sculpture of the Sleeping Ariadne.
The home has too many exquisite architectural details to count, but its crowning glory is the 82-foot-tall Belvedere Tower modeled after the Seville Cathedral bell tower in Spain.
$40-$10. 5401 Bayshore Road, Sarasota, Florida. 941-359-5700, www.ringling.org
Buckle up for Mickie & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, a new dark ride at Disney Hollywood Studios that’s sure to have the little ones wide-eyed with wonder.
Set inside a Mickey Mouse short film with mind-bending 3D effects and original music, riders are caught up in a story about Mickie & Minnie’s picnic outing that goes comically awry when engineer Goofy makes a few flubs, sending everyone on a zany adventure. The trackless ride sweeps you from one crazy escapade to the next. One minute you’re having a blast at the carnival, and the next, you’re in Mickie and Minnie’s car on your way to Runnamuck Park.
$109. Orlando, Florida. 407-939-5277, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com
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