Back in May 2018, I took a fabulous road trip in a Ford Mustang convertible from Atlanta, Georgia to Miami in Florida. It was most definitely the stuff of many a schoolboys dreams. Remarkably however, Florida was never really a place that I had ever longed to visit, but with a conference to attend in Miami, it made sense to understand what all the fuss was about.
I guess I was never keen on those family theme parks, however I am so pleased I embarked on this adventure, as I was clearly oblivious to the reality because Florida was simply magnificent! Without a Mickey Mouse or a Donald Duck in sight, I discovered so many incredible places such as the beautiful Everglades, the history of St Augustine, the stunning Siesta Keys and the cosmopolitan city of Miami. It did not take me long to become a fan of Florida, the Sunshine State!
So with those memories still fresh, I was delighted to be contacted last month by Larry from Floridatravel.blog who was keen to share his love of Florida, USA.
Over to you Larry….
Florida's British Invasion
Early in the 1960s was the last British invasion of America. Groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks and many more descended on the music scene in the United States. The future of rock and roll was forever changed in those years. The current invasion of Florida by guests from Britain is no less significant.
Fortunately, it is a mutual invasion. American travellers love the British Isles as much as travellers from Great Britain love Florida. The positive impact of British travel includes supporting over 65,000 jobs and more than a billion dollars of total revenue to Florida. Pre-pandemic numbers showed that over 3.5 million people from the United States visited Great Britain annually, providing a significant economic impact we are certain.
Writing a Florida Travel Article for British Guests
Living in Florida and blogging about your home state can get tedious. When the opportunity came about to write about this mutual travel love affair, we jumped at it. After our recent marvellous trip to the British Isles, we can understand why Americans love your islands and the reasons why travel to the Sunshine State is so popular with the British.
Our memorable experiences with people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland expanded our ability to communicate with British residents on holiday here in Florida. Some of the perspectives we gained on our trip helped us relate to questions about travels to Florida.
Differences between Florida and Great Britain
So, what are some of the differences we discovered between Great Britain and Florida?
The most obvious difference is the weather. Florida has a more tropical feel, particularly in the southern part of the state. We share the same sun, but Florida just gets it more direct and more frequently. Summers are humid and very warm in south Florida, but winters are more like British summers.
Great Britain has a history that is hundreds of years older than the United States. The age and stature of buildings in the UK are stunning. As travellers in Great Britain, we were so fortunate to see the many national treasures like the Parliament, the Tower of London, the Royal Courts of Justice, and the many castles and stone cottages dotting the countryside. In Florida, you won’t see nearly as many historic structures.
Bars & Restaurants
The British food seemed to be very consistent, farm fresh, and similar in many ways to American fare. Everyone travelling with us agreed that British “chips” were significantly better than anything we get in Florida. We suspected the taste was fresher. One difference is the wide variety of seafood available in Florida. Being surrounded by the Gulf on one side of the state and the Atlantic Ocean on the other side, Florida has dozens of different seafood options. Florida also can import food from 49 other states in the union which adds even more options.
We loved the pubs in Great Britain! However, in Florida, we are used to tiki bars. The places you can go with a view of the water, the warmth of the sun, sand in your toes, and an ice-cold refreshment in your hand, we call tiki bars.
Roads & Travel
We are fortunate in Florida not to have freezing temperatures, salted roads, and other things that mother nature does to impair the longevity and need for road repairs. That doesn’t mean we don’t have traffic issues. It seems that every major city in Florida has a constant need for more highways to handle the 900 new people who make Florida their home each day! New road construction is part of life on the highways in Florida.
Overall, there are more similarities between travelling in Florida compared to travelling in Great Britain, than there are differences.
The Size of Florida
One common issue foreign travellers face while travelling in Florida is the size and peninsula structure of the state. For an automobile driver to go from Key West in the far south of Florida to Amelia Island in the north it would take over nine hours and cover over 530 miles (853 kilometres). On the other hand, to go from Naples on the west coast to Miami on the east coast, the trip would only be a little over 2 hours and 125 miles (201 kilometres). The state is long and narrow as evidenced by the travel times.
Our point here is to plan your travel well in advance. Spending hours on the road may not be the best experience. Florida does have a good expressway system and there are small and large airlines that can take you from one area to another. Our train system is very limited compared to Great Britain.
Planning is the key to a great Florida trip.
Distances in Florida
Key West (8) to Fernandina Beach (1) – 9 hours and 538 miles
Orlando (4) to Clearwater Beach (9) – 2 hours and 100 miles
Orlando (4) to Key West (8) – 6.5 hours and 392 miles
Tampa (5) to Miami (7) – 4.5 Hours and 280 miles
St George Island (10) to Tampa (5) – 5.5 hours and 300 miles
Where Should You Go in Florida?
Let’s start our answer by giving you some facts about where British visitors do go. According to Attractions Magazine, the area surrounding the Disney/Universal Studios parks will see more than a million United Kingdom visitors this year. Over 79,000 British guests will visit Key West this year. Add to that cruise ships that disembark passengers daily. In the pre-pandemic year 2019, over 320,000 Brits visited the Miami area. Over 1.35 million United Kingdom guests will travel to Florida in the coming year.
So, where do we recommend?
The obvious choice is where half the British travellers choose, Orlando for Disney World and Universal Studios. Disney is the home to Mickey Mouse and the Magic Kingdom along with our favourite Epcot Center. Universal is the place for everything Harry Potter and the Islands of Adventure.
We don’t want to be too quick to encourage the highly popular Orlando area because not all people want theme parks and glitzy hotels. We will suggest some other options based on your motives. These suggestions may be in addition to the big Orlando parks or combine the destinations for a few days at each location.
Beyond the Theme Parks
Number one for us would be Key West. This is our favourite getaway two or three times a year despite the 8-hour drive or two-hour flight from our home. The island of Key West is tropical year-round and is a collection of bars, beaches, history, shops, watersports, and international flavours. Key West is almost 24-hour-a-day fun.
We can’t talk about Key West without suggesting the rest of the Florida Keys as definite additional targets to complete vacation plans. In case you are wondering, the word “key” is another name for an island. There are 44 islands connected by 42 bridges in the Keys. Places like Key Largo (the largest key), Islamorada (the sportfishing capital of the world) and Big Pine Key (with their dog-sized Key Deer). It would be easy to spend a week visiting the Keys. Don’t forget one of the most beautiful drives in the country along the 7-mile bridge to Marathon or the pristine snorkelling waters around Key Largo.
Many travellers choose Augustine as a primary destination. This was the first settlement in Florida and the oldest city in America dating back to 1565. The Spanish, English, French and Americans fought over St. Augustine for centuries starting in the 1500s. Lots of history and sightseeing, with an Atlantic Ocean beach thrown in. The variations in architecture are evident as the different cultures took control.
Amelia Island draws hordes of travellers to this 18-mile-long isle in northeast Florida. Fernandina Beach is the main town on the island with great restaurants, quaint shops and famous resorts along the Atlantic Ocean. Fort Clinch (circa the early 1800s) is a major attraction that protected the island when pirates and invaders arrived. Americans covet this north Florida island when the temperatures in south Florida get extreme in late summer.
Lido Key is the place for combining beaches, shopping, cultural attractions and sightseeing. Located just across a bridge from Sarasota, this beachside community is perfect for getting around the west coast of Florida. In the middle of the island is St. Armand Circle with a collection of about 140 shops featuring everything from clothing to jewellery with great restaurants in the mix.[
The beaches lure many people to the sun. Florida is blessed with many snow-like white sand-covered beaches. But which beach? Here are some choices.
Since we live here, we just might be slightly prejudiced, but the fact remains that several miles of soft sand on our island brings over 6 million people annually to the area. Clearwater Beach is always in the top 5 beaches in the United States. Plenty to do here with watersports, attractions for the whole family and professional sports teams a few miles away in Tampa.
Another island with miles of beaches. If you want to relax in folksy comfort, Siesta Key is the place to be. Few high-rises and lots of small hotels make this a reasonable place to be. Siesta Key is a barrier island to Sarasota which is about 60 miles south of Tampa. At one time Siesta Key was named the number 1 beach in the country. We think it deserves a high ranking, but others in Florida are equal. At one time Siesta Key was named the number 1 beach in the country. We think it deserves a high ranking, but others in Florida are equal.
South Beach Miami
The well advertised, South Beach gets a lot of attention and tourists. If an eclectic shopping and dining experience is something you want, you can add that to your beach experience. The beach is huge and could be the best place for the sport of people-watching!
St George Island
If you care more about total relaxation and less crowded shores, St. George Island should be your choice. The island is in the panhandle of Florida. This westerly protrusion in the northwest of Florida is less populated with small-town charm. You can lay on the beach, fish, hike and bird watch with little intrusion. This location is off the beaten path, but worth it for a restful vacation.
Florida Travel Thoughts
These are our thoughts on destinations in Florida. Florida is about three-quarters the size of Great Britain. We know the diversity of choices in your country. Florida provides much the same variety. Northcentral Florida is still reflective of the plantations of peanuts and tobacco, while south Florida has more citrus, sand and tourism.
Special Note; On September 28, 2022 hurricane Ian struck southwest Florida with ferocious winds of over 150 MPH. Several communities were all but wiped off the map. Places like Ft. Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Naples had damages that will take months, if not years, to repair. We have left some of these destinations off our recommendations for obvious reasons. This is a relatively small part of Florida that will be impacted, but our prayers go out to those who lost their homes, livelihood and in some cases loved ones.
Useful Information on Florida
You are relatively safe while travelling in Florida. Research shows that crime rates in Great Britain are not much different than in Florida. As with any country, some places seem to be safer than others. Miami, Orlando, and Jacksonville have higher incidences of property crime than most other areas of the state.
Currency & Costs
The currency in Florida is, of course, the US dollar. However, most reputable credit card companies automatically convert pounds to dollars. Also, most major banks will convert pounds to dollars. It would be difficult to use pounds at most retail businesses.
People ask about how much money they need for Florida travel. The answer is it depends on your tastes and where you plan your trip. A full-service resort hotel room on Marco Island south of Naples could cost you $1200 per night. The same room (with fewer amenities) in Orlando maybe $500. On Clearwater Beach, room costs are $4-500. In the panhandle, you may pay $3-400 for a similar room. Price differences in America are no different than in the British Isles – you pay more for luxury and location. We did not see a huge difference in prices for food between our countries. You will pay more for luxury dining in a hotel than in a suburban pub.
Getting Around in Florida
The major cities like Tampa, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and Jacksonville have direct flights to and from various British airports. Inside Florida, travel can be done by small carriers like Silver Airways which fly to Florida destinations. We should state that our experience with British Airways was exceptional between Tampa, Florida and Gatwick.
Car rental companies are plentiful throughout the state. In areas like Key West and some of the islands, a golf cart is a fun method to get around.
One unique experience is an express boat that goes from Marco Island to Key West. The 3-hour trip through the Gulf of Mexico is entertaining.
Centuries Of Travel
The United States and Great Britain have shared a mutual respect for our similar cultures, common freedoms and historical roots for centuries. That is evident as travellers from both countries cross paths and airways going back and forth between both countries’ major cities. We doubt there are any other two countries in the world that share such reciprocal bonds.
Travel continues to unite us.
Larry Edger and Wife, Sondra Edger – Critic, Reviewer, Editor and Photographer
We reside on Clearwater Beach, Florida, a barrier island along the central Gulf of Mexico coast of Florida. Prior to our travel blogging we were restauranteurs in Florida (we still own two that our son manages). Upon selling two of our operations, travel became our primary passion. We love Florida and decided to start writing about the great adventures found in the Sunshine State. Of course, we do venture occasionally to international destinations including the Caribbean islands, Great Britain and France. However, our home state has so many nooks and crannies to visit, we concentrate here. Rarely does a week go by that we aren’t exploring new places. Our goal is to keep Florida Travel Blog the most comprehensive travel blog in Florida.
My grateful thanks to Larry and his wife Sondra for his wonderful blog. Below are a couple of photos from when he visited the British Isles – at St Andrews in Scotland and of course, in a British Pub with his travelling party.