My parents came down to visit me a little while ago, and as part of their visit we drove down to Florida for a family road trip. It’s the first time that any of us really visited Florida (ignoring that one particular conference trip where I stayed in the Orlando Airport the whole time), and we had a great time. We picked a really good time to go as NC was having a cold spell but Florida was still warm and sunny. Read on for highlights of our little family road trip.
Before getting to Florida, we stopped in the historical city of Savannah, Georgia. Located near the coast by the Savannah River, Savannah is Georgia’s oldest city, and it is known for its historic downtown district. I heard good things about the city from friends who visited, so we decided to stop there for an afternoon. We parked near Forsyth Park (with its beautiful water fountain) and walked all the way to the river front and back, going through Savannah’s historic downtown in the process. The city is very distinctive and has lots of character. There are the ornate old buildings and houses, the many public squares, and the Spanish Moss that drape down from the trees. We didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the city, but at first glance Savannah looks like a pretty nice place.
Kennedy Space Center
Our first Florida stop was the Kennedy Space Center. Located near Cape Canaveral on the coast above an hour east of Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is the site of many of NASA most famous space programs such as the Apollo and Space Shuttle missions. The center is still used today by NASA and private companies to launch rockets into space. The part of the KSC that’s open to the public is known as the Visitor Complex, which has many interesting exhibits about NASA’s history and various programs. The visitor complex also offers a bus tour which goes by the actual working facilities of NASA such as the Vehicle Assembly Building (where the rockets and space shuttles are assembled for launch) before arriving at the Apollo/Saturn V Center which has the world’s biggest rocket on exhibit. Visitors can pay extra for enhanced tours that stop the launch pads, but we arrived in the afternoon and tickets for those were already sold out. The KSC is definitely a must-see if you are a fan of aerospace, and I enjoyed going there.
Universal Studios Orlando
Orlando is known for its multitude of theme parks, and Universal Studios along with Disney World are the most well-known ones. We’ve been to the Universal Studios in Los Angeles a long time ago and it was a fun experience, and so we wanted to visit the one in Orlando as well. The Universal Studios in Orlando has two theme parks, the Universal Studios, and the Islands of Adventure. We decided just to visit the Universal Studios since we only planned to spend a day there. That was probably the right decision as the park was packed with visitors. This was especially true in the Harry Potter Diagon Valley part of the park, and we saw lots of kids in Hogwarts uniforms buying $50 dollar wands. We did buy some butter beer which actually tasted pretty good. The taste reminds me or a root beer float with a butterscotch ice cream.
Due to the crowds, the lines were long everywhere and we didn’t get on all the rides and shows that we wanted to. Also two of the attractions we wanted to go to had technical issues. But we did get on the Transformers 3-D ride and that was super fun, and the Shrek 4-D theater is always entertaining. Overall, we had fun at Universal Studios Orlando.
Disney World Magic Kingdom
When it comes to theme parks in Orlando, Disney World is the biggest name in town. The Walt Disney World Resort has a whooping four theme parks along with many hotels and other amenities. We didn’t have that much time to go to all four parks, so we decided to go to Magic Kingdom, which is the classic default choice. It’s where “dreams come true”, or so Disney wants us to believe. Like Universal Studios, the place was absolutely packed the day that we went. We took advantage of the Fastpass tickets, but didn’t get on that many rides given crowds. Magic Kingdom reminds me of Disneyland in Los Angeles which my family been to over a decade ago. It was nice seeing the Cinderella’s castle, but the place is really geared towards kids, and there weren’t that many good rides for adults. In hindsight, we might have had more fun if we had gone to Animal Kingdom or gone to Universal’s Islands of Adventure instead, but Magic Kingdom is an iconic place so at least we can say we’ve been there.
In addition to the theme parks, we did drive around Downtown Orlando a bit, although we didn’t have time to explore the city in depth. The park around Lake Eola provides a nice view of the cityscape, and there is a lighted water fountain in the middle as well.
Miami and Miami Beach
Our next destination was in Miami, the center of happenings in South Florida. Our first stop in Miami was Versailles, the supposedly “World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant,” for some lunch. I’ve heard about this place from various travel shows and websites, and my friends recommended the place, so I had to try it out. Southern Florida is also know for having really good Cuban, Caribbean and South American cuisine, so that’s what we wanted to try. Versailles did not disappoint. The food was good, the portions were generous and the price was very reasonable. No wonder it is such a well-known restaurant.
Following the delicious and filling Cuban lunch, we visited Miami’s downtown area. Miami has a sizable downtown with many tall office and apartment building, and the waterfront setting in front of Biscayne Bay is very picturesque. We visited both the Museum Park and Bayfront Park to take in the views across the Bay to Miami Beach. We also took a ride on the free Metromover monorail that has stops along the downtown area.
After our stop in downtown Miami, we crossed the bay to Miami Beach where we would spend the next two nights. We stayed in the famous South Beach area of Miami Beach. South Beach is of course known for its long stretches of beautiful sand beaches and its array of nightclubs. Since this was a family road trip, we didn’t really do any nightlife activities, but we did enjoy the beach. The beach at Miami Beach is gorgeous. The sand is very fine and most stretches of the beach are very clean, and this made the beach great for barefoot walking. The turquoise south Florida waters are absolutely beautiful as well. On the day that we went, the weather was great, but the water was a little on the cool side, so the beach wasn’t super crowded. That was fine with us, and we took our time walking down from about 11th Street all the way down to the pier at South Pointe Park. South Beach is not very big, so we were able to walk everywhere from the Airbnb we stayed in.
Other than the Beach, we also checked out the main outdoor shopping area Lincoln Mall, and the bustling businesses along Collins Ave. and Washington Ave. We also had some delicious Peruvian food there. The fried fish in the Jalea was simply wonderful, and the other seafood in the dish was pretty darn good as well.