Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

Things To See and Do on Marco Island, Florida

Wednesday April 24, 2013 at 8:08 AM | 8 Comments

Marco Island, the largest of the 10,000 islands south of Fort Myers, Florida, is a wonderful place to visit with families.  It offers beautiful beaches, waterfront activities, fabulous resorts, and delicious food.

Things to Do on Marco Island

Despite the fact that Marco is the largest of the 10,000 Islands, it’s still relatively small.  As you’d expect from an island getaway, most of the things to do revolve around the ocean.  Spend the day at the beautiful, shell-lined beaches.  Looking for more action?  Head down to the beach to set up a parasailing adventure, or rent a jet ski.  Would you rather do some learning?  Book the Dolphin Explorer Eco-Tour and learn all about the dolphins living right off the coast of the island, and take a quick trip to a private island to do some shelling.

If you are willing to do a drive, visit nearby Naples for the Naples Zoo, Naples Botanical Gardens, and the Children’s Museum of Naples. All are about a 30 minute drive from the island.

Places to Stay on Marco Island

Marco Island is home to two upscale chain hotels – a Marriott and a Hilton.  There’s also numerous condo complexes along with the hotel we stayed at – the Marco Beach Ocean Resort.  Whether you are traveling on a romantic getaway or as a family vacation, I’d recommend the Marco Beach Ocean Resort for its amazing service and fabulous location right on the beach.

The View from the Snook Inn

Restaurants on Marco Island

As you’d imagine, much of the local cuisine on the island revolves around seafood.  Conch fritters, fish sandwiches, and peel and eat shrimp are the specialties.  Visit CJ’s on the Bay or the Snook Inn for the most gorgeous views.  Hidden gems the Crazy Flamingo and Philly’s Grill offer great food but are tucked away in mini malls.  Another great pick is Captain Brien’s, a seafood restaurant within walking distance of most of the hotels.

Whether you want to enjoy the beach or see something new every day, there are lots of options on Marco Island, Florida.

This is a guest post by Jodi Grundig of Family Travel Magazine. Photos are courtesy of Jodi Grundig.

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Universal Islands of Adventure Orlando: 12 Strategies for Fun

Wednesday January 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM | 9 Comments

As we waited among the throng of people to go through Universal Orlando security near the drop-off parking lot in Orlando, Florida, it was clear I needed strategies to maximize this one day visit.  Although, for my 20 year-old daughter, 11 year-old son, and myself, Universal’s Islands of Adventure’s thrill rides and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter were a perfect fit, without strategies we could not have the day we anticipated. Here are twelve. Happily, we’d already put two into play by the time we hit security.

"Toon Lagoon"

Near Toon Lagoon in Orlando, Florida

1. Acquire discount tickets: Because my daughter is in the military, her ticket was free. We went to Shades of Green, the military resort hotel on Walt Disney World’s property to get her ticket voucher the night before. My son and I were able to buy our tickets there for a $5.50 discount.  For those without a military perk, check your hotel for discount tickets. $88 dollars seemed to be the going rate for a one-day ticket.

2. Arrive early: We were in the park’s gate by 9:30 am which seemed plenty early, but given the crowd, earlier would have been better. The gate opened at 9.

Because we had tickets in hand, we sped through the turnstile to take in two attractions at Seuss Landing before 10.

As the day progressed, other strategies unfolded. Here’s what I learned that helped us see and do all we wanted to see and do and not spend a lot of money. Except for the ticket prices, I dropped less than $25 to keep us fed and hydrated.

You’re never too old for Dr. Seuss

3. Bring water bottles: We brought our water bottles with us. There are water fountains everywhere so refilling them isn’t a problem.

4. Only bring one backpack or large purse: I brought a large cloth purse big enough for my camera, our sweaters and sunscreen. Because some rides don’t allow carry-on items, only having one item to put in a locker helped us move quickly through the masses trying to figure out the locker system.

5. Be aggressive when scoring a locker but help others too: When scouting out a locker in one of the locker areas near every ride that doesn’t allow belongings, shoulder your way to the keypad where lockers are assigned. Using a locker requires following prompts and pushing buttons. Press hard and keep trying. One prompt instructs you to scan a finger. Once your scan is accepted, a prompt gives the locker assignment. To get items back, you’ll return to the same keypad and follow the prompts to retrieve items.

Helping others who are having problems (I was one of those people who needed help and then offered tips later) makes the locker experience more pleasant and keeps people moving through the locker area.

6. Take advantage of the free locker option: We used three different lockers (each time for a different ride) and didn’t pay once. The locker times for the free option seem to be timed so that you can put your items in a locker right before you get in a line and retrieve them right after you get off of the ride.

Once you open a locker, you have to go back to the keypad to get another one. Paying would be a good option if you brought things with you that you don’t want to carry at all for several hours.

7. Immediately head to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: We didn’t do this. We arrived at the entrance of this section of the park at about 10:15 where pleasant park attendants directed us to the waiting line that wound through Jurassic Park. While we were in the waiting line, we were given stand by passes to get into the Wizarding World. By 11 am we were able to turn in our passes landing us in Hogwarts.

Hogwarts means Butterbeer and Harry Potter-themed fun in Orlando, Florida

8. If a line has a 20 minute wait, go for it since this is a short line: At 11 am, the line for the Dragon Challenge, a roller coaster with upside down loops was 20 minutes long. Despite my son’s, “I think I want to wait, I’m not ready,” response to our first major ride, I forged ahead. Plus, his sister bribed him $5. As I explained, 20 minutes could stretch into longer later. He went and loved it.

9. Buy food to eat while waiting in line or walking between rides: One soft pretzel, one turkey leg, one churrozo and two Butterbeer drinks were shared as we wound our way from ride to ride.  Sitting down to eat might have been great on another day, but we were on a roll to get in as much as possible. (Total food and drink cost-$21)

10. Keep an eye out for discarded ponchos: When my daughter announced she was not going on a water ride because she didn’t want to get wet, I planned to fork over money for ponchos–until I saw three ponchos someone had left on a trash can. Discarded ponchos are common. People toss them once they are off a water ride. This find saved $24 dollars.

11. Go in the single rider line: While we were in line for the Jurassic Park River Adventure with a 90 minute wait, a voice came on over the loud speaker. “The single rider line has a 5 minute wait.” We, along with others, made a dash for the single rider option. Within 20 minutes, we were on the ride. Although we didn’t sit together (we sat one in front of the other), we had a blast.  The single rider line is used to fill up empty seats.

We used the single rider line option to go on The Hulk roller coaster as well. My son ended up sitting next to me anyway. This ride was another one he wasn’t sure about, but the regular wait was 75 minutes. The single rider line was 15. He also loved this one.

12. Look for large signs that list the rides and current wait times: While we were walking towards Marvel Superhero Island from Toon Lagoon, I noticed one of these signs which helped us plan which ride we wanted to go on next.

Two tips for next time:

1. Bring food with us. Although you can’t bring in a picnic lunch, we could have brought in sandwiches and snacks.

2. Stay later. We left at 8:15 pm, almost two hours before the park closed due to our schedule. After 7 pm, we noticed ride lines were considerably shorter.

Within our 11 hour visit, which frankly felt like plenty, we were able to take in every major ride and see every show. Our longest ride wait, almost two hours, was for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Although this was a long wait, the last 45 minutes of the line was part of the attraction.  Our shortest line was five minutes for Cat in the Hat. We went on that ride, a rollicking, clever trip through Dr. Seuss’s beloved book, first.

Later in the day, the wait for Cat in the Hat was over an hour so maybe our timing for a visit to Harry Potter was just right after all.

My son was happy with a souvenir penny that he made at a shop on the way out. Cost of souvenir penny: 51 cents.

What are your favorite things to do at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida?

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association

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Secret Getaway to Florida’s Little Palm Island

Wednesday August 29, 2012 at 7:07 AM | 5 Comments

"Little Palm Island"

Little Palm Island seen from the air

Sometimes there’s a need to just let go and get away where nobody can find us.  We’ve all dreamed of those private island experiences where the cost for a week is equivalent to that of a new luxury car, but they just aren’t in the cards for many of us.  I recently got a tip on a secret gem in the Florida Keys I’d never heard of and decided it needed a look-see.  It does indeed offer a private island experience, but with a different flair.  Little Palm Island is a five acre hideaway that quietly caters to high-profile celebrities, executives, and yes, even US presidents.  No, it isn’t inexpensive, but depending on how tightly you’re currently wound, its cost might be justified as being less than therapy, with a private room thrown in.

Pampering at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa

"Little Palm Island Bungalow"

Private bungalow lost in tropical surroundings at Little Palm Island

The intent at Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is to pamper to you without getting in your way, and as a Relais & Chateaux property, they succeed.  Getting there is either by sea plane or boat and most choose, as we did, to check in at their Welcome Lodge on Little Torch Key, where a vintage styled 1940’s wooden yacht awaited to whisk us out to Little Palm Island.  We were greeted with a welcome cocktail and an escort to our own thatched roof private bungalow.  Because they want guests to consider it home during their stay, they personalize it with your name on a custom wooden sign out front.  At this point for us, the experience officially began and the shoes came off.


"Little Palm Island bungalow interior"

Luxury accommodations; West Indies style

Relax in a bungalow at Little Torch Key, Florida

There are only 30 suites on the island, each situated water front and all decorated differently in a Hemingway inspired British Colonial style with mahogany poster beds, butterfly netting and comfortable chairs.  There is no phone in the room and no TV, though one is available upon request.  And it is requested that cell phones not be used in public areas in keeping with the relaxing atmosphere.  Admittedly that brought on fears of withdrawal, but after the first day, following the no cell rule was not a problem.  Most accommodations have outdoor showers and hot tubs and we immediately wound down by taking advantage of both.  But relaxing in the bungalow is only part of what they’re selling.


There is a full service spa on site and I decided on the Madrugada massage, an early morning session in which the massage table is actually placed in the water on a remote section of the beach.  It is said that the ocean provides healing energy and washes your negativity out to sea.  I’m not sure if I fell asleep or not, but the benefit sure felt like it.  The full featured SpaTerre is adjacent to the fitness center where supervised exercise, movement and yoga classes are also offered.

"The Truman"

Vintage styled wooden yacht named after the president.

Plenty of activities at Little Palm Island

The resort offers a wide range of activities, focused around water of course, but we hadn’t anticipated getting visited by local deer while lounging by the pool.  It added a little bit of calm and helped to adjust our minds away from the real world.  We did get some healthy exercise by taking out kayaks one day to explore the island from the water, but that was only after trying and deciding that paddleboarding around the island was beyond the amount of energy and stamina we were willing to expend.  We gained a little bit more respect for paddleboarders that day because it is not for the meek.  Little Palm can also provide you with a motor launch for joy riding, or they will set you up with gear so you can fish and catch your dinner.


"oysters on rock salt"

Oysters Caribbean style on rock salt

Gourmet dining on Little Palm Island

The Dining Room is the resort’s restaurant which serves all day with short breaks in service between meals. Fortunately for us, we discovered that they will happily accommodate if you want something when they’re not officially serving.  Meals are not included at Little Palm Island. We chose to sign up for the full meal plan at $195++/pp daily, but dining a la carte is also available (check the website for current pricing.)

Dress for dinner

Jeans and beach attire are not preferred in the dining areas, but shorts are acceptable during the day.  For dinner, it is suggested that men wear collared shirts and long pants.  Putting shoes back on wasn’t as bad as we’d expected. Specializing in seafood with a Caribbean flair, Chef Luis Pous brings his Cuban roots together with French techniques learned from his days in Paris at the George V Hotel’s Le Cinq.  His efforts have not gone unnoticed, as The Dining Room has been rated by Zagat as the #3 hotel dining facility in the U.S. and #1 in Florida.  The dining was so enjoyable, we jokingly wondered if the resort boutique shouldn’t sell Spanx to wear on the trip home.


After experiencing Little Palm Island, it’s easy to understand why so many haven’t heard of it.  The ability to stay anonymous is unusual in such a small setting, but it seems to work.  Yes, there were famous names among us, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter to anybody.  And that is the success of Little Palm.  The nearest airport is 25 miles away in Key West, where you can arrange for a car or a sea plane charter.  Rates range from about $700 to $2100 per night, depending on the season and accommodations.  Prepare yourself to be spoiled.



Not exactly an insider secret, but plan to spend a few hours in nearby Key West if possible.  It is like visiting a foreign country without the passport.  I never get tired of visiting the Hemingway Home & Museum. I always leave wishing one of their 40 famous six-toed cats could come along with me.

Have you been to Little Palm Island in the Florida Keys?

This is a guest post by Ralph Warren. Photos courtesy of Little Palm Island.