For anyone on holiday in Orlando, it may seem like a distant hope to take in some of that famous Miami sizzle, but we are here to tell you it is definitely not a forlorn idea. In fact, there are several ways to enjoy a taste of South Beach without having to navigate the dreaded Florida Turnpike yourself.
In the absence of railroad baron Flagler – whose East Coast Railway effectively opened up the south of the state to tourism in 1896 – the best way to enjoy the South Beach vibe is by an organised one or two-day excursion.
And, while Sinatra and Co may no longer be in residence, and Miami Vice has been gone from TV screens for 30 years, there is still plenty to be excited about when you head south for an adventure that is unique to the Sunshine State.
Just to start with, Miami is a city of enormous contrasts, with all the glitz and glamour of one of the world’s great beach destinations, plus a variety of cultural attractions, Latin flair, and world-class shopping and dining.
This is where the 1930s Art Deco district came to life in a blaze of architectural glory and then, just when its lustre might have been lost forever, it was saved by a 1970s historical preservation movement that ensured this iconic part of South Beach would be restored to former glories and conserved for all time.
Take a stroll along the epi-centre of Ocean Drive and you can encompass all that made the area a tourist magnet from the word go, with its glittering stretch of beach backed by timeless cafes and bars, sprinkled with nightclubs and hotels that all bear that pre-War Art Deco allure.
Once you have had your fill of this blissful beach panorama, you can head back across the causeway into Miami proper to soak up more of this vibrant cultural melting pot at places like the Bayside Marketplace, Little Havana and Coral Gables, where the rich and famous have made it their playground since the eye-catching Biltmore Hotel opened its opulent doors in 1926.
Much of the focus hereabouts is on Bayside, close to AmericanAirlines Arena where the Miami Heat play basketball, and flanked by Bayfront Park. The Marketplace features dozens of individual shops and vendors, and the chance to pick up some fabulous souvenirs of your visit, plus excellent restaurant choices, like Bubba Gump Shrimp Co and Largo Bar and Grill.
Bayside even has its own Marina that offers a wonderful array of boat rides around the waterways of the city, including to Star Island, where the astounding mansions have belonged to the likes of singer Gloria Estefan, basketball star Shaquille O’Neal, billionaire Philip Frost and, yes, Miami Vice star Don Johnson.
The full, sky-scraping Miami skyline is on offer here, and there is simply nowhere in Florida like it for the high-rise razzle-dazzle that marks the city out as a modern original, 123 years old but with genuine 21st century sensibilities.
But, having come all this way from Orlando, you should definitely maximise your time, and that means taking in some of the natural beauty of the nearby Everglades, the wildlife-rich ‘River of Grass’ that covers much of south Florida and is home to the Seminole Indian tribe as well as thousands of alligators and a profusion of birds.
This is the place to enjoy another unique feature that the state has to offer – an airboat ride. If you’ve never tried one, you’ll probably be amazed to see these flat-bottomed boats with their huge propeller behind the driver. Capable of speeds up to 50mph, they can whizz through the shallow waters of the marshy Everglades – and even over flat ground – to bring passengers up close and personal with the local wildlife.
It is perfectly safe and eco-friendly, and each boat captain can tell you the stories of the area, and how it is essential to the well-being of the whole state, with its headwaters actually back in the Orlando area.
At the Sawgrass Recreation Park, you can enjoy more up-close encounters with the various animals that make their home here, including panthers, turtles and birds of prey, and even feed some of them. The snake and alligator show offers yet more views of the local denizens – as well as the chance to have your photo taken with them!
And if all that isn’t enough, a night on South Beach adds the opportunity to soak up the evening sizzle of the clubs and bars hereabouts, a seemingly non-stop collection of live music and dance venues that keep going until the wee small hours.
Even if the salsa and merengue vibe is not your thing (and we do urge that you at least give it a try at famous hot-spots like The Clevelander, with its signature patio pool, the lively atmosphere of Mango’s Tropical Café and Nikki Beach nightclub, the place to see and be seen), this is still somewhere to sit with a drink at one of the many pavement cafes and people-watch as the exotic parade of Miami life flows by.
Now, with all that tempting Florida experience on offer, the only decision you really need to make is whether to try to do it as an all-day opportunity, or as an overnight trip. Happily, Attraction Tickets Direct can offer both alternatives in two well-packaged, let-us-do-the-driving excursions from Orlando.
Option One: the Everglades & Miami Beach Adventureis the concentrated, full-day version, taking visitors down to the Everglades and Sawgrass Recreation Park for their nature experience first, then heading to South Beach for some beach/shopping/sight-seeing time before returning to Orlando.
Option Two: the South Beach Sizzle tour offers an overnight stay, with plenty of time to enjoy all the natural wonders as well as the many attractions of Miami itself.
Whichever one you choose, you can be sure of a great Florida adventure. And a truly sizzling break from your Orlando theme-parking!
Have you been to Miami, or are you interested in going? Come and tell us all about it on the friendly ATD forums.
All Photos courtesy of Visit Florida