A snowbird’s escape guide to the sunny climes, warm waters and historic charms of Florida’s central and southwest coast
After finishing up the coldest, dreariest months of the year, spring break has finally arrived, and Washingtonians can take comfort knowing that a two-hour direct flight can deposit them onto the world-class beaches and aqua-blue waters of Southwest Florida, which on a sunny day feel like a nice warm bath.
Here you can escape to golf, tennis and even eco-tours in Orlando, or take your pick of hundreds of untamed beaches and naturally preserved islands off Fort Myers, Clearwater, Sanibel or St. Petersburg to kayak, sail, dive, fish, hunt or island hop.
The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel offer some of the best beachfront bliss in Florida, with world-class shelling along 50 miles of pristine beaches. It is also home to the J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge, part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the U.S. and the second-most visited refuge in the country. For those looking for ultimate seclusion in nature, travelers can camp on islands like Cayo Costa, accessible only by boat. The craft beer craze has also taken hold here, with new breweries popping up in Downtown Clearwater. In Spring, be sure to check out the Sanibel Shell Fair and the Fort Myers Shrimp Festival and Parade.
In early Spring baseball fans can rejoice with the arrival of pre-season baseball.
The Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins hold spring training in Fort Myers, bringing plenty of hardcore fans with them. The new $78 million JetBlue Park has state-of-the-art training facilities and room to entertain 11,000 fans. A number of the ballpark’s characteristics are taken from Fenway Park, including a 37-foot high Green Monster in left field, featuring seating both on top of and behind the wall, as well as the manual scoreboard used decades ago.
In recent years Orlando has built out a lot more adult-friendly stuff to do than hitting the amusement parks of Disney, Universal and Sea World, where the lines for rides (or just getting in) can be tortuous and vacay-eating.
The Ritz Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, for instance, is situated a safe distance from the hub-bub of Orlando’s bustling amusement parks – but close enough to watch the fireworks of Disney World from your balcony each evening. One of Central Florida’s most breathtaking – and quietest – hotels, the Ritz Carlton has built a 500-acre oasis where guests can surrender to the serenity of an eco-tour by kayak or canoe, or embark on fishing excursions on its 40-acre Shingle Pond.
There’s also a Greg Norman designed, 18-hole golf course, acres of swimming pools, and a 30,000 square foot spa rated # 1 nationally by the readers of USA Today.
Luxury hotels in Orlando and coastal Southwest Florida offer plenty of bedded bliss, not to mention some of the best pool areas under the Florida sun.
Near Fort Meyers, try one of my absolute favorites, the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs, a 5-star haven with 26 lush, landscaped acres overlooking Estero Bay, with beach access to a private island astride the Gulf of Mexico via hourly boat shuttle. Coconut Point also has two acres of pools, a few waterslides and a lazy river.
If the beach culture is your thing, be sure to check in to the Sandpearl Resort on award-winning Clearwater Beach, ranked # 1 by the readers of USA Today. Sandpearl boasts a climate-controlled zero-entry pool, beachfront fire pit and tiki bar on the beach, serving up amazing fish tacos.
In St. Petersburg, be sure to stay at the historic Vinoy St. Petersburg Renaissance Resort and Golf Club, which has been welcoming beachcombers for nearly a century. Built in the Mediterranean Revival style, The Vinoy was made famous by guests like Babe Ruth and Jimmy Stewart, who wintered in St. Pete.
Marriott Corp. has painstakingly restored The Vinoy, bringing it up to modern standards without sacrificing its classic Old Florida charm.
American, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines each offers non-stop daily flights from Reagan National into the airports of Fort Myers and Orlando.