When I tell the kids that we are going on a 3G (Three Generations) holiday, they eye me suspiciously. My tween asks if this means she’ll have extra credit to Snapchat her friends while we are away. But my teenage son cops that Granny and Granddad will be coming along. As if this isn’t a big enough challenge I decide to make our 3G holiday a road trip. A fine balancing act begins on my part to choose a family friendly destination and itinerary, so it has to be Florida.
With great excitement and a little trepidation we take our Virgin Atlantic flight via Heathrow to Miami. I booked our carhire online before leaving home, with Hertz, so a Jeep SUV awaits us, equipped with GPS and plenty of room for luggage. Service at the desk is prompt and efficient and we make it to the Biltmore Hotel in beautiful Coral Grove in about forty-five minutes.
The Biltmore Hotel is an icon of early twentieth-century-style and architecture, tucked away in a salubrious residential neighbourhood. The hotel was used as a hospital during the Second World War but on arrival it has the hallmarks of the decadent twenties, with colourful little birds in giant cages and fine artwork on the elaborate architraves. The Biltmore hotel boasts one of the biggest swimming pools in the state of Florida − surrounded by roman statues it has the ambience of an Italian Palazzo.
That night we dine at the hotel’s Fontana restaurant with a full moon and the stars above our heads. The elders devour the lobster ravioli and sea bass and I’ve to stop the kids from licking the last morsel of lasagne from their plates. We sit around the fountain until the jet lag hits the kids and we go to our luxurious rooms, leaving granny and granddad some time to get romantic. As my head hits the pillow I cannot wait to explore Miami the next day.
Miami is blocked into several neighbourhoods with little Havana being one of the most famous, here the Cafe Versailles is similar to the many Paladeras found in the Cuban capital. Men drink coffee and play dominoes on the side of the street and it’s worth a drive by.
Our next stop is South Beach and the kids love the view, with rollerbladers and fitness gurus lining the promenade. I hire bikes with the kids and Granddad, while Granny goes for coffee at one of the classic art deco hotels. It’s easy to see why this strip has been called the American Riviera.
With an afternoon to fill we drive for an hour and wind up in Key Largo, the largest of the Florida Keys. I know the family won’t make the long drive to Key West so we stop off at the highly recommended John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This is America’s first underwater state part and it boasts wonderful snorkelling on the coral reef and a one-hundred-mile long shipwreck trail. The kids get to see tropical fish in the crystal blue waters while granny and granddad watch from the quayside. The annual Humphrey Bogart festival is a draw for romantic movie buffs and the actual African Queen boat rests at a nearby hotel.
Next morning after devouring the breakfast buffet at the Biltmore we take Highway One up to Fort Lauderdale. The scenery is peppered with hotels, tall palms and turquoise blue sea making it a scenic drive. It takes just over three hours and a few ice-creams and toilet breaks to get to our next stop, Vero Beach. Also known as ‘The Hamptons of Florida’ we check-in at the Kimpton Vero Beach Hotel and Spa. This boutique hotel is modern and clean with extra-friendly hotel staff. As we sit down to enjoy lunch with the cobalt blue Atlantic in the background, the kids have already taken to the pool. Vero Beach offers Golf close by for Granddad and Kayaking for the kids. Granny loves the quaint shops and galleries and I realise that one night won’t be enough in this lovely town.
We leave Vero Beach reluctantly but stop off en-route to Orlando at a unique eco-tourism attraction, Forever Florida. This picturesque centre is host to a cattle ranch, a wildlife conservation area and a beautiful location perfect for outdoor adventures perfect for all the family, especially teens. The horse-riding is well supervised and organised and there is no better way to see wildlife in its natural habitat. Check out www.foreverflorida.com for more information and prices are roughly €100 for a two hour ride through the wilderness.
Our hotel in Kissimme is the Omni Resort at Championsgate and close to all the Disney attractions, but my crew opt for something a little wilder at Boggy Creek airboat rides on Lake Toho. We find ourselves in the middle of the Everglades, spotting storks, bald eagles and herons on the swamp. This experience is gentle enough for granny and fun enough for the kids, but it’s noisy so we put on ear muffs. Our guide, Captain Wayne, has a knack for spotting alligators, and he points at one in the rushes to everyone’s delight. An airboat ride is a must do when in Florida so check out www.bcairboats.com.
We return invigorated from our excursion and the kids are keen to enjoy the hotel. The pool is great for all kids big and small but the best fun is the lazy river. Attended by pool staff until 10pm it’s ideal for an after-dinner-swim. The kids go up and down the slide too many times to count and the basketball ring seems to be getting as much use from the parents as the kids. I hear plenty of Irish accents too.
Next day our plan is to shop and the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets are only a tempting 20 minutes away. Part of the Simon Group, the outlets offer big brand saving from 25%-65% on high street prices. We leave granddad by the pool while I find amazing value and my daughter finds that the superstar runners she has been longing for are only $80 − that’s over 100% saving on the Irish price for the same runners. The Premium Outlets are a great way to spend the afternoon and my fashion-conscious-son gets T-shirts while I settle for some designer accessories which would be a lot more expensive at home.
Granny wants to go somewhere relaxing for dinner after all that shopping, so we set off for the town of Celebration (yes that’s its real name) and sample the tasty Cuban cuisine at Columbia Restaurant. This picture-perfect town has been likened to the movie set of The Stepford Wives and apparently was modelled on Main Street Disney World.
It’s almost too perfect for me but it gets a massive thumbs up from the other generations. With Universal and all the major theme parks beside us I’m pleased that we have taken the time to taste the wilder side of Florida and keeping on the move was great for the kids. If you are thinking of a 3G family holiday make sure Granny and Granddad get some time on their own and most importantly ensure that the hotels offer free WIFI, when travelling with the younger generation there are times when this will be a saviour for all.
Hertz car hire mid-size SUV, pick up Miami Airport, drop off Orlando Airport
For five nights from €280 at www.hertz.co.uk
For retail therapy in Orlando see http://www.premiumoutlets.com/outlet/orlando-vineland
www.verobeachhotelandspa.com Kimpton hotel at Vero Beach
Florida Fly/Drive Package holiday €989 per person
Return flights into Miami and returning from Orlando, All taxes and charges
2 Nights accommodation Aloft South Beach
2 Nights accommodation Vero Beach and Spa Hotel
3 Nights Rosen Shingle Creek Orlando
Based on 2 adults & 2 kids sharing
Date of departure: November 2016
Our Ref: 512647
Tel: Dublin 01-8173535 Cork 021-2429222