As weather started to cool off in good ‘ol Rochester New York last week, I convinced myself that some “training” was in order in preparation for my next adventure. So with a little planning and 2 very low-key visits to the tanning booth (It didn’t help), I caught a flight to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on a mission to experience a great week on a tight budget. I had spent a lot of time in Florida growing up so I wanted relive some of those great memories as well as uncover some new experiences on an epic low-cost Florida Holiday.
I was joined by an Argentine friend who had been in the Bahamas the previous week shooting the finale of Project Runway Latin America. This was her first time ever in the States so I had to make sure I didn’t disappoint.
For those of you who just like to sit by the beach all day, sipping margaritas and soaking up sun this probably isn’t the idle vacation for you. We covered a lot of ground in a short period of time and experienced some of the greatest places in Florida (including the beaches and frozen cocktails).
Here is a recount of our adventure and what I think consists of the perfect Florida vacation on a budget:
FLIGHT: I flew from Buffalo, NY to Ft. Lauderdale, FL via Southwest Airlines. In my opinion, one the greatest airline companies there is. If you’re going to travel to Miami, look at flights into Ft. Lauderdale sometimes they are a lot cheaper. Round-trip with taxes and everything I paid $210.
CAR: If you plan on traveling around the State, renting your car with unlimited miles is definitely your best bet. I have a friend cousin who works for enterprise so I was able to get the “family discount” through him. Total cost $275
HOTEL: I booked every hotel we stayed at via hotels.com. I just looked up the best deals based on the location we wanted to be at and bingo! My kicker is that I always find hotels that have breakfast included. When you eat like me it saves big money! We were originally going to stay in a hostel in South Beach but it turns out if you have 2 our more people sharing a room it is actually cheaper to get a hotel. However, If I was going solo I would definitely stay at the South Beach Hostel. Here is another great place to look for Cheap Hotels in Florida.
STAGE 1: Miami, Florida (OCT 25-27)
After arriving in Ft. Lauderdale in the early afternoon, I picked up my shiny candy-red Toyota Corolla from Enterprise and made my way down to Miami. This was first time experiencing South Beach in its entirety so after I dropped my bags at the Princess Ann Hotel, I explored the area with long run along the beach and down Ocean Drive.
Miami to me is like San Diego with an East Coast edge. You can tell why New Yorkers love it so much. Its high fashion on the beach. I love the strong Latin culture and can’t help but think about what this place was like in the 80s. Watch Cocaine Cowboys!
After picking up my co-pilot at the Miami International Airport that night we grabbed some dinner at this great little cuban diner called Puerto Sagua right on Collins Ave and then just cruised around the area.
*The big thing that will get you in Miami if you have a car is parking. Street parking is the cheapest if you’re there all day but we moved the car around on occasion just to be safe. ($12/day for parking)
The next day we were setup by some friends at Viator Travel to go parasailing in the Port of Miami. The skyline view of downtown Miami in the afternoon was amazing.
That night we had some drinks and watched a great live show at The Clevelander and then went over B.E.D.restaurant for dinner. Which isn’t the cheapest option but it isn’t as pricey as you might think either (as long as you avoid the cocktails). I actually contacted them via twitter before I came down and got in contact with the head of VIP reservations. This is a good idea if you’re coming with a large party. He has great deals on bottle service.
STAGE 2: Ft. Lauderdale & Coco Beach (Oct 27)
We made our way from Miami up to Ft. Lauderdale to check out some different beaches and avoid breaking the bank on the first 2 days. You can be cheap in Miami but your best bet is to get out of there after a few days or it will suck you in, things add up fast. We spent the afternoon at the beach in Ft. Lauderdale and then went up to Cocoa Beach for some shopping at the world famous Ron Jon Surf Shop and dinner at Coconuts on the beach. From there we actually didn’t stay in Cocoa Beach we decided to drive right through to Orlando so we would have a jump start at Magic Kingdom the following day.
STAGE 3: Orlando, Florida (Oct 28-29)
We checked in late Wednesday night at the Destiny Palms Hotel (Maingate West) in Orlando and just grabbed a $10 pizza before we passed out. Thursday was a big day!
We ventured over to the Magic Kingdom at exactly 8:30am to be ready and waiting when the doors opened. However, there was a snag in the plans because Magic Kingdom was throwing a giant Halloween party that evening and it was separate entrance fees. Long story short, after a very strategic discussion with the lovely ladies at the ticket window we decided to forgo the immediate satisfaction of seeing Mickey Mouse (and $82) to wait for the 4pm entrance for the party ($63).
Despite the disappointment by my first-time friend, she agreed and we spent the first part of the day exploring Downtown Disney and the Boardwalk (personal favorite).
Finally, after what seems like days, we made it into the glorious Magic Kingdom right at 4pm where we were greeted by a sea of people dressed in Halloween costumes. It was nothing short of magical.
STAGE 4: Tampa Bay, Florida (Oct 29-31)
After a brief stop at the Orlando Premium Outlet mall in Orlando we made our way down to a college buddy’s pad in Tampa to show La Portena (the Argentine) a different side of Halloween. The girls-dress-in-almost-nothing side.
We went to a big Halloween party at Jackson’s Bar on the water and were entertained all evening by the incredible costumes.
Saturday we went out to St. Petersberg and did the whole thing over again. This time switching up costumes and party location. We ended up at Cheap and Drynk on Saturday night but not before an amazing lunch that afternoon at Datz Deli. If you are ever in Tampa, this is a place you have to check out.
If you ever need a place to stay in Tampa look up Dan Markese on Facebook, He’s a great guy with an awesome girlfriend and a solid crew. Cheers buddy.
STAGE 5: Naples, Florida (Oct 31-Nov 2)
Drained and hungover we said fair well to Tampa and made our way down the coast. We had debated between Siesta Key vs Naples for our next stop, and decided on Naples because it would get us closer to Miami (where we needed to catch our return flights).
Naples was the perfect remedy for our fatigue. The beaches were quiet and downtown was so relaxing. When we got there on Sunday there was actually a big festival going on down 5th avenue for Halloween with live bands and trick or treaters.
We relaxed on the beach in Naples one day and Ft. Meyers the next and both nights we enjoyed walking around 5th avenue and the historical district in downtown Naples. However, be careful, Naples can be a very expensive place if you’re not focused. We found that many of the italian restaurants had dinner deals where you could get 2 entrees, a salad and a bottle of wine for $30 bucks. We did that both nights.
STAGE 6: Back to Miami, Florida (Nov 2-3)
After a detour to the Sawgrass Outlet Mall north of Miami we made it back to South Beach for one last night. We just walked along Ocean Drive and grabbed some dinner at the same diner as the first night.
Overall I spent about $800 including hotels, car and flight. I got to practice my Spanish, visit good friends, re-live some old memories and create some new ones. Florida is an amazing place to visit and sometimes I overlook all the stuff there is to do. After that trip I feel rejuvenated to take on the next adventure… Colombia here I come!
One Place I wish we had visited that we didn’t have time for… Gatorland – man, I love that place!