North America

Florida Rica

Introduction

Sunset in the EvergladesI'm not going to mention the word "Disney" except in this opening paragraph. I reckon more books have been written on WDW than enough and this is not the purpose of this quick Hints & Tips sheet. This is about the "alternative" Florida, pretending that Disney were not there, but taking advantage of all the benefits of having a theme park on your doorstep.

Hotels:

You have a few simple choices about your Hotel. Either International Drive or Highway 192 (Hwy 192). They are not exactly close together, but are now joined (2000) although a bit in the middle is still missing. Hwy 192 is one huge long east-west road, about 20 miles or more long, from West Kissimmee (pronounced Ki-Simmy, it has nothing to do with kissing) where it joins Hwy 27, to East Kissimmee where upon it turns south. International Drive runs North-South but in make-up is very similar, it must be said, to Hwy 192.

And the make-up in this case means: Hotels, Eating Places, More Hotels, More Eating Places, Tourist Shops, Eating Places, More Tourist Shops, Hotels. At least on Hwy 192 you do get a few other attractions such as King Henry's Feast, Wild Bill's and much more. We all definitely preferred 192 over International Drive (we have stayed on both).

The traffic on Hwy 192 is sometimes intolerable. All you want to do is get something to eat and it takes 30 minutes to drive the 3 miles to the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet! The last time we visited (Summer 2001) they were in the process of widening the road (which in itself caused even more delays) but I would expect by now to see some improvements.

Boardwalk over the Everglades

Eating Out:

We found the best value (especially with children) is to visit an all-you-can-eat buffet. They are run by various companies such as Golden Corral, Sizzler, Western Sizzling, Ponderosa and many others. Exactly what you get for your $10 + beverage differs in each one. Yes, they all have an unlimited buffet, but some give you steak included others charge extra. They all give enough choice to satisfy the pickiest of eaters including vegetarians. Kids cost less. We also used them for breakfast (about $4 each + beverage) which is fantastic value for money. I would not recommend anything else in this part of the country. Tip: outside each eating place, shop and hotel are voucher booklets. They give you money off coupons, such as "50 cents off breakfast (for up to 6 people)", "10% off your entire check" (= bill) for dinner, and so on. This can really add up to some savings over a two week period, and those "in the know" always stock up with a selection of vouchers from the various buffet restaurants. Well, think abot it. You spend $10 per person per dinner. Let's say it's Mum, Dad and two kiddies (who are charged less). Say $30 per dinner? Times 14 days. That's $420. Except you can save $42 of that just by giving in a coupon each time you eat. Makes sense to me!

Driving:

You will no doubt have rented a car out there. I find the approx. 25 per DAY insurance extortionate, but it's still cheaper to pay it all up front as part of your holiday package than paying for it on your credit card when you get there. But then I'm paranoid about knowing about costs. And no surprises when you get that VISA bill in when you get back! I find driving there an absolute breeze. Because 90% of all drivers are other tourists everyone is very tolerant of one another. You'll know a local from his beat up car and his driving attitude! All cars are automatics (very easy) and have air conditioning (essential). And don't restrict yourself to driving up and down Hwy 192 all the time you're there. Be adventurous!

Daytime in the Everglades

Being Adventurous:

Your tour operator will hold a "Meet" at 9:30am the morning after you arrive. Don't panic! You'll be well up and out by then even with the time difference from the day before. At the meet you'll be offered useless advice but more importantly they'll offer excursions. Jump in there. Get them to transport you to wherever rather than trying to drive there yourself. We had a trip from Orlando to Miami, from there by plane to the Bahamas, from there by boat to Fort Lauderdale and back by bus. All for $99 per person (plus a few bits along the way). Wonderful! No doubt your meet will offer similar deals along with the "D*s*n*y" tickets if you havn't already prebooked your 14 day multi-park hopper.

More information: just suf the web to find out anytbing about Orlando and Florida. If this is going to be your first trip it will be 99% Disney/Universal Studios but if this is a return trip try less of the theme parks and more of the "original" Flordia - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

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