When you think of Florida, picture it as a giant playground. For kids, but just as much for adults. From impressive dinner shows to awesome luxury hotels and a mission into space – at a theme park ánd for real. Here are seven fabulously fun things to do in Miami and Orlando.
1. Have an Ocean Drive cocktail
Party in the city where the heat is on, all night on the beach till the break of dawn… If you’re in Miami, you just have to get out for the night at least once. Head to the South Beach and order a cocktail in one of the bars along the famous Ocean Drive. The street right across the ocean has astonishing art deco buildings that are lit with colorful neon lights at night, the exterior as well as the interior. The cars that drive by all the time are a bit of a spoiler, but it’s still pretty cool to experience the Miami strip at its liveliest. The street served as backdrop for series like Dexter, Miami Vice and CSI Miami and is packed with bars and restaurants who try to lure you in with flashing neon lights, upbeat music, barely naked girls and cute bouncers. I had a blue lagoon cocktail on the outside terrace of the Mango’s Tropical Café. Don’t forget to take your identity card!
2. Watch a dinner show
Before Florida, I had never heard of a ‘dinner show’. Is it a restaurant that entertains people while they’re eating? Or is it a show that serves people food while they’re watching?! We booked two shows in Orlando and as it turned out, it’s more about the show than the food. Our first spectacle was the ‘Pirate’s dinner adventure’. We have drinks in an ‘adventure park’- type setting before a bunch of pirates lead us the way to our seats. The food is tactfully simple, the drinks are huge, the story, situated on a replicated 18th-century Spanish galleon, may be a bit historically questionable but the atmosphere is very pleasant. It’s all so spectacularly over the top that it fits the stereotype wonderfully well: big just isn’t big enough in America! While we have dinner (meat and potatoes, poor vegetarian me), we witness dazzling fights, girls screaming and pirates roaring,. Knives are swung around and the music gives it all a very movie-esque appeal. There’s singing and dancing and of course, the public is singing along, wearing the paper pirate hats and ‘stolen’ treasure jewels. Ridiculous for sure, but a lot of fun!
Another show we saw was the Arabian Nights dinner show. It tells a ‘Romeo & Julia’- like love story about two Bedouin kingdoms that join through the marriage of a prince and princess, with a lot of horses, spectacular lighting and even fire. Though I admire the work that goes into putting up a show for a hungry public, while putting up with the unpredictableness of the horses (and the hungry public), I somehow found it a very odd combination: the smell of horses and food at the same time. It’s like setting up a table for two in a stable… So unless you can appreciate the cocktail of hay, horse breath and human sweat (some of those acrobats are truly Cirque de Soleil worthy) while eating, I’d recommend you go see the Pirate’s show.
3. Spend one night in a fancy hotel
Florida is packed with luxurious hotels so it would be a shame to not spend a night in one of them. Here’s two great options. First up is the Biltmore in Coral Gables, a little southwest of downtown Miami. It’s a hotel with a lot of superlatives: it’s said to be one of the most mythical hotels in America, it has one of the world’s largest outdoor swimming pools and … it’s one of the few hotels with a 13th floor… Which of course, is where someone was murdered: Fatty Walsh, a New York gangster. Another famous guest was Al Capone who liked staying at the Presidential suite, and Bill Clinton during his presidency. It’s a popular wedding venue as well.
Another hotel I highly recommend is the Westin Diplomat Resort along South Ocean Drive. The rooms have spectacular views: there’s the city of Miami on one side and the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the other. The lobby, the pool, the restaurants, the architecture; they’re all equally spectacular. Make sure to enjoy the view over Miami at night… it’s breathtaking.
4. Visit the Orlando theme parks
Two of the largest theme parks in Florida are right next to each other, which makes them perfect to combine: Disney World and Universal Studios. Even if you’re not a theme park fan, I can’t imagine not being impressed by the scale of things here. Just walking around is an attraction on itself! With a group of friends I just ran from one attraction to the other – great fun. I liked Universal Studios the best – it’s like reliving ten different movies all at once. There’s the hauntingly surreal Mummy attraction, the 3D Spiderman ride, the Big Hulk rollercoaster etc. At the Disney theme park (it’s actually about five complete theme parks that you can buy tickets for separately), I mainly liked Epcot (the mission into space is a thrill), the Animal Kingdom theme park (gorgeous fauna and flora), the cute interactive shops (it’s like a never-ending Christmas party over there!) and the fireworks.
5. Drive along Collins Avenue
Collins Avenue in Miami probably is the fanciest boulevard in Florida, especially near Sunny Isles beach. The street is nicknamed ‘millionaires row’ because of the high concentration of luxury resorts, boutique hotels and some of the best shopping in town (Victoria’s Secret, Steve Madden, Armani …). The avenue runs parallel to the ocean for about 21 kilometers. Cruise through the boulevard for a genuine Miami vibe: the million dollar cars, the rows of green palm trees that give color to the over the top hotels and apartments (right now there’s a one of a kind Porsche tower being built for about 9 million dollars per condo) and the jet set showing off their designer clothes.
6. Visit NASA in Orlando
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Merritt Island launched the very first Americans into space and the very first humans to the moon… How can you NOT be excited when it turns out you can actually visit the place where not only do they assemble the rockets but also launch people into space? The Space Center has a great visitor centre where you can touch a moon rock, stand underneath the largest rocket built so far, climb aboard some of the capsules and have lunch with a real NASA astronaut: this is the closest you will ever get to space! Read all about it in my previous post here.
7. Take a walk on the historic Newport pier
Miami attracts a lot of fishing enthusiasts. The Newport fishing pier is a historic pier along Miami’s east coast, built in 1936 and designated a historic site in 1982. It’s currently the only public fishing pier in Miami-Dade County and the only pier that provides a unique and fantastic view over the skyscrapers along the coastline. The pier is situated in the prestigious Sunny Isles Beach area in northern Miami Beach (15 minutes from downtown Miami) and stretches 610 feet over the ocean. It was partially destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 but completely rebuilt and reopened in the summer of 2013. It now has a lifeguard observation area and restaurant You can get there via the Pier Park, there’s a public parking at 16501 Collins Avenue.