Travel

Florida Trip Xmas/New Year

  • Last Updated:
  • Oct 14th, 2017 5:30 pm
Tags:
[OP]
Sr. Member
Feb 8, 2011
815 posts
261 upvotes
Toronto

Florida Trip Xmas/New Year

Could you all please critique our Florida trip, We are a couple trying to have a relaxing holiday and would like some guidance

Our dates are from Dec 23- Jan 6 , We will be driving from Toronto to Florida with a car rental and our total budget is around 2500$

We would like to go Orlando for Universal Studios , Few days at Miami beach, few days at another beach ( not sure which) and 1 day in Detroit,

Taking the i 95 route
Dec 23 Leave for Orlando, Florida early morning 4 am , at least 12 hour driving staying overnight at a random hotel ( where should we aim for?) (hotel 1)
Dec 24 arriving Orlando hopefully afternoon and relax before Universal the next day (Hotel 2)
Dec 25 Universal Studios (Hotel 2)
Dec 26 Universal Islands of Adventure (Hotel 2)
Dec 27 Leave for Miami in the morning go to (Airbnb1) North or mid beach Relax for the day explore the city
Dec 28 Everglades entire day (Airbnb1)
Dec 29 Key West Entire day (Airbnb1)
Dec 30 Miami Beach (AirBnb2)
Dec 31 Miami Beach (AirBnb2)
Jan 1st Miami Beach (Airbnb2)
Jan 2nd Leave Miami Beach go to another beach (Naples/Daytona?) (Airbnb3)
Jan 3rd Naple/Daytona Beach (AirBnb3)
Jan 4th Leave for Detroit early morning (Hotel 3 midway) via Atlanta
Jan 5th Full day at Detroit
Jan 6th Back to Toronto

It's our first time visiting Miami and our first long road trip so I've been researching and planning best I can

1) Where should we go for the mid way point on our way to Orlando?
2) Should we get the express pass even for 1 day for Universal Studios ? ( Ridiculous expensive)
3) Which beach should we stay in Miami? We are not into parties and Clubs etc, we just want to relax , unwind at a nice , clean , beautiful beach and Airbnb few minutes away from beach
4) Which beach should we go after Miami?
5) Any critique to my itinerary would be appreciated, Is the trip rushed?
6) Our first time using Airbnb anything to look out for?

So far costs have been

400 car rental - booked
400 hotel in Orlando 3 night - booked
500 - universal tickets 2 days- not purchased
250-300 3 days airbnb1 - not booked
400 3 days airbnb2 - not booked
200 2 days airbnb3 - not booked
100 2 days midway hotels - not booked
500 random costs

We are probably going to blow our budget but I am trying to see better/cheaper Airbnb options are available

Any feedback is greatly appreciated
16 replies
Deal Addict
Sep 15, 2008
1598 posts
4147 upvotes
Pawtucket
malbrax wrote: Could you all please critique our Florida trip, We are a couple trying to have a relaxing holiday and would like some guidance

Our dates are from Dec 23- Jan 6 , We will be driving from Toronto to Florida with a car rental and our total budget is around 2500$

We would like to go Orlando for Universal Studios , Few days at Miami beach, few days at another beach ( not sure which) and 1 day in Detroit,

Taking the i 95 route
Dec 23 Leave for Orlando, Florida early morning 4 am , at least 12 hour driving staying overnight at a random hotel ( where should we aim for?) (hotel 1)
Dec 24 arriving Orlando hopefully afternoon and relax before Universal the next day (Hotel 2)
Dec 25 Universal Studios (Hotel 2)
Dec 26 Universal Islands of Adventure (Hotel 2)
Dec 27 Leave for Miami in the morning go to (Airbnb1) North or mid beach Relax for the day explore the city
Dec 28 Everglades entire day (Airbnb1)
Dec 29 Key West Entire day (Airbnb1)
Dec 30 Miami Beach (AirBnb2)
Dec 31 Miami Beach (AirBnb2)
Jan 1st Miami Beach (Airbnb2)
Jan 2nd Leave Miami Beach go to another beach (Naples/Daytona?) (Airbnb3)
Jan 3rd Naple/Daytona Beach (AirBnb3)
Jan 4th Leave for Detroit early morning (Hotel 3 midway) via Atlanta
Jan 5th Full day at Detroit
Jan 6th Back to Toronto

It's our first time visiting Miami and our first long road trip so I've been researching and planning best I can

1) Where should we go for the mid way point on our way to Orlando?
2) Should we get the express pass even for 1 day for Universal Studios ? ( Ridiculous expensive)
3) Which beach should we stay in Miami? We are not into parties and Clubs etc, we just want to relax , unwind at a nice , clean , beautiful beach and Airbnb few minutes away from beach
4) Which beach should we go after Miami?
5) Any critique to my itinerary would be appreciated, Is the trip rushed?
6) Our first time using Airbnb anything to look out for?

So far costs have been

400 car rental - booked
400 hotel in Orlando 3 night - booked
500 - universal tickets 2 days- not purchased
250-300 3 days airbnb1 - not booked
400 3 days airbnb2 - not booked
200 2 days airbnb3 - not booked
100 2 days midway hotels - not booked
500 random costs

We are probably going to blow our budget but I am trying to see better/cheaper Airbnb options are available

Any feedback is greatly appreciated
Can't speak for Miami as I have never been there but we just came back from Orlando so I can provide some feedback on Universal. Both parks are not that large and the lines were not very long for any of the rides. We were able to get on Transformers, Minions, Spiderman, Simpsons with about a 15-20 min wait without the express pass. The Harry Potter area was busy but we barely had to wait at all to try our "Magic Wands" at all the areas on the map. The Hulk single rider line was about a 5 min. wait.
If your plan is to just go on the rides and you have older children, you can actually do both parks in one day if you get the parkhopper and the express pass. The parkhopper will allow you to take the Howarts express between parks. Unless you are a real HP fan, I found the Hogwarts express just meh. Not worth the parkhopper premium if you plan to do 2 days.
We did a 2 day parkhopper but felt, afterwards, that we could have done both parks in one day given the crowds. Don't know what the crowds will be like at Christmas so you may want to check some of the message boards first. Discounted Universal tickets can be purchased on sites like UndercoverTourst. Parking is $20 (Don't get preferred parking for $30) and is a short walk through Universal City Walk to either park.

Orlando has tolls everywhere but traffic is not that bad so I would avoid using them or you buy a Sun pass from the local Pharmacy/Drugstores
Deal Fanatic
User avatar
Dec 27, 2009
7580 posts
4942 upvotes
Victoria, BC
The crowds at the parks will be insane on Christmas (and anytime between then and when schools go back). I wouldn't want to deal with those crowds (and I love Disney/Universal).
Member
Jul 15, 2003
424 posts
187 upvotes
I went to Orlando a few years ago at Christmas time (flew down) and the park was very very busy on Christmas and Boxing day.

Get there at opening and hit the things you want to ASAP. We did the spiderman ride film thing at 10 am and had an hour wait. By mid afternoon it was 2-3 hours. Mind you this was also the year that they opened the Harry Potter portion so it may have been extra busy. You couldn't even get into harry potter section after lunch

Did you check and make sure your rental car is allowed to cross the border? Some are and some are not.

Which hotel did you book in Orlando? I stayed at the extended stay which is a 15 minute walk to universal and it was about $75 cad/ night

If your hotel is close enough to reasonably walk, then don't pay to park at Universal.

In the jurassic park section there is a great restaurant where you get a full rotisserie chicken meal for about $10

If you are thinking of doing a Christmas dinner you may already be too late to book it at many of the buffets offered
Deal Expert
Feb 7, 2017
18409 posts
15937 upvotes
Eastern Ontario
Re - The Keys

At the best of times getting to and from Key West in one day is difficult. The road there, The Overseas Highway is for the most part a 2 lane (one north, one south) that spends the majority of time crossing bridges & causeways... The rest of it on small residential islands where there is lots of local traffic & pedestrians who cross willy nilly from one side of the highway to the other.

The Highway is also accident prone (all that rubber necking... Not to mention impatient folks who take risks passing or end up rear ending others). Plus you have to also contend with the wildlife if you drive back to the mainland after dark (NOT RECOMMENDED). Wildlife comes in 2 forms... The Key Deer and the Drunks. Both can really mess up the drive north.

Google will tell you the drive can be done in just a few hours... But between the slow going, incredible scenery, and frequent stops WORTHWHILE making, realistically one should plan for it being a good part of the day (ie we leave Fort Lauderdale in the AM, and aim for Key West late afternoon... Just to give us enough time to check in, drop our bags in our room and RUN to catch the sunset)

The Keys are NOTHING LIKE the rest of Florida or the Continental USA... They are worlds apart... Far more Caribbean in nature. So even if you could do a day trip, you'd be missing out on WHY people go to The Keys & particularly Key West.

Accommodations in The Keys are notoriously EXPENSIVE... More so during any Holiday Season... The biggest times are Halloween (Fantasy Fest Weeks in Key West) - Thanksgiving - Christmas - New Years - Easter Week / Spring Break. Christmas Week and you aren't going to find much under $ 500 a night (in a normal year). The secret to getting a deal in The Keys is booking long in advance... Most regulars (and there are many) book their next visit as they depart from their current one. Even then prices Christmas Week will be $ 250+ night.

The biggest issue this year in The Keys is Hurricane Irma... She brought a direct hit to the Middle Keys. It will take them months to recover. This means there is a HUGE Shortage of accommodations caused by places that were destroyed, as well as space is being made available for both Recovery Personnel & Residents who cannot live in their homes are staying wherever they can... Many hotel spaces, B&Bs etc have allotted spaces to locals in a humanitarian way. This means that tourist spaces are at a premium... And prices have gone thru the roof ($ 700+ is not uncommon now for Christmas Week)

Add in the fact that driving is a bigger mess than normal... With stoppages / detours for road / utility repairs & lots more truck traffic as the destruction mess is still be trucked away.

My best advice... Skip The Keys this year. And plan a visit when you can dedicate some serious time (and resources) to planning it right after the whole area is in better shape to treat you right and show you WHY this area is so phenomenal.
Deal Expert
Feb 7, 2017
18409 posts
15937 upvotes
Eastern Ontario
Re - Everglades

Don't do it as a side trip from Miami. Makes more sense to do it as a stop enroute to the Gulf Coast. Leave the Atlantic Coast early in the AM, go to the Everglades & then overnight on the Gulf Side (Naples / Fort Myers Beach area).

The Airboat Adventures are all along Hwy 41 (the Real Alligator Alley ... Vs I-75 which also uses the name Alligator Alley on its east west portion). Hwy 41 is 2 lanes, bordered on both sides by Everglade Swamps... You'll see wildlife along it... Alligators of all sizes sunning themselves. So much so that it is not unusual for them to venture out on the road (hot asphalt) after dark... Another road not to drive after dark. Don't be THAT TOURIST who stops the car to get out to take pics besides blocking the Hwy, Gators can are fast... They can outrun you.

Instead, stop at the Park Rest Stop etc (Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Centre) where you can see the Gators up close safely from a bridge over a swampy creek.
Deal Expert
Feb 7, 2017
18409 posts
15937 upvotes
Eastern Ontario
Re - Miami Beach

Quite frankly... For the most part just another American large city overrun with tons of traffic! The best bits here are the Art Deco area and South Beach... But you can see all that with just a day or two. I think you've planned too much time for Miami IMO

On the other hand...

Fort Lauderdale & Hollywood Beach are both worth some time. Both have great beaches plus lots to see. Fort Lauderdale's water taxi is a must do. You pay for a taxi ride, and at the same time the Drivers give FREE Commentary about everything on the inland waterway... Hotels, Restaurants, Bizs, and MEGA MANSIONS & SUPER YACHTS and who owns them, and how they got rich. Very interesting.
Deal Expert
Feb 7, 2017
18409 posts
15937 upvotes
Eastern Ontario
Re - Orlando & The Parks

We love the Orlando area... But be aware that anytime kids are out of school the parks are packed... Christmas, Easter & Spring Breaks are crazy busy. Doesn't mean we have not done it, cause we have, just that it in itself can be an exhausting endeavor all those crowds & waiting on line.

If you are in the Orlando area for more than 1 day... Consider a side trip to Cape Caniveral's Space Centre on the coast. Not far and incredibly interesting.

Or combine it with your visit / stay in Daytona Beach. The Beach at Daytona is iconic cause you can drive on it. The City is not the hot spot it used to be, but it has recently been cleaned up & renovated, so fewer Hotel Dives, and more reasonably priced chains.

Another spot worth a looksee nearby on the Atlantic Coast is historic St Augustine... America's oldest city (settled by the Spanish not long after Quebec City was settled in the early 1600s)

And if you are a golfer... Consider dropping by TPC Sawgrass (open to visitors) in Ponte Vedra to explore the public rooms in the Clubhouse... You'll be greeted / taken around by a TPC Ambassador and see the iconic last few Golf Holes from a golf cart, if the course is not hosting an event.

TPC Sawgrass is part of the bigger nearby World Golf Hall of Fame near St Augustine... A museum that is a must do for any golf enthusiast. Tons to see (like every trophy for every golf major world wide... They reside here year-round) and interesting displays & interactive exhibits. Plan a good part of the day as you'll want to see it all, play the mini putt course, and grab a light lunch (pub food) at Caddyshack the Murray Bros. Restaurant
Deal Expert
Feb 7, 2017
18409 posts
15937 upvotes
Eastern Ontario
Re - Beach Life

Daytona is a must see IMO, even if just to stop by enroute to somewhere's else. No matter where we go in Florida, we get off of I-95 to drive on the beach, for us, no trip to Florida is complete with out it.

Hollywood & Fort Lauderdale beachs are some of the best in South Florida... And being that far south, 2 of the warmest you'll find at Christmas time.

Gulf Coast Beaches are also great ... the Gulf of Mexico is a lot more shallow than the Atlantic, so if there has been a sell of warm weather (wind bling the right way) in December then the Gulf Coast Beaches can retain their heat farther north than on the Atlantic side.

Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach... And the whole peninsula that runs from St Pete Beach to Clearwater is noteworthy.

But the beaches here are noticbly different from the east coast... Not as sandy. More shells / crushed shells. So bring flip flops or water shoes.

The nice thing about this area is it is very scenic... The drive up I-275 across the bridges that cross over the 2 arms of Tampa Bay is a must do. Have a camera / video recorder handy, cause the view is spectacular.

This area of Florida is sports crazy. Tampa Bay is a great place to catch Hockey, Baseball or Football.

And no visit is complete without a trolley ride from downtown to Ybor City the Cuban-Italian-Latino historic area. Enjoy a Mojito, Cuban Coffee or Cigar... In one of the many streetwise Cafes.
Deal Expert
Feb 7, 2017
18409 posts
15937 upvotes
Eastern Ontario
Re - Drive

It's a long hike to Orlando from Toronto... You mention I-95, have you worked out your route to it yet?

I-95 generally has less weather issues than the other north south routes, but crap can happen.

Going in winter you have to take into account that weather could cause issues for you on the drive down or back... Be it snow or freezing rain. Have you considered how you'll handle this if it happens / is forecast ... Can you get away early, or get home later?

Cause of this we don't book our going down / driving home hotels in advance... Or if we do, we pick stuff we can cancel fairly last minute (chain hotels).

Prep your vehicle... Make sure she is in good shape for the drive beforehand. Check your wipers, pack extra squirts. Pack along a Winter Emergency Car Kit. If you have snow tires... Leave them on. If you have an older vehicle consider a CAA Membership. All in you will put on probably somewhere between 3000 & 5000 Kms on this trip.

Plan for rest stops during the drive. I-95 is the busiest Interstate in America, and that can be stressful... Especially as the volume continues to build the further south you go. Lol, you no doubt will notice a license plate pattern when it comes to driving styles... Some states seem to have more agressive drivers than others, while others seem to uphold the "daydreaming here in the fast lane" mantra. And trucks, well they just rule the road... They take agressive to a whole other level. So stay alert. If you can take a break, stretch, get a coffee, change drivers all the better. Know your limit. For us 12 hours on the road (including 2 drivers & breaks) is the max for us... We are far more comfy at the 6 to 8 hour range. Makes for a longer trip to & fro (day 3 sees us in Orlando) but safer.

ADD -

Turnpikes is the most common US terminology for Toll Roads. They generally can save you time (less traffic) although there is the cost. Our fave is the Florida Turnpike that parallels the I-95 from Fort Pierce to south of Hollywood. The Florida Turnpike is a nice alternative to the I-95 if your route is to cover a large distance. It is a pay as you go system... Just get into the CASH Lanes vs those marked for SunPass holders.

There are other toll roads / expressways around Miami, but a good lot of them are set up like Hwy 407 (Pay by Plate Electronic Tolls) this is a REAL HEADACHE as far as cost, and more so if you are driving a rental (already expensive tolls could more than double with admin fees imposed by the Toll Co PLUS the Rental Car Co). For ways / roads to avoid... I suggest you stop at the Florida Visitor Centre once you cross the Border from Georgia into Florida for maps & helpful advice (toll booth free / electronic cameras are expanding in the Miami area all the time... They'll have up to date info)
Last edited by PointsHubby on Oct 13th, 2017 5:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Deal Addict
Dec 6, 2006
2485 posts
871 upvotes
malbrax wrote: Could you all please critique our Florida trip, We are a couple trying to have a relaxing holiday and would like some guidance

Our dates are from Dec 23- Jan 6 , We will be driving from Toronto to Florida with a car rental and our total budget is around 2500$

We would like to go Orlando for Universal Studios , Few days at Miami beach, few days at another beach ( not sure which) and 1 day in Detroit,

Taking the i 95 route
Dec 23 Leave for Orlando, Florida early morning 4 am , at least 12 hour driving staying overnight at a random hotel ( where should we aim for?) (hotel 1)
Dec 24 arriving Orlando hopefully afternoon and relax before Universal the next day (Hotel 2)
Dec 25 Universal Studios (Hotel 2)
Dec 26 Universal Islands of Adventure (Hotel 2)
Dec 27 Leave for Miami in the morning go to (Airbnb1) North or mid beach Relax for the day explore the city
Dec 28 Everglades entire day (Airbnb1)
Dec 29 Key West Entire day (Airbnb1)
Dec 30 Miami Beach (AirBnb2)
Dec 31 Miami Beach (AirBnb2)
Jan 1st Miami Beach (Airbnb2)
Jan 2nd Leave Miami Beach go to another beach (Naples/Daytona?) (Airbnb3)
Jan 3rd Naple/Daytona Beach (AirBnb3)
Jan 4th Leave for Detroit early morning (Hotel 3 midway) via Atlanta
Jan 5th Full day at Detroit
Jan 6th Back to Toronto

It's our first time visiting Miami and our first long road trip so I've been researching and planning best I can

1) Where should we go for the mid way point on our way to Orlando?
2) Should we get the express pass even for 1 day for Universal Studios ? ( Ridiculous expensive)
3) Which beach should we stay in Miami? We are not into parties and Clubs etc, we just want to relax , unwind at a nice , clean , beautiful beach and Airbnb few minutes away from beach
4) Which beach should we go after Miami?
5) Any critique to my itinerary would be appreciated, Is the trip rushed?
6) Our first time using Airbnb anything to look out for?

So far costs have been

400 car rental - booked
400 hotel in Orlando 3 night - booked
500 - universal tickets 2 days- not purchased
250-300 3 days airbnb1 - not booked
400 3 days airbnb2 - not booked
200 2 days airbnb3 - not booked
100 2 days midway hotels - not booked
500 random costs

We are probably going to blow our budget but I am trying to see better/cheaper Airbnb options are available

Any feedback is greatly appreciated
If you get a nasty nor'easter around the holidays it could throw a wrench into your plans as well.
Deal Fanatic
Nov 24, 2013
6240 posts
2980 upvotes
Kingston, ON
I’ve never done a theme park on Christmas, but by reputation they’re extremely busy. I’d find some sort of Universal-specific message board that can help you plan out the park days. I just did all of Universal I needed to see in a one day park-to-park. Waits weren’t bad; no Express pass needed. But that’s October.

For Christmas Eve as your main traveling day, you’re not just vulnerable to winter weather but to Christmas traffic jams. I’d consider bypassing the DC area entirely, or at least know the routes if you have to.

If Universal is really your only focus in Orlando, I think they have some reasonable hotel+park-ticket packages at nearby (on-site, really) hotels. People staying there may get Express Passes automatically, if I remember right. May be worth looking into if your other hotel res is cancellable.
[OP]
Sr. Member
Feb 8, 2011
815 posts
261 upvotes
Toronto
SecretSauce wrote: I went to Orlando a few years ago at Christmas time (flew down) and the park was very very busy on Christmas and Boxing day.

Get there at opening and hit the things you want to ASAP. We did the spiderman ride film thing at 10 am and had an hour wait. By mid afternoon it was 2-3 hours. Mind you this was also the year that they opened the Harry Potter portion so it may have been extra busy. You couldn't even get into harry potter section after lunch

Did you check and make sure your rental car is allowed to cross the border? Some are and some are not.

Which hotel did you book in Orlando? I stayed at the extended stay which is a 15 minute walk to universal and it was about $75 cad/ night

If your hotel is close enough to reasonably walk, then don't pay to park at Universal.

In the jurassic park section there is a great restaurant where you get a full rotisserie chicken meal for about $10

If you are thinking of doing a Christmas dinner you may already be too late to book it at many of the buffets offered
I am using the crowd Calender on UnderCovertourist which shows a check mark for Universal studios so hopefully the crowds are ok, I will be looking at the possibility of getting the express pass for the one day, Would it be possible to finish both parks with the express pass in one day? I rather use the extra day for somewhere else in Orlando.

Our hotel is Rosen Inn International, It has free parking, buffet breakfast, shuttle buses to the Universal studios all for 130$ per day . Thanks for the tip for the chicken meal and no we don't plan on doing the Christmas dinner, We are just going for the Rides

PointsHubby wrote: Re - The Keys

At the best of times getting to and from Key West in one day is difficult. The road there, The Overseas Highway is for the most part a 2 lane (one north, one south) that spends the majority of time crossing bridges & causeways... The rest of it on small residential islands where there is lots of local traffic & pedestrians who cross willy nilly from one side of the highway to the other.

The Highway is also accident prone (all that rubber necking... Not to mention impatient folks who take risks passing or end up rear ending others). Plus you have to also contend with the wildlife if you drive back to the mainland after dark (NOT RECOMMENDED). Wildlife comes in 2 forms... The Key Deer and the Drunks. Both can really mess up the drive north.

Google will tell you the drive can be done in just a few hours... But between the slow going, incredible scenery, and frequent stops WORTHWHILE making, realistically one should plan for it being a good part of the day (ie we leave Fort Lauderdale in the AM, and aim for Key West late afternoon... Just to give us enough time to check in, drop our bags in our room and RUN to catch the sunset)

The Keys are NOTHING LIKE the rest of Florida or the Continental USA... They are worlds apart... Far more Caribbean in nature. So even if you could do a day trip, you'd be missing out on WHY people go to The Keys & particularly Key West.

Accommodations in The Keys are notoriously EXPENSIVE... More so during any Holiday Season... The biggest times are Halloween (Fantasy Fest Weeks in Key West) - Thanksgiving - Christmas - New Years - Easter Week / Spring Break. Christmas Week and you aren't going to find much under $ 500 a night (in a normal year). The secret to getting a deal in The Keys is booking long in advance... Most regulars (and there are many) book their next visit as they depart from their current one. Even then prices Christmas Week will be $ 250+ night.

The biggest issue this year in The Keys is Hurricane Irma... She brought a direct hit to the Middle Keys. It will take them months to recover. This means there is a HUGE Shortage of accommodations caused by places that were destroyed, as well as space is being made available for both Recovery Personnel & Residents who cannot live in their homes are staying wherever they can... Many hotel spaces, B&Bs etc have allotted spaces to locals in a humanitarian way. This means that tourist spaces are at a premium... And prices have gone thru the roof ($ 700+ is not uncommon now for Christmas Week)

Add in the fact that driving is a bigger mess than normal... With stoppages / detours for road / utility repairs & lots more truck traffic as the destruction mess is still be trucked away.

My best advice... Skip The Keys this year. And plan a visit when you can dedicate some serious time (and resources) to planning it right after the whole area is in better shape to treat you right and show you WHY this area is so phenomenal.

Pointshubby, Thank you for all your informative posts. I really appreciate all your feedback

If Key west cannot be done in a day trip, I don't mind spending overnight midway at an Airbnb , We would also be leaving early ( 4 am or earlier to avoid traffic) , I am hoping the hurricane damage has subsidized by December as I really want to experience the Keys , Where we should stay as a midway point on our way to Keys Islamorada ?

PointsHubby wrote: Re - Everglades

Don't do it as a side trip from Miami. Makes more sense to do it as a stop enroute to the Gulf Coast. Leave the Atlantic Coast early in the AM, go to the Everglades & then overnight on the Gulf Side (Naples / Fort Myers Beach area).

The Airboat Adventures are all along Hwy 41 (the Real Alligator Alley ... Vs I-75 which also uses the name Alligator Alley on its east west portion). Hwy 41 is 2 lanes, bordered on both sides by Everglade Swamps... You'll see wildlife along it... Alligators of all sizes sunning themselves. So much so that it is not unusual for them to venture out on the road (hot asphalt) after dark... Another road not to drive after dark. Don't be THAT TOURIST who stops the car to get out to take pics besides blocking the Hwy, Gators can are fast... They can outrun you.

Instead, stop at the Park Rest Stop etc (Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Centre) where you can see the Gators up close safely from a bridge over a swampy creek.

So it would be to my understanding we can finish the Everglades in less than half a day? Just to plan our trip better, how should we plan our route? Would Toronto to Orlando,
Orlando to Naples , Naples to Key west via Everglade, Key West to Miami make more sense? Would this be too rushed?

PointsHubby wrote: Re - Miami Beach

Quite frankly... For the most part just another American large city overrun with tons of traffic! The best bits here are the Art Deco area and South Beach... But you can see all that with just a day or two. I think you've planned too much time for Miami IMO

On the other hand...

Fort Lauderdale & Hollywood Beach are both worth some time. Both have great beaches plus lots to see. Fort Lauderdale's water taxi is a must do. You pay for a taxi ride, and at the same time the Drivers give FREE Commentary about everything on the inland waterway... Hotels, Restaurants, Bizs, and MEGA MANSIONS & SUPER YACHTS and who owns them, and how they got rich. Very interesting.
How many days should we aim for Miami? Goal of the trip is to relax at a nice beach , If I need to cut down few places I don't mind. What would your trip look like? where all would you go? to minimize moving around and maximing beach time?

PointsHubby wrote: Re - Orlando & The Parks

We love the Orlando area... But be aware that anytime kids are out of school the parks are packed... Christmas, Easter & Spring Breaks are crazy busy. Doesn't mean we have not done it, cause we have, just that it in itself can be an exhausting endeavor all those crowds & waiting on line.

If you are in the Orlando area for more than 1 day... Consider a side trip to Cape Caniveral's Space Centre on the coast. Not far and incredibly interesting.

Or combine it with your visit / stay in Daytona Beach. The Beach at Daytona is iconic cause you can drive on it. The City is not the hot spot it used to be, but it has recently been cleaned up & renovated, so fewer Hotel Dives, and more reasonably priced chains.

Another spot worth a looksee nearby on the Atlantic Coast is historic St Augustine... America's oldest city (settled by the Spanish not long after Quebec City was settled in the early 1600s)

And if you are a golfer... Consider dropping by TPC Sawgrass (open to visitors) in Ponte Vedra to explore the public rooms in the Clubhouse... You'll be greeted / taken around by a TPC Ambassador and see the iconic last few Golf Holes from a golf cart, if the course is not hosting an event.

TPC Sawgrass is part of the bigger nearby World Golf Hall of Fame near St Augustine... A museum that is a must do for any golf enthusiast. Tons to see (like every trophy for every golf major world wide... They reside here year-round) and interesting displays & interactive exhibits. Plan a good part of the day as you'll want to see it all, play the mini putt course, and grab a light lunch (pub food) at Caddyshack the Murray Bros. Restaurant
We are in Orlando for 24 evening , 25 and the 26th. We were looking at one park a day minus the express pass. If both parks can be done in 1 day with the express pass we would love to get them over with and save money. Rest of the day Orlando can go to Space centre and maybe Daytona beach if not far..

Not a golfer so don't care for it, St Augustine would just add more and more rush to the trip...
[OP]
Sr. Member
Feb 8, 2011
815 posts
261 upvotes
Toronto
PointsHubby wrote: Re - Beach Life

Daytona is a must see IMO, even if just to stop by enroute to somewhere's else. No matter where we go in Florida, we get off of I-95 to drive on the beach, for us, no trip to Florida is complete with out it.

Hollywood & Fort Lauderdale beachs are some of the best in South Florida... And being that far south, 2 of the warmest you'll find at Christmas time.

Gulf Coast Beaches are also great ... the Gulf of Mexico is a lot more shallow than the Atlantic, so if there has been a sell of warm weather (wind bling the right way) in December then the Gulf Coast Beaches can retain their heat farther north than on the Atlantic side.

Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach... And the whole peninsula that runs from St Pete Beach to Clearwater is noteworthy.

But the beaches here are noticbly different from the east coast... Not as sandy. More shells / crushed shells. So bring flip flops or water shoes.

The nice thing about this area is it is very scenic... The drive up I-275 across the bridges that cross over the 2 arms of Tampa Bay is a must do. Have a camera / video recorder handy, cause the view is spectacular.

This area of Florida is sports crazy. Tampa Bay is a great place to catch Hockey, Baseball or Football.

And no visit is complete without a trolley ride from downtown to Ybor City the Cuban-Italian-Latino historic area. Enjoy a Mojito, Cuban Coffee or Cigar... In one of the many streetwise Cafes.
We will drive by Daytona for a quick drive on our way to Orlando stopping for maybe few hours , For a couple looking to relax away from Night life, parties etc. should we aim for Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale beach for our Airbnb? So a good idea would be Daytona on our way to Orlando, then Naples for the beach / Everglades, Key west and then Fort Lauderdale or Holly wood beach? We want a nice sandy beach



PointsHubby wrote: Re - Drive

It's a long hike to Orlando from Toronto... You mention I-95, have you worked out your route to it yet?

I-95 generally has less weather issues than the other north south routes, but crap can happen.

Going in winter you have to take into account that weather could cause issues for you on the drive down or back... Be it snow or freezing rain. Have you considered how you'll handle this if it happens / is forecast ... Can you get away early, or get home later?

Cause of this we don't book our going down / driving home hotels in advance... Or if we do, we pick stuff we can cancel fairly last minute (chain hotels).

Prep your vehicle... Make sure she is in good shape for the drive beforehand. Check your wipers, pack extra squirts. Pack along a Winter Emergency Car Kit. If you have snow tires... Leave them on. If you have an older vehicle consider a CAA Membership. All in you will put on probably somewhere between 3000 & 5000 Kms on this trip.

Plan for rest stops during the drive. I-95 is the busiest Interstate in America, and that can be stressful... Especially as the volume continues to build the further south you go. Lol, you no doubt will notice a license plate pattern when it comes to driving styles... Some states seem to have more agressive drivers than others, while others seem to uphold the "daydreaming here in the fast lane" mantra. And trucks, well they just rule the road... They take agressive to a whole other level. So stay alert. If you can take a break, stretch, get a coffee, change drivers all the better. Know your limit. For us 12 hours on the road (including 2 drivers & breaks) is the max for us... We are far more comfy at the 6 to 8 hour range. Makes for a longer trip to & fro (day 3 sees us in Orlando) but safer.

ADD -

Turnpikes is the most common US terminology for Toll Roads. They generally can save you time (less traffic) although there is the cost. Our fave is the Florida Turnpike that parallels the I-95 from Fort Pierce to south of Hollywood. The Florida Turnpike is a nice alternative to the I-95 if your route is to cover a large distance. It is a pay as you go system... Just get into the CASH Lanes vs those marked for SunPass holders.

There are other toll roads / expressways around Miami, but a good lot of them are set up like Hwy 407 (Pay by Plate Electronic Tolls) this is a REAL HEADACHE as far as cost, and more so if you are driving a rental (already expensive tolls could more than double with admin fees imposed by the Toll Co PLUS the Rental Car Co). For ways / roads to avoid... I suggest you stop at the Florida Visitor Centre once you cross the Border from Georgia into Florida for maps & helpful advice (toll booth free / electronic cameras are expanding in the Miami area all the time... They'll have up to date info)

We will just GPS our route and if take the i 95 and stop around the 12 hour mark , will just at a random motel or inn not pre booking anything , We are leaving at 4 am on Dec 23 to avoid as much traffic and ensure we drive during the day only, A day here and there is ok we are adding some buffers ( leaving early and arriving early home) We are renting via Budget, I am hoping we get a decent car, not sure how it works with rental if it breaks down but I'm sure there are coverages in place. I have confirmed with them we are allowed to cross the border with the car. How would I know which toll roads has the Electronic tolls to avoid? Can I set up my GPS to avoid them? Don't want to rely on a physical map to avoid them.

I 95 would be the best route if we have bad weather? I was under the impression it would be the i 75 or i 77. Is i 95 the best route if we get bad weather?

Mike15 wrote: I’ve never done a theme park on Christmas, but by reputation they’re extremely busy. I’d find some sort of Universal-specific message board that can help you plan out the park days. I just did all of Universal I needed to see in a one day park-to-park. Waits weren’t bad; no Express pass needed. But that’s October.

For Christmas Eve as your main traveling day, you’re not just vulnerable to winter weather but to Christmas traffic jams. I’d consider bypassing the DC area entirely, or at least know the routes if you have to.

If Universal is really your only focus in Orlando, I think they have some reasonable hotel+park-ticket packages at nearby (on-site, really) hotels. People staying there may get Express Passes automatically, if I remember right. May be worth looking into if your other hotel res is cancellable.

Undercover tourist has a crowd calendar the days I will be going are extremely busy , I am getting worried lol. We looked at the hotels which are starting at around 454 USD per night which have the express pass , Might be the same if we were to include base ticket and express pass ticket for 1 day.. I am still working out the details, my hotel is 130 cad a day with breakfast and all , I am still debating if we can finish both parks in a day with express pass then It would be worth to take 1 night of the hotel and make the most use of the express pass
Deal Expert
Aug 2, 2001
17115 posts
7466 upvotes
We went during a similar time and wanted to stay on South Beach. AirBNBs were either expensive or refusing our bookings so we ended up at the Hotel Gaythering. My wife and I clearly did not "fit" but there was little to no partying going on during our stay and it was like any other hotel, just with some interesting wall art and items for purchase in the lobby.

We used a great car park about 10 minutes away (near the convention centre, I can get more specifics if needed) and walked everything in South Beach (to the beach, the Art Deco tour (which is great), had an amazingly good/cheap breakfast place across the street, etc.). As first timers to the area we wanted to stay in South Beach itself and not the north, the hotel ended up being the cheapest option.


If you are driving you can pickup a toll booth pass (sticker you put on your window) at CVS for $5. You load it up with some money and then just refund it when you are done. It was the cheapest way for us to travel around, and we only ended up spending a couple bucks on tolls (mostly wrong turns). But with the refund option available we just put $10 or $15 on it.
Deal Expert
Feb 7, 2017
18409 posts
15937 upvotes
Eastern Ontario
malbrax wrote:
Pointshubby, Thank you for all your informative posts. I really appreciate all your feedback

If Key west cannot be done in a day trip, I don't mind spending overnight midway at an Airbnb , We would also be leaving early ( 4 am or earlier to avoid traffic) , I am hoping the hurricane damage has subsidized by December as I really want to experience the Keys , Where we should stay as a midway point on our way to Keys Islamorada ?
Glad to help.

And there in lies the problem... The Middle Keys got hit the hardest. We are talking whole areas where very little is anywhere close to what used to be.

Key West fared the best of all the keys. The Middle Keys never had a lot of accommodations to begin with, as most folks want to be in either Key West or Key Largo where all the happening stuff is. The Middle Keys are more residential (where average folks live who work across The Keys) and are known for their Fishing Operations... A good lot of which have been indeed wiped out (ie Islamorada is considered one of the best Deep Sea Fishing Ports in the world... A lot of those boats & docks are now gone). Middle Keys had a lot of affordable B&Bs & Rentals before the storm... Now a lot of them are GONE ENTIRELY or severely damaged (wind, storm surge, etc). This is also the area where whatever other accommodations there is are being used by locals & recovery personnel as a base.

We stay in both Key West and elsewhere in The Keys when we drive down from Fort Lauderdale. Several nights in KW, and one on the way down in Islamorada, and one on the way up in Key Largo. Our fave spot in Islamorada is Holiday Isle / Post Card Inn with its iconic Tiki Bar & Deep Sea Fishing Port... All gone. The Hotel itself is concrete... So it will come back, but it will be months from now

My best info is for you to join the TripAdvisor Community, and read thru / post your questions on The Keys & Key West Forum. There are folks there giving first hand info every day. Do tell them your dates, and one day plan & your budget so they can advise you on what realistically be done / expected at this time

The first time we went to The Keys was over Christmas 10+ years ago. We fell in love with the area, so much so that our one day stay turned into 4 (costly). Christmas & New Years Week is one of Key West's busiest times.. Now we avoid that timeframe.

I still say you should give The Keys a pass this year considering your extremely tight timeframe and budget (in a normal year, if you had more time or money, and were this far into October, I'd be cheering ya on... But this is not a normal year).

I stick with my recomendation, that you should plan to visit when you have more time. For one thing, the nightly Sunset Cermony in KW is a must do... As is the bar & music scene. So ya really gotta stay over on the island. You should plan to visit when you have more time. Having a long range plan means your money will go much farther and you'll also get to see all that The Keys has to offer in a far better light ...
So it would be to my understanding we can finish the Everglades in less than half a day? Just to plan our trip better, how should we plan our route? Would Toronto to Orlando,
Orlando to Naples , Naples to Key west via Everglade, Key West to Miami make more sense? Would this be too rushed?
Not much in the Everglades for a visitor except for the Air Boat Tours. Then continue on Hwy 41 / Alligator Alley to the other side of the State.

Quite frankly doesn't matter which direction you circle the state. Although we personally go down the East Coast & return up the West Coast... For us our fave beaches are on the Atlantic side (this preference is personal... Just as many folks prefer the Gulf). So in our case we want to get there first.

No matter which way you go from Orlando, at some point you are going to end up on I-4. That interstate is almost always a zoo as it is the major east west route across middle Florida. We intentionally avoid it by most trips skipping Orlando, and after Tampa heading north on the I-75 towards I-10 / Jacksonville.

How many days should we aim for Miami? Goal of the trip is to relax at a nice beach , If I need to cut down few places I don't mind. What would your trip look like? where all would you go? to minimize moving around and maximing beach time?
For us, our aim is always The Keys, whether we fly or drive. So we usually start with a few nights in Ft Lauderdale. When we drive down to KW we aim for Islamorada for lunch, or an overnight, followed by several nights in KW. Then a night in Key Largo, another in Ft Lauderdale before flying out.

If we drive... After Key Largo we usually spend a few nights on the gulf... Divided between Fort Myers & St Pete / Clearwater. After that a night in either Tampa, Daytona or St Augustine area (depends on when we need to be back home... Cause for us we use up a week on just getting to & from Florida with 3 or 4 days each way).
We are in Orlando for 24 evening , 25 and the 26th. We were looking at one park a day minus the express pass. If both parks can be done in 1 day with the express pass we would love to get them over with and save money. Rest of the day Orlando can go to Space centre and maybe Daytona beach if not far..

Not a golfer so don't care for it, St Augustine would just add more and more rush to the trip...
Orlando to the coast is not far, whether you go east to Cape Canaveral or northeast to Daytona Beach (depends on I-4 traffic). East to Cape C.

By the looks of things your Orlando days are going to be tight enough... So maybe it will be just a case of a drive on Daytona Beach enroute to Orlando.

Top