Florida Rocks – Who Knew?

Our Spring Break came early this year.  We were off for two weeks, before just about anyone else, and we headed down to Florida.

Sunset off the Coast of Long Boat Key

LBK Sunset

I have to be honest:  mostly, I go to Florida because my parents have a condo on Longboat Key, off the west coast of Florida, near Sarasota, so we don’t have to pay for a hotel. Also, they generally leave the fridge pretty well stocked.  All in all, it’s a good deal.  Not to say that it isn’t beautiful and everything – because it is spectacular (if you’ve only hit the east coast of Florida, you’re missing out.) But the truth is, economy wins out.

But this year, we hit all kinds of parts of  Florida. Long Boat Key (Sarasota, really), then Orlando, where we saw Universal Studios, and finally Ft Lauderdale, where I attended the SheStreams conference and the kids went surfing.

First, Long Boat (or LBK, as us insiders like to say): beautiful Gulf Coast beach (Gulf of Mexico, that is.)  Unspoiled beauty due to long standing zoning laws prohibiting skyscrapers, a slow pace, a sophisticated vibe. How about that view?

We took the kids to the Mote Aquarium, strolled in the spectacular Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, and marveled for the bazillionth time at the teeny tiny circus on display at the Ringling Museum.Relaxing, un hurried, and serene.  I even saw dolphins jumping in the gulf just outside my window. Lovely.

Then, we hopped in the car, drove about 2 hours, and hit Orlando.  Not serene.  Not uncrowded, but TONS of fun.  Last year, I went to Orlando as a guest of the CVB with The Getaway Girl. I spent three days finding out that Orlando can be a blast even if you don’t hit the theme parks.

This year, we hit the theme park.

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

The Piazza at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel

Universal Studios Orlando, to be exact.  We stayed at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.  It was lovely, and

cracked me up.  I mean — they dug a bay and put row boats in it.  They built a piazza!  But somehow, it’s not terrifyingly tacky. Not at all.  I kind liked it.  And we had a not overpriced, excellent dinner on the “piazza” Your rather expensive stay includes express passes which grant you early admission to the park, and a boat ride along the faux canal to the park and back – so you don’t have to deal with parking.  A huge plus.

Hogwarts Castle in the Wizarding World of Harr...

Hogwarts Castle in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, an island of Island's Of Adventure in the Universal Orlando Resort Category:Harry Potter images (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for the park itself, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was terrific.  The details, the signature ride, were thrilling.  And there were some other rides we loved, too.  The new Spiderman Experience was technically amazing, the roller coasters are big and scary.  But somehow, it felt more like an amusement park than a theme park.  I guess by that I mean that it didn’t feel like such an “experience.”  I never thought I’d say this – but Disney has just set that bar way up high — and ain’t nobody gonna touch it. (Though Harry Potter world comes close.)

It was the little things — like when I saw the King Tut and Cleopatra characters come out to pose for pictures in the crowd.  My guess is, they had to start at 1pm.  So at 12:55, they were standing around, looking bored, checking their fingernails. The staff overall were helpful, but you got the impression that they were working.  I’m sure that all that incredible enthusiasm and uber-niceness at Disney is forced, too.  But maybe they’re just better at faking it.

The quality of the shows also just couldn’t match up.

That being said, when my daughter fell and cut her knee, they were there in an instant with a first aid kit and got her patched up in no time. And my kids liked it fine. But  they both  missed the magic that is Disney, and preferred it to the technical, commercial Universal Studios Orlando.

One last note about the Loews hotel – when we picked up our rental car there was a hand-written note in it from the valets thanking us and hoping we had a nice stay.  Is that forced, faux enthusiasm?  Maybe.  But I liked it.  Someone sat down and wrote that out in charmingly mediocre handwriting.  Warmed my heart.  It’s the little things, I guess.

Come back tomorrow to find out about how things went in Fort Lauderdale, and why we just might have to go to St Augustine next.


  1. Marge Lewis says

    Don’t miss the Kennedy Space Center next trip to east coast! We winter just below Siesta Key in Pelican Cove, as unlike my mis-pre-conception of Florida as can be. Very low key (Ha!) right off Tamiami. No concrete, no Several friends live in LBK. One has moved to the center of Sarasota of LBK and another closer to St. Armand but still on LBK. But, if you go online, look at Pelican Cove. All kinds of people (though mostly over 50 — but not all) classes, etc. Right on Little Sarasota Bay. You exhaust me — the twins are how old now? Last I saw them they were babes in arms. How about Emily Nussbaum and Nicole Eisenman? Scarsdale does well. and you! Are you still living in NYC (you lucky stiff)? David and Anne (son and dil) moved to Fieldston and will move back to the city when their youngest is out — 2 more years or so. One grandson at NYU and another at Wesleyan. Girls are 16 — one in Nicaragua teaching soccer and the other flitting around the globe.

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