Christmas vacation

Chris_MEOctober 4, 2006

We've never been to Florida and would like to plan a trip during the week between Christmas and New Year's. We have three teenage children who like the beach. They want warm weather and clear blue water!! Any suggestions on where to go and where to stay? Is it better to rent a condo or to stay in a hotel? Any suggestions and advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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St. George Island is really nice, but it is on the panhandle, and I've been there at New Year's when it was having snow flurries(this was extremely rare I'm told). The average min/max temp in Pensacola which is close to St. George is 59/77 in December. I think you should probably look into south Florida to get somewhat warm weather. The average min/max temp in Miami in Dec is 69/83 and for Key West is 73/83. The average water temp for the Gulf in the Key West area in Dec. is 72 and for the Atlantic in the Miami area is 73. We prefer to rent houses, but that's because we like to go to St. George which only has one hotel I believe on the entire island. We also usually go with another family, and we all have young/very young children, so a house is usually easier than a hotel where we'd have to eat every meal out. St. George is a very quite place without much to do other than ride bikes, sit on the beach, or go on some of the local fishing/oyster boat tours. It's for laying back and relaxing, so teens might be rather bored.

Since you have teens, you'll probably want to look at hotels or condos because they are in the middle of all the action. Hotels and condos are about the same as far as location, pools, and other community amenities in most areas, but in condos you'll have actual bedrooms and a kitchen(a few hotels offer suites with kitchens as well). Some condos will have more of a resort type feel, but some won't. You'll have to check that on a case by case basis.

I've never stayed in Miami, but I have driven through, and we have gone down from Ft. Lauderdale to eat at the Hardrock cafe there(we collect the glasses). It has a lot of crazy areas, and some areas not so crazy. I don't think I'd want to take my teens to the beach there(I'm sure others will feel different about that). It is on the Atlantic though, and I think the Gulf side is nicer for the beach. The sand tends to be whiter and the water clearer on the Gulf. I wouldn't be getting in the water in Dec, but if you/your kids would then the Gulf doesn't have any waves for surfing, but boogie boards work nicely some days. The Atlantic doesn't have huge waves, but some people do surf on the Atlantic side.

Fort Meyers is in south Florida at about the same place as Miami, but on the Gulf side. I've never been there either.

The Tampa area which is a little north of Fort Meyers has some really neat neat towns. I like Clearwater, and it has a good many shops and activities to do. It isn't completely wild, but it still has some fun things to do.

Ft. Lauderdale is just north of Miami, but it is more family oriented. It has lots and lots of things to do, and you can drive to Miami for the day or for dinner if you want.

I've been to several other cities in Florida on vacation as well when I was growing up. What type of area are you looking for? I hope this helps answer some questions for you. It really depends on if you think you'll really want to get into the water, if you are expecting fairly warm weather, and what type of activities your family enjoys.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2006 at 11:12AM
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Re: the hotel vs condo question- depends. Yeah I know not a great answer. If your condo is near where the action is, you could save a lot of money eating there for breakfast and lunch at least instead of a restaurant. But if the condo is too far away from your daily activities, you won't want to drive back and forth and end up paying more for a condo and not saving anything in dining.

I'm a HUGE fan of South Beach, but have never been there in tourist season (aka winter). I've always gone in end of June-July. The crowds when we go are nil.

We stay at Greenview, which is a small Art Deco hotel 2 blocks from the beach and 1 block from Lincoln Road Mall. It's quieter than right on the beach road, but still close to the action. We are ahem, frugal, and stay in the economy rooms, which have the tiniest bathrooms imaginable. I haven't seen their suites or other rooms. They also don't have their own parking, but there is public parking right across the street, for a small fee.

The Lincoln Road Mall is an outdoor street full of cool shops and so many interesting restaurants there's no way to sample them all. Most have outdoor seating which provides a great view for another of my favorite SB activities- people watching! Just around the corner is Ocean Drive which has even more nice restaurants, clubs, and of course the beach walk.

I should warn you that conservative types may find the fashion and lifestyles in SB a bit risque. You will see people wearing outfits that leave nothing to the imagination. You will see all kinds of alternative lifestyles. If you don't want your kids exposed to that type of thing, then SB probably isn't the ideal spot for you. The other thing is that you will hear more Spanish than English being spoken. Again if that bothers you, probably shouldn't go there.

There is a ton of things to do besides the beach, shops, restaurants. The Miami MetroZoo is a short drive away and is really quite a nice cageless zoo. That makes a good day if you're into that type of thing. The Seaquarium can be skipped- it's overpriced and underfun despite the dolphin shows starring Flipper. I had a great time hanging out for a day in Little Havana. There's a huge Cuban record store; some of the staff speaks passable English, and they were very helpful in getting me to spend a couple hundred dollars in new Cuban Jazz. There are also some old cigar shops that are worth a visit if anything for historical purposes. Plus the open market grocery stands.

The only thing I wouldn't be too sure about is going over Christmas. There are a lot of Christmas and Easter Catholics in Miami, so many things may be closed beyond the obvious Christmas and New Year's days. You'd have to do a bit of research on that subject. I'd imagine that being within tourist season you wouldn't find too many things closed though.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2006 at 6:22PM
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Obviously I'm too late to help with this year, but maybe this will help for a future trip.

Our family rented a house on Anna Maria Island, about an hour's drive from the Tampa airport, in December a few years ago. It was wonderful. The house was just a couple of blocks from the beach, and it fronted on the bay with a large dock and a small swimming pool (solar heated.) We only used the pool once because we preferred to fish off the dock and collect shells on the beach. The master bedroom, on the top floor, had a jacuzzi set into a bay window overlooking the water, which was wonderful for long soaks while enjoying the view. There were terrific restaurants within 10 - 15 minutes of the house, and we saw some nice shops but didn't check them out. Our teens went to a movie one night, but they really preferred to stay at the house or the beach.

We've rented houses in several parts of FL including St. George Island, and they've been wonderful vacations. Another place we've rented is the WDW/Orlando area, where "vacation villas" are amazingly cheap. For about the cost of a room at one of WDW's deluxe resorts, you can find a 5 - 7 bedroom, 3 - 4 bath, house with a swimming pool, spa, games room (usually with a pool table, tv, and game system) and fully outfitted kitchen. We try to find houses overlooking a lake or conservation area so that we can enjoy watching the birds while we float in the pool.

The first time we rented a house, we used a rental company. Since then, we've rented directly through vrbo or another site where homeowners advertise. In the last dozen trips, we've only been disappointed once by the poor condition of the house. Usually the housekeeping is done to a higher standard than many hotels.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2006 at 10:23AM
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