When my sister's 3 month secondment in Texas ended, I took some time off work and met up with her in Miami. We both arrived there just before midnight so first thing we did the following morning was head to South Beach. Unfortunately the weather was quite overcast but it was still perfect for sightseeing and exploring all Ocean Drive has to offer.
On one side, Ocean drive boasts a rather relaxed and chilled atmosphere with a concrete walkway bordering white sandy beaches. Here you can find cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers and segway'ers cruising pass gorgeous women in shorts and swimsuits. There are also swings and slides for kids to play on, as well as outdoor gym equipment where muscle bound guys and perfectly toned girls can be seen working out.
The opposite side of the road is undoubtedly another world on it's own. Lined with vibey bars, clubs, ice-cream shops, souvenir stores, hotels, restaurants - each one with it's own unique style and ambience - there just aren't enough hours in a day to make your way through it all. The people are amazing, every race and nationality you can think of; Spanish, Asian, Cuban, Brazilian, you name it, you'll meet them there. Being able to speak Spanish is also a bonus as nearly everyone, regardless of nationality, can speak it.
At every turn South Beach is a jol - people chilling with friends at bars and restaurants, others playing musical instruments along the pavement with chicks dancing and twerking along, and people throwing their hands into the air as they pass by in their drop-top sports cars. Clubbing starts as early as 4:30pm - with one even closing off a road to whip out a DJ box and huge ass speakers right in the middle of both lanes!
The following day we hired a car. Not just any car, my absolute favourite - a Mustang, and we took a drive to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Built in the early 1900's and designed in Italian Renaissance and Mediterranean Revival architecture, the buildings and the gardens especially are amongst the most exquisite I've ever seen. Situated along the shoreline, the expansive estate is a popular location for photoshoots and movies, including a scene from one of my favourites - Iron Man 3. The once main house now serves as a museum including a small cafe, guided tours, beautiful paintings and antique furniture. We spent most the day at Vizcaya then hit a few malls and grabbed some food before calling it a night.
It was an early start the next morning as we road tripped from Miami to Orlando. It was epic! Roughly a four hour drive, I kicked back with some snacks, music and enjoyed that type of open highway, cross-state road trip you see in movies.
Orlando is a hugely popular tourist destination with Disneyworld arguably being it's biggest draw card. We arrived just after lunch and strolled through it's perfect, little streets, and did a bit of sightseeing and souvenir shopping before heading to the hotel. The following morning we made a beeline for Disneyworld.
"Where dreams come true"
It is as they say - the most magical place on earth! Orlando offers quite a variety of Disney theme parks - Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom and a few water parks too - each one at a different location. We hit The Magic Kingdom as a throwback to the cartoons we watched as kids. It was effing amazing! No expense is spared and the amount of effort that goes into everything from the design and parades to the performances and people that work there was astounding.
Tickets were $105 and that was the basic one-day pass including entrance and all rides. The rides are generally catered more for kids with none really being overly crazy. Even at it's reasonable pace, it still offers a great experience and lots of fun - and just a personal thought, I did feel the park is in dire need of an upgrade. All rides are old and based on much older Disney cartoons/characters and absolutely none of the more recent ones.
Cinderella's Castle is impressive to see up close there's not much going on there. There's a large passageway that runs through it with a restaurant that requires a reservation, on one side, and a shop that dresses up little girls as their favourite Disney princesses on the other. It also features a private room that celebrities occasionally stay in. With that said, the highlight of the day was definitely, er, the night. After dark there's an animated montage of Disney cartoons projected onto the entire castle. It can be seen from throughout the park and everyone stops dead in their tracks to watch it. It's then followed by the best fireworks display I've ever seen in my life!
Great people and a great vibe, from beaches and gardens to theme parks and thrills - Florida is simply an epic destination and a must-see for anyone.