So as I mentioned recently, I’ve just spent several days with the gang from Virgin Holidays discovering the sunny south western coast of Florida. Our first stop after landing in Orlando was Sarasota. Sarasota County is a gorgeous destination on Florida’s laid back Gulf Coast. We stayed at two hotels here, the Virgin Holidays 5V rated Resort at Longboat Key and the 3V Sandcastle Resort (an old favourite of mine).
The beaches in Sarasota are incredible (in fact, Siesta Beach was named as the winner in the 2015 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards for Beaches), but it’s so much more than that: there’s a sporty, outdoor vibe about the place and the people are just so lovely.We headed to our first destination, exclusive Longboat Key, a barrier island with about 6300 residents (including Michael Kors) and checked in to our hotel, The Resort at Longboat Key. The sun was just setting, and our very first glimpse of the resort was the pool:
The resort is right on the powdery white sand and we wandered down to the beach with a glass of champers to watch the sun disappear. What a wonderful start to our holiday.
Exhausted, we decided to check in to our rooms. All the units are self catering with private balconies. My room was huge, with a very large bedroom/living area complete with huge balcony, plus a large bathroom area and a small kitchen.
I even got to enjoy breakfast on my balcony with this gorgeous view:
Longboat Key Club’s second property (a short free shuttle ride away), Bay Isles, has a grocery store, a tennis club (tennis is free for guests), a golf course that’s just had $4m spent on it (remember Virgin Holidays allow you to take your golf clubs as an item of hold luggage), a beautiful marina, bikes to borrow, the Tavern and Whisky Bar, and the gorgeous-looking Portofino Italian restaurant:
We wandered around the marina and honestly just didn’t want to leave. It’s idyllic:
Still, we had to crack on as we had a very exciting appointment at The Circus Arts Conservatory where we were going to have a circus lesson. First up was a really enjoyable stretching session (where several of us discovered that we can no longer touch our toes – it made me want to join a yoga class). We were teamed up with two very lovely (and bendy) ladies, who helped us do all sorts of mad things like dangling from rings and walking the (low) high wire. We had such a great time:
It’s incredibly empowering, because you just look at the girls doing these things and think ‘I’ll NEVER be able to do that’, but with their help, you really can, and the feeling is incredible. Highly recommended!
After a quick stop for lunch at Der Dutchman Restaurant and Bakery, an Amish-owned and run restaurant that’s incredibly popular (and rightly so, the chocolate peanut butter cream pie was to die for), we were off to Mote Aquarium.
But that peanut butter cream pie, though…
Where was I?
Oh yes, the aquarium. Mote Aquarium is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that runs mostly thanks to the support of an army of over 1600 volunteers. It started as a research facility (Mote scientists are having some success at rebuilding coral reefs in laboratory settings, for example, and have also done research on battlefield uses for the antibacterial slimy coating found on some rays), and the aquarium basically supports and funds this work.
It’s a gorgeous place and well worth a visit. I even bumped into some old friends:
Our second hotel, the gorgeously retro Sandcastle Resort on stunning Lido Beach is an old favourite of mine. Laura and I stayed there waaaaay back in 2012. It’s a 3V property, which makes it great value for money. I think that’s probably because it’s a bit of a step back in time to ‘old Florida’. The rooms aren’t modern, but they’ve got a certain charm, plus it’s right on the beach, and the pool area is stunning.
The food is INCREDIBLE too. For dinner we had the most delicious red snapper stuffed with lobster.
You can borrow a bike and whizz along to St Armand’s Circle, full of chic boutiques, gorgeous restaurants and buzzing cocktails bars. Grab a cocktail and watch the beautiful people strolling by (and if you’re not that energetic, there’s a free shuttle bus that runs to and from the resort).
Just make sure you’re on the beach come sunset – it’s stunning:
Eight nights in Florida from £1,069pp
Eight nights in Florida with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights from London Gatwick direct to Orlando returning from Miami to London Heathrow, room only accommodation as per below and car hire starts from £1,069pp. Price is per person based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Price is based on a departure on November 17 2015. Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport… adults £24.50, kids from £14. Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected. To book:www.virginholidays.co.uk , 0844 557 3859 or visit one of our 126 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.
Our wonderful accommodation:
For more information on anything to do with visiting Florida, check out visitflorida.com.