Next stop on our whirlwind tour of Florida was Clearwater. Driving across the Frankland Bridge from Tampa, we were all struck dumb by the beautiful turquoise water, with the fabulous waterfront homes gleaming on the shores. Our first stop was Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of ‘Winter’, the dolphin made famous by ‘Dolphin Tale’, the movie. The poor creature got caught in a crab line when she was just a tiny thing and was rescued by the CMA. Sadly they couldn’t save her tail but have helped her with a permanent home, physical therapy and a succession of prosthetic tails, kindly donated by a company that usually makes human prosthetics. At first sight, it’s a little saddening to see her bobbing around (she doesn’t wear the tails all the time), but the staff love her with a passion and give her the best life possible, and of course now she’s famous, everyone wants to come and visit:
After visiting Winter (and the miriad turtles, otters and other dolphins), we stopped in the utterly gorgeous St Petersburg (think white sand beaches, Riviera chic palm-lined streets and sun-drenched outdoor cafés) for lunch. The Cassis American Brasserie is something of a St Pete’s institution, with a famous bakery attached (apple tart TO DIE FOR) as well. We worked off the excesses of the previous night’s lycheetinis and karaoke (another day, I promise) by diving in to gorgeous fresh oysters, bloody marys and mahoosive burgers. Everything was delicious and the location, right on the sidewalk on Beach Drive, shaded by enormous umbrellas, was just fabulous:
Fully restored, we took a gentle sunny amble along Beach Drive to the Chihuly Collection where lovely director, Wayne Atherholt, showed us around these frankly stunning glass pieces. If you’re around St Pete’s you MUST visit. I promise you’ll stand awestruck in front of these phenomenal, complex glass sculptures:
Another quick drive took us to the amazing Dalí Museum. Our wonderfully eccentric and terrifically knowledgeable guide, Janice (complete with Dalí inspired shoe hat) steered us around hundreds of Dalí pieces, pointing out specific things in the paintings we would never have spotted, and explaining the thinking behind the paintings. Without a guide, you’ll still have a great time, but trust me when I say I learned more than I ever thought possible with Janice’s help. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens, cleverly named, of course, the ‘Avant Gardens’, with the enormous Dalíesque moustache and Wish Tree, where people have been writing their wishes on scraps of paper and tying them to the tree for years. By the way, if you want to add a wish to the tree, the museum will do it for you if you tweet your wish to #Daliwishtree.
We fell in love with Janice. In fact, so much that we couldn’t bear to leave her at the Dalí and persuaded her to join us (after a slight altercation between her car and a bollard – the bollard won) on our segway tour of St Pete. The segways are a little tricky to master, but with the help of the wonderful David Boston from St Pete’s guided segway tour company, Gyroglides, we were soon whizzing along in a happy troupe along St Pete’s pier, Janice merrily shouting explanations for her Dalí shoe hat as we glided past stunned passers by. Here I am looking utterly ridiculous on a segway:
And here’s Janice. In her multicoloured coat. On a segway. With her shoe hat on. Surreal (Dalí would surely have loved it):
After all that excitement, we were delighted to check into our evening accommodation, the delightful Sunset Vistas Beachfront Suites, located smack bang on the gorgeous Treasure Island beach, and chill on the balcony overlooking the ocean, sipping a cold glass of champagne generously left in our fridge (the condos are huge and really well equipped with washing machines, huge kitchens and two large bedrooms and two bathrooms as well as a sofa bed (three bed apartments are also available).
The condos are a fab idea if you want to go to Florida and have a bit more freedom. Self catering is a breeze with a café on site plus a huge supermarket within half a mile and plenty of lovely restaurants within easy walking distance (I highly recommend Sloppy Joe’s – order the firecracker shrimp – you won’t be disappointed!). If you’re staying a little longer in the area, George Hoch, the General Manager, recommends a trip to John’s Pass village, a lovely historical fishing village with loads of things to do and some fabulous seafood.
Here’s the inside of our condo:
And here’s the view from the balcony. With my cankles:
I travelled to Florida with Visit Florida and Virgin Holidays. If you’d like to recreate my trip, here’s some information about a very similar seven nights in Orlando from £949.
Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick or Manchester direct to Orlando, two nights accommodation at the 5V Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, two nights accommodation at the 3V+ Sunset Vista Beachfront Suites, two nights at the 5V Longboat Key Club & Resort and one night at the 5V Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel, all on a room only basis with car hire included starts from £949. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures 12 – 14 Nov 2012.
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport or Manchester Airport; Adults £20, Kids £12
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 90 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.