A hurricane coming: it was never like this for Bogart

My Rough Guide

Best Discovery

In a state synonymous with Disney World and Miami it's refreshing to get off the beaten track. The easy-going Barry "Chop" Lege runs boat trips (Swampland Tours) into a vast wildlife sanctuary on Lake Okeechobee. A ranger at one with his environment, he spots all manner of creatures invisible to the untrained eye and enthusiastically explains their habits and habitats. If you want to know the intimate details of alligators, a multitude of birds and the moccasin snake, he's your man. (He also cooks a mean gumbo.)


We can't ignore the state's most magnificent hotels, many of which began life as swanky resorts of the 1920s. Potent symbols of an era of unbridled wealth, they still attract the mega-rich and are worth a look (some give guided tours). For sheer extravagance you can't beat the elaborate pink castle of the Don Cesar Hotel at St Petersburg Beach. Other contenders are the Gatsbyesque Belleview Mido Resort Hotel in Clearwater; and the epitome of graceful living, The Breakers, at the millionaires' haven of Palm Beach. In a different vein is the B&B at the Heritage Country Inn, set in rolling ranch country near Silver Springs. You're lavished with loving care and attention in this turn-of-the-century farmhouse with its six individually styled bedrooms, bearing names like the Plantation Room and the English Thoroughbred Room. We still miss the home-baked cinnamon bread.


Florida's cultural mix produces an exciting range of cuisine. Sarasota has Yoder's, a small award-winning Amish restaurant, where attentive waitresses in traditional dress bring heaped plates of simple homemade food prepared to old-fashioned recipes. By contrast, the hot-blooded Columbia, a cavernous Cuban restaurant in Ybor City, Tampa, goes all out to entertain with spirited Flamenco dancing as diners gorge on refined Cuban and Spanish fare.


Disney World is an unearthly place where you're told to expect all-day fun but have to put up with all-day queuing, rides that break down, horribly expensive and unappetising food, and incessant advertising. Added to this cultural mugging are historical revisions that would shame Clinton, and poor schmucks in cartoon-character costumes who dog your every step.


Early evening Fort Lauderdale greeted us with banging hammers and whirring electric screwdrivers as storm shutters were fixed over doors and windows. Hurricane Erin was threatening, and there was no way the media was going to do a Michael Fish. Constant warnings filled the airwaves but we decided to get a meal before decamping to the mainland emergency centre. At the deserted Ricks Cafe we got the best table overlooking the ocean but the beautiful sunset disappeared behind a shutter, erected with a power tool that drowned out the pianist playing Andrew Lloyd Webber "classics". It was never like this for Bogart. The emergency centre was a run-down high school in a dubious neighbourhood and already full of street dwellers, people from housing projects, and nervous tourists. The grubby classroom made us long for the king-sized bed in the hotel as locals popped their heads round the door stating wistfully: "Here's where we did math." We endured about eight hours - the highlight being the colourful company in the soup line - while Hurricane Erin blew past Fort Lauderdale without rustling a leaf. Never trust a weatherman.


Runners-up are the impressive Salvador Dal Art Gallery in St Petersburg and the enlightening Civil War Soldiers' Museum in Pensacola. First prize goes to Sarasota's Ringling Museum Complex. The passionate project of a 1920s circus multi-millionaire, it boasts a stunning Venetian Gothic mansion - the ultimate combination of American exuberance and European elegance. Next door an ornate gallery is home to an inspired collection of European Baroque paintings, one of the finest of its kind in the US.


Get to the Disney World theme parks just before they open and you'll avoid most of the queues and get on to the best rides, assuming they're working. The state's road signs are poor; even Floridians regularly get lost - if you're driving, get a map from the local tourist office or chamber of commerce and work out your route beforehand.

8 Laura Harper and Tony Mudd researched and updated the Rough Guide to Florida (pounds 10.99). Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter Rough News, published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.



Heritage Country Inn (tel: 001 904 489 0023), 14343 W Hwy-40, off I-75, near Silver Springs. Double rooms start at $79, including breakfast. Don Cesar Resort and Spa (tel: 001 813 360 1881) at St Petersburg Beach. Doubles from US$175. The Breakers (tel: 001 407 6556611), 1 Sth County Rd, Palm Beach. Yoder's (tel: 001 941 955 7771), 3434 Bahia Vista St, Sarasota. Columbia (tel: 001 813 248 4961), 2117 E 7th Ave, Ybor City, Tampa.

Places to visit

The Ringling Museum Complex, 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota (daily 10am- 5.30pm; $8.50, free admission to the art gallery on Sat).

Salvador Dal Art Gallery, 1000 S 3rd St, St Petersburg (Mon-Sat 9.30am- 5.30pm, Sun noon-5.30pm; $8). The Civil War Soldiers Museum, 108 S Palafox Place, Pensacola (Mon-Sat 10am-4.30pm; $6).


Swampland Tours (tel: 001 941 467 4411) based near Okeechobee at 10375 Hwy-78, by the Kissimmee Bridge.

More information

Florida Tourist Board (tel: 0891 600 555 and also 0171 6306281).

Suggested Topics
Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager - Bristol

    £31000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the UK, the major project fo...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Executive - Meetings & Events (MICE) - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achieving...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Account Executive - Hotel Reservation Software - £40,000 OTE

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: A rapidly growing Hotel ...

    Recruitment Genius: Tyre Technician / Mechanic

    £15000 - £16800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Tyre Technician / Mechanic is...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game