Q&A: To Miami: the road less travelled

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered


Q. We have a family holiday booked for Florida. Rather than fly direct to Florida we were thinking of flying to New York and then driving down with a few stops on the way. Do you think this is a good idea and, if so, which places en route would you recommend? Are there any "not to be missed" attractions?

Q. We have a family holiday booked for Florida. Rather than fly direct to Florida we were thinking of flying to New York and then driving down with a few stops on the way. Do you think this is a good idea and, if so, which places en route would you recommend? Are there any "not to be missed" attractions?

Steve Martindale

Ellesmere Port

A. Road trips are definitely the way to see the United States, so yes, do it! The I-95 takes you right down the Atlantic seaboard from New York to Miami, though zig-zagging will be more fun than staying on the Interstate. There are sidetrips all the way, and even the driving will be entertaining as you pass dozens of pop-culture billboards. You don't say what your family's budget, timescale or interests are, but these would be my suggestions.

About two hours' driving south of New York City you come to Philadelphia. This "walkable" city, home to sites such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, is well worth visiting if you're a history buff. Also worth a detour nearby is Pennsylvania Dutch country, further west in Lancaster County, home of the Amish communities.

Moving south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the symbolic divide between north and south, and into Maryland, stop to try out the tasty crabcakes at Chesapeake Bay, or else head straight on for Washington DC.

Washington is certainly a "must"; go to the Capitol building on Capitol Hill where Senators and Representatives meet under the famous dome and visit the White House, which has been home to every US President since 1800. For an alternative view of American political history, take a "Scandal Tour" past Gary Hart's house, the Watergate complex and the places associated with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Then, spend an afternoon in the cobblestone streets, shops and cafés of the city's lively Georgetown area.

South across the Potomac River, in Virgina, is the Arlington National Cemetery. As well as the graves of around 175,000 US soldiers, this contains the eternal flame that burns at the grave of John F Kennedy.

Further into Virginia, a drive through the Smoky Mountains will take you through some of the most stunning scenery in America. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs 500 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, from the Shenandoah Valley through to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park of North Carolina. Originally Cherokee country, the Smokies are so called because of their beautiful blue, grey hues and, if you're lucky, you may even see bears from the car (visit www.ncnatural.com/Parkway/ for more information).

For a multicultural hotspot with old-style Southern food, you could detour to Atlanta. Here, the ultimate in US kitsch, the World of Coca-Cola, is an attraction your children would enjoy; more profoundly, the Martin Luther King Memorial attracts a large number of visitors.

Continuing on, in South Carolina Charleston is an aristocratic harbour town where you can take various themed walking tours around its old lanes. If you're a fan of military history, the memorials to the Civil War dead throughout the south are also well worth seeing.

As a last stop on your way to the warmer climes of Florida, Savannah, in Georgia, has more than a thousand historically important buildings, including five forts and some of the best Georgian architecture in the New World. You don't say where you're staying in Florida, but make sure you take in the Everglades and the Art Deco of Miami Beach. And, if you're still in need of ideas, you could try clicking into www.roadsideamerica.com for details on other roadside attractions.

Accommodation should not be too much of a problem: it's usually easy to find good motels en route. Car rental, though, can be a minefield. Most car rental companies require you to have a major credit card, a valid driver's licence and insist that you are at least 25 years old. You also need to make sure you that the insurance meets your needs. The best plan is to book a package that includes all the necessary components of cover, from Collision Damage Waiver to Uninsured Motorist Protection. Decline the pressure that may be applied when you pick up the car to take unnecessary extras or upgrade to a more expensive model.

For an idea of costs, if you were to do the trip as quickly as possible, a mid-range car for three days with Hertz (0870 599 6699; www.hertz.co.uk), picking up at New York's JFK airport and dropping off at Miami airport would cost around £540, including Loss Damage Waiver, tax and liability insurance. Avis (0870 606 0100; www.avis.co.uk) quotes around £700 for the same deal. It is well worth shopping around.

Q. We are a reasonably well-travelled couple, now adapting to family holidays with our two children, aged four and two. Each year we grapple with the challenge of finding reliable winter sun and sandy beaches at a non-package destination within four or five hours flight of a UK airport. In the past we've been happy going to El Cortillo, a tiny village on Fuerteventura, on an ideal 10am flight from Bristol. However, we now feel a change is due. Any ideas?

Charles Tongue

Bristol

A. Destinations that spring to mind are Cyprus, which is credited with having the most reliable sun in the Mediterranean, and the Tunisian island of Djerba. However, my suggestion would be the relaxed, 18th-century fishing port of Essaouira in Morocco. The flight time from London(sorry no direct flights from Bristol) to nearby Casablanca is around three hours and, once in Essaouira, there are sandy beaches, few package tourists, and winter temperatures above 20C.

Essaouira certainly has local colour. Stroll along the ramparts and fortifications protecting the town from the sea and then wander down into the souks where you can bargain for excellent carvings made from the local thuya wood. Savour freshly caught sardines grilled on the town's quay whilst watching boat builders at work or, in the evening, sample spicy Moroccan cuisine in one of the seafront restaurants and look out for the rare Eleonora's Falcon skimming the surface of the sea.

The town's more sheltered southern beach will probably suit your family better than the windy Plage de Safi to the north. The water is shallow and clean but, even in the south, the wind and swell are strong enough to attract windsurfers, and the water won't be warm, so you may prefer to have access to a pool for sunbathing and swimming. And, if you want to roam further afield, excursions are easily made to the fascinating medieval cities of Marrakesh and Fes.

The cheapest scheduled flights from the UK are currently with Royal Air Maroc (020-7439 4361) from London Heathrow via Casablanca to Essaouira (£407 per adult, £282 per child). An alternative would be to fly to Casablanca via Paris on Air France (0845 0845111; www.airfrance.co.uk) but you would then have to make your way by bus to Essaouira.

If you are happy to arrange accommodation before you go, try CLM Morocco (020-7235 2110) or The Best of Morocco (01380 828533; www.morocco-travel.com) for tailor-made packages. For an idea of price, a week at one of Essaouira's three main hotels, the Villa Maroc, the Riad Al Madina or the Palazzo Desdemona, would cost from around £500 per adult, including flights. Tour operators such as Cadogan Travel (www.cadoganholidays.com; 02380 828300) offer ready-made packages to Essaouira. For further information contact the Moroccan Tourist Board (020-7373 4411; www.tourism-in-morocco.com).

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