On September 11th, 2017 we were glued to the TV watching hurricane Irma making its powerful entrance to the shores of south west Florida. The pictures of the destructive wind and water were astonishing and made you pray for everybody facing the wrath of Irma.
To be honest, seeing the aftermath of the hurricane we were unsure our holiday to the Gulf Coast would go ahead. As it turned out our original hotel in Naples got damaged quite badly. Luckily for us, though we were able to change the hotel and we ended up in JW Marriott in Marco Island which later turned out to be a true blessing in disguise.
We Are Going To Miami!
After a smooth 8 hour flight across the Atlantic, we arrived in Miami which greeted us with torrential rain. I can’t remember this sort of weather in Will Smith’s music video! After loading our rental car, we started our two hour journey across the Everglades trying to get to our hotel before the night time and before the alligators started coming out from the mangroves. Not sure how often this happens but better to be safe than sorry …
Finally, we crossed the bridge over to Marco Island and arrived at our hotel tired but excited to see what sights we would wake up to.
JW Marriott At Marco Island
Well, the view from our balcony did not disappoint. JW Marriott hotel is set on three miles of white sandy beach on the Gulf of Mexico and you do feel like you are in the Caribbean.
Despite the hotel having two big pools, the beach was simply irresistible. Whilst the rest of the family enjoyed the pools, I spent ages walking along the shore, worshipping the sun and admiring the beautiful shells.
The hotel was pretty self contained with lots of restaurants, bars, a kids’ club and a spa. However, we wanted to explore the area and see how locals live and also enjoy the local food. One of the highlights of the hotel was the daily sunset celebration on the beach. The Fire Dancer’s high energy performance is inspired by the Balinese tradition and is not to be missed.
Exploring The Island
One of the best things to do was losing ourselves in side streets and driving past some beautiful houses. We saw mansions, bungalows and different coloured houses that you don’t see in the UK. Nearly all of them had ocean creature shaped letterboxes in the front which were fun to spot. As Marco Island has a big network of inland canals, most of the houses there had boat access at the rear. How cool?
Cruising down the side streets it was easy to notice the post Irma destruction. A lot of renovation had been done but there was still a lot of debris to clear and some houses had slates missing off their roofs. Everybody’s mood was great though and most people we spoke to were happy to share their experiences of the hurricane.
My favourite meal is breakfast and Marco Island did not disappoint. We really enjoyed Doreen’s Cup of Joe which had a great choice of breakfast and lunch food. Our staples were freshly squeezed orange juice, oatmeal with brown sugar and bananas, massive pancakes or eggs Benedict with fresh potato hash browns.
As we were surrounded by the ocean, there was a variety of fish to try. As it turned out, the stone crab season had just started so we had to taste some. During the season the claws of the crab are removed and the animal is returned back to the water. However, stone crabs have an ability to regenerate their claws. They were served with melted butter and a special mayo dressing and were very tasty. We found Pinchers restaurant, just round the corner from the hotel, which offered stone crab. We also tried blackened tuna and mahi-mahi which I had served as tacos. Both were delicious.
Everglades And An Encounter With Alligators
Florida is famous for being home to lots of alligators. There are 1.3 million in the state and apparently there were only 24 deaths involving alligators since 1948!
Our hotel was not far from the Everglades which is a tropical wetland with marshes, mangroves and an abundance of alligators, manatees, herons, pythons and turtles. One of the best ways to see the Everglades is by an airboat. It is like a rollercoaster ride with the captain reeling off facts and a guarantee of spotting an alligator. We saw not one but two – one lazing in the sun and the other one thrashing next to our airboat which was absolutely exhilarating. If you were brave enough, you could also hold a small trained alligator but none of us was that desperate. We used Jungle Erv’s around 40 min from Marco Island which we would definitely recommend if in Florida.
South Beach Miami
With 4 hours to kill before our return flight to London, we chose SoBe over downtown Miami to give us the taste of the city. The beach was nice but the sand was not as white as in Marco Island. What we really liked about the beach is that the guard towers were all different colours and styles so we just wanted to keep going and get to another one.
Apart from the beach, which was particularly quiet and not as outrageous as it is thought to be, we took a stroll along the famous Ocean Drive. The beach front street is know for its art deco architecture going back to 1920 and featuring in films like Miami Vice, Dexter and There’s Something about Mary. It is definitely a show off street of South Beach with flashy cars booming Hispanic music, trendy bars offering super size cocktails and expensive looking hotels to the north of the street. I am sure the street comes alive at night but we enjoyed a nice, lazy afternoon there.
Hasta La Vista!
We had a fabulous time exploring south west Florida. We enjoyed white sand beaches, sea food, warm sunshine and the alligators were not as terrifying as we thought they would be. We’ll definitely be back to explore this state further.
More pictures in the gallery
And a video with the best bits!