The 5 Best Florida Beaches Easily Reached From Orlando

Florida beach from Orlando

Florida beach from Orlando

People fly from all over the world to go to Orlando, home of Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios amusement parks, and much more. This is a land-locked city though, so if you want a Florida beach vacation you need to drive east to meet the Atlantic Ocean or west to reach beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.

Both coasts are easy to reach in a rental car, however. Most of the way you will be on large highways and the roads are well-marked. The closest beach to Orlando is only one hour away from the gates of Walt Disney World, while the farthest one on this list is just two hours away.

Cocoa Beach, Florida – 1 hour

beach near Orlando
(photo courtesy Visit Space Coast Tourism)

Near the Cape Canaveral area where the United States launched most of its manned rockets into space, this is the closest beach to Orlando. Like all but one here, it’s on a narrow barrier island jutting out into the sea. Expect soft golden sand but big waves sometimes: this is one of the best surfing spots in Florida.

There are four public beach access areas with parking (for a fee), so it’s easy to come here on a day trip and return to your hotel in Orlando that night. For the kids there is also a public skate park and several playgrounds. The Kennedy Space Center has a visitors center open to the public.

Daytona Beach – 1 hour 15 minutes

Daytona Beach Florida

Best known as home of the Daytona 500 Speedway where NASCAR auto races take place, this is a beach where cars rule. You can drive right onto the hard-packed sand and park your car on the very wide beach. This makes any stretch of the beach easily accessible in your vehicle, in an area that stretches more than 15 miles from New Smyrna Beach through Ormond Beach.

Prices are reasonable at Daytona Beach for lodging, meals, drinks, and activities, so this is a good spot for a couple or family on a budget. The area has a surprisingly robust art scene, plus the region is frequently cited as one of the best beach values in the USA.

Clearwater Beach – 1 hour 45 minutes

Clearwater Beach Florida

Often voted as the prettiest beach in Florida, this is a compact white-sand beach area that is only 2.5 miles long. Much of it is connected by paved walkways and bike lanes and there are plenty of restaurants and beach bars with a view of the green and blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The water stays much warmer here than on the Atlantic coast, with temperatures only dipping down below F20° for one month in February. The water is very calm here, making it a good choice for young children. Search on Bonwi for the best Clearwater Beach resort deals.

St. Petersburg Beach – 1 hour 45 minutes

St. Pete Beach Florida

The Tampa Bay area’s other main beach is St. Petersburg, a long stretch of sand dotted with a variety of hotels and condo complexes. There several similar barrier island beaches immediately to the north such as Treasure Island and Madeira. As with Clearwater the sea temperatures are pleasant most of the year and there are seldom waves large enough to knock down even the smallest child.

This is a beach area where you pick a spot and park or you explore by car-there’s no boardwalk or path along the sea. It’s worth heading to downtown St. Pete for restaurants and nightlife, catching a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game, or exploring the Sunken Gardens area filled with tropical plants. The Salvador Dali Museum faces the Bay. Several well-regarded breweries are located here too, including Green Bench and 3 Daughters.

Anna Maria Island – 2 hours

Anna Maria Island Florida

For a taste of Florida the way it used to be before the state got so developed, head to Anna Maria Island where no building can be more than three stories high. There are no huge sprawling resorts here and the main things to do are eat seafood and lounge on the beach.

Just seven miles long and a few blocks wide, this is an easy island to navigate and there’s a free trolley to get around on once you’ve found your parking spot. There is a playground on the most popular public beach access spot and there are shaded picnic tables.

Wherever you go in Florida, you’ll earn the most points back to use for a future vacation by booking your hotel and rental car with Bonwi.com.

All photos by Tim Leffel except Coco Beach.

5 Florida beaches that are 2 hours or less from Orlando

Daytona Beach Racing: Getting Behind the Wheel

The huge NASCAR track in Daytona Florida. You can ride in one of these cars!
The huge NASCAR track in Daytona Florida. You can ride in one of these cars!
The huge NASCAR track in Daytona Florida. You can ride in one of these cars!
There is only one place you can go to truly experience the thrill of American racing, and that place is Daytona International Speedway. Without a doubt, there is more to The Great American Race than just the fast cars…the history, the celebrities, and the pageantry are all factored into what makes Daytona 500 a fan favorite.
For an avid racing fan, the best time to visit the speedway is in 2018, when the Daytona 500 celebrates its 60th anniversary. For six decades, Daytona has been entertaining the public with historic performances and heroic figures, and of course, sharing the love of the race with the young and old.
Don’t miss the opportunity to pay a visit the track when the Monster Energy Nascar Cup season starts. Drivers will battle and showcase their speed and determination as they race down the 2.5-mile tri-oval and its 31-degree banking.
It’s one thing to watch the race, but to actually experience what it’s like to ride in a race car is a whole other adrenaline rush. The NASCAR Racing Experience allows you to ride shotgun in a real NASCAR race car. Hold on tight as a professional racing driver takes you around one of the nation’s top ranking speedways. You’ll be in good hands during the three-lap ride, and it will be over faster than you know it!
The Nascar Ride Along experience can be purchased online at the Daytona International Speedway Ticket Office. The price for juniors 6-14 is $79.99 and adults is $135. Make sure to check out the dates available, they fill up fast!
If sitting shotgun is not good enough for you, and you actually want to DRIVE the NASCAR, then sign up for the Practice Experience, you’ll get the real taste of racing. After completing a training and instruction session with the Crew Chief, you have 5 minutes to race your heart out, carefully that is.
There is no lead car to follow, but luckily there is a 2-way in car radio with a personal instructor on the other end. Don’t worry, you will receive bragging rights with your very own Graduation Certificate. The Practice Experience is priced at $299.99 and tickets can be purchased online.
There is no thrill like riding inside a NASCAR racing car at Daytona!
There is no thrill like riding inside a NASCAR racing car at Daytona!
But wait, there’s MORE, believe it or not. The Rookie and The King’s experience allows you to race for eight and 16 minutes around the track. It’s double and triple the price…but totally worth it if you’re a diehard racing fan.
By far the best racing experience you can purchase at the speedway is the World Champion experience, priced at $2,500. It’s 3 hours worth of the NASCAR experience and you get to drive in six different racing session. Recommended for racing enthusiasts and those with a need for speed.
If you’re like me, then the idea of visiting Daytona will be lingering in your head after reading this. The Daytona International Speedway online website has an easily accessible calendar that shows when the track is open and what tours are available on certain days.
Whether you’re interested in sitting back and watching or buckling up and driving, Daytona International Speedway delivers unforgettable moments for all.
Find affordable hotels in Daytona Beach on Bonwi and use Bonwi points to get free nights around the world!

 

Orlando, FL: Attractions to Experience this Summer other than Disney World

Discovery Cove in Orlando has flamingoes, emus, and many other animals and things to enjoy with your family.
Discovery Cove in Orlando has flamingoes, emus, and many other animals and things to enjoy with your family.
Discovery Cove has flamingoes, emus, and many other animals and things to enjoy with your family.

Orlando is home to a whole bunch of theme parks, including the two massive compounds of Disney World and Universal Studios. These concrete and metal monstrosities may be a ton of fun, but there are other places to see in Orlando that may surprise you and free you of screaming kids and long lines.

Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Resort is opening another location and it’s going to be amazing. It’s actually opening in nearby Kissimmee.  The 300-acre resort will not only feature a hotel with 187 rooms but it will also include 300 timeshare units and 1,000 vacation homes. The Jimmy Buffett-inspired tropical oasis is opening later this year and will make a fantastic getaway for fans of the famous singer and everyone and anyone else.

Discovery Cove is not a new water park at Universal Studios. It is a heavenly destination in Orlando that I would never have heard of if it weren’t for Travelingmom.com. For an all-inclusive ticket, you can swim with dolphins, snorkel with a variety of tropical fish, encounter a plethora of different wildlife, enjoy a hearty breakfast and lunch, and enjoy a whole bunch of other amenities. This tropical getaway is a wonderful alternative to an overheated day waiting in line at Thunder Mountain.

See a wide array of alligators and all kinds of kitschy souvenirs at Gatorland Orlando!
See a wide array of alligators, ride the zip line,  and find all kinds of kitschy souvenirs at Gatorland Orlando!

Travelingmom.com also opened my eyes to an incredibly unique experience available in Orlando. Gatorland Orlando may not seem like a desirable place to visit but there are actually plenty of reasons why you should add this destination to your vacation itinerary.

From wrestling with alligators to witnessing a menagerie of wildlife like emus, flamingos, and giant tortoises to name a few, to a critically-acclaimed zip line, and a Gator Jumparoo Show, Gatorland Orlando is a different and fun place to see when you are in the theme park capital of the world.

Orlando may be known for Disney World and Universal Studios but the always-growing Florida city has much more than those two massive parks. Instead of following the beaten path, take the road less traveled!

For your Orlando Vacation, find the perfect hotel from Bonwi…and use your Bonwi points for a future trip!

The Best Shopping Experiences in Orlando, Florida

name brand shopping Orlando

orlando shopping

Orlando, Florida is best known for its theme parks, of course, but many visitors take some time to find a bargain outside the cartoon character stores. With most of the world’s major brands having a retail store or outlet in Orlando, this has become a premier shopping region for name brand clothing, shoes, purses, and electronics.

Here are a few Orlando shopping destinations where you’ll find lots of options under one roof

The Florida Mall

This is central Florida’s largest shopping mall. It’s the best place to go if you only have time to visit one location. The hundreds of shops here run the range from high-end department stores like Macy’s to branded stores from the likes of Apple, Adidas, Coach, and Michael Kors. This is a great choice for families as it includes stores from Disney, American Girl, M&M’s, and Crayola crayons. It also has typical mall staples such as Banana Republic, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, and A/X Armani Exchange.

Florida Mall Orlando

The Florida Mall is near the international airport, so you can use it to kill some time on the way out before you return your rental car. See a full store directory here.

The Mall at Millenia

If you’re looking for the latest items from luxury stores and name brand designers, The Mall at Millenia is the top choice. The 150 stores are like a who’s who of respected international brands. For high-end clothing and accessories there’s Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Bulgari, Kate Spade, Versace, and Cartier. Other apparel options include Brooks Brothers, Under Armour, lululemon athletica, Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, and Anthropologie. There’s also an Apple store, Pottery Barn, and Sephora. Department stores include Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s.

The Mall at Millenia also offers a range of typical sit-down dining chains such as P.F. Chang’s The Cheesecake Factory, Panera Bread, and California Pizza Kitchen.

name brand shopping Orlando

The Mall at Millenia is a half hour from the airport or most theme parks, so get directions here then see the directory for more store information.

Orlando International Premium Outlets

If you’re looking for deals on name brand merchandise, this location provides 180 stores to choose from. Orlando International Premium Outlets is the largest outlet shopping destination in all of Florida.

For fashion you can browse sale items from Diesel, DKNY, J. Crew, Kate Spade New York, Tommy Hilfiger, Cole Haan, LACOSTE, Michael Kors, and Polo Ralph Lauren. For athletic wear there are stores from Under Armour, Quiksilver, Columbia Sportswear, North Face, and Champion. For shoes you can shop Nike, Adidas, Reebok, UGG Australia, Kenneth Cole, Johnston & Murphy, Clarks, Timberland, Crocs, Vans, and Puma. Other popular brands include Movado, Sony, L’Occitane, Levi’s, Bose, and Guess.

Orlando Premium Outlets Store is close to the Universal Studios theme parks. Get directions and more information here.

Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets

Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets presents itself as a Mediterranean inspired outdoor village. It has almost as many shops as sister mall International Premium Outlets, with 160 instead of 180. There you can find a wide range of familiar brands for 25-65% off the regular prices.

Vineland Orlando shopping

There’s plenty for men, women and children on the clothing side, with Armani Outlet, Burberry, DVF, Nike, Prada, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH, Coach, Nautica, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Tommy Hilfiger. Stock up for growing children with Gap Kids, NauticaKids, Carter’s, Gymboree, and Oshkosh B’Gosh. Watch brands Tag Heuer, Movado, Citizen, and American-assembled Shinola all have stores at Vineland.

Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets is located close to the Disney resorts and Sea World, right next to Interstate 4 highway. See a map and full store directory here.

Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores

Located just two miles from Walt Disney World at Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa, this is a smaller factory outlet center to visit after a day at the Magic Kingdom. This location focuses more on everyday brands rather than luxury ones and it has the only Old Navy Outlet in central Florida.

Most of the best-known name brands are here, such as Aeropostale, Calvin Klein, Carter’s, Eddie Bauer, Gap, Izod, Justice, Levi’s, Nike, Nine West, Tommy Hilfiger, and Under Armour. This is also a good place to buy an extra bag for carrying back your purchases: there are stores from Samsonite, Travelpro, and Wilson’s Leather.  See the official website here.

Disney Springs
Photo by Tim Leffel

Disney Springs

The outdoor commercial area owned by Disney is a recently revamped destination for dining, playing, and shopping and is popular with families. There are plenty of options to delight children, such as Build-a-Bear, The Lego Store, a Coca-Cola store, a Star Wars store, and about 15 different outlets connected to the Walt Disney empire. There’s also a Rainforest Café restaurant and a Haagen-Dazs ice cream store.

It’s not all meant for children though. There are many brands here you don’t see in every mall, such as Sanuk, Alex and Ani, Pandora Jewelry, Unode50, Harley-Davidson, Oakley, and The Art of Shaving. The 52 restaurants include chef-inspired options such as The Dining Room at Wolfgang Puck, Morimoto Asia (of Iron Chef America), and the excellent Homecoming southern cooking outlet from Chef Art Smith. Get directions and see a full directory with photos here.

Orlando has an abundance of hotels in every configuration and price range. Find a place to stay near your favorite theme park or shopping outlet and get lots of points back here: Orlando Hotels from Bonwi.

All photos courtesy of the individual shopping destinations unless noted.

The Hotel Zones of Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Lauderdale Beach

The Atlantic Ocean coastal city of Fort Lauderdale is part of a 23-mile stretch of beach in Broward County, so there are plenty of places to stretch out on the sand. Then there’s the Intracoastal Waterway, a gay travel zone, and chic Las Olas inland, so sorting out the best place to book your hotel can be a challenge.

Fortunately, the various hotel zones of Fort Lauderdale are relatively well-defined. Once you know your objective, you can narrow down the options from 100+ properties to find the best place to stay in your budget. Be sure to check Bonwi for the best hotel deals and the most reward points back no matter which area of the city you choose.

Northern Beach Area

If you’re looking for a quiet, more residential area, the stretch of beach going from Lauderdale by the Sea down to Hugh Taylor Birch State Park is going to be the best bet. There are fewer hotels in this area and they’re more spread out, though of course the surf and sand are going to be just as enticing.

Southern Beach Area

The bulk of the areas hotels and resorts are clustered in the area between the state park and the turnoff to the convention center. Here you’ll find the largest range of options, from 5-star luxury resorts to small family-run hotels with a kitchenette. Just remember that none are directly on the beach no matter what: there’s a public walkway on that side and no buildings directly next to the sand—unless you count lifeguard stands and public bathrooms.

walkway along the beach in Fort Lauderdale

Gay Fort Lauderdale Hotels

This destination is frequently touted as the top LGBT place to visit in the Eastern USA, with around 20 gay-exclusive guesthouses, a robust nightlife scene, frequent same-sex weddings, and several dedicated museums.  Guesthouses that cater to same-sex couples and groups are primarily clustered in the blocks between Vistamar and Riomar streets  and will have “Gay” or “Gay-friendly” in the description.

Hollywood, Florida

Although technically not Fort Lauderdale, this is so close that it might as well be, plus the water taxi heads down here on its last stop. If you’re planning on parking yourself at the beach most of the time, this can be a good alternative.

Convention Center and Cruise Port

If you’re just spending a night before or after one of the many cruises that depart from here, you want to be at the southern end of Fort Lauderdale, near the street that quickly changes names from Seabreeze Blvd. to SE 17th Street to A1A. Some airport and downtown hotels will also shuttle guests to the cruise port, so check the descriptions when you book.

Hotel map Ft. Lauderdale

Las Olas and Downtown

If chic shopping and fine restaurants get you more excited than body surfing in the waves, then Las Olas is the place to stay. This mile-long retail street is full of interesting shops, some of the top restaurants in the area, and fun nightlife options.  Downtown Fort Lauderdale is the cultural magnet of the area, with the county’s main performing arts center and multiple museums.

Fort Lauderdale Airport

If you’ve got an early flight or are just on a business trip, there are multiple hotels near this busy airport served by multiple international carriers and serving as a hub for Spirit Air. Most provide some kind of shuttle service and don’t forget that the South Florida Tri-Rail system has train service up to Palm Beach and down to Miami.

If you need to get from one zone to the other in Fort Lauderdale, don’t worry. There are plenty of options for getting around, even without a car. Besides taxis and rideshare services, there is a water taxi system, a city bike share system, and a malecon sidewalk running the length of the beach that’s great for walking.

Ready to book a vacation? See the Fort Lauderdale hotels at Bonwi.com, where you’ll find guaranteed low rates and generous points back you can use for your next hotel stay, flight, or rental car with no blackout dates.