Jacksonville, Florida: Museums and Amelia Island Await

Downtown Jacksonville South Bank.
Jacksonville's south bank.
Jacksonville’s south bank.

From beautiful beaches and river views to must-see museums and unique tours, Jacksonville, Florida is the perfect destination for couples and families alike.

One of Florida’s best art museums, The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens hosts one of the best art collections in the Southeast. The museum is housed in a series of twentieth-century buildings that overlook the St. John’s River. The museum has more than 6,000 works of art spanning the periods between 2100 B.C. and the 21st century, with distinct genres of European and American paintings.

The Cummer Museum is a highlight of any visit to Jacksonville, Florida.
The Cummer Museum is a highlight of any visit to Jacksonville, Florida.

The Cummer Museum is surrounded by beautifully kept gardens, the oldest of which date back to 1903. The 2.5 acres of gardens include unique examples of early 20th-century garden design with a tranquil reflecting pool, ornate fountains, and awe-inspiring sculptures. More famously, the garden is home to the majestic Cummer Oak, one of the oldest trees in Jacksonville.

Overlooking the St. Johns River, Downtown Jacksonville’s North and South banks are surrounded by skyscrapers that have both a contemporary, yet urban ambiance. Locals and visitors often find themselves heading for the banks of the river to enjoy a bite to eat.

Ranging from casual cafes to fine dining establishments, there is plenty to munch on in Downtown Jacksonville. Additionally, try the variety of nightlife options with buzzing bars and wonderful lounges.

The Southbank Riverwalk is a ¼-mile boardwalk that follows along the river, providing a great place to hike or sit on the benches and soak up the views. Take a walk to the famous Friendship Fountain at the west end of the Southbank Riverwalk, one of the city’s most popular attractions and the perfect setting for a quiet picnic or romantic evening under the stars.

Book a hotel in Jacksonville here.

Amelia Island, off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.
Amelia Island, off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

Amelia Island

If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway, or even a short day trip, head on over to Amelia Island, which sits along Florida’s northeast coast. It’s just 30 miles from Jacksonville, but it gives off an entirely different vibe. There’s plenty to do on the island that consistently ranks among the “Top 10 U.S. Island.”

Horseback riding, dolphin and osprey sightings, historical exploration, golfing, and more. Visitors even have a chance of getting a glimpse at the endangered right whale.

Amelia Island is the perfect spot for recreation, relaxation, or family fun. Many enjoy the nightlife options that Amelia Island has to offer as well.

MOSH! The Museum of Science and History is known for its outstanding permanent and temporary exhibits that focus on science and local history. Located on the famous Southbank Riverwalk, the museum is one of the city’s top attractions. There’s plenty of exhibits that will interest everyone.

MOSH Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville
MOSH Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville

The ‘Brain Teasers’ feature brain-boosting skills to explore the innermost workings of the mind. Some traveling exhibits include full-scale fossils from around the world. The Museum also includes the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium, one of the largest single-lens digital dome planetariums in the United States. MOSH! The Museum of Science and History is one of the top fun things to do with kids in Jacksonville, FL.

Places to Stay in Jax

If you’re looking to be centrally located in Jacksonville Beach, stay and relax at Four Points by Sheraton Jacksonville Beachfront. This area offers walking distance from Jacksonville Beach Pier and is fairly close to Adventure Landing and Windsor Parke Golf Club.

Enjoy one of the 80 air-conditioned rooms featuring refrigerators and microwaves. Each guest room comes with a pillowtop bed, and all rooms are furnished with double sofa beds. Rooms also have private balconies.

Highlights: Don’t miss out on the outdoor pool, spa tub, or 24-hour fitness center that Four Points has to offer. This hotel also features complimentary Internet access, concierge services, and giftshop-newsstands.

Grab something to eat at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant or get a drink at a bar/lounge.

With a stay at Omni Jacksonville Hotel, you’ll be centrally located in Jacksonville. This 4-star hotel is close to Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art and Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Get comfortable in one of the 354 air-conditioned rooms featuring minibars and LCD televisions.

Highlights: Be sure to enjoy recreational amenities including an outdoor pool and a 24-hour fitness center. Getting to nearby attractions is easy with the complimentary area shuttle that operates within 2 miles. Eat at the hotel’s restaurant, which serves both lunch and dinner.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville puts you right in the heart of the city, giving visitors a walking distance from the Jacksonville Landing and Florida Theatre. This 4-star hotel is close to Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art and Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.

The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville offers 951 air-conditioned rooms featuring iPod/iPhone docking stations and flat-screen televisions. Highlights: Enjoy the many recreational opportunities including an outdoor pool, a fitness center, and bicycles for rent.  Guests can also get around on the complimentary shuttle, which operates within 3 miles.

For more hotels in the Jacksonville area, check out Bonwi.com and use your points to save on the next trip. 

7 Underrated Places in the US the Whole Family Will Love

Family Vacation Summer 2019

Family Vacation Summer 2019

While classic summer vacations like Disney, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Wisconsin Dells, and Cedar Point might all be fun, the options below take a path less traveled. Your family will make memories they won’t soon forget and you’ll find something for everyone.

San Diego

This pretty city has perfect weather year-round. The whole family will enjoy manageable summer heat with zero humidity.

The award-winning San Diego Zoo is one of the largest and most reputable in the world, and is a must-stop for families. You’ll delight in seeing the giant pandas, but the fun doesn’t stop there. The northern frontier area boasts polar bears and arctic foxes while the African exhibit includes leopards, rare baboons, and lemurs.

Families can enjoy some of the nicest beaches in the country with activities like seal tours, snorkeling with sharks, and surf lessons. You can also do San Diego sand-free at the incredible Children’s Museum, Belmont Amusement Park, LEGOLand, Balboa Park, and countless other small attractions where your child can explore his or her interests.

Miami Beach

Florida beaches like Destin and Saint Petersburg are a hit with families. So are North Florida family hubs like Disney World and Cape Canaveral. But South Florida has something different to offer. Boasting the most tropical stateside beaches, the snorkeling in Miami Beach can’t be beat, as you’ll easily spot tons of colorful fish and aquatic life.

When the heat becomes too much at midday, head indoors for more fun. There’s an exceptional children’s museum between Miami and Miami Beach not far from Jungle Island – a great indoor spot to enjoy orangutans, lemurs, sloths, and other jungle creatures. They also feature indoor sky-diving simulation, escape rooms, and more. The Ritz-Carlton at Bal Harbor also has a well-loved children’s beach club experience, but there are many other family-friendly resorts and hotels to explore, too.

New Orleans

New Orleans =swathed in beads and feathers for Mardi Gras is not the only draw to this warm and diverse city. While your family will undoubtedly enjoy the delicious seafood, Creole cuisine and French pastries, the Big Easy boasts much more than great dining.

NOLA is loaded with historical museums, beautiful outdoor experiences, and family-friendly music experiences. Gator tours will thrill kids and adults of all ages, the enchanting train garden makes for a fun adventure inside the botanical gardens. No family vacation to New Orleans would be complete without a romp through Storyland Park, which brings your family’s favorite characters and fairytales to life. New Orleans also caters to families with kid-friendly book stores, kid-focused restaurants, and parks on every corner. Your crew might be begging to stay forever.

Anchorage

Alaska gets a bad rap as a freezing cold arctic experience featuring moose encounters. While the potential for moose encounters holds true all year round, Alaska can be downright springlike. It’s a solid choice for escaping the hight temps of July and August. Stay in Anchorage, and plan trips from there to Alaska’s many outdoor destinations.

At wildlife hubs like the Sea Life Center, the Wildlife Conservatory, and Denali National Park, your family will get the chance to see – and even interact with – tons of native wildlife. Sled dogs, sea otters and puffins are among the protected creatures you might meet and interact with on tours, while luckier travelers will see bison, moose, reindeer, and even bears. Tours of all kinds allow you to paddle, hike, or cruise through the various ecosystems that make up Alaska’s unique lands.

In Anchorage itself, your family will love exploring The Imaginarium Science Discovery Center at the Anchorage Museum or the Nancy Lake State Recreational Park. Grab a Discovery Duffel at the botanical gardens, stuffed with challenges and activities for kids, and relax at a cafe or poolside at your hotel.  

Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg is an eastern Tennessee town you may or may not have ever heard of. For those in the know, the Smoky Mountains bring all of the enchantment and mystery of the western US mountains to the eastern hills.

If you’ve never been, one trip on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram will blow your mind. This tram will give you a bird’s eye view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is as incredible as it sounds. Even better, the end of the tram will drop you and your troops at a mountain-town amusement park. In nearby Anakeesta, you’ll enjoy mining for gems and traversing the treehouse park. By the way, mom and dad, the views are insane.

Other attractions in the area include Dollywood, exploring the Ripley’s Believe-it-or-not Museum and playing with penguins at Ripley’s Aquarium, entering a dessert dreamland at Crave Golf Club and more.   

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Lake Michigan is an attraction unto itself, with the usability and accessibility of a freshwater lake and the size and waves of a coastal beach vacation.

While America’s largest lake offers plenty of spots to stay and play, Sleeping Bear Dunes is among the most unique. This area boasts forests and dunes that invite adventurers to hike, bike, ride, tube, or buggy. The lake also offers constant entertainment from wading, swimming, and sandcastle building for little kiddos to jet skiing, hang-gliding, and learning to surf for older kids.

For the whole family, this area is spotted with old-town shops, ice cream parlors, and at night, the Lanphier Observatory is perfect for stargazing and forgetting to check your phone.

Olympic National Park

For an all-in-one outdoor excursion your family won’t soon forget, head to Washington state and the Olympic National Park. This national park is one of the most ecologically diverse as it includes mountains, lakes, ocean beaches, and temperate rainforests. Choose to camp in one of many pristine and remote campgrounds, opt for a lakeside resort like the Quinault lodge, or grab a hotel in a nearby staple city like Olympia, Shelton, or Port Angeles.

On the west side of the park, your crew can experience tidepools, whale watching, and sea otter spotting at the Kalaloch beaches. To the south, dip a kayak or canoe into Quinault lake, then hike out to see the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree. On the north side, from Port A, take a casual hike through the Hoh rainforest, where spots like the Hall of Mosses, bear-sightings along the salmon-filled Hoh River, or one of many gorgeous waterfalls will enchant you. From Port Angeles, you can also take a short drive to Hurricane Ridge to see acres and acres of wildflowers peppered with deer, foxes, and elk with a stunning mountain backdrop. (This is a great place to snowshoe, sled, and ski in the winter, too!)

If your family loves the water, take a dip in Lake Crescent – this lake is free of algae and is one of the deepest and cleanest in the country. You can also visit Sol Duc Hot Springs for an any-season soak. The Puget Sound, to the east, could round out your trip and, for families with time, nearby Olympia and Seattle offer tons of indoor excitement, too.

Where will you be traveling this summer?

Tallahassee Offers a Different Side of Florida

Hampton by Hilton, Tallahassee Florida.

When you tell most people “I’m vacationing in Florida” their immediate thoughts probably turn to old people, drugs, and a blazingly humid climate.

While this might be true, the new hotels in the state’s capital, Tallahassee, more than make up for this over exaggerated reputation. You might want to plan a few years in advance for these though.

The proposed New Hyatt House hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.
The proposed New Hyatt House hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.

The New Hyatt House Hotel falls into one of these up and coming accommodations. Five stories and 120 rooms, this structure is due to begin construction this April 2019 and end in January 2021.

The building will be located at the entrance to Railroad Square Art Park. Its design will be inspired by the areas industrial, quirky style. Another standalone building will be nearby for all the retail space a shop-a-holic could ask for. The balance between staying true to the area while still incorporating the chain continuities of the Hyatt have been masterfully achieved.

The nearby Florida A and M campus provides plenty of college students, regularly updated art galleries, and expressive thespians for the all around arts lover. Definitely check out the Crum Box Gastgraden and cross off eating in an engine caboose from your bucket-list.  And don’t worry, locals will still have access to the park during construction.

Further down the road, Indigo hotels are also planning to set up an outpost in this historic Florida city. This company is dedicated to assimilation; incorporating locally inspired murals into its buildings, along with local music and menu options in their restaurant that will be changing with the seasons.

Indigo Hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.
Indigo Hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.

Always something new to look forward to, always with a fresh, blended take. But don’t hold your breath; construction isn’t slated till 2020 and there’s no end date in site. The feel they’re going for, “to give(s) guests the confidence to step out and explore the local neighborhood.” 

Hampton by Hilton Hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.
Hampton by Hilton Hotel in Tallahassee, Florida.

If you’re looking to vacation before 2021, the Hampton by Hilton built this past Spring 2018 in the epicenter of the All Saints District and Gaines Street Corridor. Worry-free spaces with familiar feels create an environment that makes guests feel they’re at their home away from home. A home with 124 rooms.

That’s a lot of vacuuming. And who can live without a guest laundry, pool and fitness center? Everything is up to par, as is evident by the structure itself, and the one $billion tourism contributed to Florida’s economy this past year. Can’t argue with those results.

Whether in the immediate future or the upcoming years, travelers will be well taken care of at the variety of shiny new hotels  Florida’s Capital has to offer. Just make sure to watch for Gators.   Find these Tallahassee hotels and many more and use the Bonwi Points you earn for a beach escape next winter, like to Miami Beach at the bottom of the state.

   

The Hotel Zones of Miami Beach, Florida

Miami Beach and Sunny Isles

Miami Beach hotel zones Florida

These days, South Beach in Miami is a glamor hub, a playground for the fit and sexy. It’s one of the USA’s most popular destinations for gay couples, Latin Americans, and celebrities, giving it an energy that’s hard to find elsewhere.

That’s just one side of Miami, however. The city is also a major art center, a banking and investment hub, and home to the U.S. operations of many international companies. The traditional crowd that came here in droves–retirees from up north–are still a big part of the real estate market as well.

If you’re planning a Miami vacation or a business trip, you’re going to need to pick the right Miami hotel neighborhood. Otherwise you could be spending needless time in traffic.

South Beach Waterfront

When people here “Miami Beach Resorts,” they’re picturing the swanky places you find on South Beach. This sand and fun area is party central for the city and has the largest concentration of hot clubs and restaurants. Sometimes it feels like you have to be extra young and sexy to fit into the South Beach scene, but there are plenty of older people and families enjoying their time here as well.

The names here practically ooze “cool factor” when you see the rundown: SLS South Beach, Eden Roc, Mondrian, Metropolitan by Como, Setai, Delano, Sagamore,  Dorchester… If you’ve got the funds, you can get right onto the beach from the pool at these spots and have a stylish cocktail club to hit at night.

South Beach Inland

South Beach Miami hotel zonesThe beach is public in Miami, so nothing is roped off for the waterfront resorts. If you don’t mind walking a few blocks to the water, you can stay elsewhere in South Beach and be closer to the restaurant and nightlife action.

This city is chock full of Art Deco buildings, so many of the smaller inland hotels are real works of art on the outside, decorated with mid-century modern whimsy on the inside. Most of them are independently owned and operated, though there are a few chains like Wyndham and Hyatt dotted around.

Miami Beach

Miami Beach proper starts where South Beach ends, but really it’s just a line on a map. The glamor address these days is the Faena Hotel Miami Beach, the sister property of a hip hotel in Buenos Aires. It’s near The Edition and The Palms, plus a lot of lower-priced properties on the water stretching north along the ocean.

Miami beach earn the most points with Bonwi

Brickell and Downtown

The prestige factor doesn’t stop if you stay away from the beach for business. Lots of company offices are in the Brickell area and you can find hotels from chains like Kimpton, Four Seasons, JW Marriott, W Hotels, and Mandarin Oriental. There are also some hotels moving into the downtown area, bringing some life into a zone a commuter foot traffic heaven that used to be a dead zone.

downtown Miami hotel Langford

Wynwood Arts District

Until the Art Basel Festival came along, this was kind of a no-man’s-land from a hotel standpoint, mostly filled with cheap motels. Times have changed as this has become the epicenter of the art scene in Miami.

Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles

In between Miami and Hollywood Beach/Fort Lauderdale is a strip of high-end condos and a few pricey resorts. These self-contained villages include Acqualina, St. Regis Bal Harbour, and Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour. There are a few mid-range options like the Newport and Solé on the Ocean. The beach here is quite nice and seldom crowded. (These properties tend to offer a high payoff on Bonwi points too. Check your dates here.)

Miami Beach and Sunny Isles

Other Miami Options

Of course there are plenty of hotels out by the airport, if you’re just looking for a place to crash during a long layover or before an early flight. The airport is not all that far out of the center here and you can even take a train from there to the business district. Or connect with Tri-Rail and head all the way up to Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach.

Search Miami Hotels and Miami Beach Hotels on Bonwi to earn a big points payback for every stay, no matter which neighborhood you choose.

Heading further north? See the hotel zones of Fort Lauderdale here.

Article and photos by Tim Leffel, editor of Hotel Scoop.

 

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 20°C 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.