The last time I was in Naples was during a whistle-stop tour with my business partner for a weekend of golf. Driving from our Florida office in Kissimmee, our final stop was the Palm Beaches – an area known not only for Donald Trump but also as a haven for world-class golf (Tiger Woods just opened a restaurant there) and tennis (Serena Williams is a local resident). In January 2017 I committed to four days in Naples when the ‘snowbirds’ flock south to enjoy the warmth of Florida. After a three-hour drive via Sarasota (you cant visit the Gulf Coast without seeing Siesta Key – voted the number 1 beach in the US) we stopped at a Naples institution – The Ritz-Carlton – for lunch where we checked out the resort and moved on. This time there was no golf, even though in 2013 and 2014 Naples was awarded Golf Destination of the Year by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators.
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Fifth Avenue South[/caption]
A short shuttle journey from The Naples Bay Resort, where I was staying in a very generous suite by the Marina, you will find all the action on and around Fifth Avenue. Think luxury boutiques and up-scale shopping, where youll spot designer names in every direction. Naples boasts an incredible choice of restaurants too, I had to text a friend of mine at the tourism board to recommend which ones were currently hot (I highly recommend Campiello on Third). And then there are the rows of exceptional jewellery shops. Diamond pieces glittering with so many carats only the uber-wealthy could purchase. Needless to say, the people-watching is top-notch here and worth a visit for even if you dont intend on buying anything.
This area is known as the Paradise Coast, which encompasses Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades. A walk at sunset on the white sands of Naples will take you along an impeccable beach with incredible houses and swanky apartment blocks. Add a few sea view hotels with the option of a cold beer along the way and you have yourself a splendid January afternoon in Florida.
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Ten Thousand Islands[/caption]
Neighbouring Naples is Marco Island and, like so many of the beach destinations in Florida, Marco Island is an easy drive with beautiful views as you cross a bridge over the water from the mainland to what is the largest of the Ten Thousands Islands. Waverunners down at the beach will take you on some incredible jet ski tours, spotting some manatees, as well as plenty of additional jaw-dropping sea life. Like Naples, Marco Island has that white powdered sand to sink your feet into, and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
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Airboat ride at the Everglades[/caption]
Any trip to the Paradise Coast must include a visit to the treasured National Park known as the Everglades. I’m always blown away by the care that the US has of its National Parks. Their ability to conserve what mother nature has provided is second-to-none and you are left in awe of the wildlife, which in the Everglades’ case includes alligators up to 17 feet long, snakes – that I’m pleased I didn’t come across – and the interesting and beautiful array of birds that even the most expert birdwatcher would struggle to master (however, the native flamingos are always an easy spot). The list goes on, but sadly after half a dozen trips down here I’m yet to see a famous Florida jaguar. Still, the mangroves are so unique and iconic of this vast area, that to me it is just as important to visit the Everglades as the famous beaches and theme parks of the state.
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Naples Grande Beach Resort[/caption]
If youre travelling with your family and want to do the parks for the first time, a Reunion Resort Villa for seven nights followed by seven nights at the Naples Grande Beach Resort would be a very good place to start. If a villa isn’t your thing, then the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort is the newest five-star hotel. Fly direct into Orlando and then home from Tampa to reduce the drive time. It’s a three-hour drive from Orlando to Naples but absolutely worthwhile.
For the repeat visitor and those wanting to avoid the famous Mouse then 12 nights in three epic Florida beach destinations, including the Paradise Coast, is up there with a Californian road trip.
Speak to an Ocean Florida Travel Specialist if stunning beaches, fantastic shopping and the odd alligator in the Sunshine State appeal to you.
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