In 2015 summer we went on our second transatlantic flight all the way to the USA. As usual for us, we made sure we saw loads during the USA trip, so the two weeks were pretty packed! We decided to visit Miami with the Key West, then fly to Las Vegas and while there visit the Grand Canyon, and finish the trip at New York with a day trip to Washington. This was our first holiday where we planned to visit several different cities and needed to take internal flights. It was a great holiday but of course we had some small hiccups in the run.
The blog would be unbearably long if I put everything from the trip here. So, let me ease you in with our first four days at Miami & Key West🌴
Our flight landed late in the afternoon at the Miami International Airport and we rented a car straight from the car rental based at the airport. Worth noting that majority of rented cars are with an automatic gearbox rather than manual like in Europe. So if you are used to a manual gearbox, be prepared to pay extra or drive the one with the automatic gearbox. We noticed that small cars like MINI, which we were driving at the time back home, were not that popular in the USA. SUVs were the preferred choice and to our surprise were cheaper to rent than smaller cars like MINI.
Accommodation & Parking
We wanted to base ourselves close to the beach as this part of the holiday was supposed to be a 'beach escape part' before going to cities. While looking for accommodation we realized that there was an issue with parking in the Miami Beach area. There was no free parking! Only with permits or paid. Even hotels (talking about the budget/reasonable price) did not offer a free parking and instead suggested where to find paid parking places. So we opted for an Airbnb place with free parking. This was our first Airbnb experience and it was okay but not great (pictures on the site can be deceptive, so be careful) but saying that our future Airbnb experiences like in Dublin or in New York were fab.
Day 1: Miami Beach
Miami beach area is a vibrant and a charming place with the Art Deco architecture and vibe and known for partying and shopping. The South beach is probably the most popular area and hence carries higher price tags. This was where we have based ourselves. The beach itself was great with clear waters and yellow sand, although it didn't top up our favourite beaches in Mexico or Nida (Lithuania)! Topless bathing is permitted and embraced here, so don't be surprised. Also, leave your valuables at the hotel when going to the beach or guard them all the time because beach poachers are active in the area. We witnessed one theft in action while sunbathing but by the time we realised what was happening it was too late! Anyway, the south beach was just like in the Hollywood movies- relaxed and chilled with gyms on the beach, streets full of dining places, parties and loud music all day. The only thing that I wished we did was roll skating! We spent couple mornings on the beach and evenings strolling through the streets or taking a walk on the beach. There were plenty lovely places to eat and for drinks. It was unusual for us that the listed prices in restaurants, actually everywhere, did not include the VAT or sales tax. Therefore, when looking at menu prices you needed to add the sales tax (I think around 10% it was) and also tips to judge if it was a reasonably priced place.
Day 2: Downtown Miami
One day we drove to the downtown Miami and parked close to the Freedom Tower. If I recall correctly the parking was very reasonably priced. We explored the Downtown Miami on foot and of course did some shopping at the Bayside Marketplace. The Bayside Marketplace was just across the street from the Freedom Tower. It was an open-air waterfront mall filled with restaurants fine shopping as well as a marina, and just south of that was a Bayfront Park. The Bayside is said to be one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Miami. After some shopping and food, we walked to the Little Havana (60minutes one way!). Little Havana is Miami's Cuban neighbourhood with vibrant streets, salsa dancing, Cuban cigar shops, and Cuban restaurants. It is home to Miami's Latino community and the area has been named Little Havana in 1960s. I couldn't resist trying ice creams from the Azucar Ice Cream Company and Eimas got some Cuban cigars, which were praised by our friends back home. It was worth the walk but you could also use a taxi or public transport. The remaining time we spent walking through the Miami Riverwalk and wondering around the Brickell area.
Day 3: Key West
We dedicated one day to drive to the Key West. It was a long (4.5h one way) but picturesque drive. On our way we stopped at couple beaches, including the Calusa beach. The Calusa beach was adjacent to the Bahia Honda Bridge. I really liked this spot maybe even more than the Key West to be fair. The Bahia Honda railroad bridge was originally built as part of the rail bridge connecting Miami with the Key West. The bridge is abandoned now.
The road to the Key West was straightforward but we noticed that there weren't many petrol stations. The area was idyllic with palm trees swaying in the wind and long strips of golden sand beaches. However, by the time we got there, it was almost the time for us to drive back. It would be worth considering to spend a night there rather than drive back on the same day. I blame the long drive for the Key West not living up to our expectations. Maybe next time?
Day 4: Alligator Farm
We didn't miss a chance to visit an alligator farm while in Florida. We booked our tickets through Groupon for the airboat tour at the Everglades Alligator Farm. The Everglades Alligator Farm is the oldest of its kind in the area and contains more than 2000 alligators! There was no booking required with the voucher. We just turned up at the farm in the morning (advised before 3pm to avoid queues).
We booked the airboat tour to glide across the Everglades and hopefully see some alligators in their natural habitat. While we were waiting for the tour we saw alligators, snakes and other wildlife that were kept on the farm. The airboats were really loud but you get earplugs and despite the noise, some alligators came very close to the boat. We actually saw loads of alligators, small and big. The Everglades is not only inhabited by alligators but also by a wide variety of birds. The guide was very good at pointing out different species of birds during the tour. The whole experience lasted about 2hours. If you are in the area, it is definitely worth trying it.
Although Miami was supposed to be a beach escape in our trip, we actually did not spend so much time on the beach at all 😆 If we had more time here, we would probably had gone on the day trip to the Bahamas. Maybe next time as the four days passed quickly and we needed to catch a flight to Las Vegas!