Florida Family Getaways

September 20, 2011 at 7:33 AM

One of the best family-friendly holiday destinations in the world is the “sunshine state” of Florida. Travellers of all ages can enjoy world-famous theme parks, glorious beaches, Art Deco architecture and activities galore.

Experience the magic of Florida

Every year thousands of families flock to Orlando, Florida to immerse themselves in the magic of Walt Disney World. This theme park has set the standard for fantasy parks around the world and has become the universally recognised symbol of Orlando. You can spend a day of unrivalled fun and excitement enjoying rides and attractions in The Magic Kingdom, or being entertained at Orlando Sea World and Universal Studios.

Ferriswheel at a fairground

Walt Disney World is not the only theme park in Orlando or Florida. If you want a change from Disney why not visit African-themed Busch Gardens, in Tampa Florida, Wet n’ Wild water park, or Discovery Cove where you can swim with dolphins?

When you’re staying in a Florida holiday rental you can’t miss a visit to the Kennedy Space Center, where you can meet astronauts, go in a space flight simulator and perhaps even witness a rocket launch. And if your children are interested in all things weird, take time out to visit the Orlando Odditorium, with its Ripley’s Believe it or Not exhibit.

Relax on the beach or stretch your legs

If you manage to drag yourself away from the magic of Disney World, there are beautiful beaches where you can work on your tan or enjoy a variety of water sports. The warm waters of the Gulf Coast are perfect for fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing and water-skiing. Grab your towel and head to one of Florida’s best family beaches, like relaxing Clearwater Beach, the pristine beaches along the barrier island of Amelia, or the vibrant Panama City Beach.

Family on a beach in Florida

Taking a Florida holiday villa doesn’t mean you need to spend all your time on exhilarating theme park rides, or soaking up the sun on the beach. Staying in a holiday rental outside of the theme park is a great way to ensure your family sees more than just the Magic Kingdom.

You can get some exercise by hiking along marked trails in the Florida Everglades National Park, a World Heritage Site. In complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of theme parks, the Florida Everglades is a peaceful wetlands ecosystem with unique wilderness waterways just waiting to be explored by kayak or airboat.

Relax by the pool in Florida

Take the kids to Legoland Florida, explore the shops and restaurants in the vibrant cities of Miami and surroundings, Fort Lauderdale and Naples, or enjoy the spectacular view of the Orlando area from a Kissimmee hot air balloon. With so many options, you’ll never run out of things to do on a family holiday in Florida; and when you have been worn out by all the excitement you can return to the luxury of your Florida villa and relax next to the pool.

Cutting costs

Travel with kids doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Look out for multi-day passes for Walt Disney World and other theme parks. You’ll also find online discounts if you book in advance. There are budget airlines that offer cheap flights directly to Orlando, which is another great way to keep costs low. Most importantly, you can reduce the cost of a family holidays to Florida by booking self catering accommodation. Villa rentals in areas like Kissimmee and Davenport are only 10 minutes from Disney attractions, but cost a fraction of the price of accommodation in the theme parks.

Soaking up the Sun on the Egyptian Red Sea Coast

September 6, 2011 at 8:34 AM

Palm-fringed beaches, clear blue waters, romantic desert landscapes and the opportunity to see the history of an ancient civilization – if that sounds good to you, then pack your bags because the Egyptian Red Sea Coast is calling.

Relax in the sun of Sharm-el-Sheikh

Adventure for extreme sports enthusiasts

The Egyptian Red Sea Coast is a haven for sports enthusiasts. There is something for every adventurous traveler. You can spend the day camel trekking or quad biking across sand dunes, having a meal with Bedouin tribes in the desert, or you can go rock climbing on the mountains of the Sinai Peninsula. If you’d prefer to spend the day at the beach there is always kite surfing and sailing to keep you busy. If you’re taking a holiday rental in Dahab, the formidable winds provide the perfect windsurfing conditions.

Of course, the main reason tourists visit the area is because it’s renowned as one of the best scuba diving sites in the world. The diversity of marine life, warm waters, and untouched reefs make Red Sea diving a must activity for travellers.

Hurghada is popular with less experienced divers and those who prefer to snorkel. You’ll marvel at the colourful tropical fish that inhabit the vibrant coral reef. If you’d prefer to enjoy the reef without getting wet you can always take a ride in a glass-bottom boat.

Sharm el-Sheikh sits at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula and boasts one of the world’s finest wreck dives and is the perfect place to spot barracudas and sharks. If you’re a dive enthusiast then you can’t miss exploring the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm. It can get quite crowded though, so if you want to avoid the crowds it’s best to book a dive safari, which is inexpensive and gives you the chance to explore reefs further away.

Pyramids and monuments everywhere you look in Egypt

Treading in the footsteps of the Pharaohs

No holiday to Egypt would be complete without exploring some of Egypt’s most important monuments. With so many ancient pyramids and temples scattered throughout the country you might find yourself hard-pressed to squeeze all these magnificent sites into your trip. If you have any interest in history and ancient civilizations, then sites that simply cannot be missed are the Great Pyramids at Giza, the daily light and sound show at Abu Simbel, and the spectacular Temple of Karnak at Luxor, with it’s towering columns. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has an incredible display of artifacts that depict the history of this ancient civilization and is certainly worth a visit. For the experience of a lifetime take a Felucca on a sunset cruise down the Nile. These sail boats have been used in Egypt for hundreds of years.

With winter coming up, here's your away from home alternative in El Gouna

Shop ‘til you drop

Egypt is a shoppers paradise! You can find excellent quality goods like carpets and rugs, leather goods and spices, at bargain prices. Looking for an Egyptian-themed souvenir? Why not buy a traditional sheesha (water-pipe) or a Cartouches (a metal plate with your name engraved in hieroglyphics)? Most importantly, if you’re shopping at a market or street vendor, don’t forget to haggle, haggle, haggle!

The best time to visit the Red Sea coast is out of peak season, from March to May and September to November. The warm weather, friendly locals, fascinating landscape and competitive prices will keep you coming back for more.

My Puglia stay with HomeAway

August 4, 2011 at 8:50 AM

View from our rental in Italy

The view from our terrace

This was the first time I had booked a vacation home online, sight-unseen. I was a little wary as photographs online or in brochures occasionally accentuate the positive to the point of distortion. But I was also quite intrigued. When I contacted Bruno, the owner of “La Grica” where we stayed just outside of Tricase in southern Puglia, via the HomeAwayUK website, he sent me a link (www.lagrica.it) providing additional information on the location and amenities.

Upon arrival we thought, perfect!

This is exactly what we expected based on the photos on the website! The house had whitewashed walls, blue shutters and painted tiles, a thatched roof protecting the large terrace surrounded by olive and fig trees. It reminded me of postcards from Santorini and had the same view to boot – an unobstructed 180 degree panorama of the Adriatic sprawled out before it. I typed “sea view” into my house hunt criteria on the HomeAway site and sea view is precisely what we got.

The inside was basic but sufficient and clean. The terrace was really so amazing that we didn’t spend much time inside. There was even an outdoor shower and a clay pizza oven and grill.

Red boats at the beach

The nearby beach

The beach was not right out the front door but was accessible. Being on the Adriatic side of the “heel”, we were on the rockier, untamed side. There were steep winding staircases carved into the rockface every few kilometers where swimmers can make their way down to the intensely turquoise water below. For divers or snorkelers, it is a dream; for parents with young children, it’s a bit of a nightmare. The pathways were steep in places and windy conditions meant strong waves which made getting in and out of the water tricky. Kids would do better on the sandier shores of the Ionian side between Santa Maria di Leuca and Gallipoli.

Speaking of kids, if we were to bring the kids back with us next time, I unfortunately would have to say that we probably would not choose to stay here again – as much as I would LOVE to. The house is located just off of a busy road (although you don’t notice this because the house itself is situated down a windy set of stairs, far below) and while the terrace was perfect for my husband and myself, it would be a bit limited for a few small children who would want to run around and kick balls – all of which would fly over the railing and roll 100 meters through olive groves toward the sea below. Easy beach access or a nice yard would be much more ideal for children.

Loungers at the beach

The sandy beach outside our rental

Basically, its not the kind of place you as a parent could relax and let the kids run around unsupervised: steep steps, busy roads, vertical drops – it’s the kind of place where you would want to have your kid on a dog leash. But for 2-4 adults – it is an absolute dream. If we can cajole the grandparents into taking the kids again, we would love to get a couple of friends together and come back here.

Or more. The house has two parts; the lower part was rented out to another couple, a middle aged Italian couple from Rome. We said hello in the mornings and they shared a few restaurant tips with us but otherwise, we were very respectful of each other’s space and we rarely noticed someone else was there.

Bruno rented the house on a weekly basis, from Saturday – Saturday. We explained to him that we would have to leave Thursday, two days early, as we had stashed the kids away with their grandparents and need to get back and he gave us a 100€ discount on the weekly rate – which was incredibly nice of him, as he didn’t have to do that.

Speaking of Bruno, he had the keys waiting in the door for us when we arrived. He came up shortly thereafter to introduce himself, see if we had any questions and clue us in as to where to find groceries, the nearest gas station, and the best restaurant in the area. His house was situated about 100 below ours and he instructed us to come see him if we had any questions or problems.

The area – Puglia itself

Watermelon

Food for the senses

Puglia is best undertaken with a car. Public transport is limited and bicycles require serious quadriceps for the gorgeous cliff-hugging roads. Small, charming towns like Otranto, Gallipoli, Santa Maria di Leuca on the coast offer incredible seafood, nighttime passegiatas that take one back in time through the old winding streets of the walled cities, and soft sandy beaches with turquoise water that locals liken to the Maldives. Small villages on the interior like Specchia, Taviano, and Tricase provide a peek at everyday life on the Salento where visitors can stock up on local produce from nearby farms (Puglia is famous for its vegetable antipasti), homemade salami and cured meats and legendary fresh cheeses like Puglian burrata. At Casa Tu Martinu diners sit al fresco in a gorgeous courtyard garden sampling the bread dipped in vino cotto, a cooked wine sauce, bruschetta melanzane, discs of fried eggplant a top a pomodorini salsa, fresh handmade orrchiette with stewed greens or pasta all ceci, pasta with chickpeas. Fresh produce is also the star on the menu at the many messerie in the area. Messerie are former or current farming estates that boast some of the freshest fare in the Salento.

We usually spent the mornings gasping at the view from our terrace over thick slices of succulent watermelon and strong shots of espresso. By the time we managed to tear ourselves away, it was nearly noon and we would explore one of the nearby towns while everyone was at home having lunch, avoiding the mid-day heat. We would escape the heat at one of the gorgeous beaches – Baia dei Turquie north of Otranto or Baia Verde, otherwise known as the Italian Maldives, south of Gallipoli – from 3 pm onwards. Occasionally we would opt to rent a boat and head out to explore the gorgeous rocky coastline around the Baia dei Zagare, south of Otranto or the cliffs and coves north of Leuca.

Gorgeous beaches, delicious fresh fish and vegetables, stunning views and a very relaxed local vibe is what we experienced in the Salento. Thanks again HomeAwayUK for the opportunity to stay in one of your amazing properties. We will definitely be staying with you again soon!

About the Author

Jiffer was raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin on beer brats, squeaky cheese curds and tuna casserole topped with crumbled potato chips. Today, she lives in Hamburg with her husband and young twins. When not travelling with HomeAway UK, she can be found at her own blog: Smash and Sniff.