Hotel Reviews - North America

Why you should look further than Orlando for your dose of Floridian sun

It’s a great shame that so many Brits see Orlando as the be-all and end-all of Florida and worse still that they seem to descend in droves in the summer when the weather is unbearably humid. Yes, the theme parks are a big draw for families and of course once the kids start school you are restricted to travelling in the holidays. There is, however, always Easter which is a far more pleasant time of year to be in Florida.

At the risk of flooding our favourite part of Florida with visitors, I would suggest that once you have had a dose of Mickey Mouse et al, you head south down the coast to the Venice area, which feels a million miles away from Disney, shopping malls and the crowds which these attract.

We first discovered this area about 15 years ago when both kids were in their teens, combining it with a week in Orlando, and soon decided which we preferred. It has now become one of our favourite places to escape the British winter and over the intervening years both kids plus partners have joined us for some or all of our three week holiday. Next year is booked already (a must if you want one of TMI’s lovely villas but more of that later) and Baby Foodie will be coming too which is very exciting. I am focusing on the fun we will have as a sevensome, rather than on the wisdom of transporting an 8 month old on a trans-Atlantic flight with a hefty dose of jet lag awaiting her! Luckily the house is large with the master suite sufficiently far away from Baby’s quarters not to wake us. I have a feeling it could be Uncle Chris and Auntie Claire who may find their slumbers rudely interrupted by their new niece!

We have stayed in various villas managed by TMI and they have all been lovely, with bags of room for the whole family plus a fantastic heated pool.

A dream American home!

A dream American home!

The pool area at night

The pool area at night

Playing in the pool during the sunny days

Playing in the pool during the sunny days

The master suite has always been huge – at least three times the size of our bedroom and en-suite at home, complete with walk-in dressing room. The living area is all open plan with a kitchen which is very well equipped and of course houses the obligatory gigantic American fridge. On the other side of the house are the three other bedrooms (one with en-suite shower room) and bathroom. The villas are all superbly managed by Lesley, who is only a phone call away should the waste disposal unit get stuck or the smoke alarm decide to go off for no apparent reason! The pool is well maintained and the poolman always willing to turn out if there is a problem.

Calm sitting area

Calm sitting area

Dining area - not that it's ever cold enough to eat indoors!

Dining area – not that it’s ever cold enough to eat indoors!

The villas we have rented are within walking distance of the gloriously unspoiled Manasota beach, although with parking free and plentiful we usually drive so that we can take beach chairs and parasol, (provided in each house), cooler for drinks etc. The sunsets are superb so it’s lovely to be able to wander down in the evening, spotting the odd dolphin playing in the surf, the pelicans catching supper, a cheeky raccoon foraging in the bin and if you’re really lucky a shy manatee.

Manasota Beach

Manasota Beach

Sunset

Sunset

A cheeky racoon!

A cheeky racoon!

The area around the pool is great for sunbathing (plenty of loungers and chairs are provided) or for retreating into the shade and having a game of cards or reading a book. In the evenings we often barbecue. There is an excellent supermarket a short drive away which stocks lots of fresh fish, shellfish, steaks, burgers and everything else besides. With tougher drink drive limits than in the UK, poolside is the best place to be if you want a drink or two. The area is residential and with properties well spaced out and screened by dense tropical foliage there is never any noise. The downside for some is that you are asked to be considerate of your neighbours; this has never bothered us but it’s definitely not the place for noisy pool parties. I have to say that with a five hour time difference we are usually ready to hit bed pretty early anyway!

If days on the beach and by the pool begin to pall, the closest town, Venice, is a pleasant place for a coffee or a rake around the boutiques. Further afield is Sarasota with the excellent Ringling Museum for art lovers or the shopping outlets at Ellington for those in pursuit of a bargain. It is also possible to have a long (if tiring) day trip to Orlando or even the Kennedy Space Centre. For theme park lovers, Busch Gardens is closer. Mayakka State Park provides entertainment for nature lovers and if you want to see alligators at close quarters then kayaks are available for hire.

Kayaking in Myakka State Park

Kayaking in Myakka State Park

The area is popular with so-called “snow birds” who drive down from the northern states to spend the winter in the balmy climes of Florida and TMI get many repeat bookings year on year. Booking early is therefore the name of the game if you want to be guaranteed your choice of house.

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