Author Topic: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?  (Read 2417 times)

gaja

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Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« on: September 30, 2015, 08:09:30 AM »
We would like to celebrate Christmas in the US this year, and Norwegian has cheap flights to Orlando, Florida. The plan is to rent a car and apartment, and driving up to 4-5 hours from the airport is ok if it will get us to a better location. "We" consist of me, DH, two girls age 8 and 9, and my MIL. Timeframe: 8-12 days.

I'm looking at AirBnB, but it is difficult to find a decent place when we know nothing about what we should look for. All types of advice would be highly appriciated! Including ideas for entertainment. I don't think I have the stomack for Disney World, small weird local museums are much more our thing. DH's only demand is to see the sun, and MIL is extremely low maintenance as long as she has someone to talk to (or with, but she prefers monologues).

Wish list:
*Within safe walking distance of a town center where there is a little museum, green area, some place to people watch, maybe a few shops where MIL could browse and complain about the prices
*A porch, balcony, or similar where DH could sit in the sunshine and listen to MIL talk
*Access to water where the kids could go swimming (pool, beach, something similar).
*Three separate rooms for sleeping (or hiding from the rest of the group), (no problem if one of them doubles as a living room).

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2015, 08:15:14 AM »
St. Augustine, Florida has some history as the oldest continually-occupied European settlement in the USA. Two-hour drive from the Orlando airport, and it's on the ocean.

FLBiker

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2015, 08:25:38 AM »
St. Augustine is a great recommendation.  There's a very nice beach (Anastasia State Park: https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/anastasia).

The fort (http://www.nps.gov/casa/index.htm) is cool, as is Fort Matanzas (free ferry): http://www.nps.gov/foma/index.htm

And it's a fun town to wander around -- lots of historical stuff, overpriced shops / restaurants, etc.  There's interesting architecture (Flagler college, hotels / cathedrals, etc.), too.

There's also a really big live oak tree down one of the side streets that is pretty cool (it's on the tourist map available in the visitor center, I think).

Another idea would be one of the beaches near Sarasota.  I haven't spent much time on the beaches down there (Anna Maria Island / Bradenton Beach are nice, but I haven't been to Siesta key / longboat key), but Sarasota has a bunch of cultural stuff to do - theater, opera, ballet, museums.  And Armond Circle is a touristy place to walk around w/ shops, restaurants.

Finally, my wife and I did the Florida Keys one Christmas.  It's a lot more driving, but we had a blast.  We camped, and we spend a couple days on Key Largo, a couple on one of the middle Keys, and a couple near Key West.  You might be able to find an apartment like what you're looking for on Key Largo or Key West.  Key West is more touristy, Key Largo has great snorkeling.

startingsmall

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2015, 08:38:44 AM »
I grew up in Sarasota (and still visit my family there at least once or twice a year) and second FLBiker's recommendations.  Lots of museums and things to do in Sarasota itself, Anna Maria Island & Siesta Key are both excellent beaches, and St. Armand's Circle is a fun place to walk around with lots of upscale shops/restaurants. Sarasota is pretty car-centric so it'd be hard to find something that's within walking distance of much (downtown area has shops/restaurants but not much else, beaches have beach and beachy shops/restaurants but not much else)... that's probably the biggest downside based on your criteria, so I guess it depends how important that is to you. Overall, Florida is pretty car-centric. Feel free to ask more specific questions if you have them.

St. Augustine is another great option. If you stayed in the historic district, there would be plenty for people to go off on their own and do without always needing a car. You'd still need the car for the beaches and some of the tourist sites, but it'd be easy for people to venture off on their own if they wanted to do so.

gaja

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2015, 09:36:53 AM »
Thank you all, this is really helpful for a foreigner!

The walking part is rather important for us. MIL doesn't have a driving licence, it is very nice for everyone when she can go for some walks by herself instead of relying on us for going everywhere. The Lido beach/St. Armand area in Saratosa looked nice, but it looked very... new? We have all only travelled in Europe before, and there the habit is to visit the "old town" areas. But of course, the US is different, and we should try to have a broad mind. What do you think about this house?: https://www.airbnb.no/rooms/8484202?checkin=21.12.2015&checkout=30.12.2015&guests=5&s=YD8Y8Sqt

I couldn't find a lot of places to stay in the Keys through AirBnB, but there are probably other good places to rent houses - any tips? This looks like it is a bit isolated? https://www.airbnb.no/rooms/8522718?checkin=21.12.2015&checkout=30.12.2015&guests=5&s=HNPhOKvp

St Augustine looks lovely! The big bonus there was that they have a very large school for deaf, so there might be a better chance for our daughter to find accessable activites. Maybe we could even get a chance to practice our ASL, it is confusingly similar to NTS (Norwegian Sign Language) while still being a different language. I'm a bit confused about the uptown/downtown areas in St Augustine. We don't want to live in an unsafe slum, but there is also no point in paying too much to live in a luxury area. What are your opinions on these?
https://www.airbnb.no/rooms/5833875?checkin=21.12.2015&checkout=30.12.2015&guests=5&s=9yQs6UkK
https://www.airbnb.no/rooms/6243219?checkin=21.12.2015&checkout=30.12.2015&guests=5&s=-ZkCpfJr

gaja

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2015, 09:41:59 AM »
We are also not very spoiled when it comes to size of towns, we would be happy to stay in a "one car" town, as long as there is something that could be called a town center. MIL currently lives in a town of 2200 people. But I guess if everyone relies on cars, stuff gets more centralized?

FLBiker

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2015, 09:59:31 AM »
Both of those listings look good to me.  I don't know that I've been exactly where they are, but I think I stayed near the uptown one once.  And I don't remember any particularly slummy areas in St. Augustine.  That said, American cities aren't as safe as European ones.

There's definitely a town center in St. Augustine -- it's very walkable..  Whenever we went there, we parked at the visitor center (or hotel) and left the car there.  In looking at the reviews, both of these places seem to work for that.


NotJen

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #7 on: September 30, 2015, 10:28:36 AM »
Look into Savannah, GA, too - looks like a 4 hr drive from Orlando. I haven't visited much of FL, so can't comment on the recommendations you've already gotten, but I loved my visit to Savannah. The historic district is very walkable, and lots of things to explore in the area (some will require a car).

Mother Fussbudget

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2015, 11:44:17 AM »
I spent many summers in the sugar white sand of Gulf Shores, AL, and Pensacola Beach, FL.  These are probably too far from Orlando, but there are closer options.

If walkability is your key, then consider Seaside, FL - the town featured in the Jim Carrey film "The Truman Show". 

'Itís a peaceful place, brimming with pastel-hued houses, picket fences and one-of-a-kind shops and art galleries. Scoop up local offerings at the farmerís market; spoil yourself with fresh seafood on the deck of Bud & Alleys; cap off the evening with a performance at the Seaside Repertory Theatre. Everything is within easy reach, including the pristine sugar-sand beach, where youíll want to spend some quality time building sand castles and wondering at the turquoise waters'

Captiva Island is another place that sounds amazing - although I've never been there. 
'Captiva Island is nestled on Floridaís southwest Gulf coast. The oh-so-tiny hamlet, located just a few waves north of its sister island of Sanibel, has a slightly off-kilter, magical feel. Discover a giant frog crouched in the garden of Jungle Drums Gallery; search for miniature starfish on the shell-strewn shores; or fall under the spell of red velvet cake at the Bubble Room, a restaurant where itís Christmas all year long Ė and all within strolling distance. And remember to sample a grouper sandwich at RC Otters, which is particularly tasty when enjoyed outside under the shade of an umbrella. The island embraces biking, birding, sailing, and water sports of all kinds.'

elaine amj

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2015, 08:33:48 PM »
We're huge Disney&theme park fans so we adore Orlando. If you decide to stay in Orlando, a very nice vacay  is to get a place in a resort community (like a timeshare). You'll find Florida is heavy on timeshare resorts. You can also get villas/nice condos for very cheap prices. VRBO and Flipkey are also more popular than AirBnB from what I can tell. You can get a gorgeous pool, lots of activities, etc for a reasonable price. From your resort, you can venture into the quirky smaller attractions in Orlando...tons of fun places like Wonderworks, etc. Be aware that it will be mostly tacky tourist traps.

If that's not your scene, it's probably best to get out of Orlando.

We went to Clearwater for 1 night when we were in Orlando last Christmas. My kids had just watched Dolphin Tale 2 and requested to visit Winter the dolphin. The Clearwater aquarium is a rescue and rehab place and we loved the low key feel of it. We also did a dolphin watching cruise on Little Toot...it was very affordable ($20?) and one of the most exhilarating things we have ever done. Wow. The beach is also beautiful.

I've heard amazing things about Sanibel. And St Augustine also sounds really neat.

Have fun - Christmas should be a fun time to be in the area....very festive with lots to do everywhere.

startingsmall

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Re: Where to celebrate christmas in Florida/Georgia/Alabama?
« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2015, 09:52:54 PM »
I think either of those St. Augustine properties would be a good fit. The second one (the uptown apartment) looks like it's a bit closer to the historic sites, but also on a busier road. The first one is about a mile outside of the heart of the historic area... looks like it's in a quieter neighborhood but would require a longer walk along a busy road to get to the historic area. This would probably be a better area to be in:  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6967082?guests=6&s=cP6KsEPY

If you were looking to stay in Sarasota, I'd probably steer clear of the condos and go with something that has a bit more personality.... but that's just me.
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6168778?guests=6&s=HVf122kv
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/7453198?guests=6&s=cP6KsEPY
Something like that would give your MIL someplace to walk around, while also being an easy drive to the beach.

Or https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6967082?guests=6&s=cP6KsEPY if you want walking distance to beach and shops. (Siesta Key Village is a pedestrian area with touristy shops, restaurants, bars, etc)

All that said, it sounds like St. Augustine might be a better fit for you guys. Sarasota has amazing beaches and a lot of artistic offerings (museums, theater, music, etc), but St. Augustine is a great walk-around historic town.

Okay, time to stop procrastinating and go to bed. Thanks for letting me travel vicariously through you :)