IF Florida and the Miami coastline just make you think of wall-to-wall Disney and theme park playgrounds – perhaps it’s time to think again.
Yes, the Sunshine State does have more than its fair share of water rides, roller coasters and cartoon creatures and characters, but there is a far more laid back and sophisticated side to holidaying in the Florida sun.
You can – should you want to, that is – spend a few days just getting reacquainted with the inside of your eyelids as you soak up the rays; you could take time out to improve your golf swing, brush up on your tennis groundstrokes, lock into a fitness plan, go looking for those elusive dolphins in the wild, play football, get on target with a bow and arrows, sail out to fish the waterways or simply polish your cocktail taste buds.
You could, of course, do all of this and – if you check in to a Club Med village – still be spoiled for more choices, including learning how to trapeze.
For those who are now reading on, eager to discover how someone with a reputation for “talking” a great adventure managed all the timing intricacies and vertigo-inducing manoeuvres of swinging around 50 feet off the ground, I’ll save you the trouble – I didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy for people who have never previously left the ground by more than three feet but still want to chance their luck up there, simply because they had a childhood dream about following the circus. Same as I don’t mind people travelling at inane speeds down snow covered mountains with planks on their feet when, in truth, they can’t even walk steadily on two inches of snow covering the pavement.
Holidays do make folk want to do daft tricks – they just don’t make ME want to do daft tricks.
Still, I mention it to give you some idea of what is on offer at Sandpiper Bay since its $25m renovation. Imagine all the activities you have dreamt about taking part in and, chances are, there will be an expert on hand to help you fulfil your dreams – you may even enhance your dream potential in its luxurious spa.
I have always dreamt about eating superb food, drinking good wine, sailing out to see dolphins, sitting by a quiet pool or on a sandy beach, taking in interesting sights and soaking up the atmosphere while sipping a cold beer and people watching and, guess what, yes, you can do all that, too.
Club Med’s Sandpiper Bay is on a bend in Saint Lucie River about 110 miles north of Miami and 120 miles south of Orlando and it is, quite simply, a beautiful spot – a great place to enjoy natural beauty on and around the river, while taking out time to have a taste of the good life.
Club Med villages – and they do feel like mini villages - always have a quiet, serenity or calm pool where grown-ups can sit, swim and sip without the sound of rowdy kids. Taking advantage of this one day I forgot I was in the US, where the only thing louder than two adults “talking” is, three or more of them going at it. I suppose you have to admire a nation whose citizens are prepared to take all their stone deaf friends on holiday.
Still, a quick, quiet word from one of the pool bar staff soon brought things down a decibel or two so the rest of us were able to enjoy our books and the Jacuzzi.
If you have never experienced Club Med then Sandpiper Bay will come as a bit of a surprise. “All inclusive” means just that – it is all included. Yes you can pay for some extras, but they really are extras. Upmarket wine choices, one-to-one golf tuition from a former pro, time spent with a fully qualified coach at the tennis academy are just three. No, it doesn’t come cheap, but what you do get is a very good choice of excellent food every morning noon and night. This is not cook-and-kept-warm catering on an industrial scale. The food is cooked fresh, cooked superbly and cooked to your taste with an ever-changing selection from French, European, Asian and local cuisines each day.
Then there are the bars and a good choice of these too, with readily available wines, beers, cocktails and – should you so choose – fruit drinks. They do cater for children too and on a superb scale with special clubs.
With so much on offer it would be easy to take it easy, only troubling yourself to decide which sport to try, which food to taste and what wine to drink – and, if you wish, do just that.
But this is Florida and there is so much more to explore and enjoy. Miami is just a couple of hours’ drive away and walking along South Beach with its iconic Art Deco houses and hotels, distinctive lifeguard stations – backdrops to so many TV shows and movies – excellent bars and restaurants even its shopping, all go to make it is a must-visit.
So too is a river cruise out to where the St Lucie meets the Atlantic, in search of dolphins in their natural surroundings and, along the way, taking in the wildlife and all with the backdrop of multi-million dollar houses along the shore – a chance to take a glimpse into how the rich and famous live. The names tripped off the captain’s tongue – Tiger Woods, Celine Dion, Burt Reynolds, but we only had his word for it. All we saw were incredibly rich statement properties – some not in the best of taste, it has to be said – but not a celebrity to be seen.
Apart from those spectacular riverside homes, we got up close and personal with swooping ospreys, even closer to dozing pelicans and cormorants drying out after a dip, watched herons fishing and mullet leaping out of the water in search of mosquitos. We even saw a seal or two messing around in the river – but no, not one dolphin, not even a single flipper on the horizon. It appears, here in Florida, celebrities and dolphins like to play it cool.
We did eventually see one dolphin – well, to be accurate – one dolphin was spotted. Not by me, not miles out toward the sea but swimming in the bay just 20 yards away from our breakfast terrace – and then, only when I was inside, watching my omelette being expertly fried by the chef of the day. This friendly dolphin had disappeared when I came back to the terrace. Maybe Tiger Woods or Celine Dion would stroll by when I went inside again for a coffee. Still, I was much more successful spotting the wine waiter later that evening. Result!
Sandpiper Bay is just two hour’s drive away from the Kennedy Space Centre with its fascinating history and connections with space exploration, moon landings and numerous Space Shuttle ventures, so a visit to Orlando was planned. Meanwhile, in Washington, the right wing of the Legislature was locked in a budget stand-off with the President and so the US Government was “shut down” and, on the day we were meant to go to Orlando, so was its national parks, museums and, yes, you’ve guessed it, Kennedy Space Centre, so I missed that too.
Some of you may sense a theme developing here.
Still, if all I ever miss in this world is a dolphin’s nose, Tiger Wood’s golf buggy, Burt Reynolds’ moustache and a grounded space shuttle, I suspect it won’t be all that bad. At least I had a superb visit to Florida, some great food and wine and much more to remember – so, what is there not to like?
Departure on September 14 2014 from Manchester to Sandpiper 4T, Florida for an all-inclusive 7 night holiday will cost £1018 per adult. www.clubmed.co.uk.
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