Florida brings to mind many things – theme parks, retirement condos, alligators, golf courses, and orange groves among them – but one of the state’s sometimes overlooked qualities is its easily accessible setting for romance. It’s sunny, warm, and ringed with 663 miles of beaches. It’s home to leading hotels and top chefs. And its assorted resort regions, from the Atlantic to the Gulf to the Keys, have vibes that range from exceedingly mellow to, well, not so much. Plus, you won’t have to spend much on airfare, so you can splurge on your accommodations. Here’s a look at five very different ways to embrace the romance on offer in Florida.
1. Lap Up Luxury in Fort Lauderdale: If you tend to file away destinations as “been there, done that,” you may have missed the fact that Fort Lauderdale is not for Spring Breakers anymore. Over the past decade, the once-ragtag beachfront has been transformed into a sophisticated strip of high-rise resorts and condos (Ritz-Carlton, Trump, Hilton, W), offering a less-chaotic alternative to South Beach and a more-affordable option to Palm Beach. The beach is terrific, the rooms are sleek and contemporary, and the dining scene has come a long way since 400,000 drunken college kids with the munchies took over each spring. To stay right across from the beach, book the modern yet elegant The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, a 193-room luxury property with an amazing spa and a tropical pool deck (shown above left). There’s a two-night “Romantic Rendezvous” package that includes a rose petal turndown, Champagne tasting, daily breakfast for two, couples massage, and private VIP cabana, starting at $559/night, available Tuesday through Saturday. For a livelier vibe, check out the W Fort Lauderdale, which opened in 2009 and features relaxing white and cream decor in its 517 rooms, but a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors in its social spaces, which include Whiskey Blue lounge and Steak 954 restaurant. Rates start at $369/night.
2. Say, “Privacy Please” on Little Palm Island: Private islands are by nature secluded, exclusive, and expensive. Florida’s most romantic private island, Little Palm Island Resort & Spa, which is located in the Keys a short drive from Key West , is all of those things. But for a romantic getaway to celebrate a special occasion (birthday, anniversary, proposal, elopement), this intimate, adults-only hideaway makes for the perfect splurge. With its colonial-tropical decor (thatched-roof bungalows feature net-draped four-poster beds, as shown above right), quiet beaches dotted with hammocks for two, exceptional cuisine by Cuban-born Chef Louis Pous in the ultra-romantic Dining Room, and the pampering SpaTerre, this is one private island you won’t mind being stranded on. Rates start at $790/night.
3. Make a Scene in Miami: This is a city that swelters both day and night – especially in see-and-be-seen South Beach, where your hotel choices range from Art Deco retro to 21st-century sleek. If you’re choosing a Miami getaway, you’d better like to stay up late, as the restaurants and lounges that line Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue pulse with energy until the wee hours. Two new additions to the hotel scene are the ultra-stylish, 108-room Dream South Beach, featuring modern Moroccan-style blue, gray, and white decor (shown above left) and a rooftop pool lounge (rates start at $251/night) and the retro-chic Surfcomber Miami, South Beach (rates start at $259/night), the latest property from Kimpton Hotels.
4. Gaze at the Sunset on the Gulf Coast: If you feel most “up” as the sun is about to go down – vibrantly and dramatically against a blue-green sea – then your romantic rendezvous should be on Florida’s west-facing Gulf Coast or the Panhandle. You have several resort regions to choose from, ranging from Naples in the far south and the Beaches of South Walton in the far west, and all are blessed with soft white sand and calm Gulf waters. A few ideas: In Naples, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples (rates start at $599/night, or $299/night at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, set 4 miles away) and LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort (rates from $429/night) offer a setting of traditional elegance. On Sanibel and Captiva Islands, known for their sugar-white beaches and abundant shells, you’ll have room to roam at the 330-acre South Seas Island Resort, where you can book a one-bedroom villa (rates start at $229/night) and zip around in a golf cart or on a Jet Ski. Farther afield, the dune-fringed beaches (shown above right) of the Panhandle near Santa Rosa Beach beckon at WaterColor Inn & Resort (rates start at $270/night), with its newly redecorated rooms and superb Fish Out of Water Restaurant.
5. Don’t Act Your Age in Orlando : If you still get that same thrill boarding a plane to Orlando as you did when you were seven, don’t fight it. Let your big kid out to play with your special someone by booking three or four nights in America’s theme park capital. My pick for a Disney stay is the exotic Animal Kingdom Lodge (rates start at $340/night), where you’ll feel continents away – the animal spotting from your balcony is fun (it sits on a 43-acre wildlife preserve) and the African-centric cuisine in Jiko restaurant is superb. If Harry Potter trumps Disney for you, book a stay at one of Universal Orlando’s on-site resorts – either the music-themed Hard Rock Hotel (shown above left, rates start at $203/night), or the Italian-themed Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (rates start at $223/night). Plus, the Universal CityWalk nightlife and entertainment complex is just a short walk or boat ride away.