Travel Nut here…
Mr TTR and I are semi-retired, and we get to Florida annually. So let me give you some pointers…
Orlando and the vicinity is great. Especially so if you’ve never been to any of the theme parks or made the visit to the nearby Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral. One could EASILY spend a week in just this part of the State.
As others have said, Key West isn’t much for beaches… The Keys in general are surrounded by a reef… which means that there is no “build up” of sand around them. There are a few exceptions (Smathers Beach in KW), and the most notable Bahia Honda, which is one of the considered one of the best Beaches in the USA (not HUGE but lovely)
If you are a Beach Nut, then you might want to put Fort Lauderdale on your list. This is a spectacular beach in Southern Florida… and very typical of what you’ve seen on Tv shows or in the Movies… LONG Expanse of sandy beach, edged by a walkway / sidewalk, a Blvd and then HUGE Hotels. Fort Lauderdale is a favourite Destination for Mr TTR and I and there is much here to see and do in addition to the Beach itself… Great Hotels & Restaurants, and plan to take a ride on the water taxi that plys the Inland Waterway (the Intracoastal) thru the City itself. A real treat… in that you’ll see some magnificent MEGA Mansions and Yachts of the rich & famous.
Fort Lauderdale is less than an Hour by car North of Miami (NOTE Traffic around Miami can be brutal as everything funnels down in to this city and The Keys… plan accordingly)
The other Bees have pretty much covered Miami…South Beach is where it is at. Be sure and overnight here so you can enjoy the Art Deco architecture by day and night.
The Everglades is WEST of Miami… you want to drive the “original” Alligator Alley (Hwy 41) and not the one that is also Interstate 75. There are indeed spots where you can take Tours into the Swamps on airboats. Mr TTR and I haven’t done this… but I do understand that it is a lot of fun (just not our thing). IF you want to save the cost, you can see Alligators all along Hwy 41… they are right there as the swamp comes up right to the road on both sides… the highway is sort of like a causeway… so it is difficult to stop to take pictures though… and quite honestly I don’t advise it (there are spots where people find places to park) as Alligators do travel faster than a human being… and if they are hungry… you could end up being lunch !!
The Oasis Visitor Centre is aprox 54 Miles WEST of Hwy 41 and the I-95 Intersection. The Visitor Centre has some nice exhibits on wildlife in the Everglades, and an Observation Deck over a “pond area” where some Alligators find their way to via the waterway that skirts along the Hwy. (Have seen some real BIG Gators at this pond). Again, care is advised, because the parking lot at this Visitor Centre and the Gator’s Waterway are at the same level… and the fence at that point has some major gaps in it !! These Gators are not in captivity (the observation area is just there for Visitors enjoyment) so they can come and go as they like to and from the surrounding swamps.
The Everglades are one big National Park, and Conservation Area… how much time you spend there is up to you and your interests.
Personally, although the Everglades are interesting… I wouldn’t spend an inordinate amount of time there. IMO the Highlights can be easily be done as a day trip… then utilize the “found time” to get yourself back on track for a visit to The Keys.
The Florida Keys are MAGNIFICENT. A little piece of the Caribbean right in the continental US. The Overseas Highway is considered one of the BEST DRIVES in America for good reason. The roadway is a series of causesways and bridges, that connect the mainland to these out-islands (GOOGLE to see gorgeous pics). The only drawback is for the most part it is a two-lane road with traffic in both directions… and if there should be any sort of slowdown (traffic volume – traffic accident) then the going can be EXTREMELY Slow (more so if you are trying to go down on a Friday or Saturday, and back up on a Sunday or Holiday Monday). Although an On-line Mapping Program will tell you the jaunt from Homestead to Key West down US-1A is close to 130 Miles and takes 2-3/4 Hours… Allow yourself about twice that… just to be on the safe side.
For a more scenic trip into The Keys from Homestead, instead of taking Hwy 1 look for Card Sound Road… and travel that towards the top of Key Largo… this will allow you to see more of that particular island.
If you need an overnight along the way, Key Largo and Islamorada are favourite small communities of ours. Each having a distinct vibe. Marathonis the biggest town enroute, and has a larger selection of services (Restaurants & Hotels), and is a little more than half-way down.
Do have your camera at the ready as you do the drive… because the scenery is breathtaking in places.
Personally we LOVE The Keys… and cannot imagine a trip that isn’t several days in length (more than once we’ve ended up staying longer than we had originally planned). Be aware though that things here (particularly Hotels) are NOT CHEAP.
We LOVE Key West, and everytime we go we find new things to see and do there. Here is the link to the Official Tourism Website for The Keys & Key West = http://www.fla-keys.com/keywest/
For more info on Florida Tourism I suggest that you check out their Official Website = http://www.visitflorida.com and also take a look at TripAdvisor (the Internets largest source of info for Trip Planning). In addition to having Reviews for Hotels, Restaurants and Things To Do… TA also has Discussion Boards (like we have here on WBee) where you can ask Questions and chat one-on-one with those who know the area best… super great when planning a vacation… I do not travel now without consulting TA first.
Hope this is helpful, have a FABULOUS FLORIDA Holiday (lol, you can clearly see WHY it is on our Honeymoon Destination List)