Elegant Orlando Hotel
Best For Luxury hotel seekers.
Sleep Waldorf Astoria Orlando. The presidential suite of this Waldorf Astoria exemplifies graceful elegance. While you won’t hear “Hail to the Chief,” you will see a wall of photos illuminating the powerful people who made Waldorf history. The lobby tower clock is a flawless reproduction of the legendary ticker at the classic Waldorf in NYC.
Bartow BBQ Trail
Best For ‘Que crazed folks. Follow those telltale smoke plumes to the best barbecue this side of the Mason-Dixon. Auburndale’s no-frills Peebles Barbecue has been famous for its $9 wood-cooked pork spareribs since 1947. The $11 sampler at Curly Tails comes with a slab of St. Louis-style ribs, chicken, a choice of beef or pork and made-from-scratch sides like fried pickle spears that are just as Southern as the bacon-and-cheese grits.
Sleep it off at the six-room Stanford Inn, which had a starring role as the funeral home in My Girl. curlytailsbbq.com
Family Friendly Orlando
Best For Family fun.
Sleep Stay 10 miles from Disney in a three-bedroom villa at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate.
Play Between trips to the park, hit the Greg Norman-designed golf course with Junior, or float down the lazy river together.
Pet Friendly Walt Disney World
Best For Animal owners. Don’t just bring the kids—bring your furry friends too!
Sleep Check pets into the Pet Care Resort. Fido’s pad features flat-screen TVs where Lady and the Tramp can be viewed from cushioned sofas. Story hour and playtime in outdoor sprinklers keep dogs entertained, while cats check into multilevel condos and feast on tuna.
Grande Spa in Orlando
Best For Spa-minded individuals
Sleep Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes This spa has it all. Start with a warm-up on the treadmill, followed by a visit to the steam room. The East Indian lime scalp and body massage uses warm lime blossom and ginger oil. Lunch is a vegetarian bento box at the spa café.
Funky Charmer in Cedar Key
Best For A rustic escape. Cedar Key is a blend of fishing village and island, attracting a varied group of visitors—anglers, seafood lovers and those who come for the annual reunion of former Weeki Wachee mermaids.
Sleep Guests of the historic 1859 Island House, a general-store-and-former-brothel-turned-B&B, tend to gravitate to the second-floor balcony to chat or people-watch. Jimmy Buffett prefers Room 32. Study the sepia-toned mural in the guest-only lounge, book an in-room massage or toast happy hour at the tiny Neptune Bar.
Eat Resist the temptation to dig right in to the Island Restaurant’s hearts-of-palm salad, said to have been invented here. Instead, wait for that silky lime-sherbet/peanut-butter/vanilla-ice-cream dressing to melt among sugar dates, cantaloupe and other seasonal fruits. Most restaurants serve Cedar Key’s specialty—clams raised by some 200 local farmers—but Tony’s loads ’em into its chowder, which has trumped New England recipes in its two-year romp as world chowder champ.
Play Browse through the shops and art galleries along Second Street, or hit the Gulf via fishing boat or sea kayak; at night check out bars and live bands along Deck Street.
Best-Kept Secret in Lakeland
Best For Curious travelers. You won’t feel the frenzy of a large metro area here; instead, lakes, gardens and ponds provide a respite from everyday life.
Sleep The grand dame 88-room Terrace Hotel has been hosting guests since 1924. Enjoy views of Lake Mirror from its sweeping terrace, or wander along the lake-circling promenade, stopping at Hollis Gardens for showcases of formal neoclassic gardens and sculpture.
Eat Savor the Terrace’s porcini-dusted sea bass or macadamia-crusted brie; travel just 30 minutes to the dollhouse-ish Chalet Suzanne for the spinach-mushroom Moon Soup, named for its flight on an Apollo mission.
Play Florida Southern’s campus offers the ultimate Frank Lloyd Wright immersion—the largest concentration of his architecture anywhere. Take a docent-guided tour or explore on your own; be sure to marvel at the master’s play of light and shape. Want more? Lakeland’s 10-block downtown offers an array of architectural styles, including Mediterranean, Spanish Mission and the Italian facade of the historic Polk Theatre.
Cruise the St. Johns River
Best For Nature lovers. Kayak leisurely down the St. Johns, which covers nearly 310 miles and is one of the few north-flowing rivers. Choose Blue Spring State Park, a winter manatee refuge, and nearby Hontoon Island State Park.
Sleep Bunk down in a river-view cottage at Hontoon Landing Resort & Marina, a haven for ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Best For Theme park lovers. Be the first to ride the Cheetah Hunt when it debuts this spring at Busch Gardens. The 4G roller coaster runs at 60 mph over 4,429 feet of track.
Sleep After the park, relax in the heated rooftop pool at the Hyatt Regency Tampa.
Best For Art lovers. There’s no prettier place than the Ringling Museum of Art for a festival, especially one where Mikhail Baryshnikov dances. Between shows—dance, violin solos and drama—enjoy jazz and cocktails bayside, sushi at Treviso and Rubens’ art in the museum.
Sleep right down the road at the Ritz-Carlton. Oct. 11-16.
Spoil Yourself in St. Petersburg Beach
Best For Couples who want to be pampered.
Sleep Standing proudly on a barrier island on the Gulf, the grand pink lady, Don CeSar, is the perfect marriage of Roaring Twenties romance and modern resort elegance.
Eat Dine in at the Maritana Grille and Lobby Bar, which specializes in sous vide cooking. Reserve a table near a wide-screen-size saltwater tank where lionfish entertain you between courses. For breakfast, wander south a half-mile down Pass-a-Grille Way to the historic Sea Horse. Simple diner fare goes well with the outside ambience of gliding pelicans.
Indulge The hotel’s Spa Oceana’s three-hour Honeymooners package spoils with its hydrating bath, full-body exfoliation, massage and facial. End your experience with lunch on the private rooftop garden overlooking the Gulf and gradual curve of shoreline that goes on forever.
Riverside in Bradenton
Best For Folks seeking rest and relaxation. Whether it’s breakfast in the Florida room or hors d’oeuvres on the porch, the views from Palmetto Riverside will have you wondering what’s so great about the ocean anyway.
Sleep Rooms have four-poster beds and frilly details. Come for the Fourth of July; it’s hard to beat fireworks on the riverside lawn with the owner’s fave Belgian beer in hand.
Antiquing in Arcadia
Best For Antique hunters. Browse downtown’s two-dozen antique stores and discover its small-town flavor along with Roseville pottery and Early American furniture.
Sleep The cozy, 11-room Oak Park Inn is the perfect home base. Vouchers get you breakfast at Wheelers, a local hangout since 1929, where made-from-scratch food is the order of the day.