- The Weekend: Reunite on a ranch in Haines City. Go country for a group get-together, be it with old friends or a family reunion.
Start Here: The all-inclusive Creek Ranch, a working cattle-ranch-turned-vacation- spot in Haines City, is only an hour south of urban Orlando. But you’d never know it once you step beyond the ranch’s gates and succumb to the laid-back rhythms of this 1,400-acre retreat. Accommodations are in the seven-bedroom main house and a separate century-old cabin. You can book individually if there’s availability, but most people prefer to buy out the whole place.
1. Come hungry to the welcome dinner of juicy fried chicken or country-fried steak, prepared by the on-site chef, who’s as well versed in gourmet fare as Southern staples. Guests detail their dining preferences, right down to their preferred pour, in advance of their stay. Meals are taken wherever you wish, be it the formal dining room or in the boathouse on the lake. You also have full access to the Butler’s Pantry, so you can snack at will, just like at home.
2. Sip your morning coffee on the front porch, spotting Osceola turkeys as they strut on the sun-burnished prairie. After breakfast, take a trail ride through Catfish Creek State Park; more skilled riders can help the cowboys herd cattle to new grazing grounds.
3. Explore the natural surroundings with an airboat travel cypress-lined Lake Hatchineha, or search for wild orchids on a naturalist-led hike, then break for lunch before trying their hand at bass fishing or skeet shooting.
- The Weekend: Enjoy the country in Ocala. Undoubtedly, Ocala is horse country, but quaint bed and breakfasts and Victorian homes surrounded by moss-draped oaks attract weekenders who love all facets of the country life.
Start Here: Seven Sisters, a 5-room Victorian B&B in Ocala's historic district, has a whimsical ambiance and destination-themed rooms: Take your pick among Beijing, Egypt, Morocco, Spain or France; each suite boasts authentic décor that transports you to another place and time. Besides the around-the-world voyage, your stay here also includes breakfast, afternoon tea and complimentary use of bicycles.
1. Take a morning carriage ride past sprawling horse farms with Horse Country Carriage Company & Tours. As you cover acres of verdant hills, curious thoroughbreds, quarter horses and even miniatures amble toward fences, inviting you to reach out and say hello.
2. Get a second dose of world history at the travertine-clad Appleton Museum. Their permanent collection spans periods from pre-Columbian to France's mid-19th century Barbizon school.
3. A tribute to proper English pubs, Horse and Hounds Restaurant & Pub is the perfect retreat for a good hearty dinner. Our pick? Go for the tomato bacon dill soup and grilled sirloin with a bourbon glaze. They have two locations, but the East Ocala one is most convenient to the Inn.
- The Weekend: Explore the inner Gulf Coast. A trio of Tampa-area cities — Brooksville, Dade City and Floral City — delivers the back-in-time charm of 1880s Old Florida with plucked- from-the-past town squares, historic architecture and even an Out of Africa experience.
Start Here: The historic Mary Coogler Cottage (352-796-6857), a 1930s bungalow, is tucked along a canopied street just a short stroll from downtown Brooksville, which is a great place to base yourself.
1. Old Florida shopping is tops in downtown Brooksville. Look for Native American jewelry at Peacetree Trading and antique furniture at House of Passage, which also sells Simply Caprine, the fragrant Floral City-made goat soap stashed in MTV Movie Awards celebrity swag bags. Indulge in high tea under the oaks at the Tilted Teacup or hop in the car for the right-from-Sicily flavors of Papa Joe’s.
2. Please feed the animals in nearby Dade City. Enjoy a motorized or camelback safari of the 47-acre Giraffe Ranch, a farm and wildlife preserve, and you can hand-feed giraffes, pygmy hippos, zebras, warthogs and the hybrid donkey-zebra, aptly called a donkra. Tours are offered twice a day, but must be reserved in advance.
3. Floral City is the midpoint of the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail. To explore in style, hop on a rental recumbent bike from Hampton’s Edge. The paved and mostly flat linear park passes rolling equestrian estates and plantations and even an 1800s graveyard. Visit the Shamrock Inn for a cold one after the ride, before exiting town via the 125-year-old Avenue of the Oaks.
- The Weekend: Explore Fantasyland at Walt Disney World. In December 2012, Walt Disney World opened a revitalized Fantasyland designed to draw die-hard Disney fans, princesses and pirates back to the Magic Kingdom to explore new towering castles, enchanted mermaid attractions and a refreshed Dumbo ride.
Start Here: The Royal Guest Rooms at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort were created with Cinderella in mind. Ornate details, from fancy gold faucets to tapestry draperies, complement beds that feature fiber-optic castle scenes in the headboards. Youngsters will love to push the headboard button and watch the light show.
Weekend To Dos:
1. Start at the Enchanted Forest and put yourself into scenes from Beauty and the Beast as you stroll through Belle’s French village, around waterfalls and over stone bridges. You can’t miss the medieval Beast’s Castle perched high on a hill, created by Imagineers for princess Belle and her Beast, or a stop at the Enchanted Tales with Belle for interactive storytelling in Maurice’s workshop and the Beast’s library.
2. The Little Mermaid’s Princess Ariel has a new space as well. Enter the Under the Sea — Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction through Prince Eric’s castle. The high-tech ride takes you below the ocean’s surface for a musical encounter with all the film’s characters.
3. You’ll need to reserve your tables three weeks in advance to dine at Be Our Guest restaurant. Located inside the Beast’s Castle and styled after Beauty and the Beast’s gilded ballroom (stained-glass windows depicti scenes from the movie), the French restaurant serves dishes like mussels Provençal and Cornish hens with fingerling potatoes. Kids will love the dessert trolley’s triple chocolate cupcakes, while adults will be happily surprised when the waiter presents them with wine and beer lists.
The Weekend: Chill out in funky Cedar Key. A blend of fishing village and island, quirky Cedar Key is understated Florida with eclectic vibes.
Start Here: Guests of the historic 1859 Island Hotel, a general-store-and-former-brothel-turned-B&B, tend to gravitate to the second-floor wrap-around porch to chat or people-watch. Jimmy Buffett was said to prefer Room 32 during his frequent visits here, but the adventurous choose Room 27 or 28, rumored to be haunted by a ghost who kisses unsuspecting guests on the cheek while they sleep. Don't miss the Island Restaurant’s hearts-of-palm salad, said to have been invented here. Or belly up to the bar at the King Neptune Lounge, named after the 1940's-era wall mural of Roman god of the sea.
1. Take in the beauty of the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge on a boat tour with Captain Doug's Tidewater Tours. They range in length from two to four hours, and you'll learn a bit about the island's history as you keep watch for sea turtles, manatees and the migratory seabirds who frequent the area.
2. In the 2nd Street Historic District, look for the colorful building decorated with silhouettes of people "painting" on the wall — this marks the Cedar Keyhole Artist Co-Op & Gallery. Inside you'll find an eclectic selection of artwork, including paintings of nature scenes, mosaics, sculptures (everything from nature and wildlife scenes to abstract designs) and more, all made by local artists. The buildings also house some artists' studios, so you can chat them up and see their latest works-in-progress.
3. Cedar Key is called the Clam Capital of the U.S., thanks to the farmers who raise the bivalves here. Don't visit without trying them in the chowder at Tony’s, a three-time World's Best chowder champ. Tony's only take reservations for parties of 8 or more so you may need to wait awhile to be seated, but it's worth it.
- Step in the sand, get behind the wheel, sink a putt, swim on a reef, learn to sail or play with a dolphin. Our guide to the hottest weekend getaways in the Sunshine State gives you the best that Florida has to offer, one weekend at a time.
- The Weekend: Discover architecture in Lakeland. Most people wouldn't think of rural Central Florida as an architectural hub, but it's where you'll find the world’s largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, marking this historic town’s claim to fame.
Start Here: The grand dame 88-room Terrace Hotel has been hosting guests since 1924 and boasts exquisite planation-style furnishings. 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 sculptures.
1. 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. The best time to visit is in late afternoon when the setting sun casts the buildings aglow and the eves and trellises scatter graphic shadows across the property.
2. Lakeland’s 10-block downtown offers an array of architectural styles, including Mediterranean Spanish Mission and the Italian façade of the historic Polk Theatre. After exploring, travel just 30 minutes to the dollhouse-like Chalet Suzanne. The pink cottage’s nooks and crannies are filled with eclectic touches from owners Eric and Dee Henshaw’s travels in Europe. Grab lunch here and try the Soup Romaine, nicknamed “Moon Soup” for its flight on an Apollo mission.
3. For dinner, head back to the Terrace Hotel and savor the Terrace Grill’s porcini-dusted sea bass and macadamia-crusted brie for dinner. We also love the daily selections of quiche that lure locals on their lunch break.
- Looking for what to do for Valentine's Day for the perfect couple's retreat? Take a look at our picks for the sexiest hotels and resorts in Florida and start planning your romantic getaway — just the two of you.
- The Weekend: Pamper yourself at a St. Pete Beach landmark. Make a weekend without leaving the grounds at one of Florida’s iconic hotels.
Start Here: Standing proudly on a barrier island on the Gulf, the historic Loews Don CeSar Hotel (appropriately nicknamed Florida’s “Pink Palace” for its flamingo hue) is the perfect blend of Roaring Twenties romance and modern-day resort elegance. The best digs by our account are the Junior Grand Suites, with private balconies that face the Gulf.
1. Dine in at the signature Maritana Grille and Lobby Bar. Bespoke cocktails, fresh seafood and organic veggies add up to a light yet rich meal to remember — especially if you reserve a cozy table near the giant saltwater tank, where lionfish will entertain you between courses. For dessert, simpler palates can go for the ice cream (it’s homemade), but the more adventurous can try the Key Lime Bavarian Reveal — a unique dessert with a delicate white chocolate dome that melts away when the waiter pours hot raspberry sauce over it to reveal the treat inside.
2. The Don faces one of the best beaches, and aims to make sure you enjoy it in style with private daybeds and oceanfront food-and-bevvy service. Or make your perch at one of two Gulf-front pool, where the Pool Concierge team makes the rounds all day with offering from Evian-water mists to frozen fruit kabobs, gratis. There are also kayak and jet-ski rentals onsite, should you want to take in the hotel from a different vantage point.
3. Recharge with the hotel’s 11,000-square-foot Spa Oceana’s three-hour Honeymooners package, a favorite of Don CeSar guests — newlyweds or not. The indulgent itinerary will spoil you with its hydrating bath, full-body exfoliation, massage and facial. End your spa experience with lunch on the private rooftop garden overlooking the Gulf — gazing at the crystal blue waters will keep the refreshed feeling long after the three hours are over.
- An island oasis hidden in the heart of Central Florida. It's a great way to spend the day outdoors — kayaking, canoeing and swimming around the Wekiva River.
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