Florida is so much more than Walt Disney World or Universal studios.
There is rough and there is smooth, as with any cult destination and the beauty within the focal point, Orange County, can be hard to find among the stuffed character toys, breakfast joints and all-you-can-eats.
A short trip south, however, sprinkles the splendour of the sunshine state and juxtaposes it with dolphin infused waters, endless miles of stunning sandy shores and a welcome as warm as you would find in your own home town.
Haha, Dominic looks less than impressed here but thought I’d keep this pic in for the fun factor!
Manatee County, southern Florida, is our happy place. Other than our first love, London – which could not be more of a contrast by the way – this is somewhere we can whisk ourselves away to in our imagination, whenever the going gets tough.
All sorbet beach front palaces, soft white sand that kisses your toes and views which are sprinkled with dolphins leaping playfully whilst locals and tourists alike marvel at the daily splendour of nature at its richest.
Anna Maria Island is like a destination lost in time, but with the benefit of flashes of modernity to provide the home comforts we have come to rely on.
Not short of a Starbucks, but no Walmart unless you go to the mainland – a plus when you are all chain-stored out. The ‘trolley’ is the fifties style bus that travels the Island, trumbling everyone along to their chosen beach area or culinary pit stop. It’s hard to remember people are working here as life ambles by beautifully with what looks like perpetual serenity and no need to be anywhere other than right where they are, right now.
Back to, nature, our children enjoyed the simple pleasures, hooking miniscule shrimp onto fishing lines and getting ad hoc lessons from the locals, thrilling in the most simple of pleasures like walking lazily along a shore, the ocean dancing further up their legs as they ventured forth into the splash zone.
Eating freshly caught fayre and discovering local pleasures in every possible flavour of ice cream known to man at Two Scoops, a highly popular café run by a bevy of sweet ladies, choc full of even sweeter treats.
Brunch after church on Sundays had to be at Ginny & Jane E’s – a veritable treasure trove where eccentricity abounds and retro finds adorn the walls, ceilings and surrounds.
I could happily pass a day just meandering past the homes – Instagram perfection in their rainbow of hues. Each one more intriguing and inviting than the one before.
Oh to own one of them for a regular escape – true treats in a place where Disney feels like a world away.
Our favourite eaterie was the Waterfront Restaurant where a kale & sprout salad with chicken was probably the best holiday lunch I’ve ever had – every single time we ate there.
Chatting, laughing and eating while the ocean lapped lazily across the old dirt road was a pleasure we could not measure and I often think back to it when days are stress filled for instant calm.
Cake by the ocean was a silly something we felt we needed to photograph and with Cupcake Delights only a short walk away from our water front residence, we became their best customers for the week.
Our stay coincided with Turtle hatching time and we eagerly looked at the beach at first light every morning, hoping to see baby turtle rescues happening. Sadly we missed out on that delight but we were treated to nightly displays of elegance and grace by the local dolphins who kindly leapt and frolicked for our pleasure.
We fished off our days at the Pier, ate like royalty and recharged every ounce of our batteries here – loathe to leave the idyll but desperately keen to return once more for another drip feed of this natural high.
The electric storms we witnessed were a natural joy to behold!
The day we left was blisteringly hot, we packed up our hired jalopy and headed the short drive to Tampa airport – a walk in the park after the crazy scenes at our arrival airport – Orlando.
Lazily shopping in their miniscule but well stocked Duty Free area, we whizzed through security and had ages to play with before a stress free flight back to reality.
If you visit Florida, seriously, DO NOT miss out on this gem, it truly is Heaven on earth!
Have you ever been to Anna Maria Island or nearby? Do you love it as much as we do?