Synonymous of course with all things theme park, Florida and Orlando specifically retain the appeal as the go-to place for family attractions and I have enjoyed them all.
No offence to Mickey Mouse but these days when I visit, there is not an amusement park in sight.
The Gulf Coast of Florida offers fantastic holiday options, and I am eager to share some of my favourite places for an alternative Florida experience.
Sarasota, an hour south of Tampa, has plenty going on in the downtown area in terms of shops, restaurants, bars and a vibrant cultural scene with a theatre, opera house and the must see John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The Ringlings are the family behind America’s most famous circus, and even if you are not a big-top lover, this is a fascinating homage to old costumes, wagons and the world’s largest miniature circus.
The marina area is fabulous for a stroll with several quality seafood restaurants, and boat trips you can take out to explore the bay and the local wildlife.
I really enjoyed the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, an independent, non-profit research organisation, which is home to 100 species mainly found in Florida, including manatees.
There are 35 miles of amazing beaches in this area to enjoy too, including stunning ones just a short drive out of Sarasota at Siesta Key, Lido Key and Longboat Key.
Captiva Island & Sanibel Island
I have enjoyed stays on both Captiva and Sanibel Island, two islands reached by a bridge from the mainland with 15 miles of unspoilt beach, 25 miles of bike trails, 50 types of fish, 230 types of birds, 250 kinds of shells and not a single traffic light.
The South Seas Island Resort on Captiva sits on a huge nature reserve and is a great base, providing all the facilities you need but with the freedom to easily explore. It was here that I saw manatees in the wild for the first time, a moment I will never forget.
My favourite place in Florida is Naples. I have been many times, including seeing in the millennium, and have loved every visit. It sits on the Gulf of Mexico, so the sea tends to be calm and the sand is golden.
The downtown area is walkable, with two main streets to explore and proper pavements, something not all US towns have.
Fifth Avenue South is popular for visitors and residents alike, filled with businesses ranging from fashion boutique shops, gourmet restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlours, art galleries and gift shops.
Third Street South is a more sophisticated area with delightful shops, renowned restaurants and bistros; and it's very close to the 19th century Naples Pier.
The pier is a favourite with sightseers, not only to gather and enjoy the spectacular sunsets but I can also vouch for some successful dolphin spotting here.
Tin City is a charming historic area right on the waterfront and home to over 30 independent boutiques and a terrific choice of restaurants. If you like your seafood, I can highly recommend the Pinchers Crab Shack here.
Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the US, with the second highest proportion of millionaires per capita and spectacular homes belonging to celebrities such as Shahid Khan, Bob Seger and Judge Judy.
Afternoon or sunset cruises from Tin City through some of the intercoastal waterways are a fine way to view the huge mansions from the water and at the same time look for dolphins.
Naples also has its own zoo and botanical gardens and is a haven for golfers with no less than 22 public courses located at 20 different golf clubs.
Fifteen miles south is another place I am very fond of. Marco Island is the largest of the Ten Thousand Islands, a chain of islands and mangrove islets off the southwest coast and easily accessible with two bridges allowing vehicle traffic on and off the island.
Home to beautiful beaches, great shopping and dining, boating is a way of life here, so activities on offer include shelling, fishing, bird and wildlife watching, kayaking and canoeing.
A short drive from the Naples and Marco Island area is the Everglades, and Everglades National Park.
These subtropical marshes and wetlands covering roughly a third of the southern Florida peninsula are home to more than 400 species of land and water animals and are nothing shy of spectacular.
I would highly recommend an airboat tour for the ultimate Everglades experience.
It’s worthwhile to incorporate a few days exploring the unique Florida Keys. The Keys comprise more than 800 islands, with 125 miles of overseas highway to explore, accessible by a single road in and out.
Duval Street is the undisputed 'Main Street' of Key West with the distinction of being the only place in the US where you can walk from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
Mallory Square, which overlooks the Gulf is where a daily sunset celebration happens. Its participants consist of arts and crafts exhibitors and psychics, street performers, food carts, and tourists from around the world.
Each night, around two hours before sunset, people flock to the water’s edge to experience a multicultural happening and to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico.
I can’t leave this wonderful part of Florida without a mention of all the delightful culinary treats to be found here.
There is obviously amazing fresh fish like grouper and snapper, but you should also try the Florida stone crab and some conch.
For something unusual, try fried gator bites washed down with fresh local orange juice and finish off with my personal favourite, Key lime pie.