As Florida takes the next steps toward reopening, travelers here can find a sparkling palette of possibilities
by Michael Alpiner
There is no better place to welcome in the new normal with a ray of hope and sunshine than in Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis has announced the second stage of his “Safe. Smart. Step-by-step” plan to reopen Florida. DeSantis said 64 Florida counties can reopen bars and movie theaters while retail stores can go to full capacity. These regulations went into effect on June 5th.
The areas hit hardest by coronavirus, such as Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are still operating at stage one. Though there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Florida, and all other states, the same day that DeSantis made his Phase 2 announcement, the state health department reported over 1300 new cases of the virus, the most in six weeks.
As expected, the “opening up” of Florida did have a direct correlation to the surge in new cases. When Phase 1 was announced, Florida had 347 new and confirmed cases of Covid-19. Both phase one and two announcements were couched around some of the state’s highest numbers to date. This is a testament to the resilience and optimism so commonly found in Florida.
What is Phase 2? According to DeSantis: • Bars will be limited to 50 percent capacity indoors, with everyone seated, although outside seating will be unlimited. • Movie theaters, bowling alleys, and concert venues may open at 50 percent capacity inside. • Gyms and retail businesses may operate at full capacity. • Restaurants may allow bar-top seating so long as customers follow social distancing. • Personal service businesses, tanning salons, tattoo studios, places that practice acupuncture, massage establishments may operate. These businesses, however, must follow guidelines issued by the state health department.
In Search of Normal As business travelers return to the post-virus way of life in Florida, these major cities and their impressive accommodations await the rumble of suitcase wheels, the eager blips of laptops and the ticking of keyboards. These cities offer bleisure experiences as well, since one cannot live on Zoom alone.
Tampa Bay – If any city is excited about phase 2, Tampa Bay is surely at the top of the list. In a document prepared by the US Travel Association, Tampa Bay welcomes sojourners into their travel eco-system – which comprises aviation, ground transportation, lodging, vacation rentals, dining, attractions and entertainment, meetings and events and cruises – with all necessary health guidelines. In a bright Florida style, travelers can enjoy a wealth of quality experiences.
The Florida Aquarium was established in 1995, contains over 9,000 animals, and hosts 300 events per year. Guests can experience aquarium tours and even swim and dive adventures.
The Westchase Golf Club offers stunning landscapes, winding through natural wetlands, wooden bridges and bulkheads. A round of golf here is as much about nature as it is about sport.
Choosing a hotel here conjures up the old real estate adage: Location, location, location. The Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk is in proximity to Busch Gardens Tampa, Amalie Arena and the Tampa Convention Center. The welcoming meeting spaces are perfect for meetings, workshops, seminars and corporate events.
Cross Old Tampa Bay into St. Petersburg, and the luxury becomes palpable among the palms and blue waters surrounding the small peninsula. The Beachcomber and the Grand Plaza Hotel are both excellent choices for a dose of that Floridian vibe, as they are both situated right by the beach and offer comfort, entertainment and those “toes in the sand, drink in the hand” pleasures.
For those who are playing it safe and taking to the road rather than taking wing, a three hour drive due east from St. Petersburg will bring you to the Vero Beach area where you can stay at Costa d'Este Beach Resort & Spa. Owned by Gloria and Emilio Estafan, this luxurious resort will truly have the traveler feeling the beat of the Atlantic coast Floridian adventure.
Ft. Lauderdale – Besides the experience of strolling along the beaches at sunset or splashing along the New River on a river taxi, Ft. Lauderdale’s $1 billion expansion of the Greater Ft. Lauderdale Convention Center District is making this a city of the present and the future. By 2023, this venue will have 350,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 65,000-square-foot waterfront ballroom, original dining concepts, enhanced water taxi access, an 800-room Omni hotel, and a new iconic waterfront plaza.
For those more daring, Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel offers 24/7 excitement through their blackjack, poker and more than 1,000 state-of-the-art slot machines. An in-house restaurant and two full-service bars mean never having to stray from the action for a drink or a bite. Technically in Hollywood, FL, the hotel/casino is a short ride from downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Miami – There is always something happening in Miami, and whether the traveler comes for leisure, business, or a bit of both, this south Florida hot spot has much to offer. A visit to the Coconut Grove area is a hip shopping experience with its many trendy shops and malls. Restaurants such as Ariete and Novikov blend atmosphere, great cuisine and friendly customer service for a purely Florida experience.
For business travelers, staying close to the Miami Beach Convention Center (which is currently being used as a Covid-19 testing facility) would be essential, so perhaps the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Miami would be the right blend of luxury and convenience. The InterContinental is renowned for its bayfront edifice with a digitized dancer, a lobby that features a massive Henry Moore sculpture entitled The Spindle, and the excellent pan-Latin cuisine of Toro Toro.
From the nightlife of Little Havana to open air shopping at the Bayside Marketplace to the glitz and decadence of South Beach to the excellent art and science venues, Miami is the pulse of the multicultural American experience. Added fun can be had on the pedestrian only mall on Lincoln Road, the food selections of Timeout Market South Beach or the quaint regalia of Espanola Way, also in South Beach.
Last but certainly not least, Miami World Center, the second largest community project in the country after New York’s Hudson Yards, is packed with shopping, residential, commercial and entertainment venues. Miami World Center is accessible to the Miami International Airport, American Airlines Arena, and a wealth of hotels, cruise lines and transportation hubs. The $45 billion investment brings in an enormous amount of business opportunities to the region.
Orlando – Although this city is synonymous with the Disney name, Orlando is so much more. Nature and eco-tourism are vibrant in Orlando with Lake Apopka leading the way. Home to 360 species of birds, this fourth largest lake in Florida is host to the North Shore Birding Festival, currently slated for January 21-25, 2021. Kayaking and hiking are also popular alternatives the frenetic propulsion of the theme parks and the visitor wishes to slow down the pace.
The Amway Center, home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, hosts a wide variety of musical events, but that’s just a small sample of what the city has to offer. One can find nightclubs and lounges aplenty, including Wall St. Plaza, and a collective of seven bars adjacent to the district’s main thoroughfare, Orange Avenue.
If theme parks are on the menu, especially after much encouragement by the youngest of the family, then the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort might satisfy all travelers. The resort is located between Epcot Center and Disney Hollywood Studios, and nearby Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Magic Kingdom Park. With 18 dining choices and poolside venues, this resort, though one of many, gives one a glimpse into the self-indulgence of the Orlando experience.