This post was inspired by a comment from my reader Cynthia:
“I love these Florida hotel reviews! Next summer I’m planning a 10 day road trip to FL with my kids and my mom, so these have been great as I start to figure out the logistics of our trip. My mom really wants to watch sea turtle nesting, so if you know of any beaches where that might happen, I’d love to hear about them!”
First, let me address turtle nesting question. Technically, if you visit during summer season, you should have a good shot at spotting them on either coast, though east coast of Florida is supposedly better. In fact, some state parks even organize nighttime turtle walks.
Even though summer is considered low season due to hurricane threat, heat and humidity, I happen to think that it’s a great time to visit Florida beaches. Why? The water is warm and Spring Break congestion is no longer an issue. If you do decide to visit during the summer, I recommend early June, or as soon as kids are out of school.
Hurricanes aren’t usually a concern at that point, rainy season is just getting started and the heat isn’t suffocating…yet. Just don’t do Disney in the summer! You have been warned.
The following advice is extremely subjective, so as always, I recommend you do your own research. I’m assuming your are a “no-frills” family who doesn’t mind basic mid-scale hotels. I have personally stayed at several of these properties and hope to visit the rest in a near future.
So, let’s say you fly to Orlando and rent a car. You have ten days to visit Florida beaches and want to hit all the highlights. I’m assuming that you are a family of four (two adults and two kids) and that your children are relatively young. Where should you go and what hotel bonuses should you consider?
Here is my recommended itinerary:
1) Land in Orlando airport (MCO code), rent a car and drive to Cape Canaveral to spend two nights in a resort. Alternatively, you can stay at either Daytona Beach or Melbourne.
2) Drive to Deerfield beach and spend two nights.
3) Drive to Key Largo or Marathon and spend two nights there (make sure to do a day trip to Key West).
4) Drive to Fort Myers beach and spend two nights (do a day trip to Sanibel island).
5) Drive to Clearwater beach and spend two nights. Afterwards, drive to Orlando airport to catch your flight home.
Total:10 nights and lots of driving. Here is what it would look like on the map:
I picked Orlando as a starting point because: a) It’s central, b) Many airlines fly to this area. If you live near an airport served by Allegiant Air, consider flying to Orlando Sanford instead if the price is right. Also, there is a possibility to reverse the itinerary if you are having a hard time finding award availability at a specific property.
Hotel cards you may want to consider for this trip
Before I list specific properties, let me mention the offers you should look into (see my full list of hotel cards and application links here):
1) IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card
I recommend this card to every family. Many of my friends got it and I haven’t yet heard even one complaint. The best part is the fact that it’s a gift that keeps on giving. You never have to cancel it because you get 10% rebate on your award redemptions and free night at any IHG property after renewing and paying $49 annual fee.
You also get free Platinum status which might give you a suite upgrade. So far, we’ve been fortunate to get it probably about 80% of the time. There is a non-affiliate link that gives 65K points and $50 credit after spending $1,000 in 3 months. That said, most people have been able to get matched to an offer that comes with 80K points. Send a secure message to Chase.
Late summer/early fall is the best period to sign up for this card, at least in my opinion. That’s because your renewal certificates will be deposited this time each year, and you’ll be able to use them for either Spring Break or summer vacation. With IHG it’s important to be an early bird. See my post I love IHG, I hate IHG
2) Wyndham Visa Signature card
I happen to think that this is a great card for those who want to visit Florida. Once again, the best offer is available via zombie non-affiliate link. You’ll get 45,000 points after spending $1,000 in 3 months. The annual fee of $69 is not waived. So, why recommend such a puny offer? Because the bonus will give you access to three nights at several decent beachfront Florida properties. Even in the off-season those go for $165+ per night.
3) Chase Hyatt Signature Visa
You’ll get two free nights at any Hyatt property after spending $1,000 in three months. Note that your free night certificates will expire one year after they are deposited into your account. Some were able to call Hyatt and get points after expiration, but it’s not a guarantee. Non-affiliate application link
4) Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card
I don’t consider this offer as compelling as the rest, but if you are not eligible for any of the above cards, it could be worth a look. For a limited time, you’ll get 75,000 points after spending $2,000 in 3 months. There is no annual fee. This offer comes and goes throughout the year. The card pays me commission.
5) Chase Sapphire Preferred
You can read the details on the offer here I will say upfront that I’m not a huge fan of using Ultimate Rewards points on hotels. That said, there are a few Florida Hyatt properties that would be a good fit for family. The sign-up bonus on the card is 55,000 points after spending $4,000 in 3 months and adding an authorized user. Ultimate Rewards points transfer 1:1 to Hyatt program. The card pays me commission.
My assumption is that both spouses are able to sign up for these cards. Chase Hyatt Signature Visa or Chase Sapphire Preferred will require only one application.
The list of properties, plus travel tips
1) Cape Canaveral area
The cost is 35,000 IHG points per night. I absolutely loved staying here few years ago, before it became a part of IHG chain. They have a waterpark, lazy river, movie theater, an inside playground and much more to entertain young kids. Some of my best memories are from vacationing at this very property. Our first trip as a family of four:
We are actually supposed to stay here for three nights next March when rates hover around $250. Technically, rooms redeemable on points are not located right on the beach, but there is a free shuttle (runs constantly) that can take you there. The hotel has another wing by the ocean, and you may get an upgrade due to Platinum status that comes with IHG credit card.
This is a very good place to use your annual renewal certificates, but availability during spring is spotty, so book early. The sign-up bonus is enough for two nights at this property because you can use $50 credit for cash+points redemption. The rate in early June is $200 per night, so I think it’s a very good deal on points. By that logic, your bonus will be worth at least $400.
The cost costs 30,000 points per night during summer season. All rooms are suites and face the ocean. Some fit up to six.
If you aren’t able to sign up for Chase IHG credit card, you might want to consider getting Citi Hilton offer instead.
This hotel costs 12,000 Hyatt points per night (transfer 1:1 from Chase UR program) and comes with free breakfast. The rooms fit up to 6, but it would probably feel quite cramped. The rate is $200 all-in per night at the beginning of June. Nancy who contributes to my blog wrote a review of this property with lots of photos.
2) Deerfield Beach area
This is a terrific Wyndham bargain at only 15,000 points per night. The resort is located about 30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale. Rooms have two queen beds, property has a pool, a hot tub and more! Seems like a very nice choice for family, and I hope to check it out in-person one of these days.
A tip: I recommend you visit Lion Country Safari park on your way from Cape Canaveral to Deerfield beach (see my post).
3) Key Largo or Marathon
Technically, not beachfront, but next to marina with lots to do. Flexible rate in early June is $165 (plus tax) and it costs 35,000 points per night. I consider it to be a decent redemption, but you might disagree. The rooms have two queen beds and property has several nice pools for families to enjoy.
If you want to be closer to Key West, you may want to consider this property instead. In fact, this would be my choice depending on the amount of IHG points I had at the time. It does cost 40,000 points per night, but you can book a suite that fits up to six. Plus, breakfast is included.
You’ll have to do a cash+points redemption, so I would wait till IHG is running a 50% off sale on purchase of points. Alternatively, wait for a decent promotion. Of course, if you get matched to 80K points offer, this won’t be an issue.
It runs at 15,000 Hyatt points per night, which transfer 1:1 from Chase UR program. This is actually a decent deal, considering the fact that paid rate here is usually $250 or more, depending on the season. If you decide to apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred, your sign-up bonus will take care of two nights in Daytona Beach, plus two nights here. And you will even have some points leftover.
This place is pretty expensive and runs at 50,000 points per night. Paid rate is $300+, so it’s an overall decent redemption. Unfortunately, one credit card bonus won’t be sufficient, so you would have to top off your account by either buying points when they are on sale or via transfer from Citi Thank You program or Membership Rewards.
It isn’t the best deal, I admit, but it’s an option for those who are short on cash.
4) Fort Myers
I just wrote a post on it and the fact that you can currently book a 2-bedroom suite for only 15,000 points per night. It won’t be available on all dates, but with some flexibility, you should be able to pull it off. Be aware, this is a motel on the beach, but I actually like this kind of a set-up. No need to shlep through the fancy lobby on your way to the beach.
5) Clearwater beach
I just wrote a post on our recent stay and mentioned that this is a decent place to use Hyatt certificates that come with co-branded Chase Hyatt Visa. I wouldn’t spend 20,000 Hyatt points per night to stay here, but many would disagree. Regardless, I do think it’s a fun area for families.
Like I said earlier, these are just a few suggestions based on my own personal preferences and what I consider to be a good redemption value. Florida has many chain hotels on the beach, so do your own investigation via sites like AwardMapper and HotelHustle.
And as always, look into paid options. Summer in Florida is a time when beach bargains start popping up. You might decide to skip hotel points and just pay good ole’ cash. But if you are cheap like me, you’ll probably get credit card bonuses instead. Please, feel free to contact me for specific advice on Florida beaches. As I told Cynthia, this is my home turf!
P.S. If you have a large family (5 or more people), you may want to read this post which addresses your unique needs.
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