By Craig Davis, Craigslegztravels.com
As with everything in the past year, travel has been changed by the coronavirus pandemic.
That was evident as we prepared for our first trip after hiding out at home for the past year.
Planning a getaway to the beach in Florida? Two things stand out:
Expect to be overwhelmed by the price to stay anywhere close to the sand.
And, don’t be surprised if a favorite destination isn’t as charming as you remember it. That ended up being our experience at Sanibel and Captiva islands.
More on that in a separate story: Sanibel’s shelling, sunsets great but congestion, parking woes detract
The first shock was in checking the rates at a beach-side resort we had enjoyed on Florida’s east coast for a weekend in May 2019.
Hotels gouging as travel resumes
Same month in 2021, prices were double what we’d paid two years ago. And they weren’t any less for the steamy summer months, generally regarded as offseason in Florida.
We were stunned to see quotes of $500 a night for weekends in May. Now in June, the same property was quoting an average of $680 a night for a two-night stay over a Thursday and Friday. For Friday and Saturday, the average was $800 a night.
Then they add a resort fee of $32 per day.
My wife Fran called and asked why rates have gone so sky high. She spoke to someone at the resort who was candid and apologetic, noting that the prices are set by the corporation that owns the property.
The story is similar at beach hotels around Florida. According to the person Fran spoke to, tourists are flocking because the state is free of COVID restrictions.
Obviously, people have been stuck at home during the pandemic. With more than half the country having received at lease one dose of the vaccine, there is growing confidence for resuming travel.
Travel options still limited
International travel remains minimal with few countries open overseas. Cruises have been dead in the water for more than a year, though the major cruise lines are getting ready to resume operations this summer.
Royal Caribbean’s ship “Celebrity Edge” is set to become the first to restart regular operations on June 26 out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Meanwhile, Florida’s beaches have been the prime destination so far in 2021. Hotels are making up for a lost year of revenue with astronomical prices.
It is a story that is going unreported. Media reports are focused on how tourism is bouncing back strong in Florida with the pandemic on the wane.
And it is, which is good news for the state’s economy. Not so much for anyone looking to escape to the beach for a few days.
But people are sucking it up and spending their stimulus payments or unused 2020 travel budgets, whatever the cost.
Fran asked the person at the east coast resort if they’re busy.
“Packed,” was the reply.
That resort isn’t even located at one of the most popular beach destinations.
Many willing to pay inflated prices
Rates are out of sight throughout the Keys.
In Key West, $700 a night is the norm.
The Pier House, the iconic spot at the end of Duval Street, was quoting $3,327 for three nights, with $46 a night added resort fee. And they only had one room left for the dates seached.
Even the Fairfield Suites, a middle of the road property, was more than $1,600 for three nights.
In Fort Lauderdale, $300 to $400 a night is common to stay on the beach these days.
In the Florida Panhandle, Destin is a popular destination. The Fairfield Inn and Suites was charging $432. The Hampton Inn & Suites quoted $459.
The best deal I found on Miami Beach was the three-star Catalina Hotel & Beach Club at $245 a night on Priceline. It is described as “a funky-chic hotel with a lively, energetic, upbeat atmosphere.”
The most reasonable prices are in the Orlando area, away from the beach and where the abundance of lodging presents plenty of choices.
Meanwhile, we found an alternative to taking out a second mortgage for a beach vacation: take day trips. It’s the advantage of being a Florida resident.
Visit beach but don’t stay there
Living in South Florida, there are plenty of options:
Want a Florida Keys experience? It’s an hour and a half drive to Islamorada but feels a world away. On one jaunt we had lunch at Wahoo’s overlooking the fishing harbor and caught the sunset with dessert at Morada Beach Cafe (an upscale dining alternative is just across the sand at Pierre’s Restaurant — French Fusion cuisine with regional influences). We were home by 10:30.
An anniversary outing began in Miami for the show “Lasting Impressions,” the 3D experience in the Ziff Ballet Opera House of the Arsht Center that brings to life Impressionist masterworks from artists including Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat, and Degas. Then it was over to Miami Beach for dinner at the Matador Room Terrace overlooking the pool at the Edition Hotel. The Tapas style dinner was a masterwork in its own right.
The big find came close to home on a visit to the Lona Cocina & Tequileria on the ground floor of the Westin Fort Lauderdale on A1A. They have some interesting cocktails, though I passed on the Don Julio CDB Old Fashion (with Med Terra CBD oil) for $35 in favor of the more economical but exotic enough Mezcal Negroni (Creyente Mezcal, Contradiction Bourbon, Campari, Sweet vermouth).
The jackpot was the Maine lobster quesadilla, jammed with meaty chunks of lobster — enough to share but we didn’t. Only $19.
Best bargain we’ve found on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and served with a full moon rising over the ocean.