Here in Florida you’ll find the usual tourist meccas, the destination names everyone knows. Then there are hotels off the beaten track, that offer unique experiences you can’t get anywhere else.
It’s tough to whittle down the list to just four. Florida abounds with unusual places to stay, some of which are only available through new services like Airbnb. For this list I decided to stick to the better known unusual hotels, ones that have been around for years and offer a consistent guest experience.
This cottage-size hotel is unusual in that it’s 25′ underwater, and you have to be a certified diver to get down to it. Located in the Emerald Lagoon, the Undersea Lodge offers visitors a bio-diverse mangrove environment rich in fish and undersea wildlife.
The lodge itself has two large bedrooms; a wet room, which includes a shower and toilet; and a common area with a refrigerator, microwave, and TV. If you can get your mobile devices down to the lodge safe and dry, it has Wi-Fi.
You can rent the lodge for a three hour lunch or for an overnight stay. Don’t expect to sleep in, though. Check out time is 8:30 am, and that means gearing up and repacking your overnight waterproof bag in time to be topside by 8:30.
There are options for those who don’t have a current open water certificate, but those options are expensive. The good news is the lodge is only about an hour’s drive south of Miami.
Why stay at a Miami hotel, when you can rent Captain Joe’s 65′ houseboat and camp out in the middle of Biscayne Bay? The houseboat can accommodate up to six guests and, if you’re not a water person, you can have a perfectly lovely stay without ever leaving the dock. The unit is fully air conditioned, with a spacious above deck that’s big enough for entertaining guests — or just swing in hammock overlooking the bay.
If you do want to putter around and take the boat out for a cruise, there are extra charges for the crew and fuel — but the other activities like jet skiing, fishing, and paddle boarding are included. Nightly, weekly, and monthly rates are available.
If you want to get away from it all, there are few options that offer more isolation than a private island. The Tarpon Key Lodge, located just north of Tampa, offers a private island lodge in the middle of the one of the most biologically-diverse shallow salt water areas anywhere in the state. Watch dolphins and manatees feed in the shallows, and try your hand at fishing for tarpon, cobia and redfish.
You can bring your own boat, or hire one to take back and forth to the lodge. If you drive your own boat, be sure to watch the channel markers carefully. The boating channel out to the lodge is narrow, and rocky on both sides.
For visitors to Florida, don’t touch the manatees. They’re federally protected and, because they’re usually fairly docile, tourists forget they’re wild animals that can injure the unwary, especially during mating season when big bulls will churn up the shallows fighting for dominance. Every year, regular as clockwork, some poor family ends up on the local news after getting arrested by Fish & Game for harassing manatees. Don’t get famous on the local news; look, but don’t touch the manatees.
The Nickelodeon Hotel is a kid’s paradise, that features pitch perfect kidsuites where Spongebob Squarepants or Dora the Explorer would be feel at home. You can also book optional activities like the Ninja Turtle Dinner, and theme weekends for particular shows, like Power Rangers.
Just a word of caution — if you stay at a Nickelodeon property for any length of time, somebody is going to get slimed. It’s better if you’re prepared instead of surprised.
So on your next visit to Florida, don’t settle for any ordinary hotel — you can find those anywhere. Instead check out one of these off-the-wall options, that offers a unique experience.