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Rendezvous for Two

Safe and romantic getaways to escape pandemic fatigue, all within a day’s drive.

Are you in desperate need of a date night or long weekend away with your significant other? You’re not alone. Even though the pandemic has people spending more time together, they are not connecting. After a long day of remote work and virtual education, couples are emotionally exhausted, and being around each other 24/7, understandably, has taken its toll. Thankfully, Florida’s climate and diverse surroundings make planning a trip any time of year possible. Orlando Family Magazine explored some of the safest locales where couples can decompress and reignite their passion.

Summary: One of Florida’s most scenic coastal areas, with 19 miles of uncrowded beaches, welcoming locally owned shops and restaurants and a laid-back surfer vibe, Palm Coast and Flagler Beaches are known for their distinctive cinnamon-colored sand and eco-friendly outdoor activities.

Perfect for couples who: want to get away from it all, yet still want to choose to do as much or as little as they feel like each day.

Tell me more: Lisa Sands, group and leisure marketing manager, says, “Active couples can play a round of golf, explore saltwater canals on a kayak, swim with dolphins, or walk, bike or hike along more than 125 miles of trails. Those looking for downtime can enjoy a day at a luxurious resort spa, shop for locally made souvenirs, rent a pole and do some fishing from historic Flagler Beach Municipal Pier, or take a leisurely drive along coastal Highway A1A, then try the local catch at one of many outdoor waterfront restaurants.”

Cultural exploration isn’t lacking in this destination. Art galleries and performing arts venues, as well as free live music abounds in the community. The European Village Farmer’s Market offers restaurants, bars and gift shops, and history buffs can explore both the Flagler Beach Historical Museum and the Florida Agricultural Museum.

Romantic opportunities: A day of romance can begin by watching the sunrise over the ocean from any number of pristine viewing spots, says Sands. “Afterwards, cross scenic A1A and stroll hand-in-hand along the peaceful shore, then surprise your sweetheart with a horseback ride on the beach with Equestrian Adventures of Florida, who will customize the ride to your interests and skill level,” she says. “Take some time to indulge in a decadent couples massage at Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa, then relax seaside under an umbrella with a refreshing cocktail.”

She recommends beachside accommodations at the low-key and distinctive adults-only White Orchid Inn and Spa. “Each of the 10 rooms is uniquely themed and amenities include made-to-order breakfast, afternoon wine and appetizers and free use of bikes, beach chairs and umbrellas to start your next morning’s adventure,” she says.

Safe travels: Because of its natural resources, including miles of shoreline, state parks and hiking trails, visitors have many options to explore in open spaces that often feel secluded and private. The Tourism Development Office initiated a program called “Pledge to Prevent” to instruct the staff at area attractions, hotels and restaurants on the proper use of personal protective equipment, how to do routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and equipment, the benefits of social distancing and minimized contact, and more—all in an effort to provide a safe travel experience for visitors. “Nearly 100 local businesses have committed to the program,” Sands says. “During the pandemic, Flagler County has been fortunate to remain near the bottom of Florida’s COVID-19 case counts.”

Summary: The Florida Keys put geographical wonders at your fingertips, creating a renewed sense of appreciation for the environment. Protecting nature has been at the core of the botanical garden’s mission for 85 years, making it the longest running attraction in Key West. The only frost-free subtropical forest in the continental United States, it’s one of the last vestiges of green space in Key West.

Perfect for couples who: like to be immersed in nature and educated about the value of protecting the environment.

Tell me more: Executive Director Misha D. McRae says the botanical garden is the “antidote to coronavirus blues.” The rare ecosystem is comprised of 15 acres of garden and forest, he says, all of which can be explored in a variety of self-guided tours on wide boardwalk paths. “The garden itself has flora and fauna native to the Keys, Cuba and Caribbean,” McRae says. “Our efforts on native species have created a safe haven for over 202 species of birds. We have two butterfly gardens with over 40 species, including the iconic Monarch butterfly. … We are also the location for a number of critically endangered red-legged thrush, which have only been seen four times in the last 15 years, drawing people from around the world to try to catch a glimpse.”

Romantic opportunities: McRae says, if sand is not a requirement for your idea of romance, then this is the place to be. He highlights the waterfall as a picturesque romantic backdrop. “Just being around nature and these rare plants and wildlife, it lends itself to connecting,” he says.

Safe travels: That feeling of having the place to yourself is not only romantically appealing, but safe. The facility follows all safe distancing protocols and requires visitors to wear a mask.

Summary: One of Orlando’s hottest attractions, this 20-acre entertainment and hospitality destination is close enough to enjoy for a date night or for the weekend. With 40 different restaurants, shopping, funky bars and amusements, ICON Park is not just for tourists, but worthwhile for locals looking for hometown fun.

Perfect for couples who: want romantic views, food, drinks and private time.

Tell me more: ICON Park has a diverse range of experiences. Those wanting to really shake things up can test their courage on one of the exciting thrill rides, such as the Orlando StarFlyer, which claims to be the world’s tallest swing ride attraction standing at 450 feet, or stay closer to the ground in the 7D Dark Ride Adventure, immersing you inside a first-person shooter game. Additional attractions include Madame Tussauds, the Sea Life Orlando Aquarium and the new Museum of Illusions—Florida’s first—featuring exhibits that defy the laws of physics. Restaurants run the gamut of cuisines, from Tin Roof and Tapo Toro Spanish Restaurant to Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, where local musical acts regularly perform.

Romantic opportunities: CEO Chris Jaskiewicz says the Wheel is the centerpiece of ICON Park. At 400 feet tall, it’s one of the tallest observation wheels in the world. “Each ride is two turns around, totaling 40 minutes, and offering views you can’t get anywhere else,” he says. “It’s a slow and luxurious ride, and we offer special romance packages that include a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne, cupcakes and ice cream at one of the restaurants, Sugar Factory.”

Safe travels: The open-air setting makes it easier to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Jaskiewicz says the Wheel capsules are thoroughly cleaned after every use, and the restaurant operators have complete respect for the new normal and strive to provide a good environment for guests.

Summary: The oceanfront amenities at this destination, just minutes away from St. Augustine, offer something for everyone. Relaxing is easy at the 91,000-square-foot Fantasy Pool complex featuring seven pools and a lazy river, two 18-hole golf courses, a full-service spa, dining establishments and more.

Perfect for couples who: enjoy being beachfront with a number of amenities, whether they prefer lounging or a more active schedule.

Tell me more: Guests appreciate the greenery of Hammock Beach, which includes two golf courses, one located 15 minutes inland, and another along the water with six holes on the Atlantic, says Kerry Mitruska, director of sales. “Not only do we offer golf, tennis, sand volleyball and the pool complex, we have a number of other activities available at the marina, including swimming with dolphins, renting kayaks or jet skis, chartering a boat for backwater fishing and even a vendor for horseback riding,” he says. “Guests can also explore the nearby historic St. Augustine, Kennedy Space Center or Daytona International Speedway.”

Romantic opportunities: The Lodge at Hammock Beach offers boutique-style accommodation just steps from the water and is the home of Atlantic Grille, featuring “shore-to-table” dishes and sweeping views of the ocean. Mitruska says couples can book a spa package to relieve the stress they’ve been carrying during the pandemic, followed by dinner and cocktails on property. With seven pools to choose from, there are opportunities to find a more quiet space for couples, he adds.

Safe travels: Hammock Beach is a private membership and club only open to those who are members or registered guests. The controlled number of guests coupled with the vast green spaces give everyone a chance to find a spot and call it their own, without concerns of distancing or crowds. Social distancing is also practiced in the dining establishments and staff are masked, Mitruska says.

Summary: Mount Dora is located in the heart of Central Florida and is one of the most unique cities in Florida, melding old-world Florida charm with modern amenities. The vibe in Mount Dora is family friendly, charming and ideal for anyone looking for a weekend away from home to enjoy great food, shopping and romantic sunsets.

Perfect for couples who: are looking to relax, unplug and escape their routines.

Tell me more: “Everyone falls in love with Mount Dora on the first visit,” says Mayor Catherine Hoechst. “Not only will you see some really cool shops, art and be able to take some great selfies, but you’ll meet the nicest people who will tell you where to go and what to see.” Some of the great attractions are on the waterfront, including the only inland lighthouse in Florida at Grantham Point Park. “In Mount Dora, you can stroll downtown and check out all the unique shops and stroll our parks with fully grown oak trees that shade the pathways. Historic homes lay outside the downtown district giving everyone picture-perfect memories,” she continues.

Romantic opportunities: Areas of interest to anyone looking for a weekend getaway include Grantham Point Park or the 4th Avenue Docks, where you can sit and enjoy a romantic sunset. “There are restaurants that overlook the lake and plenty of waterfront tours, including a sunset tour couples can take. The downtown area is a must for anyone to enjoy shopping and restaurants, but at night, enjoy a romantic stroll through Dora Drawdy Way which is lit with brilliant string lights on your way to one of many locations for a drink and quiet conversation,” Hoechst says. Couples can stay at the historic Lakeside Inn, which has housed presidents like Calvin Coolidge.

Safe travels: Mount Dora approved a resolution in 2020 requiring face coverings be worn in all public buildings, social distancing be practiced indoors and outdoors and frequent handwashing and sanitizing is encouraged. Hoechst sends out messages reminding everyone to practice these guidelines as set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the businesses back the resolution to keep the town safe and healthy.

Summary: Within a few hours’ drive from Orlando, visitors can settle into a beachfront paradise with six restaurants, three bars, three pools, two whirlpools, four championship golf courses and a world-class spa. Located on Florida’s Emerald Coast, the stunning white beaches and crystal clear waters set the stage for unwinding.

Perfect for couples who: want to get away from the hustle and bustle.

Tell me more: In a stark contrast to Orlando’s scenery, Sandestin Beach offers the rural charm of the American South. Kevin Rosa, director of sales and marketing, highlights the nature preserves in the area, including Topsail State Park, which features an untouched landscape with wild dunes. The area is also home to a unique phenomenon of coastal freshwater lakes. “These only occur in three places, including here, New Zealand and Madagascar,” he says.

The resort is close to a number of attractions, including Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park, featuring over 40 water attractions, and Silver Sands Premium Outlets, the country’s largest designer outlet center.

Romantic opportunities: At the resort, couples can create special moments in a variety of ways. Rosa says Serenity by the Sea Spa, a 14,000-square-foot spa, offers an extensive menu of indulgent treatments, including couples massages or the ability to reserve a couples room. An intimate charter with picnic can also be arranged either for a one-hour getaway or an all-day excursion. A romantic meal at Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, boasting an extensive wine list, is among Rosa’s top recommendations. “Being near the beach, enjoying fine cuisine and sitting on your balcony overlooking the Gulf creates a romantic experience, and you forget all the noise from home or with your job,” he says.

Safe travels: “With a lower population density, people can really feel like they are by themselves here,” Rosa says. In accordance with Hilton protocols, the resort participates in the Hilton CleanStay program, offering contactless entry and check-in for honors members, enhanced lobby signage, spaced-out seating and regular cleaning of elevators. “As rooms are cleaned they are sealed with a CleanStay sticker to let the guest know no one has entered the room after it has been cleaned and sanitized,” he says. Although there are no state mandates for masking, Hilton Hotels & Resorts maintains its own guidelines for both staff and guests.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s February 2021 issue.