Arriving & Departing | Getting Around | Contacts & Resources
Arriving & Departing
Passports are required for all citizens traveling to or from the United States via land as well as air or sea, regardless of destination.
Sarasota's airport, Sarasota-Bradenton (SRQ) (PHONE: 941/359-5200), lies just north of the city. It is served by American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, TWA, United, and US Airways. International flights land in Tampa, Miami or Orlando and then continue on to Sarasota. There is also an international flight from Germany that lands at the Ft. Myers Airport (aprox 1 hour away).
Typical flying times to Florida are 3 hours from New York, 4 hours from Chicago, 2¾ hours from Dallas, 4½-5½ hours from Los Angeles, and 8-8½ hours from London.
American (PHONE: 800/433-7300). Continental (PHONE: 800/525-0280). Delta (PHONE: 800/221-1212). Northwest (PHONE: 800/225-2525). TWA (PHONE: 800/221-2000). United (PHONE: 800/241-6522). US Airways (PHONE: 800/428-4322).
The Transportation & Safety Administration's (TSA) guide to permitted & prohibited carry on luggage items.
From the U.K.
American (PHONE: 0345/789-789). British Airways (PHONE: 0345/222-111). Delta (PHONE: 0800/414-767).
Transfers Between the Airport and Town
Transportation to and from the Sarasota-Bradenton airport is provided by Airport Limo (PHONE: 941/355-9645) and West Coast Executive Sedan (PHONE: 941/359-8600). The average cab fare between the airport and downtown is $25 - $35* (* subject to change without notice)
Service to and throughout Florida is provided by Greyhound Lines (PHONE: 800/231-2222; 813/229-2112 in Tampa; 941/955-5735 in Sarasota).
I-75 spans the region from north to south. Once you cross the Florida border from Georgia, it should take about four hours to reach Sarasota. If coming from Orlando, you're likely to drive west into Tampa on I-4 and then south on I-75 to Bradenton, Sarasota, and Venice.
Amtrak (PHONE: 800/872-7245) trains run from the Northeast, Midwest, and much of the South to Tampa, the nearest station.
Florida statutes require that bikers under 16 wear a helmet. Bicycle passengers under 4 years old must be in a sling or child seat. All bikes must have lamps or reflectors -- white light in the front, and red in the back, visible from 500 feet -- between sunset and sunrise.
In Sarasota the public transit company is Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) (PHONE: 941/951-5850).
I-75 and U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail)`stretch the length of the Tampa Bay region. U.S. 41 links the business districts of many communities, so it's best to avoid it and all bridges during rush hours (7-9 AM and 4-6 PM).
I-275 heads west from Tampa across Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg, swings south, and crosses the bay again on its way to Terra Ceia/Palmetto, near Bradenton. Along this last leg -- the Sunshine Skyway and its stunning suspension bridge -- you'll get a bird's- eye view of the bay.
Route 64 connects I-75 to Bradenton and Anna Maria Island. From there, Route 789 runs north and south over several slender barrier islands, past miles of blue-green gulf waters, beaches, and waterfront homes. The road does not connect all the islands, however; it runs from Holmes Beach off the Bradenton coast south to Lido Key, then begins again on Siesta Key and again on Casey Key south of Osprey, and runs south to Nokomis Beach.
Rates in the area begin at $75 - $240 a day. This does not include tax on car rentals. Bear in mind that rates fluctuate tremendously -- both above and below these quoted figures -- depending on demand and the season. Rental cars are more expensive (and harder to find) during peak holidays and in season (Late December to mid April).
It used to be that major rental agencies were located at the airport whereas cheaper firms weren't. Now however, all over Florida, even the majors might be off airport property. Speedy check-in and frequent shuttle buses make off-airport rentals almost as convenient as on-site service. However, it's wise to allow a little extra time for bus travel between the rental agency and the airport.
For more information, call Alamo (PHONE: 800/327-9633; 020/8759-6200 in the United Kingdom), Avis (PHONE: 800/331-1212; 800/879-2847 in Canada; 02/9353-9000 in Australia; 09/525-1982 in New Zealand), Budget (PHONE: 800/527-0700; 0144/227-6266 in the United Kingdom), Dollar (PHONE: 800/800-4000; 020/8897-0811 in the United Kingdom; where it is known as Eurodollar; 02/9223-1444 in Australia), Hertz (PHONE: 800/654-3131; 800/263-0600 in Canada; 020/8897-2072 in the United Kingdom; 02/9669-2444 in Australia; 03/358-6777 in New Zealand), or National (PHONE: 800/227-7368; 0345/222525 in the United Kingdom).
In Florida you must be 21 to rent a car and rates may be higher if you're under 25.
Florida has its share of traffic problems, especially during season. Downtown areas of major cities, including Sarasota, can be extremely congested during rush hours, usually 7 to 9 AM and 4 to 6 PM on weekdays. When you drive the interstate system in Florida, try to plan your trip so that you are not entering, leaving, or passing through a large city during rush hour, when traffic can slow to 10 mph for 10 miles or more. In addition, northerners escaping winter cold usually rent in Florida for a month at a time, which means they all arrive on the first of the month and leave on the 31st. Believe it or not, from November to March, when the end and beginning of a month occur on a weekend, north-south routes like I-75 and I-95 almost come to a standstill during daylight hours. It's best to avoid traveling on these days if possible.
Rules of the Road
Speed limits are 55 mph on state highways, 30 mph within city limits and residential areas, and 55-75 mph on Interstates and Florida's Turnpike. Be alert for signs announcing exceptions.
All front-seat passengers are required to wear seat belts, and children under 4 years old or 40 lbs must be fastened securely in child safety seats or boosters; children under 16 are required to ride in the rear seat. Florida's Alcohol/Controlled Substance DUI Law is one of the toughest in the United States. Being caught with a blood alcohol level of.08 or higher can have serious repercussions even for the first-time offender.
Contacts & Resources
Most banks are open from 9 to 4 Monday through Friday. Many are open for several hours on Saturday. Most businesses in Sarasota, Bradenton, and Venice are open Monday through Saturday, from 9 or 10 AM to 6 or 9 PM. Many others, including shopping centers, are also open Sunday from noon to 5 or later.
Customs & Duties
Non-U.S. residents ages 21 and older may import into the United States 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 2 kilograms of tobacco, 1 liter of alcohol, and gifts worth $100. Meat products, seeds, plants, and fruits are prohibited.
For additional information, contact the U.S. Customs Service (inquiries, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C 20229, PHONE: 202/927-6724; complaints, Office of Regulations and Rulings, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC. 20229; registration of equipment, Resource Management, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC. 20229, PHONE: 202/927-0540).
The U.S. electrical standard is 110 volts/60 cycles AC. Foreign visitors traveling with dual-voltage appliances will not need a converter, but they will need a plug adapter. The standard U.S. electrical outlet takes a plug of two flat pins set parallel to one another.
Embassies and Consulates
Australian Embassy (1601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC. 20036, PHONE: 202/797-3000, FAX: 202/797-3040).
Canadian Embassy (501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC. 20001, PHONE: 202/682-1740, FAX: 202/682-7726).
New Zealand Embassy (37 Observatory Circle NW, Washington, DC. 20008, PHONE: 202/328-4800, FAX: 202/667-5227).
British Embassy (3100 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008, PHONE: 202/588-7800, FAX: 202/588-7850).
Ambulance (PHONE: 911). Fire (PHONE: 911). Police (PHONE: 911).
Hospital Emergency Rooms
There are 24-hour emergency rooms at Manatee Memorial Hospital (206 2nd St. E, Bradenton) and Sarasota Memorial Hospital (1700 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota).
Beach and Sun Safety
If you are unaccustomed to strong subtropical sun, you run a risk of sunburn and heat prostration, even in winter. So hit the beach or play tennis, golf, and other outdoor sports before 10 or after 3. If you must be out at midday, limit strenuous exercise, drink plenty of liquids, and wear a hat. If you begin to feel faint, get out of the sun immediately and sip water slowly. Even on overcast days, ultraviolet rays shine through the haze, so use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and have children wear a waterproof SPF 45 or better.
While you're frolicking on the beach, steer clear of what look like blue bubbles on the sand. These are Portuguese men-of-war, and their tentacles can cause an allergic reaction. Also be careful of other large jellyfish, some of which can sting. Floridians will tell you to do the "Stingray Shuffle" which means you should shuffle and slide your feet when in unclear water.
Before swimming, make sure there's no undertow. (Since you can't necessarily see if there is one, check with a lifeguard.) Rip currents, caused when the tide rushes out through a narrow break in a sandbar, can overpower even the strongest swimmer. If you're caught in one, resist the urge to swim straight back to shore -- you'll never make it. Instead, stay calm, swim parallel to the shore until you are outside the current's pull, and then work your way in. Always exercise extra caution when the surf is up, and swim only where lifeguards are stationed.
If you walk across a grassy area on the way to the beach, you'll probably encounter sand spurs. They are quite tiny, light brown, and remarkably prickly. You'll feel them before you see them; if you get stuck with one, just pull it out.
Do not fly within 24 hours of scuba diving.
Every address in the United States belongs to a specific zip-code district, and each zip code has five digits. Some addresses include a second sequence of four numbers following the first five numbers, but although this speeds mail delivery for large organizations, it is not necessary to use it. Each zip-code district has at least one post office, where you can buy stamps and aerograms, send parcels, or conduct other postal business. Occasionally you may find small stamp-dispensing machines in airports, train stations, bus terminals, large office buildings, hotel lobbies, drugstores, or grocery stores, but don't count on it. Most Americans go to the post office to buy their stamps, and the lines can be long.
Official mailboxes are either the stout, royal blue steel bins on city sidewalks or mail chutes on the walls of post offices or in large office buildings. A schedule posted on mailboxes and mail slots should indicate when the mail is picked up.
Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) are ubiquitous in Florida. In addition to banks, you will find them at grocery store chains like Publix and Winn Dixie, Walmarts, in shopping malls big and small, and in gas stations.
The basic unit of U.S. currency is the dollar, which is subdivided into 100 cents. Coins are the copper penny (1 cent) and four silver coins: the nickel (5 cents), the dime (10 cents), the quarter (25 cents), and the half-dollar (50 cents). Paper money comes in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. All these bills are the same size and green in color; they are distinguishable only by the dollar amount indicated on them and by pictures of various famous American people and monuments.
For the most favorable rates, change money through banks. Although fees charged for ATM transactions may be higher abroad than at home, Cirrus and Plus exchange rates are excellent, because they are based on wholesale rates offered only by major banks. You won't do as well at exchange booths in airports or rail and bus stations, in hotels, in restaurants, or in stores, although you may find their hours more convenient. To avoid lines at airport exchange booths, get a bit of local currency before you leave home.
In general, U.S. banks will not cash a personal check for you unless you have an account at that bank (it doesn't have to be at that branch). Only in major cities are large bank branches equipped to exchange foreign currencies. Therefore, it's best to rely on credit cards, cash machines, and traveler's checks to handle expenses while you're traveling.
In the United States, it is not as easy to find places to exchange currency as it is in European cities. In major international cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, currency may be exchanged at some bank branches, as well as at currency-exchange booths in airports and at foreign-currency offices such as American Express Travel Service and Thomas Cook (check local directories for addresses and phone numbers). The best strategy is to buy traveler's checks in U.S. dollars before you come to the United States; although the rates may not be as good abroad, the time saved by not having to search constantly for exchange facilities far outweighs any financial loss.
Money Orders, Funds Transfers
Any U.S. bank is equipped to accept transfers of funds from foreign banks. It helps if you can plan dates to pick up money at specific bank branches. Your home bank can supply you with a list of its correspondent banks in the United States.
If you have more time, and you have a U.S. address where you can receive mail, you can have someone send you a certified check, which you can cash at any bank, or a postal money order (for as much as $700, obtained for a fee of up to 85¢ at any U.S. post office and redeemable at any other post office). From overseas, you can have someone go to a bank to send you an international money order (also called a bank draft), which will cost a $15-$20 commission plus airmail postage. Always bring two valid pieces of identification, preferably with photos, to claim your money.
The sales tax in Sarasota County (and all of Florida) is 6%. Sarasota Lodgings are taxed at 12%.
Whether they carry bags, open doors, deliver food, or clean rooms, hospitality employees work to receive a portion of your travel budget. In deciding how much to give, base your tip on what the service is and how well it's performed.
In transit, tip an airport valet $2-$3 per bag, a taxi driver 15%-20% of the fare.
For hotel staff, recommended amounts are $2-$3 per bag for a bellhop, $2-$3 per night per guest for chambermaids, $5-$10 for special concierge service, $2-$3 for a doorman who hails a cab or parks a car, 15% of the greens fee for a caddy, 15%-20% of the bill for a massage, and 15% of a room service bill.
In a restaurant, give 15%-20% of your bill before tax to the server, 5%-10% to the maître d', 15% to a bartender, and 15% of the wine bill for a wine steward who makes a special effort in selecting and serving wine.
Passports & Visas
Entering the United States
Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom who plan to stay in the United States for fewer than 90 days do not need entry visas. A valid passport, a return-trip ticket, and proof of financial solvency are required; you'll be asked to fill out the Visa Waiver Form, I-94W, upon entry. Travelers who plan to stay more than 90 days can apply for the appropriate visa at the United States embassy or consulates in their home country. Canadian citizens need valid identification but neither a passport nor a visa to enter the United States.
If you live in the U.K.: U.S. Embassy Visa Information Line (PHONE: 01891/200290; U.S. Embassy Visa Branch (5 Upper Grosvenor Sq., London W1A 1AE) for U.S. visa information; send a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Write the U.S. Consulate General (Queen's House, Queen St., Belfast BTI 6EO) if you live in Northern Ireland. Write the Office of Australia Affairs (59th fl., MLC Centre, 19-29 Martin Pl., Sydney NSW 2000) if you live in Australia. Write the Office of New Zealand Affairs (29 Fitzherbert Terr., Thorndon, Wellington) if you live in New Zealand.
The best time to apply for a passport or to renew is during the fall and winter. Before any trip, check your passport's expiration date, and, if necessary, renew it as soon as possible.
Australian Passport Office.
Passport Office (PHONE: 819/994-3500 or 800/567-6868).
New Zealand Citizens
New Zealand Passport Office (PHONE: 04/494-0700 for information on how to apply; 04/474-8000; 0800/225-050 in New Zealand for information on applications already submitted).
London Passport Office (PHONE: 0990/210410) for fees and documentation requirements and to request an emergency passport.
The country code for the United States is (1). The area code for Sarasota, Bradenton, and Venice is (941).
All U.S. telephone numbers consist of 10 digits -- the three-digit area code, followed by a seven-digit local number. If you're calling a number from another area-code region, dial "1" then all 10 digits. For calls within the same local calling area, just dial the seven-digit number. A map of U.S. area codes is printed in the front of most local telephone directories.
Four special prefixes, "800," "888," "877," and "900," are not area codes but indicators of particular kinds of service. "800," "888," and "877" numbers can be dialed free from anywhere in the country -- usually they are prepaid commercial lines that make it easier for consumers to obtain information, products, or services. The "900" numbers charge you for making the call and generally offer some kind of entertainment, such as horoscope readings, sports scores, or sexually suggestive conversations. These services can be very expensive, so know what you're getting into before you dial a "900" number.
Directory & Operator Information
For assistance from an operator, dial "0". To find out a telephone number within the same area code you're calling from, dial 411; in a few places it is necessary to dial 555-1212. If you want to charge a long-distance call to the person you're calling, call collect by dialing "0" instead of "1" before the 10-digit number, and an operator will come on the line to assist you (the party you're calling, however, has the right to refuse the call).
International calls can be direct-dialed from most phones; dial 011, followed by the country code and then the local number (the front pages of many local telephone directories include a list of overseas country codes). To have an operator assist you, dial "0" and ask for the overseas operator. The country code for Australia is 61; New Zealand, 64; and the United Kingdom, 44. To reach Canada, dial 1 + area code + number.
Competitive long-distance carriers make calling within the United States relatively convenient and let you avoid hotel surcharges. By dialing an 800 number, you can get connected to the long-distance company of your choice.
For details, contact AT&T (PHONE: 800/225-5288), MCI (PHONE: 800/888-8000), or Sprint (PHONE: 800/366-2255).
The most common pay phone in operation today is the coin-operated type. To use one, pick up the receiver, deposit your money and then dial the number. An automated message will alert you to deposit more money, if needed.
Telephone-card phones, so popular elsewhere in the world, are becoming increasingly common. Grocery stores, newsstands, and other establishments sell the disposable phone cards, available in varying amounts from $5 and up. To activate the card, dial the code number and follow the instructions printed on the card.
The Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (655 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota 34236, PHONE: 941/957-1877 or 800/522-9799).
Canadian travelers can contact Travel USA (PHONE: 905/890-5662; 800/268-3482 in Ontario).
In the United Kingdom, contact the United States Travel and Tourism Administration (Box 1EN, London W1A 1EN, PHONE: 020/7495-4466) or ABC Florida (Box 35, Abingdon, Oxon. OX14 4TB, U.K., PHONE: 0891/600-555).
When to Go
Florida is a state for all seasons, although most visitors prefer October-April.
Winter remains the height of the tourist season, when Florida is crowded with "snowbirds" fleeing cold weather in the north. Hotels, bars, discos, restaurants, shops, and attractions are all crowded. Hollywood and Broadway celebrities appear in sophisticated supper clubs, and other performing artists hold the stage at ballets, operas, concerts, and theaters.
Summer in Florida, as smart budget-minded visitors have discovered, is often hot and humid, but along the coast, ocean breezes make the season quite bearable and many hotels lower their prices considerably. In the greater Sarasota, Tampa, Orlando area, summer is peak season.
For senior citizens, fall is the time for discounts for many attractions and hotels along the Pinellas Suncoast in the Tampa Bay area.
The following are the normal daily temperature ranges for Sarasota:
January 49-70°F (9-21°C); February 54-72°F (12-22°C); March 56-76°F (13-24°C); April 63-81°F (17-27°C); May 67-88°F (19-31°C); June 72-90°F (22-32°C); July 74-90°F (23-32°C); August 74-90°F (23-32°C); September 74-88°F (23-31°C); October 67-83°F (19-28°C); November 58-76°F (14-24°C); December 52-70°F (11-21°C).
Major national holidays include New Year's Day (Jan. 1); Martin Luther King, Jr., Day (3rd Mon. in Jan.); President's Day (3rd Mon. in Feb.); Memorial Day (last Mon. in May); Independence Day (July 4); Labor Day (1st Mon. in Sept.); Thanksgiving Day (4th Thurs. in Nov.); Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (Dec. 24 and 25); and New Year's Eve (Dec. 31).