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The Sunshine State of Florida is a vacationer's paradise 365 days a year. Its climate, pristine beaches, and theme parks are all geared towards the leisure and pleasure of the millions of vacationers who flock in from around the world. Consisting of a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean from the southeastern corner of the United States, Florida's uneven coastline is indented with estuaries, bays, inlets, lagoons and rivers, creating ideal enclaves for holiday resorts. Right in the south the peninsula ends in an arc of islands resting on coral reefs, known as the Florida Keys. These islands, which together make up the southernmost part of the United States, are perfect for all water based activities, like snorkeling, kayaking, and dolphin watching.
After World War II, tourism development took off in Florida, where the industry not only focused on enhancing the state's natural attractions, but to build new man-made ones. The central part of the state, particularly around Tampa and Orlando, has since become a theme park paradise. Enticing venues offer everything from water slides to rollicking roller coasters. Themed animal habitats attract thousands to the accompanying resort hotels on the mammoth sites of Disney World, Sea World, Busch Gardens, and other major resort operators.
The state's biggest city, Miami, echoes the vibrancy of the rest of this holiday paradise, with its soft white sandy beaches vying for attention with the city's numerous attractions and colourful neighbourhoods. Its famous Art Deco district and Latin American quarter are constantly thronged with visitors, many of them passengers from the hundreds of cruise ships that come and go in the bustling port. Within easy access from Miami are the Everglades, a marshy grass plain home to plentiful wildlife and filled with alligators.
Aptly named the 'Sunshine State', Florida offers anything anyone seeks in a holiday, whether it be fine wining and dining, learning about space exploration, discovering endangered wildlife, riding a roller coaster or bronzing on one of its famous beaches.
Florida has a wealth of attractions to offer its visitors, promising activity appealing to a variety of interests. Home to some of the most famous beaches in the world, and the incredible resorts that accompany them, Florida certainly earns its name as the Sunshine State. With the beaches of Miami keeping sun-lovers happy and relaxed, there are also loads of activities on offer for those seeking a little more adventure.
The magical Walt Disney World is one of Florida's major attractions, pulling visitors from across the globe. Sea World is also a firm favourite and a must-see, as is Universal Studios, promising both adults and children alike interaction and fun. Other popular favourites in the state include exploring the Florida State Parks, such as the Biscayne National Park, as well as enjoying the picturesque views of Florida Keys. If culture and art is what you're after, there certainly is no shortage: many museums and galleries across the state compete to occupy those with cultural inclinations.
With so much to choose from, visitors can happily craft their own itineraries around any one of the three major cities of Florida - Miami, Orlando and Tampa - and can fit it all in with adequate time and planning.
Art lovers should not miss out on one of Florida's major cultural attractions, the Norton Museum of Art in the upmarket West Palm Beach. The museum's permanent collection is internationally renowned, including European, American, Chinese, and contemporary art, from the Renaissance through to the present. The museum regularly hosts travelling exhibitions and offers educational programmes for children. There is a museum shop and cafe serving refreshments. Guided tours are available. Photography is allowed in certain parts of the museum, but not in many of the exhibition areas - be sure to ask permission before taking a photo.
Situated in Boca Raton at Red Reef Park on a barrier island, Gumbo Limbo (named after a species of tree) is an eight-hectare (20-acre) marine and estuarine reserve dedicated to showcasing and preserving a concentration of plants known as a 'tropical hammock'. The Environmental complex includes large outdoor aquariums containing local marine life, including the area's ubiquitous sea turtles. Visitors can also visit a butterfly garden, see visual presentations and interpretive displays, catch the view from an overhead observation tower, and stroll along an elevated boardwalk through the hammock and mangrove swamp. The nature centre is informative and fun for people of all ages.
A picturesque peninsula located on Florida's west coast, bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the west, St Petersburg is the fourth largest city in the state of Florida and is commonly referred to as 'St Pete' by locals. It offers up 35 miles (56km) of beaches on eight major barrier islands and is home to some of America's award winning beaches, such as Caladesi Beach.
With an average of 360 days of sunshine each year, it has earned the nickname 'The Sunshine City' and is a popular tourist and retirement destination. This area is diverse and comprises 26 communities, ranging from the Greek influence in Tarpon Springs to the Scottish heritage of Dunedin. St Petersburg's unique melting pot culture has resulted in some eclectic eateries, museums, galleries, and boutiques, all with their own unique charm.
Some of the many attractions in St Petersburg include the Salvador Dali Museum and the mazes of the Sunken Gardens. The Pier offers a concentration of shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars, a large food court, aquarium, and bayside observation deck.
An hour west of Fort Lauderdale, on the road to Naples, travelors can visit the Big Cypress Seminole, where Florida's 'unconquered' Indian tribe still reside. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Khi museum in the reservation features historical exhibits and a living village where visitors can watch artisans at work. There is also a nature trail to explore, and a film on Seminole history shown regularly. Apart from the many interesting cultural artifacts on display, panoramic scenery at the reservation is spectacular, showcasing some of the typical everglades' flora and fauna. The Big Cypress Seminole Reservation is the ideal place to immerse oneself in the American Indian heritage of Florida.
The Miami Science Museum, officially called The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, contains more than 140 exhibits, all designed to be hands-on and interactive. Coupled with live demonstrations and collections of rare natural history specimens, the museum makes learning heaps of fun. The Wildlife Center boasts more than 175 live reptiles and birds of prey, and the adjacent Space Transit Planetarium provides even more thrills with projected astronomy and laser light shows. The whole family is bound to enjoy a visit to this science centre.
At least half a day is required to fully enjoy south Florida's premier attraction. The Seaquarium is world-renowned for its marine life shows and attractions. Another favourite star is the sea lion Salty and his colleagues, who amuse and amaze with their antics. It is even possible to arrange close encounters with some of the animals. The Miami Seaquarium is set in a tropical paradise boasting wonderful views of the city, an extra perk for those who can drag their eyes from the animal shows. Visitors should be sure to check the official website for a schedule of show times before planning their day.
Lovers of antiques will enjoy visiting the magnificent 34-room Vizcaya bayfront villa, built in the Italian Renaissance style in 1916. The grand mansion took hundreds of artisans five years to complete, and the formal gardens, which surround the villa fronting on Biscayne Bay, took even longer to lay out. Today visitors can tour the villa and grounds, enjoying the original furnishings and décor in a variety of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococco, and Neoclassical styles. Vizcaya Villa gives visitors a taste of the best of Europe right in the heart of Miami.
Miami boasts the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere, but cannot claim to have actually built it. Dating from 1141, the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux in North Miami Beach is a hugely popular tourist attraction. The monastery stood originally in Segovia in Spain, but in the early 1950s the medieval building was bought by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, disassembled, shipped piece by peice to Miami, and rebuilt on its present site. Time Magazine called the project the 'biggest jigsaw puzzle in history'. The fascinating medieval complex is a joy to explore, and the fact that it seems out of place in Florida only makes it more magical. Guided tours are available for groups of 15 or more.
The vast Everglades National Park that spans the tip of the Florida peninsula, 35 miles (56km) southwest of Miami, is a 40-mile-wide (64km) slow-moving river of grass, interspersed with shallow wetlands. It is the only subtropical preserve in North America, containing both temperate and tropical plants. It is also the home of dozens of endangered species, like the swallowtail butterfly, American crocodile, leatherback turtle, southern bald eagle, and West Indian manatee. The best way to explore the park is by canoe; although private operators also run rapid airboat tours, which are popular with thrill-seekers. The park has been accorded several honours including its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance.
Ybor City in central Tampa, is a National Historic Landmark District that beckons visitors back to an era when this Latin Quarter was the cigar capital of the world. The historic enclave, founded in 1886, has been fully restored. The old cigar factories now house shops, restaurants, clubs, and art galleries drawing large numbers of visitors. It is still possible to watch locals demonstrate the ancient art of premium hand-rolled cigar making, or spend a wild night applauding Spanish Flamenco dancers.
Busch Gardens is an extraordinary adventure park: a combination between massive zoo and theme park. It predates Florida's more famous Walt Disney World and offers an equally exciting and entertaining experience for visitors. The park is based on an overall African theme, divided into numerous different areas with thousands of animals living in naturalistic environments. At Busch Gardens it is possible to come face-to-face with some of the world's most endangered animals, including Bengal tigers and orangutans. The site also contains thrill rides, live entertainment venues, shops, and restaurants, all overseen from the Skyride cable car that crosses high above the park. In one day it is possible to visit Tutankhamen's Tomb in Egypt, cross the plains of the Serengeti, and watch snake charmers in a Moroccan sultan's tent. Popular rides include the Cheetah Hunt rollercoaster, that travels up to 60miles per hour (96 km per hour), and the Falcon's Fury drop tower. Opening times vary according to season so be sure to check the official website when planning your trip. If you plan to visit any other theme parks in the region it is well worth investigating the combination tickets on offer for deals.
The hands-on Tampa Museum of Science and Industry, affectionately known as MOSI, is designed to educate, amaze, and amuse both young and old with more than 450 interactive exhibits. Visitors can experience what it is like to be in a Gulf Hurricane with winds of up to 74 miles per hour (200km/h), or defy the laws of gravity in space. The biology section features a unique way to explore the human body, and visitors of all ages will enjoy strolling through the butterfly garden. Also at the museum is Florida's first IMAX dome theatre, and the museum building is set in a 47-acre nature reserve which features walking trails. The museum can easily occupy the whole family for at least half a day.
The Tampa Museum of Art's stunning facilities is located along Gasparilla Plaza. The 66,000-square-foot building houses a collection of 20th-century and contemporary art, as well as a renowned collection of Greek and Roman antiquities. There is also a changing special exhibitions programme. From the innovative translucent ceilings to walls covered with LED lighting, the seven interior galleries and one exterior sculpture gallery offers visitors a world-class experience. Visitors will appreciate the museum's setting and should take the opportunity to stroll along Hillsborough River while in the area.
The Henry B. Plant Museum, in the heart of downtown Tampa, is designed to transport visitors back to the turn of the century. The ornate building is Moorish in design, featuring 13 silver minarets which is said to be a copy of the famed Alhambra Palace in Spain. Railroad tycoon Henry Plant built the edifice in 1891 as the 511-roomed Tampa Bay Hotel. Today it houses period art and furnishings from Europe and the Orient, and details via exhibits the history of the resort and the early days of the tourist industry.
More than 5,000 aquatic creatures live at the three-storey Florida Aquarium, where it is possible to explore the underwater world in air-conditioned comfort. The Florida Aquarium is home to an impressive array of the animals found in the famous waterways of the state, including crocodiles and moray eels, as well as many of the favourites found in aquariums the world over. The aquarium offers behind-the-scenes tours, dive shows, audio tours, close-up animal encounters, and touch-tanks for an immersive the experience. There is a little waterpark and play area for young children needing some extra entertainment.
Orlando's most familiar landmark is undoubtedly the turreted Cinderella Castle that stands in the centre of the original Disney Florida theme park, the Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney World opened in 1971 and has been making dreams come true ever since. Today it is just one of four Disney parks that cover more than 28,000 acres of Orange and Osceola counties in central Florida, with accompanying resorts, shopping complexes, hotels, and waterparks. Apart from the Magic Kingdom, Disney World now includes the Epcot centre, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. It also contains two water parks; Disney's Blizzard Beach and Disney's Typhoon Lagoon.
The Magic Kingdom is where the most famous Disney attractions are located. Little girls can visit the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique to receive princess makeovers, while boys can become ferocious swashbucklers at the Pirates League. Rides at the Magic Kingdom include classic favourites like Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, and It's a Small World.
Disney's Hollywood Studios gives visitors a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the workings of the glitz and glamour of the movie industry, with rides and attractions dedicated to the Little Mermaid, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, the Twilight Zone, Pirates of the Caribbean, and even American Idol.
Animal Kingdom is a wildlife park home to more than 1,700 animals from 250 species. Visitors can go on an Expedition to Everest, or a Kilimanjaro Safari, or through Avatar's Pandora. The iconic Tree of Life towers over conservation exhibits and dinosaur boneyards, with bird shows, thrilling rides, and live musicals.
Spread out between the Disney parks at Lake Buena Vista and downtown Orlando area is the renowned SeaWorld attraction. The park is designed to give an interactive look at the sea, featuring themed animal habitats from tidal pools to iceberg lakes. Visitors can hug a dolphin, kiss a killer whale, and watch the famous aquatic SeaWorld stars go through their paces in various entertaining shows.
SeaWorld is not only well-known for its exciting animal encounters and epic rides. Be sure to enjoy Mako, the tallest, fastest, and longest roller coaster in Orlando. It reaches speeds of up to 73 miles per hour (117km per hour) on an impressively long steel track, leaving riders feeling both breathless and weightless.
Neighbouring Discovery Cove offers visitors a chance to swim with dolphins, view wildlife, sunbathe on gorgeous beaches, and snorkel among the coral.
The delights that the Universal Orlando entertainment complex has to offer are so numerous that it takes at least two days to fully appreciate. There are two theme parks: the Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. Universal Studios is a movie-themed park with thrilling, innovative rides, production studios, and film sets where visitors can go behind the scenes and see the tricks used to create movie magic. Islands of Adventure offers thrilling rides, shows, and villages on five different islands all based on hit film classics. On-site are three superb luxery hotels, so that the fun never has to end at Universal Orlando.
Once a run-down, industrial district, Wynwood has been revitalised by a group of artists, who in the early 2000s, wanted to enrich their streets through celebrating the unrecognised talent of graffiti artists. The neighbourhood is now home to numerous galleries, art studios, art complexes, art fairs, museums and collections.
Wynwood Walls is the centre of this urban sprawl, an open air gallery that has spilled out onto its neighbours' walls. Art lovers will revel in the entirely unique and unusual pieces around them, created by international artists, ranging from old school artists to new school innovators. Admission to the 'museum of the streets' is free. Be sure to check out the Wynwood Walls shop, kitchen and bar, or the renown Joey's Cafe when visiting. Walking tours of the area are available twice daily.
A sighting of an endangered West Indian manatee, a shy and lumbering walrus-like creature whose numbers are dwindling, is a must for visitors to Florida. At the Lee County Manatee Park, on the Orange River in eastern Fort Myers, these animals can be viewed in their natural habitat from observation decks. The Park also offers information, walking tours, and workshops, as well as picnic facilities and a fishing cove with a deck and a pier. Kayak and canoe rentals are also available. Some of the facilities are only open between May and November when the weather is hot and pleasant - check the official website to see what is available when.
Housed in an odd-looking building that is tipped to one side and apparently sinking into the ground, the Orlando Odditorium contains a remarkable collection of weird and wonderful exhibits, amassed over a period of 40 years by explorer Robert Ripley. Examples of the exhibits are shrunken heads and a scale model of a Rolls Royce made entirely of matchsticks. Visitors can measure themselves up against the world's tallest man and learn about all sorts of odd and surprising records. Ripley's 'Believe it or Not' collection is world-renowned and has been documented in television series and best-selling books.
Orlando's Museum of Art is a world of creative themed exhibitions, showcasing its permanent collections of American Art, Art of the Ancient Americas, and African Art. Group tours are made memorable with commentary about art appreciation and the lives of the various artists represented. The museum's collection is extremely varied, covering a number of time periods, artistic schools, and movements. Visitors should note that the museum is closed on Mondays.
Palm trees arrived at Palm Beach in 1878, when a ship laden with Cuban coconuts was wrecked on the offshore barrier island that is only 14 miles (23km) long and half a mile (1km) wide. Palm Beach has long been the traditional winter holiday home of America's aristocracy, the Kennedys, Rockefellers, Trumps, and other society names filling the Gatsby-era mansions on the island. Henry Morrison Flagler put Palm Beach on the map in 1894 when he opened the Royal Poinciana Hotel on the island and promoted Palm Beach as America's premier winter resort. The mansion Whitehall, which he built in 1901 for his wife, is now the Flagler Museum dedicated to his memory. Today there are many more hotels in Palm Beach, and hundreds of restaurants, some of which rank among the finest in the world.
The capital city of Florida, Tallahassee is located 191 miles (308km) east of Pensacola on the 'Big Bend', close to the border with Georgia, 14 miles (23km) to the north. The city is more reminiscent of the Deep South than sunny Florida, with its fragrant magnolia trees, and old plantation houses Tallahassee hosts the Florida State University and the state's new Capitol Building, which towers 22 storeys above the downtown area. The city's five Canopy Roads, where trees form tunnels, are lined with sites such as plantations, ancient Native American settlements and mounds, gorgeous gardens, and scenic picnic spots. There is also a Museum of Natural History and Science combined with a natural habitat zoo of indigenous wildlife.
Over thirty years ago Juno Beach resident Eleanor Fletcher, affectionately known locally as 'the Turtle Lady', began assembling a collection of turtle artefacts and information that has grown to become the Marine Life Center on the oceanfront at Loggerhead Park, which monitors turtles along the Gold Coast. The Center is essentially a turtle hospital, and visitors can see ill and injured creatures being rehabilitated. The Center has numerous exhibits, including tropical fish and shells, and a gift shop. Evening guided 'turtle walks' are offered during June and July, but bookings must be made in advance. There are a number of other guided tours, hikes and talks available - check the official website for details.
Famous inventor, Thomas Edison, and his friend, automobile magnate Henry Ford, both spent dozens of winters in the city of Fort Myers in the early years of the 20th century. Edison's home is the region's top historic attraction, and has been preserved as it was during his lifetime. The Victorian house called Seminole Lodge still boasts working light bulbs, which he invented. They burn in the laboratory where he worked on more than 1,000 inventions during his winter visits. The house next door, Mangoes, was built by Ford in 1916. Visitors are given guided tours of both houses by costumed guides giving 'living history' accounts. Scenic river rides on board a replica of Edison's electric boat are also offered.
In the dying years of the 19th century, a former Civil War surgeon, Dr Cyrus Teed, founded a pioneer settlement on the banks of the Estero River, south of Fort Myers, where he led the community to practice a religion he termed Koreshanity. Chief among his beliefs was the equality of men and women and that the universe was a hollow sphere containing everything within it. Planning to build a utopian city, the community generated their own electricity, built boats, established a general store, and constructed numerous buildings of which 11 remain today. The last four members of the sect donated the land to the State of Florida in 1961 and it is now preserved as a park with a nature trail, picnic tables, and campsite. Guided tours of the Koreshan buildings are offered.
The Southwest Florida Museum of History chronicles the history of Southwest Florida, from the Paleo Indians through the Calusa, the Seminoles and the Spanish explorers to the early settlers. A pioneer cracker house, a 1926 fire pump and a 1929 Pullman private railroad car are among the exhibits. Pride of place is held by the 'Land of Giants' section depicting the huge animals like mammoths, mastodons and the Bison Antiqus that roamed the area about 12,000 years ago. The museum also hosts regular travelling exhibitions. Guided tours are available and there is an audio guide in both English and Spanish for those who prefer to explore independently.
The beaches along this stretch of the Florida coastline are renown for their seashells. It contains one of the largest collection of seashells, fossils, corals, and sponges in the world. The Shell Factory not only exhibits a fascinating and extensive collection, but the 18-acre complex includes shops selling a range of jewellery, ornaments, lamps, objets d'art, and glassware. The complex also includes a petting zoo, wildlife refuge, eco laboratory, a restaurant, game arcade, a miniature golf course, and boating lake; more than enough to keep the whole family entertained.
In the heart of Key West's old town is the house where Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, one of America's most respected authors, lived and wrote for more than 10 years. The rooms and gardens are open to the public, enabling visitors to step back in time to Hemingway's most productive period, and to enjoy the lush garden where more than 40 cats have taken up residence. The cats themselves have an interesting back-story: Hemingway owned a cat with extra toes and almost all the cats that now live at the house have this genetic trait; some of them are said to be direct descendants of the original pet. Entertaining guided tours are offered. There is a bookstore and gift shop where visitors can buy their own Hemingway souvenirs.
The landmark beacon of the Key West Lighthouse was built in 1847 to warn ships of the hazardous reefs lying off the lower Keys. Having been taken out of commission in 1969, it is now a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can climb the 86-foot (26m) high tower to marvel at the spectacular view. The clapboard bungalow that was the keeper's quarters has been restored and maintained as a museum, providing a glimpse of life in Key West in the 19th century and into the bygone profession of lighthouse keeping. Interestingly, the first keeper of the Key West Lighthouse was a woman, an almost unheard of appointment for the 19th century.
The Key West Butterfly Conservatory is like a trip through paradise, as visitors walk through the tropical wonderland filled with free-flying butterflies and brightly-coloured birds. The conservatory is home to nearly 60 species of butterfly and 20 different species of birds, all contained in climate-controlled glass habitats with waterfalls, streams, and hundreds of flowering plants. In the Learning Center, visitors can explore the butterfly anatomy, physiology, lifecycle, feeding, and migratory world of the Monarch, and get an up-close view of the caterpillars. There is also a gallery showcasing butterfly art and a gift shop selling souvenirs.
The restored homestead of Audubon and Tropical Gardens was originally built in the 1840s by Captain John Geiger, a harbour pilot and wrecker. It now contains the works of renowned ornithologist John James Audubon, who visited the Florida Keys in 1832 and completed drawings of 18 previously undiscovered birds in the gardens of this house. Audubon House has been furnished in the typical style of a prosperous Key West home of its era. Audio tours are available. In addition to exploring the house visitors can enjoy wandering through the gardens, planted with orchids, bromeliads, and other tropical plants.
A pedestrian promenade lined with palm trees and colourful art deco buildings, Lincoln Road Mall is a great haunt for locals and foreigners alike. Once called the 'Fifth Avenue of the South', this lively seven-block shopping district serves up big name labels like G.A.P. and Banana Republic but also houses the renowned Regal Movie Theatre and the Lincoln Theatre, home to the New World Symphony. As the street is considered one of the best people-watching haunts in South Beach, visitors can take refreshment at one of the string of sidewalk cafés or soak up some local culture at the many art galleries along the mall. The Farmers Market on Sundays is the best place for fresh vegetables, fruits, juices, homemade breads, and flowers. And on weekends, antique vendors display their wares along the sidewalk. At night, street performers take to the mall, entertaining passersby.
A vivacious collection of art and design pieces depicting popular culture from 1885 to 1945, the Wolfsonian is the amalgamation of a long-term pursuit by eccentric heir and collector, Mitchell Wolfson Jr. Housed in the original warehouse used as a storage facility for the 70,000 pieces, visitors can pick through the origins of graphic and industrial design from the distinctive propaganda art from Germany, Italy, and the United States, and the remarkable industrial design pieces from modern German design to Bauhaus. A haven for lovers of design, the Wolfsonian is full of artistic treasures. Not to be missed is the eccentric Dynamo café and museum shop.
An offshoot of Parrot Jungle, Jungle Island is a new complex offering an exciting array of wildlife from parrots and macaws to crocodiles and penguins. You can witness over 200 parrots at the Manu Encounter, the world's only aviary replicating the clay cliffs of Manu, Peru. At the Parrot Bowl, a gaping amphitheatre, you can be entertained by the clever antics of cockatoos, parrots, and macaws. Look out for the rare albino alligator and 21-foot crocodile at the Serpentarium. The waterpark featuring the 168-foot Hippo Slide, with an exhilarating 40-degree drop is also a favourite. The theme park is full of fun and interesting animals to marvel and interact with.
Look no further than SeaWorld's Aquatica for exhilarating water slides, wave pools, and once in a lifetime encounters with sea animals. There are a multitude of thrill rides to enjoy in this water park as well as other varied attractions, ensuring the whole family stays entertained. Visitors can experience an educational ride through an undersea world to see the sea life below, or they can revel in an adventure-fuelled race against the rapids. With so many rides and slides to choose from, this water world will leave any visitor delighted, and soaked!
The signature ride, Dolphin Plunge, features slides that shoot riders through a pool of Dolphins. For the real adrenalin junkies the most fast paced ride of all is the Ihu Breakway Falls, a watery free-fall drop slide. Whether you're after relaxation or adrenalin, SeaWorld's Aquatica is great fun for the whole family. The park is open daily all year-round, but opening and closing times do change according to season.
Aside from providing a beautiful sample of Florida's famed sand and sea, Crandon Park Beach also has an Amusement Center with a carousel, a roller rink, a splash fountain, and a playground for kids to enjoy, making it a very good option for families on holiday. The Crandon Park Gardens are a haven for indigneous plants and animals, with a few picnic spots to enjoy as well. The beach itself is long and spacious, ensuring that it seldom feels crowded, and there are plenty of picturesque palm trees providing shade. The water deepens very gradually so that the shallows are extensive and safe for kids.
Kids will be delighted by the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, which offers train rides, toy trains to play with, and interesting model train exhibits. The museum's railroad car collection includes President Roosevelt's historic Ferdinand Magellan carriage. In March each year there are Thomas the Tank Engine rides for children. Model train building sessions take place between 10am and 2pm on weekdays, and between 11am and 4pm on weekends. Tours are conducted at specific times each day and cost a small additional fee - check the official website listed below for details.
The child-sized exhibits at the Miami Children's Museum are both colourful and interactive. Kids can explore the museum's simulated hospital, supermarket, or fire station, playing and moving anything they like. The Mount Michimu rock-climbing wall offers a fun physical challenge for older children, while the Music Makers Studio allows children of all ages an interactive auditory experience. The museum ensures that there's always something going on to entertain visitors and many fun activities and play areas are always available. For safety reasons, children are not allowed into the museum unaccompanied by an adult, and adults are not allowed into the museum unaccompanied by a child. The Miami Children's Museum is the perfect family attraction for a rainy day in the city!
The John F. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, 46 miles (74km) southeast of Orlando on Florida's east coast, is one place in the state where fact is just as entertaining as fiction. Visitors to the centre follow the story of NASA's exploration of space through interactive exhibits, movies, and tours. Guests can tour a full-size replica of the space shuttle 'Explorer', walk through a giant model of the International Space Station module, and view films about Mars and the Pathfinder exploration. They can also explore historic authentic rockets, like that piloted by pioneer astronaut John Glenn, and marvel at the Apollo/Saturn Centre, which houses all the artefacts from the historic moon landing. The Space Center requires several hours to fully appreciate. On the same site is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, established on the land NASA did not require for its space operations. The 220-square-mile (570 sq km) refuge contains more endangered species than any other wildlife refuge in the US, including the southern bald eagle and Atlantic loggerhead turtle. Be sure not to miss the US Astronaut Hall of Fame, in the nearby town of Titusville, as you leave the area.
Once known for its high crime rates and 'cocaine cowboys', South Beach is now celebrated for its thriving nightlife, beautiful beach, and art deco architecture. Miami's most popular beach is a hive of activity, with rented lawn chairs, volleyball games, and night time beach parties. Visitors can also enjoy fine oceanside dining or explore the boutiques showcasing South Beach's flourishing fashion industry.
The eclectic neighbourhood is as diverse as its inhabitants, offering varied entertainment for all. Espanola Way, the historic Spanish Village, with its authentic pink stucco buildings and side walk cafes, is the perfect escape from the bustle of the Washington Avenue. A popular way to explore the area is by bicycle. Visitors can rent bike at the Lincoln Road Mall and buy some South Beach essentials such as jewel studded Havaianas and designer sarongs on the way. Those in search of some evening entertainment have plenty of options; from dance clubs, to cocktail lounges and dive bars.
Discovery Cove is an exquisite tropical island paradise. In recent years, Discovery Cove has supplanted its sister park, SeaWorld, as the premier marine theme park in the state of Florida, but the competition remains steep and many travellers choose to visit both. What makes the experience of visiting Discovery Cove so unique is the level of interaction that it offers: guests can swim with bottlenose dolphins, snorkel alongside a coral reef teeming with exotic fish, unwind on pristine sandy beaches, and hand-feed tropical birds in a free-flight aviary. It is even possible to wade in the welcoming Freshwater Oasis, coming face-to-face with playful otters and curious marmosets in the lush landscaping. The combination of relaxation and adventure is glorious.
Discovery Cove offers some impressive ticket combination deals which should be considered for those visiting multiple theme parks in the region.
The sophisticated city of Naples lies on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. The central area preserves its old world charm, while the modern section to the north bristles with high-rise luxury hotels and resorts. Visitors flock here during the winter months to enjoy the magnificent Gulf beaches, world-class shopping and dining, and the challenging golf courses. Naples is also near Florida's top natural attractions, including the tropical wilderness of the Everglades National Park. An upmarket destination it may be, but Naples exudes easy-going friendliness along with its wealthy opulence.
We are pleased to inform you that you have been formally invited to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! The magical theme park is located at Islands of Adventure and allows visitors to enter their favourite scenes from the films, including the Hogwarts Express, Hogsmead village, Zonko's Joke Shop, and Diagon Alley. It also has thrilling rides such as the Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge. Children can visit Ollivander's to find their perfect wand, or sample chocolate frogs and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans at Honeyduke's sweet shop. The attraction is wildly popular and fun for the whole family, but be warned that queues can be exceptionally long at peak times. Harry Potter fanatics give the park rave reviews, but even those who are unfamiliar with the wizarding world will be enchanted by the park.
Vastly different from most theme parks in Orlando, the Holy Land Experience is a religious attraction designed to recreate pivotal scenes from the Bible. These include settings such as the Great Temple, the Last Supper Communion, and a Jerusalem Street Market. Staff members re-enact stories from the life of Jesus, and large-scale productions are staged in the Church of all Nations auditorium. The park is designed to be spiritually motivating and a visit can be moving for the religiously minded. The Holy Land Experience is far more about the story of Jesus than it is a genuine recreation of Jerusalem, but the replica temples and ancient streets help to bring the story to life and set the scene.
The beaches in Miami are world-famous; some for their stunning scenery, and others for their stunning sunbathers. Crandon Park Beach is perfect for children, with playgrounds and carousels as well as picnic areas and restrooms. Haulover Beach Park has great sport facilities like volleyball and tennis courts, a golf course, ample kiosks and picnic tables. However, parents should be aware that the northern end allows nude sunbathing. Hobie Beach is the best place for windsurfing in Miami, while the sandy beach in Oleta River State Park is popular for boating and kayaking. The central Miami beaches have good facilities, like concession stands, showers, lifeguards, walking trails, and beach chair and umbrella rentals, but tend to be crowded at peak times. Free yoga classes at sunrise and sunset are held at 3rd Street Beach every day of the year. Topless sunbathing is allowed in Miami Beach.
Located on the western end of the Florida panhandle, Gulf Islands National Seashore is a 150-mile (241km) stretch of undeveloped beach. What it lacks in tourist traps, it makes up for in sheer beauty. Camping, hiking, and biking in the isolated regions is a treat for travellers looking to get away from the crowded resorts of southern Florida. The park includes several islands, including Santa Rosa Island (home to the popular Fort Pickens Campground), Perdido Key, Horn Island, and West Ship Island (home of Fort Massachusetts). There are limited restaurants and shops in the Gulf Islands National Seashore region, though most camping sites are near enough to coastal beach communities that visitors don't need to bring everything with them and will find necessary amenities not too far away.
Located near Pensacola on the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle, Panama City is a popular travel destination. Set along 27 miles (43km) of white sand beaches, the town is a great place for families on holiday in Florida, with plenty of outdoor activities available in St Andrews State Park and Pine Log State Forest, and city attractions like the Panama City Visual Arts Center and Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum. Panama City is usually a fairly quiet town, but comes alive each spring as thousands of students flock to the town for Spring Break. Concerts, parades, and other events are regular occurrences during this period. Travellers looking for peace and quiet should remember to avoid Panama City at this time.
Billed as Florida's tropical island getaway, Fort Myers Beach is a haven for visitors seeking a relaxing family holiday. While it offers endless sport and recreational activities like the destinations of the east coast, this beautiful resort town on the Gulf of Mexico remains affordable, relaxed, friendly, and casual. The prime attraction and centre of activity at Fort Myers Beach is the seven-mile (11km) shoreline which has gained a reputation as the world's safest beach, with no undertow and shallow water ideal for swimming. Popular are the numerous water sports offered all along the beachfront, from jet-skiing to sailing a skiff. The village area clusters along a tree-lined walkway at the north end of the beach, offering shops and restaurants. The south is where numerous beachfront resorts with condominiums and hotels have sprung up around Lovers Key State Park. Between these, the beach is lined with parks, recreation areas, and marinas offering fishing and boating charters, sightseeing trips, dining and dancing cruises, and even offshore gambling jaunts. On the opposite side of the narrow Estero Island, is the Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve with acres of mangrove swamps, live oak hammocks, and local wildlife to explore from elevated boardwalks.
Those who are searching for the tranquillity of the beach will delight in the Florida Gulf coast resort island of Sanibel, and its smaller sister, Captiva. The slow pace of island life rarely heats up where the main event is the magnificent sunset. The families and romantics who holiday here come to enjoy the beaches strewn with seashells, the warm Gulf waters, the huge variety of wildlife, and the fabulous fresh seafood. These islands have no high-rises or honking horns, instead they offer all the amenities to make for a comfortable and relaxing holiday. There are art galleries, award-winning restaurants, live theatre, and the occasional musical performances. The more exclusive of the twin islands is Captiva, connected to Sanibel by a bridge. Captiva is the smaller, characterised by wealth and quiet charm, topped off at its northern end by the luxurious all-inclusive South Seas Resort.
Known for the breath-taking sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico and warm tropical breezes, Clearwater Beach is consistently voted one of the top 10 beaches in the United States. Perfect for family vactions, Clearwater is generally known as a safer, quieter, and more affordable option than other more prominent destinations in Florida. With over two and a half miles (4km) of beautiful tropical beaches, Clearwater Beach has some of the best water activities in Tampa Bay, including jetskis and parasailing, boat tours, diving, fishing, and sailing charters. Pirate ship cruises aboard the 70-foot (21m) three-tiered Pirate's Ransom are a must for anyone up for a little swashbuckling. The Jolley Trolley is a great way to visit some of the surrounding attractions, such as Sand Key and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Holiday makers can enjoy a shopping spree at Pier 60, sample the famous Stone Crabs at Frenchy's restaurant, or visit one of the fifty golf courses around the area.
Measuring just over six by four miles (10km by 6km), Marco Island is a bustling full service holiday community on the northern edge of west Florida's coastal wilderness area known as Ten Thousand Islands. Just a stone's throw from the vibrant city of Naples, Marco Island is on the doorstep of nearly 100 miles of protected undeveloped islands, bays, and estuaries. It's hemmed in by the Rookery Bay Nature Reserve to the north, and by the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Collier-Seminole State Park, and the Everglades National Park to the south. Unsurprisingly, the resort waters are stocked with diverse and healthy fish populations, are a magnet for fishermen and anglers. The community also offers top class shopping, recreational, and dining opportunities.
There's no place in Miami where Cuba's influence is more apparent than Little Havana. The historic district just west of Downtown Miami teems with culture, from cigar shops to distinct Latin cocktail bars and cafes. Come to Little Havana for a Cuban coffee with its unique espumita. Visit the Ball and Chain, a legendary jazz club once frequented by Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. And enjoy one of Cuba's national pastimes at the Domino Park, where locals have been playing competitive dominos for years. While the neighbourhood is a worthwhile visit anytime, there are two nights per month that are noteworthy. On the last Friday of each month, the community celebrates Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) by welcoming visitors to enjoy the bars, restaurants, live dance and music, and art galleries until the early hours. On the second Friday of every month, galleries stay open until midnight allowing guests to mingle with artists while admiring their works. Those holidaying in Miami during March must be sure to make time for the Calle Ocho Festival, a one-day fiesta and the biggest Hispanic bash of the year on the streets of Little Havana.
Sunshine and blue skies are the basic ingredients to the weather in Florida at any time of year. However, the Florida climate is divided into two climatic zones: subtropical in the south, and warm temperate in the north. Summer in the south (Orlando and below) is humid with afternoon storms and the peak tourist season is in the winter, between December and February, when temperatures remain warm but there is little humidity. North of Orlando, the peak season is summer, between June and August, where temperatures are usually comfortable. The hurricane season in Florida is between June and November.
Legend has it that unrequited love led a Latvian immigrant to spend 25 years single-handedly carving a castle out of rock between the Florida Keys and Miami, on the South Dixie Highway. The amazing monument to the man's determination is sometimes called America's Stonehenge and has been featured in numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Visitors are awed by the castle, which also contains affidavits from neighbours testifying to the fact that the builder had no assistance with his mammoth task. The creator, Edward Leedskalnin, once proudly showed visitors around the castle himself, but now an audio guide does the honours. This quirky attraction is fascinating to visit and fun for the whole family.
Midway between Tampa and Orlando, about 20 minutes drive west of Walt Disney World, the Fantasy of Flight resort is billed as the world's greatest aircraft collection. The attraction began as a vision of aviation enthusiast and historian, Kermit Weeks, as a tribute to the pioneers of flight, and today it features many rare and vintage aircraft, which actually take to the skies. Visitors are treated to an 'Aircraft of the Day' flypast, as well as the chance to fly themselves in a simulator. The site also offers tours of the aircraft collection in hangars, a sight and sound presentation detailing the history of aviation, a tour of the 'back lot' where vintage aircraft are restored, and an Exploration Centre.
The Biscayne National Park can be seen from downtown Miami, but the city and the park offer vastly different experiences for tourists. The coral reefs and tiny islands of this water sanctuary are home to an abundance of wildlife, along with a couple of pirate shipwrecks. Biscayne is a great camping, boating, and swimming spot for families, providing a tranquil sanctuary right on the doorstep of Miami for those who need a break from the bustle of the city. There are a variety of boats and watercrafts available for hire - check out the official website listed below for more details.
Florida is famous for its alligator population, and Gatorland in Orlando is a good place to experience these interesting animals. The park is home to thousands of alligators and crocodiles, with a breeding marsh with boardwalk and observation tower, reptile shows, an aviary, petting zoo, swamp walk, and educational programs. A huge thrill is provided by the Gator Zip Line, which allows brave visitors to the park to zoom about high above the enclosures. Gatorland has several restaurants and even offers a gluten-free menu. Visitors can enjoy the whole park at a leisurely pace in about four hours, but a family can easily spend longer time enjoying the various attractions.
Situated midway between Palm Beach and Miami, the holiday resort town of Pompano Beach is the heart of the Gold Coast. Anglers are understandably drawn to the long municipal fishing pier, hoping to land a big one from the plethora of fish swimming offshore. The resort town is historically a fishing community, named for the area's popular ocean fish species, the Florida Pompano. While the anglers have their fun there is plenty for the rest of the family to do. The beachfront promenade offers playgrounds, grill sites, and picnic tables, while the town contains numerous parks with sports facilities. Golfing enthusiasts will delight in the dozens of top-flight courses within a half-hour of the resort. Then, of course there are the three and a half miles (6km) of golden sands, local attractions, fine dining, and shopping opportunities. The town has a full calendar of special events, including a holiday boat parade, seafood festival, and fishing rodeo.
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