By Jeannine Williamson | June 2017 | 6 minute read
Theme parks, beaches, wildlife, a surprisingly long and rich history and a wide choice of gateway airports make Florida a perfect multi-centre break for families of all shapes and sizes.
“Florida is probably the best place on the planet for two-centre family holidays. A vast array of options can be combined with Orlando to suit all age groups, plus short distances between Orlando and many coastal resorts make for an easy fly-drive holiday”
RUBY BRIGGS, MANAGING DIRECTOR, NORTH AMERICA TRAVEL SERVICE
Go party: Experience Mallory Square’s sunset celebration before partying the night away on Duval Street in Key West
Mermaid magic: Watch the enchanting underwater mermaid show – and then meet one – at Weeki Wachi Springs State Park
Get fruity: : Pick your own oranges – the symbol of the Sunshine State – at one of three U-Pick Citrus farms
Tree time: Stroll along the boardwalk at Audubon’s 13,000-acre Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, the world’s largest bald cypress forest
Cheers: Sip an artisan beer in St. Pete/Clearwater where there are more craft breweries than anywhere else in Florida
Stylish SoBe: People watch in the ultra-cool Art Deco playground of Miami’s South Beach, or SoBe as locals call it
Fast track: Watch race day action at Daytona International Speedway or live life in the slow lane and drive along the beach
Rocket Man: Walk past towering rockets and prepare for lift off with thrilling virtual rides at Kennedy Space Center
Set sail: Take a boat trip along Fort Lauderdale’s waterways, home to the world’s highest number of yachts per capita
Meet manatees: Crystal River is one of the best places to spot manatees, Florida’s gentle state marine mammal
Orlando twin-centre options
Miami: Trendy nightlife, beaches, art galleries and world-class hotels are all part of Miami’s appeal. From September the new high-speed Brightline train service will link the city with Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando.
St Petersburg and Clearwater: These neighbouring resorts near Tampa offer family-friendly beaches and cultural attractions including the Salvador Dali Museum which houses the largest collection of Dali’s work outside Spain.
Fort Myers and Sanibel: Known as the Seashell Coast, the shallow waters of Fort Myers are a great choice for families. Sanibel Island, accessed via a causeway bridge, is a relaxing retreat with a network of cycle paths and world-famous shelling beach.
Kissimmee: A 25-minute drive from Orlando and the theme parks, Kissimmee is the gateway to the Everglades, for exciting airboat rides and off-the-beaten track outdoor adventures, and well placed for trips to Atlantic Coast beaches.
Naples: Upmarket Naples boasts chic shops, art galleries and golf courses and is close to the Everglades and unspoilt white beaches of Marco Island, the largest of Florida’s chain of 10,000 islands.
Fort Lauderdale: This buzzing city is dubbed the Venice of America due to its 300 miles of navigable waterways. It’s a yachting and fishing paradise with a fashionably retro atmosphere.
Florida Keys: With new flights into southern Florida the colourful Florida Keys, a 125-mile sub-tropical island chain connected by the Overseas Highway and ending at laid-back Key West, are more accessible than ever.
The solders attired in bright blue-and-red 17th century uniforms step forward towards the canon as the officer barks out orders in Spanish. Fortunately he calls out ‘cover your ears’, for our benefit rather than his men, before shouting fuego, or fire.
The explosive sound echoes around Castillo de San Marcos and fades over the Atlantic Ocean.
I am stepping back in time in Florida, a state best-known for its theme parks and more modern attractions. Culture-rich St. Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565, is America’s oldest continually inhabited city and one of many diverse destinations that showcase a very different side of the Sunshine State.
We learn that St. Augustine fort was built between 1672 and 1695 from 400,000 coquina stone blocks, all crafted and set by hand. It was impenetrable to outside attackers – and thwarted British forces led by General Moore who burned the surrounding town in 1702 but couldn’t infiltrate the fort’s walls.
Afterwards we stroll down pedestrian-friendly George Street, filled with small shops, galleries and restaurants, many selling Spanish specialities such as empanada pastries filled with beef or cheese that make a great lunchtime snack. That evening we embark on a spooky ghost walk through the narrow streets of the historic quarter.
What the experts say
“With 825 miles of beaches, 150 state parks and dozens of natural forests, seashores, wildlife refuges and preserves there is so much more to Florida than most people think. There are direct flights from the UK into four different cities and also now into neighbouring New Orleans, so the options for interesting and unusual itineraries are endless
“Getting behind the wheel gives clients independence and flexibility, fuel is generally cheap, and with a bit of careful planning they can link their preferred resorts and attractions into their ideal itinerary.”
GILL STANDEVEN, ACCOUNT MANAGER, VISIT FLORIDA
“While Orlando is all about the theme parks, the Keys offer visitors a very natural, genuine set of experiences. Whether it’s snorkelling in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, kayaking through the mangroves of the Lower Keys or taking a fishing trip in Islamorada, the Keys are all about getting out on and in the water, so there is great fun for every member of the family.
“GAnd Key West, which is closer to Cuba than to Miami, has an atmosphere of its own. Laid-back, diverse, with beautiful architecture, colourful characters, great night life and excellent restaurants, it’s an island city with plenty to offer visitors.”
LAUREN SYCAMORE, UK SALES AND MARKETING DIRECTOR, FLORIDA KEYS AND KEY WEST
Airlines: WOW air has launched a service flying from Heathrow to Miami, via Reykjavik, three times a week.
Norwegian has scaled-up its service to Fort Lauderdale from one to three flights a week year-round, four in summer.
On July 6 British Airways launches a new servuce between Gatwick and Fort Lauderdale.
From September 1 Aer Lingus introduces the first-ever direct Dublin to Miami service, flying three times a week.
Accommodation: Marriott’s 114-room all-suite SpringHill Suites opens in August on central Flagler Avenue, New Smyrna Beach.
Loews Miami Beach Hotel in the Art Deco district has had a $50 million renovation with 790 upgraded rooms and new pool area with adult-only cabanas.
The beachfront Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach is scheduled to open late 2017.
Daytona Lagoon waterpark has undergone a $2.3 million renovation. The first exhibition dedicated to the creative relationship between artist Salvador Dali and Parisian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli is on at St Petersburg’s Dali Museum between October 18 and January 14, 2018.
Completing Miami’s Downtown Museum Park is recently opened Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science combining a planetarium, aquarium and science museum.
Gatorland has a new outdoor adventure area marking the largest expansion since the alligator park opened in 1949.
Where to book it
Carrier’s new 14-night Family Favourites tour, with room-only accommodation at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney Resort, The Resort at Longboat Key Club Sarasota and The Breakers in Palm Beach, is priced from £9,090 per family (two adults and two children) including car hire and flights into Orlando and out of Miami.
North America Travel Service offers a 14-night Florida Parks Beaches itinerary, with room-only accommodation at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Naples Grande Beach Resort, W Fort Lauderdale and Hyatt Centric South Beach Miami, starts at £1,699pp (£859 per child), including car hire and flights into Orlando and out of Miami.