Florida

Ultimate guide to things to do in Florida with kids

A Florida road-trip is the picture-perfect family holiday. Affectionately known as the ‘The Sunshine State’, Florida’s iconic family beaches are perfect for both a low-key relaxed getaway or activity-fuelled family fun. Florida’s coastline is riddled with idyllic beaches and impressive natural scenery. Important wildlife and marine life reserves are sprawled across the state with countless opportunities for close-up animal encounters in their preserved natural environment. Orlando is a must-see destination for young and pre-teen kids. Stay in one of Disney or Universal’s themed resort complexes to truly immerse the family in the experience.

Visit Gatorland to see some of Florida’s most iconic reptile inhabitants. Credit: Dollar Photo Club: hakoar

The kids will love

Wildlife interactions

There are wildlife and nature preserves across Florida. Some of the best parks for children include Everglades National Park for alligators, flamingos and kayaking; McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary for a world-class animal rescue refuge; Loggerhead Marinelife Centre for its turtle rehabilitation centre and children’s programs; Biscayne National Park for impressive snorkelling and glass-bottom boat expeditions; and Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge for swimming with manatees.

Family beach towns

Florida’s coast is covered in an amazing diversity of beach towns perfect for any family holiday. Although many become major tourist hubs during peak seasons, there are many less frequented gems to be found, often protected by wildlife and nature reserves. Some of Florida’s best family-fun beaches include Florida Keys, St Pete Beach and South Walton, or there’s Vero Beach, Anna Maria Island and Gasparilla Island for a more low-key family getaway.

A Halloween hedgehog at Gatorland Credit: Gatorland Orlando

Orlando

This theme park capital of the world will have children entertained endlessly – Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure and Legoland are among the best.

Miami

Miami has several kid-focused museums and performance activities, among them – Miami Children’s Museum, Adrienne Arsht Centre for Performing Arts, Miami Children’s Theatre, as well as Grapeland Water Park for younger kids and Miccosukee Indian Village for learning about Native American history.

Best time to travel

The best time to travel in Florida is any time between September and February. This encompasses the low and shoulder seasons. Florida experiences the mildest winters in the United States, meaning it is a suitable destination for almost all activities year-round. 

The low season lasts from October to December, excluding Christmas and New Year period. Accommodation prices for hotels and resorts drop by around 50% and Florida’s beach towns are particularly quiet during this time. This low season is the best time for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and visiting Florida’s many wildlife parks and sanctuaries.

The shoulder seasons, February and September, are still great times to visit Florida. Warmer weather in both months attract the beginnings of somewhat larger crowds at popular destinations, particularly the more southern beach towns. Prices are dropped around 20% to 30%.

High season throughout all parts of Florida is March to August. Southern Florida is consistently overrun by teenage spring breakers and the most popular tourist destinations, such as Orlando, are overcrowded by tourists. It is not recommended to travel during this season unless you are okay with the crowded atmosphere.

Things to do in Florida with…

Young children will love Florida’s super family-friendly beaches! You are spoilt for choice between the more crowded and activity-filled hubs or the hidden, low-key beaches that sprawl the coastlines between ubiquitous nature reserves.

Orlando’s is the perfect holiday for children of all ages. Disney World and Universal’s several theme parks alone will keep children entertained for days. Stay in a themed resort and the fun will never end! (Keep aware that SeaWorld, and its associated theme parks, have been found to be heavily associated with animal cruelty and welfare issues. It is strongly recommended to avoid these parks.)

Florida’s important wildlife reserves will be an impressive and educational experience. The more advanced snorkelling and immersive experiences on offer are great for older kids. The cool vibe of Florida’s classic beach towns will also appeal to teenagers.

Surrounded by mountains, northern Thailand holds an almost mystical appeal. In Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, you’ll find heaps to see and do. The city is home to more than 300 fascinating temples and eye opening traditional practices, plus the fascinating Walking Street Markets, where teens can stock up on trinkets and cheap clothes. And while the pretty moated city offers rich history, culture and tradition, it is also home to some of Thailand’s most teen friendly resorts. It is also an excellent base for visiting the mountains and for exploring neighbouring forests, rice fields and national parks for bamboo rafting, white-water rafting and trekking.

Not too far from Chiang Mai is Chiang Rai, a culturally diverse region that is home to Thailand’s minority Hill Tribes. Here you’ll find a more traditional Thailand, and visiting families can even enjoy a homestay with a hill tribe family for the ultimate in cultural immersion.

Did you know that octopuses are one of the most intelligent animals in the world? picture: Supplied.

Getting around Florida

Car is the best way to travel around Florida. Convenient and efficient, rental cars are available at airports and most major destinations for around $35 to $55 per day or $200 to $400 per week. Insurance is required by law for car travel throughout Florida and optional Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) extras are highly recommended. Travel insurance often includes cover for rental cars. Check when purchasing travel insurance if you are planning to do any travel by car, as this often creates great savings in the long run.

Recreational Vehicle (RV) hire is a great option for larger families. There are some great deals available with ‘motorhome relocations’, if you are able to keep to the dates and routes required. There are a variety of RVs available and it is recommended to research size, mileage and insurance costs before booking. www.rvda.org is a helpful resource for information and advice on everything related to RV rentals.

Air service is frequent and reasonably priced between Florida’s four main airports in Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. Prices between these cities are usually reasonable, but the less frequented destinations often have much pricier fares. Air passes are available to non-US citizens with itineraries planned well in advanced. These can significantly save expenses for those planning on undertaking a lot of air travel.

Train travel is generally only useful between the major cities Jacksonville, Orlando and Miami. National company, Amtrak, run inexpensive and efficient daily services between these three cities.

Bus company, Greyhound, has direct routes to most major destinations throughout Florida. Greyhound also runs regional services that extend to more limited and less tourist-populated destinations. Bus travel in Florida is extremely affordable, though can be time consuming. 

Cruise ships abound along the coasts of Florida. The major companies include Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean and Walt Disney World’s themed Disney Cruise Line.

Universal Cabana Bay Resort Orlando Florida

More about Florida for families

Accommodation 

  • Hotels, motels and resorts in Florida are among the most child-friendly in the world. Various family rooms are available at most hotels and resort – multiple double beds, adjoining rooms, roll-away and sofa-beds, cots can be added to most rooms for a small extra fee. 
  • Many hotels, motels and resorts also offer ‘kids stay free’ promotions. Resorts in particular are a treasure trove for organised children’s programs, activities and childcare centres.
  • Renting a private home or apartment is significantly more affordable, and often less overwhelming, option to large resorts and hotels. Airbnb and Home Away are useful resources for finding private rentals.
  • Vacation-home rentals are very popular, often frequented by American families on vacation. Vacation homes are ubiquitous throughout Florida and are usually more affordable, private and convenient than bustling hotels and resorts. VRBO is a great company for booking vacation homes in Florida.

What to pack

  • Florida is a very family-friendly state and any baby or toddler essentials can be purchased or rented from companies such as www.travelingbaby.com and babysaway.com 
  • Sunscreen and beach gear are essentials – Florida is known as ‘The Sunshine State’ with good reason.
  • Light rain gear and warm layers for evenings are recommended year-round.
  • Car seats are a requirement for all children under five and a booster seat for all children weighing less than 36kg. Many rental car companies provide car seats when booked quite well in advance, but it is recommended to travel with a fold-away car seat of your own, or to rent one from a baby gear rental company upon arrival.

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