There’s far more to Florida than Orlando’s amazing world-famous theme parks. For those Disney die-hards who might disagree, this collaborative article is just for you! We’ve brought together some prime contributions that (rightly) rave about Orlando’s theme parks. These diverse personal accounts even include running a mini Disney marathon (optional of course!) But even without Orlando (which incidentally is the top tourist destination in the USA), Florida has so much more to offer, as you’ll see.
From the Panhandle beaches and scenic 30A to the bright lights of Miami and laid-back Key West, these eyewitness accounts truly capture the diversity of the Sunshine State. From romantic escapes on tiny barrier islands (who could resist a stay on Honeymoon Island?) to the Art Deco architecture and amazing nightlife of Miami, there’s more to Florida than most people imagine. And don’t overlook Fort Lauderdale (Yachting Capital of the World) and castaway Key West (aka the Conch Republic) with its laid-back tropical island mentality.
Written with passion by those who live, breathe and understand the phrase “the wow of a holiday in Florida!”, let’s hand over and hear about their favorite places in their own words…
Trading snow for sand
I awoke in bed, and like every other normal person, instinctively checked my social media accounts. Friends were complaining about how much snow there was and how much shoveling there was to be done. I figured I would just get it over with and open the blinds—to a white sand beach, turquoise water, and swaying palm trees!
My wife, three young daughters, and I were fortunate to spend our holiday in warm Southern Florida. While our friends and family were busy sliding into intersections, we were sliding into our bathing suits. While they were putting on layers of clothes, we were putting on layers of sunblock. Miami Beach and the Florida Keys were truly paradise. Back home? Not so much.
Thanks to our strategies for affording travel, we were able to visit a lot of amazing places. From the Southernmost point in the United States in Key West, to the beautiful beaches of Bahia Honda State Park, to the gators of the Everglades, to the iconic lifeguard towers of Miami Beach, it was one unforgettable family experience after another.
One memory remains vivid in my mind. I was sitting on the beach, playing the ukulele I had just received for Christmas, while my family was laughing in the ocean. Unforgettable. Paradise. Booking your trip to Florida will produce similar memories that you’ll carry forever.
My friend complained on Facebook about hurting his back shoveling snow. I could sympathize. My back hurt too. I had a pretty gnarly sunburn.
By Jermaine Eginoire at The Wandering Firefighter
Toes in the sand and warm sunrays on your face!
Is there a better way to have a relaxing vacation in Florida than stretched out on a peaceful beach listening to the sounds of the ocean and seagulls. Florida is well-known for its overflowing selection of beaches all around its coastline.
To get an optimal dose of ‘WOW’ for our Florida beach vacation, my hubby and I chose a secluded one where we were able to relax, walk undisturbed up and down the shoreline, and stake our claim to our own private little oasis. Flagler Beach is the hidden beach gem that we had hoped for.
We camped in an excellent beachfront spot at Beverly Beach Camptown in the little town of Flagler Beach for four wonderful, sunny, relaxing days. Each morning as we stretched after a good night’s sleep, we opened the door to our camper for a beautiful sunrise view of the ocean right in front of us.
Our sun-kissed faces were permanently tattooed with smiles since our days were spent lounging in our beach chairs while paging through the latest novel, wading in surf looking for seashells, riding the waves on a boogie board, and fishing on the pristine beach. Make sure to include this stop on your next Florida itinerary and you won’t be disappointed.
By Michelle Moyer at Moyer Memoirs
Unplugging and relaxing in picturesque Amelia Island
Florida is one of our family’s favourite places to get away together. It feels like it has it all with almost guaranteed sunshine and some great attractions and sights along the way.
Each trip, along with the more obvious places, we try to find somewhere new to explore and on our last visit that was Amelia Island. This has to be one of the USA’s top islands. It is tranquil, beautiful and perfect for a weekend retreat. It has one of the best family resorts in Florida in the form of the Omni Amelia Island Resort which is packed full of swimming pools, great facilities and wonderfully comfortable accommodation.
Our plan was to explore – Florida’s oldest lighthouse is here along with a fantastic farmer’s market and some fun museums. However as soon as we arrived we just wanted to unplug and relax and we did just that. We spent days walking barefoot on the beach (the sun’s warmth still present in October when we visited) and we watched lizards lazily sun themselves by the pools as we splashed about in them. It’s a beautiful island with a real feel-good feel about it and old school Florida at its best.
Our family weekend in Amelia Island was filled with sunshine, beautiful beaches, stunning resorts and the best family times.
By Nichola West at Globalmouse Travels
Key West for epic sunsets and lazy beach days
When my husband Steve and I hit Key West last February, it was like being transported to a tropical paradise… all while still being in the continental United States. We started our Key West road trip from Miami after a foodie tour in Little Havana there, hit Everglades National Park, and then zipped down the long skinny U.S. 1 with shimmering turquoise ocean on both sides.
Key West is home to the world’s best key lime pie and we did not regret taste testing around town. We explored the sun-washed neighborhoods and party-crazy Duval Street on cute little cruisers we borrowed from our resort, ducking into some of Florida’s best bars and cute cafes. Touring the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum was a real treat too, with dozens of six-toed cats lounging around the property.
Mallory Square is the place to gather for epic sunsets nightly. Unfortunately, our day trip to Dry Tortugas Park—islands 67 miles offshore—was canceled due to a storm, but this bucket list experience is one of the very best reasons to head to Key West. It’s known for stunning coral reefs, pristine beaches, and some of the best birdwatching anywhere. Be sure to reserve well ahead!
By Chris Roman at Explore Now or Never
Unbeatable family fun in Florida
Florida is a renowned vacation destination for a myriad of reasons. Amusement parks, gorgeous beaches with soft sand, warm water, some of the most vibrant sunsets we have witnessed, fascinating attractions, wildlife, incredible weather year-round, and and what feels like more palm trees than people.
Our exciting Florida adventure started at Disney World, where I completed the runDisney Dopey Challenge. The Dopey Challenge is the epitome of runDisney challenges. It happens during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and there are various runs including: 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.3 miles), Half-Marathon (13.1 miles) and a Marathon (26.2 miles). The race days were busy days, with early mornings to run and late nights enjoying the magic of Disney until the parks closed. I trained extremely hard to accomplish such a feat, and it is one of the big highlights of our Florida trip.
We also enjoyed more thrills and laughter with the kids at Universal Orlando. Theme parks aside, we relaxed on the beaches of Miami, explored the gateway to space at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, swam with manatees, and searched for alligators during an Everglades National Park airboat ride.
We only covered a small slice of what Florida has to offer, but we immediately realized that the sunshine state has many fantastic vacation destinations that will excite the entire family. Deciding where to visit in Florida is the hardest part. We urge you to consider road tripping around the state, so you are able to explore different attractions, beaches, and cities.
You are going to have so much fun, that you’ll be planning your next Florida vacation before you’re even back home.
By Debbie Fettback at World Adventurists
Cuban cuisine, street art and art deco in Miami!
I had such a fun and unusual solo trip to Miami. Having never been before, I had no idea what to expect and only really thought of people rollerblading in South Beach – and that catchy but annoying Will Smith song!
In the end, I found out loads more about Miami and explored lots of other areas as well as Miami Beach. One of my favourites was Little Havana where I discovered 70% of Miami’s residents have Hispanic heritage. I loved wandering around this neighbourhood, trying empanadas, cubano sandwiches with Swiss cheese and ham, and sipping tiny thimbles of strong Cuban coffee!
During my Miami itinerary, I also loved exploring Wynwood Walls which was once a rundown industrial neighborhood but has had a facelift and is now covered with urban murals completed by street artists from all around the world. At the centre there’s an art gallery which changing exhibitions from different artists. I love street art so this was a really cool part of my trip, everything was so enormous and colorful!
As well as these cool neighbourhoods in central Miami, I also loved wandering around Miami Beach, relaxing and swimming on South Beach and trying some of the local restaurants. Another highlight was spotting the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. There are so many hotels and retro theatres which were cool to take photos.
By Rose Munday at Where Goes Rose?
Honeymoon Island State Park – A paradise to be explored in Florida
Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island are considered among the best-kept secrets in Florida. Here is the place I have been calling home for the past 14 years of my life. I live where people vacation, and if I am not traveling somewhere in the world, you will definitely find me here on what I call “My little piece of paradise”.
If you are looking for an incredible, less touristy, great beach to visit in Florida with your family, your best half, with your fur baby, or even solo, Honeymoon Island State Park is a perfect destination to explore. It has four miles of amazing beaches and a three-mile hiking trail through one of the last remaining virgin slash pine forests.
This paradise is located about twenty-five minutes north of Clearwater Beach in the Tampa Bay area on Florida’s west coast at the end of the Dunedin Causeway. The Park is open 365 days a year, from 8 am until sunset. To enter the State Park, you have to pay an entry fee of $8 per vehicle.
Honeymoon Island is a great place for outdoor lovers of any age. It offers many options like soaking in the sun, swimming, fishing, kayaking, biking and hiking. You can also take a ferry across the channel to Caladesi State Park, an island with pristine beaches and turquoise water that is less crowded and less rocky than the beaches of Honeymoon Island.
I really think you should book your next holiday on Honeymoon Island in Florida because here you can find fun and sun all year long!
By Paula Martinelli at Paula Pins the Planet
Fort Lauderdale is better than I ever imagined!
Have you ever heard the phrase, “third time’s the charm?” That’s what happened to me with Fort Lauderdale — after a few trips, I ended up falling in love with the city. It has this awesome chilled-out vibe, unlike its neighbor Miami to the south, yet is big enough that you’ll never be bored.
My most recent visit was with a group of friends and we all loved it. We started the trip with a Segway tour of downtown. If you’ve never tried a Segway ride, I promise you’ll pick it up naturally! The tour had us rolling (and sometimes speeding) past canalways and the riverside while learning about the city history and searching for iguanas.
One of my other favorite unique things to do in Fort Lauderdale was actually about twenty minutes outside the city. I got to take an airboat ride through the Everglades, looking for alligators and other local wildlife! This was particularly special since the tour started at sunset and came back after dark so you can experience the area in several different ways.
Overall, I think the secret is not to underestimate Fort Lauderdale. It’s not just a stopover point on the way to other Florida destinations: it’s an amazing holiday in its own right!
By Becky Pokora of sightDOING
Universal Studios: An action-packed, fun-filled destination for any traveler
As someone who considers myself a “budget traveler”, it’s pretty infrequent that I elect to make stops at theme parks and the like, which usually are accompanied by eye-popping ticket prices and overpriced mediocre food.
As a Harry Potter enthusiast though, I planned a trip with my husband to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, located in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure Theme Park in Orlando, Florida, although I was not exactly sure what to expect from the parks as a whole. After a whirlwind day in the two interconnected parks, from the second the gates opened until we reluctantly left Universal at night, we had so much fun exploring everything they had to offer.
While I certainly enjoyed exploring Gringotts and Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter sections of the park, I was floored by how much fun we had in the rest of the sprawling complex. From grabbing a real “Duff Beer” at Moe’s Tavern from the beloved “The Simpsons” cartoon to soaring 40 miles per hour on the Incredible Hulk Coaster and being chased by insects and zombie mummies on “The Revenge of the Mummy”, we never ran out of spots to explore or rides to conquer. Regardless of the ticket prices, I can’t wait to make my return to Universal for more thrills and adventures in the warm Florida sun!
By Jessica Schmit at Uprooted Traveler
Beaches, nightlife, sightseeing – Miami has it all
I had never been to Miami before and was absolutely blown away by this incredible city when I visited for the first time. I went with my boyfriend and we found a really affordable vacation rental apartment right by the harbor. It had an incredible balcony with some of the best views I’ve ever had on a city trip. You could watch the boats go by from the living room and we loved to go on walks in the early evening by the pier.
Miami has a wild reputation and I have to stay it lived up to my expectations. The nightlife was fantastic, and I’d come back any day if given the chance. We had the best time at E11EVEN, a multilevel club with a fantastic rooftop terrace. I’d also highly recommend The Broken Shaker and Better Days, both of which serve fantastic cocktails and are perfect for a night out.
I especially loved the beach and the fact that it’s located right in the city. We went to some of the beach clubs along the coast which were perfect for an afternoon of relaxing and just enjoying yourself. This trip was so special because we finally got to unwind without having to think about work and Miami was the ideal place to do it. We got to combine sightseeing with beach days and just a laid-back lifestyle. We went during the summer months, so the weather was pleasantly warm and comfortable.
Planning our itinerary for Miami was a breeze because there were so many things to do and see. One of my favourite places in the city was the Bayside Marketplace. This is the perfect spot for dinner or a quick snack before you go out for the night. We also had a lot of fun in Little Havana, the Cuban neighbourhood of Miami. There is always something going on here and you get to enjoy unique food options and live music.
By Victoria Heinz at Guide Your Travel
Key West – Why’d you wait so long to visit?
Before my family and I left a chilly Toronto, a friend of ours said that being in Key West is indescribable. I thought that that description was a bit strange since I lived in Fort Lauderdale for a couple of years, (I didn’t visit Key West during that time though), I figured I knew a little about the Florida lifestyle, but boy was I wrong!
Key West is about a 3½ hour drive from Miami along the famous US-1 highway, but with all the stops we made to take in the breath-taking scenery it took us quite a bit longer. We stayed at a historic property that at one time or another had served as a rooming house for navy personnel, a gambling house, and even as a bordello! Key West has a very rich history and many of the old historical buildings have been repurposed and given a new lease on life, and thankfully, their stories linger on. Talking about stories, with so many historical buildings there are lots of strange stories of residents and their ghosts that still haunt some of these buildings so make sure you take a take a ghost tour during your stay!
The thing we absolutely loved about Key West were the many activities we had in the water, both above and below the surface, surrounding the island. The highlight for us was parasailing for the very first time. We were stunned at just how quiet it was as we sailed a couple of hundred feet above the Atlantic Ocean. We also enjoyed snorkeling and jet-skiing but would definitely recommend to everyone who heads down to Key West to try parasailing.
I remember talking to a local who said that Key West residents would definitely be its own country if it wasn’t connected to Florida. Time moves differently down there, and there’s something for everyone to do. The best way to see the island is to hop on a scooter and start exploring and don’t forget to connect with the people working at your hotel. If you’re nice enough they’ll be more than willing to point out their secret spots on the island that’s off the beaten path. Spend some time exploring those and you’ll understand exactly what my friend meant about Key West being indescribable.
By Davindra Ramnarine at Goat Roti Chronicles
Amazing family vacation on 30A in Florida
You really must go to Florida on your next family beach vacation. And if you are going to Florida with your family then 30A is the perfect place to visit! My family loved it and had the most wonderful time there. We travelled there with a big extended family group which included my mom, two sisters, our husbands and children.
30A is the name of a beach road that stretches 24 miles along the Emerald Coast in the panhandle of Florida. The road travels through several small towns after beginning and ending in the bigger cities of Destin and Fort Walton Beach and the entire area is known both locally and by tourists as Scenic 30A.
You will definitely be able to find the perfect place to stay in the area. The town of Seaside is the most famous. Due to its pastel homes, white picket fences, and perfect little downtown it was chosen as the location for the film The Truman Show. If you want something a little bit more upscale you could stay in the town of Rosemary Beach. If you are wanting something a little more relaxed, then I suggest checking out the town of Grayton. Or you can do like we did and rent a vacation home right on the beach that wasn’t in a town at all!
My family adored the beaches here. They are some of the most beautiful in the state of Florida! The sand is powdery and white, and the water is the loveliest shade of aquamarine. Best of all you will find that the warm clear waters are typically nice and calm along this stretch of coastline. This makes it nice for those traveling with younger kids. Adults and older kids might want to try stand-up paddle boarding. You can rent SUPs in many places around the area as this is a very popular activity on 30A.
We also loved biking along 30A! All the small towns are connected by a bike path and you will find many places to rent bikes along with your SUPs. You could easily make a day of biking and stopping at some of the wonderful beachy restaurants in the area.
You will love 30A! It offers the perfect mix of activity and relaxation and is great for all ages.
By Karen Keathley at Somewhere Down South
Get away from it all
Looking for a romantic getaway, my husband and I headed to Steinhatchee, Florida (near Tallahassee on the FL Panhandle). We stayed at the Steinhatchee Landing Resort. If you like secluded off the beaten path vacations and just want to get away from it all, this is the place to go. Initially, when we got there the rental office was closed. In a panic we called the number where we made the reservation. They told us our place was unlocked with the key inside, and we could complete the check in process tomorrow. Leaving a place unlocked just shows how off the beaten path this is.
The resort is a mixture of different size rentals for large groups down to honeymoon cabins, all nestled among shady trees and wandering paths. We stayed in Taylor’s landing, one of the honeymoon cabins. We cooked our own meals which we ate in our screened patio out back and at the cozy breakfast table inside. We spent evenings stargazing on our front patio and soaking in our large Jacuzzi tub in our bathroom.
During the day we swam in the pool and visited the animals in the petting zoo. The resort also has a large Jacuzzi pool large enough to swim in as well as a sauna. Nearby we booked a scallop diving excursion. Our captain was kind enough to bring our scallops to our cabin once they were shucked so we wouldn’t have to wait around. There is nothing like fresh scallops that you dive for yourself.
Nearby is Steinhatchee Falls where you can enjoy nature. Primitive trails meander through the area for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Areas for fishing and hunting are available as well. We settled for a picnic lunch by the water.
If you are looking for a lazy, relaxing weekend, this is the place to be.
By Donna Emperador at Explore the road with Donnamarie
Wow! Picked your favorite Florida getaway yet? Now all you need is a place to stay…