Florida holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
The official language of the US state of Florida is English. Around three-fourths of the population in Florida speaks English as a native language, while around 20 per cent speak Spanish as a first language. In some parts of the state, however, Spanish is predominantly spoken. In fact, the majority of residents in the big metropolis of Miami have Spanish as their native tongue.
As with the rest of the US, Florida uses the US dollar as its currency, with US$1 equal to 100 cents. ATMs are easy to spot, especially in the major cities in the state. Major credit cards, namely Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club, are widely accepted. It is advisable to carry cash and at least one credit card with you during your Florida holiday as most hotels and car rental companies require prepayment or a card imprint, even if payment of final balance is due in cash.
A valid passport with at least six months’ validity is required for most nationals. British and EU nationals are covered under the Visa Waiver Program wherein travellers are allowed to enter the US for business or holidays visa-free and remain for up to 90 days. However, passports of said nationals must have at least 90 days of validity. Nationals of countries not covered by these provisions should check the visa requirements before travelling.
Due to its latitude and the fact that it is surrounded by water, Florida has mild winters and long, hot summers. This climate is precisely the reason Florida is so popular with retirees and holidaymakers. It is generally never cold and perfect tropical weather can be experienced during the summer. However, Florida is also notorious for its hurricanes and thunderstorms which occur in the summer months and can last up to November. While most rain periods are short, visitors are still advised to stay abreast of the weather by consulting Florida weather bulletins.
Florida has a number of major airports servicing most US airlines. Which airport to fly into or out of will depend on your intended Florida holiday destination. Disney World and Central Florida can be reached via Orlando International Airport. If heading to the Gulf Coast, it is best to fly into Tampa International Airport, deemed among the premier airports in the US. Miami and southern Florida can be best reached via Miami International Airport.
There are a number of well-known airlines flying from the UK to major airports in Florida. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airlines lead the pack as both bring in the highest number of passenger arrivals to Orlando and Miami international airports. Miami connects with London Heathrow and Orlando and Tampa with Gatwick. Other airlines with direct transatlantic flights are American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Flights from London to Florida take around nine hours.
Families on holiday in Florida will be glad to know that Orlando International Airport has direct, free shuttle buses to Disney World and Disney hotels. With a Disney World hotel booking, you and your family have the chance to take the Disney’s Magical Express from Orlando’s airport. Additionally, car rental is readily available at airports and in cities including Orlando, which is considered the theme park capital of the world.
Vacationers travelling further afield to Florida’s smaller cities may consider flying into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, on Florida’s southeast coast. This airport is a hub for domestic budget carriers. In addition, there are other, smaller airports covering the whole state of Florida. Visitors may fly into the airports of Tallahassee, Sarasota, Key West, Pensacola, Gainesville, West Palm Beach and many others. The trick is to research the airport closest to your intended destination.
There are several regional airports in Florida so taking flights between places is a wise option in many cases. Rail travel is costly but serves well in some locations. Also, some cities are serviced by ferries. However, driving through Florida’s stellar network of highways is an experience that still ranks as the top transport means among holidaymakers visiting the state.
The different regions and cities of Florida are connected by a network of air routes that usually last no more than an hour from one place to another. Southwest Airlines and United Airlines are the best choices for intrastate flights in Florida, with Florida’s key airports located at Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.
The ever reliable Greyhound Bus Lines has extensive operations in Florida. Tickets can be easily booked via the bus lines’ website (www.greyhound.com) or by calling its toll-free number (+1-800-231-2222). Red Coach is an alternative bus line, in addition to buses offered by various city public transportation organisations.
Florida is serviced by Amtrak Silver Star trains which run from Jacksonville in northeast Florida and terminate in Miami in the south, passing through most major cities in the state en route. The Silver Meteor follows a slightly different route but also terminates in Miami.
A combination of a comprehensive network of highways within the state and car rental rates that are among the most competitive in the US, probably because Florida is the country’s most visited state, makes driving the best way to get around Florida. Major car hire companies in the US like Hertz, National, Alamo and Dollar are all present in various locations in Florida.
Being the most visited state in the US, Florida packs a lot of punch with regard to holiday activities. Florida has something for everyone: families, nature lovers, cruise ship travellers, party animals and sun worshippers.
Orlando is a great destination for families as it is the theme park capital of the world. The main draw is, of course, Walt Disney World Resort, the largest and the gold standard of theme parks in the world. Other major theme parks in the city are Universal Orlando Resort (Universal Studios) and SeaWorld Adventure Park Orlando.
With more than 150 state parks spanning the state from north to south, Florida is popular with wilderness backpackers. The most famous of these parks is, of course, the Everglades National Park. Florida’s largest lake, Lake Okeechobee, can also be visited and offers lots of wilderness activities.
Being geographically located close to the Caribbean, the south of Florida is a popular embarkation point for cruises, many of which depart from Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa in the southern part of the state.
Also in the south, the exciting cities of Miami and Miami Beach lure visitors from far and wide with great beaches, fantastic surfing and a variety of resorts, from cheap rentals to high-end luxury. Miami is also renowned the world over for its Art Deco architecture and nightclubs along Lincoln Road and Collins Avenue.
Other great beach cities in Florida include West Palm Beach and Daytona Beach, the latter being famous among speed junkies for the Daytona International Speedway, home of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR.
One of the best-known landmarks in Florida is the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The centre is an installation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and has been the launching point of all US manned missions to space. Visitors can head to the Visitors’ Complex to get a glimpse of this historic facility.
The charming city of St. Augustine, on the east coast of Florida, is another famous landmark. Considered to be the oldest settlement the Europeans erected in the continental US, the city draws in visitors with its colonial architecture and old world romance.
Such fascination for architecture on the part of the inhabitants extends to Florida Lighthouses, a number of which span the state from north to south. They represent Florida’s maritime past and have been preserved as travel destinations, with many included along heritage trails. Some of the most visited include those at Cape Canaveral, Cape St George and Key West.
Nature lovers will find themselves in awe of Florida’s natural wonders in the Everglades National Park. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this national park located in southern Florida spans a total of 1.5 million acres, with a diverse landscape ranging from swampland to pine forests. The classic and best way to see the Everglades is aboard an airboat, which takes visitors whooshing past the swampy areas of the park.
Another prominent natural wonder in Florida is the Florida Keys, a group of coral islands which stretch south, southwest and west from the Florida peninsula, starting just 24kms from Miami and with the tip of the westernmost island only 140kms from Cuba. Scuba diving on the pristine coral reefs of the Florida Keys is an activity that is not to be missed while here.
liveliest and most swinging entertainment spots in the world. This is especially the case in Miami and its South Beach area, where the party scene has gained notoriety because of the film and the television shows set here.
The loud nightclubs and happening cocktail bars in South Beach, some of which are the size of warehouses, attract party-goers looking for salsa dancing and electro music. To get into a club, you need to dress to impress. Such glamour in districts like Coconut Grove has drawn in Hollywood celebrities, and star sightings are not uncommon here.
The theme park capital of Orlando is also a good place to enjoy Florida’s nightlife as even the family-oriented theme parks themselves provide adults with some much-needed adult time at night after the kids have been tucked into bed. Disney Pleasure Island and Universal City Walk are two places worth checking out for their live music, stage shows and dance clubs. Those looking to get to know where and how the Orlando locals unwind at night can head to Church Street Station in downtown Orlando.
When in Tampa, you can experience the night scene in the very lively Latin Quarter. Nightclubs line Seventh Avenue, and every weekend the street is closed to traffic as the party often explodes out onto the street.
Finally, the beach cities of Daytona Beach and Panama City are popular with the young crowd as the party atmosphere here erupts into frenzy during Spring Break.
Florida’s diverse ethnic make-up has given it a rich culinary culture unlike anywhere else in the US. The northern parts of the state have more traditional southern food while the southern parts have been largely influenced by the rich Latin flavours of the Caribbean.
Southern ’pit’ barbecue is almost always a good culinary choice in this part of the US as even local Floridians like to cook their big marinated hunks of chicken, pork or beef in open brick pits, or sometimes large metal drums. The meats are then seasoned with the sweet, tangy sauce which the south is famous for.
The more adventurous eaters can sample a Florida native, the alligator.
The meat is often prepared by deep frying, and most people who try it say it tastes like chicken. Another Florida native worth tasting is the conch (pronounced like ’konk’), a large shellfish often found in the Caribbean and which can be eaten raw, mixed with salad, or deep fried into fritters.
Local Cuban specialities such as Cuban sandwiches and the ropa vieja (old clothes), a dish consisting of tender beef flanks eaten with black beans and yellow rice, have also become staples in Southern Florida. As for drinks, Cuba libre and mojitos are always good choices.
It is only natural that with the presence of luxury resorts in the beachside cities of Florida come world-class chefs transforming local ingredients into sophisticated gastronomic experiences. Miami is especially known for its fine dining scene, particularly upmarket Latin food or Caribbean fusion food. Top restaurants include Tantra and the Pearl Restaurant & Champagne Lounge, both in Miami Beach.
Florida has some of the best beach destinations in the continental US. With its warm, tropical weather in the summer months, it is no wonder Florida is extremely popular for summer getaways and spring breaks. The 37km stretch of sand at Daytona Beach is one of the most popular beach destinations, along with the year-round warm waters of Palm Beach County. For those in the northern parts of the state, Panama City Beach is a good option.
With Florida being a popular holiday destination, you can be sure romantic getaways are easy to find here. Some pampering in the luxury resorts of Miami and Fort Myers may just be what you and your partner need to ignite that spark. Another good option is to bask in the old world charm of Miami’s colonial city of St. Augustine. Cedar House Inn and Westcott House are particularly noteworthy here. If these locations still don’t cut it, then a romantic dinner cruise around the waters of Clearwater Beach and St. Petersburg will surely put you and your partner in the most romantic of moods.
For family-fun adventure, it doesn’t get any better than Orlando and its theme parks, the most noteworthy of which is Walt Disney World. Here, kids can finally see their favourite Disney characters in real life and experience some of the best theme park rides in the world. Children of all ages enjoy the many animal attractions at SeaWorld Orlando, with its live entertainment venues such as the Shamu Stadium, where trained killer whales perform for the crowds.
Those looking for adventure in the wilderness will not be disappointed as Florida has over 150 state parks, foremost of which is the Everglades National Park. Follow the half-mile boardwalk that is the Anhinga Trail for stunning views of the park or head to Long Pine Key for camping. Saltwater and fresh water fishing are also popular activities throughout Florida. However, to get up close and personal with marine wildlife, it is essential to go diving on the beautiful coral reefs of the Florida Keys.