Tips for the Perfect Florida Family Vacation

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Family Fun in Florida: Five Florida Destinations You may not Have Considered

The perfect Florida vacation means different things to different families. Some want to spend the whole time at Disney, others never leave the beach, but there’s more to Florida than the ocean and the mouse. The perfect vacation should include a mix of activities, to really get the feel for this beautiful state.

Visit the Oldest City: St Augustine

St. Augustine, FL, was founded by Pedro Menendez in 1565 and it’s a fascinating place to visit. Sure, it’s touristy, but there’s so much to see and do with kids that it’s hard to leave. Visit the Castillo de San Marcos (1 S. Castillo Dr., St Augustine, FL), which is the continental United States’ oldest masonry fort, built by Spanish forces in the late 1600s.

Shop on St. George Street, a cobblestone street where pedestrian areas are blocked off from traffic for strolling and shopping. The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park (11 Magnolia Ave., St. Augustine, FL ) sparks the imagination as guests learn about Ponce de Leon’s quest for the source of eternal life, and the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum (81 Lighthouse Ave., St. Augustine, FL) is a hit with or without climbing all those stairs.

When you tire of sightseeing and shopping, head across the Bridge of Lions, and relax on a beach.

Tube Someplace Cool: Ichetucknee River

Florida heat can be oppressive in summer, so it’s refreshing to take a dip someplace cool. When swimming pools become sun-warmed and bath-like, Florida’s springs stay cool and inviting. Ichetucknee Springs State Park (12087 US-27, Fort White, FL) features a lazy river winding through the Florida forest and fed by cool springs. Tubing the Ichetucknee is popular in the summer, but there’s also swimming at the springs, along with hiking, canoeing, snorkeling, picnicking and wildlife viewing. Tubes can be rented outside the park, and there are also inflatable boats for the littlest members of your party.

Blast off Into History: Kennedy Space Center

Any kid fascinated by space will have a blast at the Kennedy Space Center (Kennedy Space Center, SR 405, Titusville, FL). Located “one small step from Orlando,” this complex houses the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, an Astronaut Training Simulator, real spacecraft on which missions were completed, and much more. Plan to spend the whole day, because there’s so much to see and do. This attraction is the most expensive on this list, but it’s well worth it, especially if the visit corresponds with a launch.

Be Inspired by Inventors: Edison and Ford Museum

In the early 1900s, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford built vacation homes side-by-side in Fort Myers. Edison built a lab, too, and today these buildings are part of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates (2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, FL). There are interactive exhibits for kids, but they’ll also enjoy learning about Edison’s childhood, seeing some of Ford’s early automobiles and much more. When making the day trip from another part of Florida, build a few extra hours into your plans to check out Sanibel Island, FL, about 30 minutes away, where kids (and adults) can spend hours finding shells on the beach or splashing in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Visit an Unusual State Park: Weeki Wachee or Silver Springs

What other state has mermaids or glass bottom boats in a state park? Since 1947, Weeki Wachee, (6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL) has featured those famous mermaids, but there are tons of other things to do in the park as well, like wildlife shows and riverboat cruises. Guests can rent kayaks and paddle boards or head to Buccaneer Bay, included with the price of admission, where a white sand beach is a great place for sunning, and water-slides drop guests into cool, clear spring water. There’s also snorkeling, a lazy river and a kiddie pool, all under the watchful eye of certified lifeguards. At Silver Springs, (5656 East Silver Springs Blvd., Silver Springs, FL), visitors have been riding in glass-bottom boats since the late 1800s, when the park became Florida’s first tourist attraction. These unique vessels allow for viewing of aquatic wildlife in the park’s artesian spring, but guests can also rent canoes, kayaks or bicycles to explore the area.

Weather and Seasonal Considerations

Remember this: Florida is hot. It’s hot in the summer and spring, and it gets chilly only in fall and winter in north Florida. Wear plenty of sunscreen, whatever the destination, and be aware that in the summer, it often rains in the afternoon. A good plan to survive the Florida heat is to get up early for outdoor activities, then take a break in the heat of the day to eat lunch and do some indoor sightseeing where it’s air conditioned.

Florida on a Budget

None of the destinations on this list cost more than $50, and some are free for kids. The mistake many people make when traveling to Florida is to hit the tourist areas and miss some of the more interesting places, like the state parks, which may cost only a few dollars. The smart way to do Florida is to choose where to spend money, whether it’s the Space Center, Disney or dining out, and then to conserve in other ways by shopping around for lodging and selecting the least expensive adventure destinations.