It can be all too easy to see Florida holidays as glorified theme park excursions, with Disney, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens the main focus for many people’s trips to the Sunshine State.
But as great fun as visiting these places is, only seeing Orlando and Tampa is to ignore a wealth of other attractions, many of them created by Mother Nature rather than Walt Disney.
So instead of booking an apartment in one of the big cities, why not consider a fly-drive Florida getaway and come home with more than just a shaken stomach from riding the Incredible Hulk coaster too many times?
But don’t just take my word for it, here’s an introduction to what’s out there beyond the confines of Orlando for those with a set of wheels – oh and a link to help you book a Florida fly-drive too.
In southern Florida lies the Everglades, an enormous area of tropical wetlands, which is a haven for wildlife.
One of the most popular ways to see the wetlands is to ditch the hire car – your insurance won’t cover immersion in water – and head out on an air boat. Although they might look primitive (basically sardine tins with giant fans stuck on the back) air boats are the perfect vehicles for cruising through the shallow, grassy canals criss-crossing the Everglades.
As you whip along with the wind in your hair enjoying the ride, keep your eyes peeled for the reptiles and birds that inhabit the wetlands, including gators and egrets. And if you’d like to take on some the locals, cast a line and see if you can snare yourself a big ol’ bass.
Along with Hawaii, Florida picks up many of the Best Beach in the USA gongs, thanks to its stunning Gulf Coast, where you’ll find pristine strips of white sand lapped by warm clean sea water.
Some of the best places to take your beach towel and picnic include Barefoot Beach, just south of Fort Myers and the Saint George Island State Park in the far north-west of Florida, both of which have won praise from Dr Stephen Leatherman, who is better known as ‘Dr Beach’, the USA’s foremost authority on what makes a great strip of sand.
If you’re taking kids with you, his ratings are great because he doesn’t just take into account looks – using 50 criteria including how safe its is to swim there and how clean the water is to determine his top tens.
Not far from Orlando on the Atlantic is Cape Canaveral, which forms part of a region dubbed ‘the Space Coast’ because of its association with shuttle launches.
If you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to watch in awe as one of Nasa’s multi-billion dollar rockets blasts off into the Florida skies. Even if a countdown isn’t in progress when you’re there, you can head on over to the Kennedy Space Center and take part in a range of great experiences.
As you can see, there’s a wealth of amazing things you can enjoy across Florida when you have a car. Driving in the USA is easy, with wide, straight highways allowing you to cruise from A to B without a care in the world.
So for your next trip to Florida, ditch the Orlando villa and head out on the highway.
Photo by amirjs on Flickr