Florida’s strong appeal lies in its diverse plant and wildlife, turquoise waters, gorgeous coral archipelagos and endless things to do. But it is also one of the most family-friendly holiday destinations for visitors, especially those with young children.
Since the 1930s, the state has been home to numerous theme parks. The first of those—Cypress Gardens, which opened in 1936—was a botanical garden that has since been absorbed into Legoland Florida. But theme parks weren’t synonymous with the state until 1971, when Walt Disney made Orlando the home of the Walt Disney World Resort, commonly known as Disney World.
A vast entertainment complex in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Disney World covers nearly 25,000 acres and bristles with theme parks, water parks, hotels, golf courses and campsites. Conceived originally as a supplement to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Disney World quickly became the company’s flagship resort, a staple of American culture and one of the world’s most visited places. In the Magic Kingdom alone, there are 25 attractions without height requirements, so parents and small children need not worry about finding enough to do. Highly recommended is Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple, where children of all ages can learn the ways of the Force and wield their very own lightsabers in a battle against the villains of the franchise.
In 1990, Orlando became the site of another sprawling park that would almost achieve Disney World’s dizzying popularity. Universal Studios gives guests the chance to “ride the movies”, featuring live shows and entertainment corresponding to the films in Universal’s vast portfolio. Visitors can breeze around on the Fast & Furious: Supercharged tram, or ride The Incredible Hulk rollercoaster. The array of attractions makes it ideal for families: the Studio Tour has no height requirement, and many other rides are suitable for children as young as five.
Such is the popularity of Harry Potter, the world’s most famous boy wizard, that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter contained within Universal has rapidly become a wild success. The parks are a faithful reconstruction of the world of JK Rowling’s imagination, holding the Flight of the Hippogriff family roller coaster and a life-sized Hogsmeade, with gift shops, restaurants and the famous Three Broomsticks pub. Most exciting for small children is a full-scale working replica of the Hogwarts Express, which takes visitors from the Universal Studios Florida theme park to Harry Potter World.
Florida’s appeal to families with young children doesn’t end with its theme parks. Those seeking a change from Disney and Universal can transport themselves easily to more serene and natural environments. The state is home to numberless dolphin and alligator tours, and chances to track manatees in the mangroves of the Everglades. The white sandy beaches that run along the coast, such as Clearwater Beach, are tranquil spots to relax, soak up the sun and enjoy the ocean.
A trip to Florida’s National Aviation Museum in Pensacola, meanwhile, may well inspire the pint-sized pilots or astronauts of the future. Built in 1962, the museum “selects, collects, preserves and displays” memorabilia representing the development and heritage of American naval aviation. There are hundreds of aircraft and spacecraft on display, flight simulators and a screening theatre, making this the largest of its kind in the world.
With its many celebrated theme parks, museums, tours and pristine beaches, it’s no surprise that families in particular flock to Florida. What it offers is the ability to travel easily by car from the large-scale bustle and fun of those world-class theme parks to the tranquility of nature and back again. The strength of the Sunshine State’s tourism industry, which grew to record size this year, bears testament to Florida’s enduring popularity with visitors of all ages.