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Best Florida Family Vacation Destinations

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When it comes to choosing a family-friendly vacation destination, sunny Florida is a high-ranking choice for both parents and kids. Theme parks are an obvious draw but the state is much more diverse than that, boasting lovely sand beaches, cultural and historical attractions, professional sporting events and ample opportunity to commune with nature. Here are seven of the best Florida family vacation destinations that are sure to please travelers of all types from theme park fans to adventure seekers.

Best Florida family vacation destinations (Photo credit: Disney)

Theme park fans: Orlando

Renowned for its theme parks aplenty, Orlando is often the first area that comes to mind when planning a family vacation in Florida. Vacationers can play at four Disney amusement parks and two Disney water parks, Universal Studios, SeaWorld Orlando and Gatorland. Orlando is also within driving distances of other attractions like the Kennedy Space Center and Legoland Florida.

Universal Studios The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle

Hogwarts Castle at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Families can easily spend an entire vacation in the Orlando area and never run out of things to do. My family has enjoyed visiting Walt Disney World at every age and stage since our first visit when my now 17-year-old daughter was just a baby. Now that my kids are older, Universal Studio's Wizarding World of Potter tops our Orlando must-see list.

Sanibel Island seashells

Sanibel Island seashells (Photo credit: Amber Johnson)

Nature lovers: Sanibel and Captiva Islands

A world away from the fast-paced vacations of Orlando, families seeking a tranquil retreat will fall in love with the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva. These islands are home to some of the best shelling beaches in the nation. At Sanibel's National Wildlife Refuge vacationers will find birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals of all sorts. Active families will also enjoy biking the islands and canoeing or kayaking the waterways.

Amber Johnson, The Outdoorsy Travel Mama, said, “Sanibel and Captiva Islands are a dream for wildlife and shell-lovers with 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, 25 miles of bike paths, 50 types of fish, 230 types of birds, 400 types of shells, no stop lights, a ban on fast-food chains and a law that dictates ‘no buildings taller than the tallest palm tree'.”

Florida Madeira Beach

Madeira Beach, Florida (Photo credit: Nicole Wiltrout)

Variety seekers: Tampa Bay/St. Petersberg/Clearwater

The Tampa Bay area of Florida's Gulf Coast is popular with both families and retirees. For many years, my in-laws spent their winters in St. Petersburg and that's where we headed for my older daughter's first vacation when she was just 4 months old. We stayed in Madeira and loved the relaxed family-friendly lifestyle and the soft sand beaches. Visit John's Pass Village & Boardwalk to eat, shop and see the pelicans. Tampa's Busch Gardens draws visitors with its combination of amusement park rides, animal attractions, and Broadway-style shows. Several major league baseball teams have their spring training facilities in Tampa Bay.

It's been years since we have visited the area so I was happy to hear that it is still a great destination for families with young children. Nicole Wiltrout of Arrows Sent Forth said: “We love the Tampa/St. Pete/Clearwater area of Florida for one simple reason: variety. With three small to large size cities within about 45 minutes of each other, we enjoy the wide range of activities, from farmer's markets to zoos to aquariums. Plus, the beaches are incredibly beautiful with gentle waves that are perfect for kids to play. You can often find direct, inexpensive flights in and out of Tampa, making getting there easy too.”

Florida Keys Islamorada Sunset

A sunset in Islamorada (Photo credit: Charu Suri)

Water sports fans: Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are an archipelago of more than 400 islands that stretch for 150 miles off the southern coast of the U.S. The Keys are divided into Upper, Middle and Lower sections with the Upper being closest to the mainland. Key West, the most popular island in the Lower Keys, marks the southernmost part of the continental U.S. Water enthusiasts enjoy the Keys' fishing, diving, water sports galore.

Charu Suri of the Butterfly Diary blog recently visited the Upper Keys with her toddler and recommends the region for families that enjoy the outdoors. “The John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park has a glass-bottom boat ride perfect for kids, as well as snorkeling trips. There are scenic drives that are fun for the entire family, as well as kid-friendly beaches like Anne's Beach off Mile Marker 71. Plus, Hawk's Cay Resort in Marathon is a one-stop shop for families with an excellent dolphin discovery program and several pools and lagoons.”

The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida (Photo Credit: Terri Weeks)

The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida (Photo credit: Terri Weeks)

Budget travelers: Northwest Florida

Northwest Florida, sometimes referred to as the Panhandle, is known for beach towns, turquoise waters, and family attractions. This area remains less crowded than other parts of the state and easier on the budget. The most popular communities of Pensacola, Destin and Panama City offer museums, aquariums and historic attractions that kids will enjoy. Gulf Islands National Seashore is nearby if the Junior Rangers in the family would like to add to their National Park badge collection.

Terri Weeks from Travel 50 States with Kids recommends the National Naval Aviation Museum, where kids of all ages can learn more about the history of naval aviation in the U.S. She said, “With Pensacola just a 45-minute drive away, the National Naval Aviation Museum was the perfect outing. This free museum is home to over 150 restored aircraft as well as the Blue Angels, the Navy’s aerobatic flying squadron. The museum is roughly organized by the history of aviation. One wing displays early aircraft and exhibits; another focuses on the World War II era; and a new expansion area, Hangar Bay One, includes the post-WWII era.”

Pirate Boat Tour West Palm Beach Florida

Pirate Boat Tour in West Palm Beach (Photo Credit: Marina Kuperman)

Stylish vacationers: Miami/West Palm Beach

Miami is best known for its nightlife, Cuban culture and South Beach celebrities. Meanwhile West Palm Beach is renowned for its upscale resorts and socialites. But family fun opportunities abound here as well. You might think Miami and West Palm Beach are adult destinations but according to Marina Kuperman with TravelExperta, “West Palm Beach has so much for kids to do that it actually amazed me.” Of course there are great beaches, fine dining and entertainment but the area also boasts museums, art galleries, zoos, aquariums and water parks.

Florida Everglades Airboat tour

An airboat tour of the Florida Everglades (Photo credit: Michelle Brennan)

Adventurous families: Florida Everglades

Adventure-seeking families who love exploring the outdoors will be thrilled with a visit to the Florida Everglades National Park. The park covers 1.5 million acres of southern Florida and is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. The Everglades is actually a slow-moving river, not the swamp that many believe it to be.

Michelle Brennan, who writes for the family travel review website, Trekaroo, took her family to the Florida Everglades, where they hiked, bicycled and rode an airboat through the park in search of the rare Florida panther that her animal-loving daughter was hoping to see. Michelle says: “Although we never saw the panther, we  did spot deer, gators, squirrels, a woodpecker, beautiful flora and birds on the small one way 11 mile road full of adventure!”

Does your family have a favorite Florida vacation spot? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Curious Travel Mama: This post brought to you in partnership with Monarch travel site. All opinions are my own, as always. Top photo of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida by Disney.

About Lisa Goodmurphy, The Spunky Travel Mama

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer turned family travel writer and a mom of two daughters. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario and now resides near Toronto, Canada. Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, she considers herself fortunate that her family is equally enthusiastic about her mission to explore the world—one trip at a time. Lisa shares her travel adventures on the blog that she founded in 2011 and now contributes to many online media publications as well. You can read about her family’s travels on her blog, Gone with the Family, on Google+ or on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the great article. This summary is quite helpful for us as we are about to do a road trip in Florida but do not know that much about the state.

    • Lisa Goodmurphy, the Spunky Travel Mama says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sharon, I’m glad that you found the article useful! There are so many great areas to visit in Florida that you’re going to have a hard time deciding which one to visit first!

  2. Ellen Lanin says:

    Great post. I really enjoyed the references to many bloggers. This made me feel like I was getting a nice balanced outlook on what to see and do in Florida. I have been to Florida a few times and found Sanibel Island and the Nasa areas a great way to expand our visits in addition to Disney World which is always fantastic, no matter what our ages.

  3. Mums do travel says:

    This is really interesting, thank you. I visited Florida for the first time with my family this summer and we had a great time. We concentrated on the Orlando theme parks and our favourite was SeaWorld but we also spent a lovely day in the town of Winter Park.

  4. Sarah Ebner says:

    We would absolutely love to come to Florida again! We visited Orlando (from London) earlier this year and the kids also loved Harry Potter the most. I enjoyed it all, having never been as a child, but I knew there was so much we weren’t able to see in our 10 day trip. Hopefully another time.

  5. I have a friend residing in Orlando, and she totally agree the it has vacation places that are enjoyable for kids and their parents. She always take her son outdoors particularly in theme parks to make his mood better after tantrums.

  6. All great places…can’t wait to revisit all of ’em!

  7. Fantastic Experience after reading your amazing blog! I have learned some new and amazing ideas from your article. Thanks dear for sharing this amazing blog with us.

  8. Tilly Wilson says:

    Great list.Thanks for recommendation.I really love that.

  9. Ridley Fitzgerald says:

    Florida seems like a great place to go on vacation. The amusement parks are a given, but something like the Florida everglades would be something unique! Reading about all the cool wildlife you can see makes me want to go and check it out.

  10. I have a good experience of Florida Keys because I have been there couple of the times in my whole life to enjoy my holidays and always spent lovely time with my family and Friends. In my point of view it is a perfect destination to enjoy family vacations in Florida.

  11. Louise Hamilton says:

    Awesome blog post, my family ended up staying in Destin! We rented a vacation rental from Exclusive 30A, which although was not the most budget friendly was an absolute blast. We also visited the Gulf Islands National Seashore and the National Naval Aviation Museum, both very much enjoyed by the kids.

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