Believe it or not, there’s more to see and experience in the sunshine state than Walt Disney World. Florida offers a plethora of attractions from wildlife interactions to rollercoasters to miles of beautiful nature preserves and beaches. These attractions all provide exciting opportunities to bond as a family and try something new. Here are just a few places you won’t want to pass up during your next family vacation to Florida.
1. Everglades National Park
If your family would rather explore the great outdoors than hop on a rollercoaster or go shopping, plan a visit to Everglades National Park. This expansive area in the south of Florida offers 1.5 million acres of wetland to explore. Take a short walk through the glades and look for turtles, herons and other wildlife or take a kayaking tour for the chance to see an alligator or dolphin up close. Explore the pinelands on bikes, join a ranger on a boat tour or camp out along the 99 mile Wilderness Waterway.
If you want a more structured outdoor experience, book a trip to SeaWorld. With rollercoasters, marine animal shows and hands-on activities and animal interactions, there’s something for everyone. Discover what it takes to care for manatees at Rescue Manatee Rehabilitation or touch and feed stingrays at the Stingray Lagoon. You can even meet walruses face to face in a behind-the-scenes tour where you and your kids will learn about caring for and feeding these blubbery mammoths.
3. Swim With Dolphins
If you want to get even closer to the animals that call the ocean home, hop in the water for a swim with dolphins. SeaWorld does offer this experience, however, there are many other facilities and organizations that allow you to meet these friendly creatures. Hold onto their fins and take a ride, give them a kiss or share a laugh or handshake. Many of these experiences are located in the Florida Keys, although there are facilities all over the state.
4. Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center
On days when Gulf waters are 68 degrees or colder, you can spot manatees converging on the Big Bend Power Station in the warm waters of Apollo Beach. Admission is free and provides visitors with the opportunity to see non-captive wildlife. Once you’ve seen the manatees, take a stroll among award-winning butterfly gardens or take the habitat loop trail out to the wildlife observation tower to see the canal from a 50-foot high vantage point.
Looking for more up-close animal interaction? Gatorland lets you feed alligators and try your hand at wrestling them. The facility also offers a zipline experience allowing you a birds-eye view as you glide over the toothy beasts. If you and the kids are up for even more adventure, take a night tour with Gator Night Shine. Armed only with a flashlight and gator food, make your way along the wooden walkways of the breeding marsh and keep your eye out for hungry gators!
6. Busch Gardens
This park features a zoo and a theme park, making it one of the largest exhibits in North America. Located in Tampa, Busch Gardens are the perfect alternative to Disney. State of the art habitats house more than 200 species of animals and world-class performers put on live shows all year round. Pet a giraffe on the Serengeti Safari or ride the triple-launch Cheetah Hunt coaster. No matter how young or old your kids are, they’re sure to love Busch Gardens.
7. Crayola Experience
Explore a rainbow of color at the Crayola Experience in Orlando. This one-of-a-kind family attraction offers dozens of hands-on activities to help your kids express their creative side. Visit the giant color caddy that holds thousands of crayons or enjoy a crayon factory show to discover how crayons are made. Create melted wax spin art and mold old crayons into something new. Remember to snap a photo with the world’s largest crayon, weighing in at a whopping 1,352 pounds!
With more than 50 shows, rides and attractions designed especially for your kids, LEGOLAND is sure to be a hit with your little ones. Explore The Lego Movie World where the kids can meet all their favorite characters or visit Miniland USA, which contains more than 32 million lego bricks recreating scenes from all over the U.S. LEGOLAND also has its own outdoor waterpark complete with a wave pool, lazy river tube slides and more. Just be sure to visit between March and October when the waterpark is open.
Find Your Own Unique Experience
Of course, family vacations are all about growing closer together and creating memories to last a lifetime. So, skip the status quo and choose a park, attraction or safari off the beaten path. Or, better yet, let your kids pick the destination. And, no matter what you do together or where you end up going, remember to find your own unique experience. Choosing things that are fun for the whole family is essential to a fun-filled memorable vacation.