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Most British visitors to the sunshine state of Florida will have sampled the delights of the central part – because that is Mickey Mouse country!

The theme parks of Orlando and the surrounding areas is one of the biggest selling points for Florida and what have arguably made it one of the most complete holiday spots in the world.

Just do not believe adults who say they’ve only been to Orlando “for the kids”, its not true! The so-called grown-ups love the myriad attractions, the lights, the fun and the white-knuckle thrills of some of the biggest rides in the world as much as children.

In this part of Florida alone – with the excellent beaches as well as the lure of the theme parks – there is much more for a family to do than can be crammed into a two or even three week holiday.

In a series of four weekly features we’re looking at five fab attractions and things to do in each area of the state. This week’s Florida Focus is on the central part of the state.

Florida often sees more than 1.5 million Britons visit in a year, who reckon a nine-hour flight and a slight dose of jetlag are well worth the 3,000-mile trip.

Apart from the diversity of the attractions, the major Florida selling point is its weather. It has virtually year-round sunshine, with consistently high summer temperatures which average 33°C and even in midwinter, the temperature can be around 23°C.

By American standards Florida is not massive – around 150 miles across its widest point by more than 400 miles long. Yet it rarely seems crowded.

Florida has a very high standard of accommodation to rent, ranging across deluxe villas, apartments and executive homes.


Holidays in Orlando/Kissimmee

The heart of the Florida holiday industry because of its theme parks and non-stop, round-the clock attractions. When the kids end their day in the parks, parents can wine, dine and dance the night away. The list of attractions is vast but the big ones are Walt Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld. They have all grown rapidly over the years with many separate park areas, ranging from water activities to wild animals, and all have some of the biggest thrill rides in the world. The major theme parks are a moving feast, always updating to adapt shows and rides to current film hits and ploughing billions into constant improvement and investment. They tend to overshadow the many more smaller attractions in the area, but which are well worth seeking out at the tourist information offices.

Holidays in Tampa/Tampa Bay

An hour’s drive or so to the west of Orlando and there’s no shortage of cultural and fun attractions here, either. It’s the home of Busch Gardens, probably the most famous theme park outside Orlando. Busch Gardens has an African theme and includes a wildlife park, bird gardens and 10 thrill rides. Adventure Island is Busch’s separate water park and Tampa is also home to the Florida Aquarium which charts the state’s wildlife. Historic Ybor City has been resurrected as a cultural area with great shopping and nightlife.

Holidays in St Petersburg/Clearwater

Award-winning beaches have not been the only reason for the success of these two resort areas on Tampa Bay. They lie 30 minutes from Busch Gardens and 90 minutes’ drive from Orlando’s attractions so they make a good base for family holidays. Some of the area’s beaches regularly appear in the top 10 poll of world beaches including the Fort de Soto and Caladesi island state parks. Culturally St Petersburg is very well set up with the Salvador Dali Museum containing many of the surrealist painter’s works; the St Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts; and the Florida Holocaust Museum.

Holidays on The Islands

The central west coast is a procession of fine white sand beaches lapped by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Connected to the mainland by a causeway are the islands of Sanibel and Captiva which have remained unspoiled despite being discovered by more and more British families in recent years. Captiva, lush with its exotic plants and tropical vegetation, resembles a pirate’s island and that is just what it was. Captiva, has a laidback atmosphere and excellent beaches with watersports. Sanibel is bigger and has all the facilities for a good family holiday. Two attractions are the Ding Darling Refuge to see the local wildlife close up and the shell beaches where there are 400 different species of seashells. There is even a museum dedicated to shells.


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