Orlando may be Florida's top spot for family getaways, but the state is also famed for beaches on both Gulf and Atlantic coasts. And beyond the best-known spots, other great places await... Below are a number of ideas, moving roughly clockwise around the Sunshine State.
In the Northeast: Amelia Island
Amelia Island-- in the northeast near Jacksonville-- has lovely beaches, a historic fort complete with actors who play period characters, a quaint town to explore.
The Omni Amelia Island Plantation covers over a thousand acres that includes a prime beach location, and has kids' programs, family activities, and nature programs. The nearby Ritz Carlton Amelia Island offers Ritz Kids, fine dining, kiddie pool, indoor pool, and a beach where shallow lagoons are great for tots. Both properties have golf, fitness centers, etc.
107 miles from Orlando, the "Nation's Oldest City" dates back 435 years. Explore excavations of an old Spanish colony where Ponce de Leon hoped to find the Fountain of Youth; see historic sights by cruise or the Red Sightseeing Train; relax on beaches (-43 miles of them.)
How much fun can one city take? Top Things to Do in Orlando include: "the extras" at Disney World, such as the fireworks or live shows or the waterparks; tot-pleasers (Seuss Landing) and teen-pleasers (The Hulk thrill ride) at Universal Studios theme parks, and Blue Man Group; Discovery Cove (a Caribbean experience in the middle of Orlando.)
Orlando: Seasonal Events
Orlando resorts are experts at family fun. All 22 themed Disney World resorts --from Value to Luxury-- confer an excellent set of perks. Universal Orlando, meanwhile, has three great hotels right near its two theme parks and CityWalk entertainment zone; and guests get Front of the Line Passes for popular rides.
But that's not all, folks: other Orlando resorts are great too. Nickelodeon Family Suites has two water parks and themed fun by Nickelodeon; other places have a lazy river pool, or 1500 acres with nature trails and horse-riding, or an annual winter event with ice sculptures and ice caves...
45 minutes east of Orlando lies 72 miles of shore known as the Space Coast: the place where the moon launches blasted away from earth, and site of the shuttle launches today. The big draw is the Kennedy Space Center and the beautiful beaches. Less known are the eco-tours: this area has saltwater estuaries, marshes, and 250 sq. miles of wildlife refuges. The Space Coast also has cute towns to visit, such as Cocoa.
Further south, the "Treasure Coast" has beautiful beaches, surfing, and coral reef in some areas.
Disney's Vero Beach Resort -- in the style of grand old beach hotels-- has 71 acres on a barrier island, a pool with 163-foot water slide, a pirate ship wet-deck, miniature golf, biking, watersports, and maybe the chance to see sea turtles. Location is two hours southeast of Disney World.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay -- two hours from Miami or Orlando airports--is (gasp) an all inclusive resort in the US, with terrific friendly ambiance, Baby Club Med, and kids programs for many different ages. Resort activities include trapeze and golf and tennis academies. Guests can take take day-trips to Disney World or the Kennedy Space Center. This resort is on the St. Lucie River, and the nearest beach is the Treasure Coast.
Cheeca offers snorkelling over North America's only natural coral reef, "snuba" (a way to dive 20 feet down without scuba gear, ok for kids as young as eight), a saltwater lagoon stocked with fish, and Camp Cheeca for ages 6 to 12.
-Continue to Paradise Coast,St. Pete / Clearwater, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Sandestin Resort, and more