Written by Lynsey Oxton
If you’ve read my bio, you’ll already know that Florida is one of my favourite holiday destinations. In fact, I’ve been 10 times already and I’m going back there again this year…..
As I say, we like what we like.
So, since I have all that experience, I think it’s only fair I share my top 10 tips for things to do if you want to hire a car and explore. If you want to know even more, comment below and I’ll respond as soon as I can!
Tip No 1: Stay in Haines City
If like us, Disneyland is not high on your agenda, you won’t be disappointed with a villa on Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club in Haines City. Just 20 or so minutes South of Disney (and 30 minutes South of Universal Studios), we think it’s a much better option for top notch accommodation at a cheaper price than you’ll pay at the large resorts. This year we are paying £550 per week for a villa that sleeps 6 people comfortably. Not bad when you consider that you get your own pool with golf views too!
Tip No 2: The best places to eat are not in the parks
Not having kids ourselves, ‘Character Breakfasts’ hold no appeal to us. In fact, we have found that eating in theme parks is not only expensive, but also lacks originality. If you go with Tip No 1 and find yourself staying at Southern Dunes, you won’t find a better steakhouse than Manny’s (Haines City, US-27). I’m not usually one for steak, but these are amazing and the filet mignon (and endless salad bowl) is not to be missed! If seafood is more your thing, take a trip to Red Lobster and indulge in a bucket of snow crab – you won’t find this just anywhere!
Tip No 3: Go on an airboat
If there’s one thing that should be on your bucket list, it’s this! Blue skies, swampland and the odd gator spot is something you can only truly find in Florida. We’ve used lots of tour companies over the years, but I’d say Boggy Creek Airboats win. Not only can you hold their alligators, you can also meet an American Indian.
Tip No 4: Catch a football game
If you’re in Florida during NFL season, why not take a trip to Tampa to see the Buccaneers or Miami to see the Dolphins? I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed American Football (I only go for girlfriend points), but there’s no denying that the atmosphere in the stadium is good fun. If you arrive early enough, you’ll see all the tailgate parties going on too!
Tip No 5: Celebration
Ok, so I said that Orlando wasn’t just about Disney. It’s not, but there is one little bit of Disney I do love – and that is Celebration. In the 1990’s, the Walt Disney Company developed this little town close to its parks. It’s a great place to have a wander, grab a beer (I recommend the Town Tavern) or stay the night in their gorgeous boutique hotel. The town is surrounded by lots of lakes and it’s not unusual to spot wild alligators, snakes and other freaky creatures!
Tip No 6: Go to Anna Maria Island for the day
If you want a day at the beach and don’t mind the 2 or 3 hour drive South West, you won’t beat Anna Maria Island for gorgeous yet uncrowded beaches. We have tried to get accommodation overnight but failed as hotels are scarce, but don’t let this put you off. We had a really good lunch on the pier too – nothing like fresh seafood in the Florida heat.
Tip No 7: If you have to do just one theme park, make it Busch Gardens
Over the past ten years, it’s fair to say we have tried out all of the theme parks that Florida has to offer. In my opinion, Busch Gardens is the best by far, with the fastest coasters and a zoo to boot! It’s well worth the 1.5 hour trip from Orlando to Tampa – or 50 minutes from Haines City. A personal favourite is Cheetah Hunt which reaches speeds of 97 km/h.
Tip No 8: Visit Winter Park for a lazy day
Just an hour North of Orlando is Winter Park; a lovely little getaway for a Sunday afternoon (although every day on holiday is a weekend). You’ll find lots of little boutiques, a great Hagen Daaz store and a cute boat ride which takes you past all of the millionaire mansions! Nothing quite beats the breeze from a boat when it’s as hot as it is in Florida!
Tip No 9: Be a kid at Fun Spot, Old Town
Fun Spot/ Old Town can be found in the heart of Kissimmee. A quiet place during the day with a handful of shops and fairground rides, it really comes to life in the evenings. During the weekends, you can see muscle car rallies and classic car shows, if this is your thing. You can also treat yourself to Slingshot – a human catapult that sends you 360 foot into the sky…..not for the faint hearted! We loved it!
Tip No 10: Fly into Miami, it’s cheaper
……at least that’s what experience has taught us. There are probably a few things to note here: we tend to go later in the year (prices may differ during other months), we fly from Manchester, UK (other airports may run better deals into Orlando or Sanford), we hire a car (this route is no good for those staying in Orlando without transport as it’s a good 3-4 hour journey North) – and lastly, it usually means a stop over in Atlanta. But, if none of that bothers you, good savings can be made. Also, it’s nice to sample the delights of Miami too!