Orlando needs no introduction – it’s the city of year-round sunshine where theme parks were as good as invented.
But there’s a lot more to family holidays in Florida than white-knuckle rides and Cinderella’s Castle.
Direct flights from London to Orlando and Miami year-round.
December temperatures in Orlando are between 17°C and 21°C.
Orlando has more theme parks than any other US city, and Disney World is Florida’s largest single employer.
The Florida Keys have a Caribbean climate. There are up to seven direct flights from Miami to the Bahamas daily; flight time is 55 minutes.
The Everglades National Park is the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the US and covers over 6,000km² in the south of Florida.
Florida’s Gulf Coast has 10 of the US’s top 25 beaches, including Clearwater, Siesta Beach and Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs.
Florida’s 2,170km coastline is the second-longest in the US (after Alaska), and it’s the only state to have shores on both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.
Family-friendly Florida is packed with holiday accommodation, from all-inclusive and theme-park resorts in Orlando to beautiful, beachy estates on the Gulf Coast, and luxury hotels along the waterfront in Miami. Self-catering is good value right across the state, and many larger resorts offer independent villas, apartments and family suites.
With more theme parks than any other US city, some of the state’s largest designer outlet malls, immense resort hotels and endless chain restaurants, Orlando is Florida’s family-holiday capital.
The warm, sunny beaches and pretty towns along the Gulf of Mexico are a very different holiday experience from Orlando. Watersports, cute seaside resorts, museums and galleries, excellent family restaurants and stunning clear-blue seas are the main attractions here. A week in Orlando and a week on the Gulf is a popular combination for UK families, and works well if you have teenagers and younger kids.
Alpha city Miami is thrilling to visit and packed with sights, from Little Havana to South Beach. It’s big and bold, so not the choice for a simple, sand-between-your-toes holiday. But teenagers love the energy, fantastic and fascinating places to eat, amazing galleries and museums, historic districts and sheer colour of Miami. If you’re thinking of a two-base Florida break with older kids, put Miami last or you’ll never drag them away.
The mysterious and lovely Florida Keys are a good choice for easygoing outdoor adventure, world-class watersports and Caribbean weather. Not every Key is ideal for families, so choosing a base and visiting the others is the best way to work a holiday here.
The jury’s always out on the world’s most famous theme park: kids either love it or they’re disappointed after all the hype. Cut down on the latter by booking ahead for rides and experiences, as the queues can seem endless. Disney World
If you don’t have an issue with the concept, this is one of the best Orlando all-rounders. The Dolphin Nursery is enchanting. SeaWorld
Orlando is packed with waterparks, but this one is exceptional. Expect to go more than once. Blizzard Beach
You can dip into the edges, explore by car or be guided by experts on boats and trains – it’s all spectacular, strange and unforgettable for youngsters. Everglades
About as close as you can get to everything marine, from penguins to dolphins via dozens of other sea creatures. The Seaquarium conservation-centred and the team are amazing with kids. Miami Seaquarium
World-class collection of the artist’s work, awe-inspiring building and a superb programme of family activities and events with surreal themes – naturally. Dali Museum
Not in the same league as the Orlando offerings but very well done, lots of interesting things to see and do and very interactive. Shipwreck Museum
A cageless environment with surprisingly big wildlife, considering. The zoo is very safe and well managed, and regularly has the cutest babies in residence. Miami Zoo
This award-winning art gallery and exhibition space has events year-round and the building alone is worth a visit. PAMM
You’ll get about as close to these prehistoric beasts as you want to, but the keepers aren’t so cautious, and alligator-wrestling is just one bold performance here. Gatorland
Hire a car to travel around outside cities. Downtown Orlando and city-centre Miami have excellent public transport. If you’re planning to stay in more than one area, domestic flights connect most of Florida’s cities. And you really can’t get about the Keys without driving.