Florida Holiday: what to see and do
Don’t be overwhelmed by Florida’s endless options – we’ve handpicked the best cultural, athletic and culinary options in the Sunshine State.
Spain’s grand surrealist is showcased in thrilling style at this fine gallery in St Petersburg. Many of the works here – like The Hallucinogenic Toreador – can be impenetrable even for adults, but a kids’ programme brings them to life for children, with games, clue trails and craft workshops.
Price: Adults £12, teens 13-17 £9, 6-12s £4
Florida’s party city displays its grown-up side in this treasure trove of contemporary art, which has works by American visionaries such as Purvis Young and Joseph Cornell. It also has art sessions for kids on every second Saturday of the month, where young minds can be creative under expert guidance.
Price: General entry £7, under-6s free
Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale
Miami’s neighbour treads a similar path at this impressive gallery, which focuses on 20th-century art in a striking white structure. Children should enjoy the regular family days, which make the exhibits accessible via storytelling, film screenings, games of dominoes, Cuban dancing lessons and even quilt-sewing.
Price: Adults £6, under-13s free
Exhibitions detail the culture of the Seminole people in child-friendly fashion at the Big Cypress Reservation, in the Everglades.
Price: Adults £6, kids £4.50
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For all its reputation as a state obsessed with beaches and theme parks, Florida also boasts myriad great museums and historic sites. Trouble is, your kids won’t be interested – or will they? The following cultural landmarks all do their bit to engage junior attentions.
For the dedicated young culture vulture, there is but one destination – Sarasota, where the superb opera house runs a three-week Youth Opera Summer Camp in June, introducing kids to the highest of the arts
Price: £176; no experience necessary
Alternatively, Sarasota also has this zany hotspot, dedicated to acrobatics, juggling and high-wire trickery. More daring children may want to sign up for the conservatory’s Circus Summer Camps, where they can learn clowning and trapeze skills. Sessions, aimed at would-be performers aged 6-15, run between June and August. One-week courses start at £167.
Price: Regular shows, adults £7.50, kids £6
If the idea of cocooning your kids in an art gallery seems implausible, Bradenton Riverwalk may be a better option – a 1.5-mile promenade along the Manatee River where 19 sculptures are delightfully interactive. Children can experiment with acoustics and the way noises move by standing between the ‘Sound Dishes’, pound at the steel instruments of the ‘Drum Yard’ – or dance damply in the ‘Splash Pad’ fountains.
St. Augustine was America’s first city, and its guardian, the Castillo de San Marcos, is the country’s oldest fort – founded in 1672. Demonstrations of weapons used by 18th-century soldiers, muskets and cannon, give a dose of boom and bang to visits every Friday, Saturday and Sunday (10.30am-3.30pm).
Price: Adults £4, under-15s free
Florida’s history started long before European settlement. Online resource The Trail of Florida’s Indian Heritage does a good job of pinpointing the state’s key indigenous sites – 66 in all.
For something a little different, a peat bog near Titusville where 168 skeletons dating back 6,000 years were discovered in 1982 – pulls America’s tale back into the mists of time. Extra information is provided by the Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science
Price: Adults £3.50, kids 5-16 £2.75
Try the boardwalk trail
For families seeking more athletic fun on land, there are cycling boardwalks and trails on almost every corner. Based in the Winter Garden suburb of Orlando, West Orange Trail Bikes offers cycles to those who want to ride the West Orange Trail, which follows Lake Apopka for 22 miles. Key Largo Bike Tours, meanwhile, runs an Islamorada Sightseeing Bicycle Tour every Sunday. It’s a three-mile jaunt in the north of the Florida Keys, which ends with a beach cook-out.
Another sort of day in the saddle is also viable. Perched south of Orlando in Kissimmee, Horse World offers undemanding Nature Trail forays into the lake-laced landscape, which swells up here. Children of four are allowed to mount their own horse, and younger children can ride with an adult. Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides offers a similar service at Ocala, north-west of Orlando.
Price: At Horse World, kids on their own horse cost £27; younger kids riding with an adult cost £10. Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides cost from £27 a head, minimum age six.
Football – or soccer, to use the favoured American term – is gaining a firm foothold in the USA, to the point that David Beckham is in talks to establish an MLS (Major League Soccer) club in the state, probably in Miami. For now, those who wish to boost their skills should head to Orlando City Soccer Club, which is due to become an MLS side in 2015. It runs summer camps (June and July) for youngsters aged five to 14 in locations around the city.
Tuition is also on hand at the IMG Academy Bradenton, which covers golf, athletics and baseball, but is best known for being part of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy (NBTA). Stars including Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams have passed through here, and budding grand-slammers aged eight to 19 can follow their leads via one-week summer camps (May to August).
Price: Orlando City Soccer Club one-week courses cost £164 per student. IMG Academy Bradenton summer camps cost from £921 per person.
Join the crowd
Sport can also be a spectator pastime, particularly in the US, where even big matches are family-friendly, with regular time-outs and plenty of scope for hotdogs and popcorn.
Florida is festooned with sizeable teams. Three NFL (National Football League) clubs compete at the shoulder-pads version of ‘football’ – the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers – with the season running between September and February. Two MLB (Major League Baseball) sides – the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays – put bat to ball from March to October.
Basketball holds court from October to June. Two Florida teams – Miami Heat and Orlando Magic – play in the NBA (National Basketball Association).
Fun on the water
With the dual coastline as a playground, Florida’s focus is often on the waterfront. Surfboards and kayaks can be rented in just about every seafront town, and Sea Kayak Florida is a comprehensive resource that lists possible paddling routes. Alternatively, for children who prefer bigger boats, Sarasota Sailing Squadron does summer camps that teach would-be seadogs to operate vessels under sail.
Price: Sarasota’s 12-day courses – a Tadpoles programme for 5-7 year-olds and an Optimist package for children aged 8-12s – run between June and August at £206 a head. Registration for Sarasota Sailing Squadrom’s 2015 camps opens in March.
Of course, you don’t need the ocean for watersports. Paddleboard Orlando offers jaunts along the canals of Winter Park, where you stand on a board and push forwards using a long oar. It has real fitness benefits, but is also fun for families (with many opportunities to fall in).
Price: Beginners’ trips cost £21
Tee off in style
Alligators are a factor at Smugglers Cove, a mini-golf franchise with outlets in Fort Myers, Bradenton, Sarasota, Tampa and Clearwater. Here, the scaly creatures are part of the backdrop to 18 holes themed around pirates and water features, and kids are allowed to feed them (under controlled conditions) once the putting is over.
Jet pack adventure
Florida Keys operator Tiki Jet also works wonders with the ocean. Based at Islamorada, it offers daring souls the opportunity to strap on a device that looks like something from a Bond film – jet packs that propel their wearers to a height of 30ft using pressurised bursts of water (via durable hoses linked to a boat below; ‘flying’ is always done over the sea). Participants must be at least 4ft 9in.
Price: A 30-minute ‘flight’ cost £146
Dry land has its moments in enclaves such as Myakka River State Park, near Sarasota, where a 74ft tower and a canopy walkway offer fine views. In fact, families can find much to like if they look up. TreeUmph is a high-ropes course in Bradenton where kids and parents clamber onto swinging logs and throw themselves into nets. In the north-east, meanwhile, St Augustine Alligator Farm has Crocodile Crossing, where swinging ladders and ziplines stretch over reptile pits (don’t worry, you can’t fall).
Price: There are routes at Myakka River State Park for children aged seven to 11 (£7.50), and for adults (from £23.50). At St Augustine Alligator Farm, participants must be 10 to try the Septik River Course (£21) or the advanced Nile River Course (£38).
Tempted to try water sports a little closer to home? Check out Center Parcs de Eemhof in Holland.
There’s no point in denying that, when it comes to food, America has something of an image problem. A mountain of burgers, fries and high-fat snacks rears up in the mind’s eye – dinnertime heaven for any child, but a prospect far from paradise for many parents.
Happily, Florida is a state where you can go on holiday with your offspring and still eat healthily, especially if you opt for the relaxed situation of a self-catering apartment by the sea.
Moreish food markets
There are numerous markets, where you can buy fresh produce and just-caught seafood, in waterfront towns and cities.
Flagler Beach Farmer’s Market: On the Atlantic coast, every Friday and Saturday, you can grab slabs of local seabass and loaves of bread.
Fort Pierce Farmer’s Market: Located in Fort Pierce, also on the Atlantic, every Saturday this market sells fruits, honey and barbecued meats.
The Wild Ocean Seafood Market: Open daily, this market has bases in Titusville and Port Canaveral, with Florida rock shrimp, as well as mahi mahi and tuna, a speciality.
Morton’s Gourmet Market: A deluxe deli in Sarasota, open daily, with a Gourmet To Go range of dishes – Moroccan chicken, Crabmeat quiche, Beef Stroganoff – that can be taken away for an afternoon by the beach.
Fabulous food festivals
Finding lunch can also be family fun at the many food festivals around the state. The Gulf coast revels in gastronomic celebrations that come with added entertainments.
The Stone Crab Festival: Open enery October in Naples, this festival doles out a grand array of tasty crustaceans, along with live music and kids’ games.
Panama City Beach Lobster Festival: This festival is where lobsters are prepared in almost every conceivable manner – gumbo, bisque, paella – alongside a sand-sculpting contest, where people create outlandish shapes on the shore. Festival runs every September.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival: Miami joins the fray with their wine & food festival in February. The wine part appeals to parents and there are lots of fun events for youngsters. The city’s Jungle Island animal park is usually invovled, with shows where chefs give out cooking tips for families, and interactive kitchens that let kids try for themselves.
Are you a family of foodies? Check out New York City’s best food stands, or discover why kids love French food.