Meet A Florida Free From Theme Parks
Four fun, frugal Florida vacations for those who want more than Disney.
I do my best to embrace winter. I've recruited my blogging friends to help me write about all the amazing things you do when you travel in the heart of winter. I've eaten Beavertails on the Rideau Canal - the world's longest skating rink. And I've traveled to amazing winter destinations around the world. But I'm also a proud Canadian - and that means dreaming of a warm escape is in my DNA! And for most Canadians, there's no winter avoidance destination quite as affordable as Florida.
Whether you're heading to Orlando, Miami, Tampa, or further afield, Canadians can find cheap flights to Florida, plenty of value priced (and delicious!) food, great road trip opportunities, and bargain basement priced attractions. There's just one catch - none of it is in a theme park. My friends have always given glowing reports about Disney, except for one thing: the price. Even basic theme park passes can make your budget soar. So with all due respect to Cinderella and Snow White, this girl's recommending four Florida vacations that are completely cartoon free.
Where the wild things are: Everglades National Park
Home to manatees, crocodiles, and even panthers, Everglades National Park may just contain the best wildlife anywhere in North America - no zoo required! All told, 15 threatened or endangered species call the park home. This incredible natural space is a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance. Visitors can undertake self guided hikes, bike rides, and even canoeing but the real treat here is the ranger led programs, complete with boat and tram tours. There are bird walks, croc talks, python talks (wait, what!??!), starlight hikes, wilderness walks, historical tours of the Nike Missile Site, cycling tours (both sunrise and full moon), and even fishing lessons! And a 7 day pass is just $10!
Miami minus the madness: Biscayne National Park
Want an incredible time at the water without the party scene of Miami's beaches? If you like to accessorize your swimwear with snorkel gear instead of stilettos and makeup (seriously, Miami?) head next door to Biscayne National Park. 95% of the park is underwater, making boats and fins your primary means of seeing park's natural wonders. (Don't despair: there are some car-friendly sights as well). Biscayne features art exhibits, family canoe trips, manatee walks, guided snorkeling excursions, guided walks, and more. Definitely my kind of beach scene!
All Park Avenue, no theme parks, in Orlando
Don't get me wrong, I love Mickey and friends as much as the next person and I think a trip to Disney and the surrounding theme parks is a great way to get in touch with your inner 5 year old. But if you want to experience something more sophisticated (and affordable), head to Orlando's Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. Inside, you'll find the world's largest collection of Tiffany glass, along with pottery, jewelry, windows and more. You'll feel like a millionaire and it will only cost you $5 (or nothing at all if you visit on a Friday night in November through April) .
To make a day of it and feel even fancier, head to the Wine Room, where there are over 150 wines connected to a self-operated tasting machine, plus delicious artisan cheeses. You won't find that at the Magic Kingdom!
Tampa's food scene is hotter than its weather
Affordable travel doesn't necessarily mean a steady diet of fast food fare and nowhere in Florida is proving this like Tampa. There's a growing appreciation for local, organic fare and it's heartening to see the community come together to support new chefs. Local spots to check out include:
Datz Gastropub: The perfect mix of trendy and comfort food. Fried chicken with honey pecan butter and Belgian waffles is $18
The Bricks of Ybor: Great for lunch with tons of inventive sandwiches. A veggie Cuban is $8, brisket with cheddar is $11 (both include a choice of side like potato salad or slaw)
Boca Hyde Place: With locally sourced dairy and produce and house grown greens, they might just have the best cheeseburger and meatloaf in town (starting at $14) but there's tons of fresh veggie options as well.
The area also has a lot of great markets and gourmet food shops, perfect if you're traveling by RV. It gives you fantastic freedom to explore the region and not compromise on your fun - or foodie experiences.If you want an RV Rental Tampa is the perfect base to start exploring Florida.
A Florida for travelers, as well as tourists.
There's nothing at all wrong with going to Florida as part of a tour group or with a package deal. In fact, you can find some great deals that way! But if you're looking for a more under-the-radar experience, there are incredible experiences to be had in Florida, adventures that focus on nature, food, and art. If Disney isn't your thing, you can still escape winter and there's still plenty of fun to be had in the sun.
What's your favourite off-the-beaten-path activity in Florida? What would you recommend as an alternative to Disney?
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28/1/2015 09:26:23 am
My current favorite off-the-beaten-path activity in Florida is the last thing I did in Florida--an Everglades road trip. Starting in Miami and driving to Naples. Stop along the way for a fan boat ride at Buffalo Tiger's (it is on the reservation, so there are fewer...rules). An amazing experience. Continue on through Big Cypress National...something. Rec area? State park? Anyway, you have to pass through Big Cypress if you stay on 41, which you have to do because there are no other roads. Stop at the stopping places and go for walks along marsh boardwalks. End the day in Naples, watching the sun set over the water (like in Key West, people clap). Highly recommend doing all of this in a convertible. On an 83 degree day in January. Not that that's what I did or anything.
28/1/2015 09:32:13 am
Those are all such awesome suggestions - that sounds like the perfect road trip. I want to travel with you!
28/1/2015 09:30:34 am
Great article. Our family on a budget so cheap hotel and flights are a must. How do you narrow yourself down?!
28/1/2015 09:32:51 am
There are so many amazing options in Florida - hope you get there soon.
28/1/2015 03:37:58 pm
This list is a great resource! I had no idea that Tampa was such a foodie scene!
29/1/2015 12:30:10 am
It is! In fact, I could have done a list of at least a dozen great restaurants - maybe for a follow up post.
29/1/2015 12:54:29 am
So glad to hear it! Do you have a trip to Florida planned for this year?
29/1/2015 01:41:55 am
I love Florida! Even passing through is a treat! I would do the Biscayne park trip any day!! I love to snorkel and the kids enjoy underwater activities and even just exploring.
29/1/2015 02:50:13 am
I always think of snorkeling as something you can only do when you go really far away - like Hawaii or Australia - so it's nice to know there's some options for a closer location to me.
Florida is such a beautiful State, and the temperate weather makes for a chance to see some unique flora and fauna, things you simply don't find further north. My favourite non-theme park attraction is the Ringling Brother Museum in Sarasota. (Kids are only $5, it's $25 for adults. You get access to the Circus History Museum, the Art Museum, the Ringling Mansion and sixty-some acres of gardens).
29/1/2015 02:51:12 am
That museum sounds so unique and interesting. I admit I'd never heard of it before but I love visiting one of a kind places and I'll definitely put this on my list of places to check out.
Thanks for the intro to Biscayne National Park, beautiful! I haven't been to Florida is years but want to include it in a multi state road trip. I think most people think of Disney and snow birds when thinking of Florida. When in fact, its a small part of what the state has to offer.
2/2/2015 04:05:03 am
I think it would make the perfect roadtrip - there's nothing like celebrating the end of a drive by dipping your feet in the ocean.
7/2/2015 07:35:29 pm
Thank you for this informative post! I'll admit that I've never really associated Florida with much else other than the theme parks. Those two national parks look amazing!
9/2/2015 01:21:32 am
Aren't they incredible - I had no idea there were so many animals and diverse plants in Florida.
9/2/2015 01:02:01 am
A few of my families favorite Florida trips include the awesome and beautiful Jacksonville Zoo and Pensacola. Pensacola has the great and FREE Naval Air Museum that is fun and education for the whole family. Kids can touch, there's a whole area of cockpits for them to play in and an indoor play area. The grown ups have free guided tours that are full of facts. Hit it during the Blue Angel practice season and you can watch them from behind the museum. The beaches are amazing and there's plenty of great food. Bagels at Bagelheads with a view of the water, Grits a YA YA at the FishHouse, sushi at Dharma Blue, Steaks at Jackson's, Seafood at Joe Patti's market, beer and pizza at Hopjacks. I could go on and on!
9/2/2015 01:30:45 am
I am absolutely in love with this list - what fantastic suggestions! My Florida list just got a lot longer :-)
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