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 youtravel 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 theWine 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.
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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