Florida - where to go/cost

#1
I want to take my family to the USA and always fancied Florida.
If I can raise the cash I would want to know where is good for Family that wont cost the earth.
If we go for 3 weeks with a car I want to travel around and as a photographer take some pictures that I could use to sell back here and rec over some of the costs.
Any advice welcome...
 
#2
Most families stay around Orlando for the convenience to the theme parks. Eating out is cheap and with the £ v $ rate it is even better at the moment. A car is essential - it's a must have.

West coast Fl has got Clearwater, Naples & St Petersburg which are all lovely for beaches etc. So consider doing a 2 centre holiday.

East coast Fl has got the Kennedy Space Centre, Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Take care in Miami like you would in any big city back here. There are good and bad parts.
Further south you have got the Florida Keys - worth a visit just to go to Key West and have a beer in 'Sloppy Joes' on Duval St.

I assume you are serving HM Forces so take your MoD 90, as that will get you free access for you and the family into Sea World and Bursch Gardens. Make sure you stay for the Samu show at night as its is fantastic. I don't think it will help you for access to Disney of Universal Studios but try it and see.

Just do it - you will enjoy yourselves.

TZA
 
#3
Just been last month with the family,kids age range 9-15.Second time we've been and beats the other hols by a mile in my opinion.

We went for the theme park scenario and stayed self catering in Kissimmee,(it's so cheap to eat out there it semed pointless paying hotel prices and being tied down to meal times etc)

Not a cheap holiday by any means but can be done by arranging it all yourself on the web far cheaper than using a travel agent.
It was so good we are planning to go again next year if I raid the couch for loose change.
Have a look at http://www.kissimmee-us192.com/ it gives good advice for Brits and a general feel of the place.
Best time of the year to aviod apparently is around July when they have hurricanes and storms.
 
#5
For photography, head up to St Augustine. Tons of Spanish architecture with the mortar made from shells, trees with ancient spanish moss hanging from them, big plantation type architecture juxtaposed against the poverty of the tar paper houses. Place is touted to have been the place where Ponce de Leon landed in his search for the Fountain of Youth.

Everglades is another photographic gem.

Jacksonville is the naval base, Pensicola is the Naval Airbase for mil type pics.

Avoid Daytona, Miami during the spring break from university and colleges.

Tampa/Gulf side is more humid than the Atlantic side. January on the Atlantic side can be iffy weather wise, it can be unseasonally cooler, so if you want heat, head to the Gulf side.

Hurricane season runs from May to Sept. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ (and that should be a consideration for folks planning on visiting the eastern seaboard of the USA and the maritime region of Canada.)
 
#6
TangoZeroAlpha said:
I assume you are serving HM Forces so take your MoD 90, as that will get you free access for you and the family into Sea World and Bursch Gardens. Make sure you stay for the Samu show at night as its is fantastic. I don't think it will help you for access to Disney of Universal Studios but try it and see.

Just do it - you will enjoy yourselves.

TZA
HI Thanks for that, I handed in my Mod 90 back in 1993, Im an amputee now. Maybe they do concessions for disabled?
Would I be right in thinking £2500 for flights?
 
#7
I don't have any details, but there was some talk of a retired Forces ID card not that long ago. A quick google reveals a company doing a "veterans recognition card" - you have to subscribe and it is £27.50 for the first year (which always makes me suspicious), but the example card has a picture of 'Bonking' Bob Stewart on it, so with a high-profile chunky-pundit like that on board it might be reasonable. It looks official, and is certainly official enough to convince any casual desk clerk in the USofA so it might be worth subscribing to it before you go - you will almost certainly save that £27.50 almost immediately when you go to hire your car, then just flash it in restaurants, shops, hotels, theme parks and anywhere else - 9 times out of 10 it'll work! Oh, and wear your last Op T Shirt - it didn't get me a discount, but it gets you into conversation with loads of people who are genuinely grateful to us Brits.
BRITISH VETERANS LINKY
 
#8
I have stayed in both Kissimee and International drive. I would look at doing my own holiday including flights and maybe hotel accom. You will have to shop around a bit and will depend on your budget and size of family.

I know in Soldier magazine there are ads for villas in Florida. Last time I went I never hired a car. I had been a few times previously and knew what I wanted to see. I had done seaworld and Busch gardens previously so never bothered with that.

I could see no point in it when it would be parked up 90% of the time. It worked out cheaper to get a taxi to Universal etc.

Worth planning and seeing if it would be worthwhile hiring a car or getting a taxi.

When I took my son last time I visited, we sat down each night with the maps of KSC and Universal etc and planned the following day. We walked about 10 mile a day around the theme parks.

No doubt many valuable pointers will follow.
 
#9
ThorTaylor said:
TangoZeroAlpha said:
I assume you are serving HM Forces so take your MoD 90, as that will get you free access for you and the family into Sea World and Bursch Gardens. Make sure you stay for the Samu show at night as its is fantastic. I don't think it will help you for access to Disney of Universal Studios but try it and see.

Just do it - you will enjoy yourselves.

TZA
HI Thanks for that, I handed in my Mod 90 back in 1993, Im an amputee now. Maybe they do concessions for disabled?
Would I be right in thinking £2500 for flights?
Take your disabled blue badge with you as well. Not sure if it's officially allowed to be used in the US but my father used his no problem when he visited us in Florida.

Expect heavy rain and high humidity in the summer months. For me the best months were March to May.

St Augustine is nice and about a two hour drive from Orlando, with a couple of outlet malls nearby for the missus. Not really worth going the extra 30 miles north to Jacksonville though.

Edited to add: The World of Golf is nearby to St Augustine as well, which is definitely worth a visit if you're a golfer. http://www.wgv.com/
 
#10
Thor:

I just got back last night after 2 weeks at my condo in Largo (near Claerwater) Perfect weather right now 82-83F days, 70-72Fnights.

I went to Busch Gardens in December with my God-kids, 6 and 11. Great time with the kids. Not as big as Disney but shorter lines.

Disnney/Epcot is the big one. Pricy but great. You mention that you are an amputee. Disney is really great to people with any sort of disability. On most rides, shows, etc persons with disabilities and their party are pulled out of line and go to the front of the line. I am not sure of any discounts available as Disney pricing is complex but if you have any official document that you are disabled vet bring it along and ask. Disney rents wheelchairs and those electric scooter things, by the way.

You might want to check out "Shades of Green" resort at Disney, owned as a military recreation facility. Eligibility is complicated. I looked at rules and it would not seem to cover you but try asking nicely as a disabled vet from allied military and they might squeese you in under some loophole or other. I am eligible to stay there but the entire resort is no smoking and I smoke.

Naples is a very pretty city and a very nice area a couple of hours south of Tampa.

Last year I went to the Everglades dragged there by my son who had been there the year before with his girlfriend. It is a super place to visit. I have never been anyplace like it. Strange tropical flowers growing on the branches of trees, birds and other wildlife. At the "Shark Valley" visitor centre we took a tour that was very much worth the price ($10?) and saw wonderful wildlife and more 'gators than I could believe.

If on the west coast try for visit and dinner in Tarpon Springs. It is sort of a Greek fishing village dropped onto the Florida coast. Great Greek food. Try "Mykonos" small, plain great food and most of the customers are Greek, which should tell you something. After dinner walk down Blvd. Dodecanese and get Greek pastry. Lots of shops selling shells and sponges.

Sanibel Island has beautiful beaches and great shell hunting. It was a lovely place but I have heard a hurricane a couple of years ago destroyed a lot of palms.

Weather: if you are there in the summer, plan on a thunder storm every afternoon. Intense but brief. If at Disney plan an indoor activity for that time.
 
#11
Really, really, don't plan to go there during the hurricane season. Trust me on this.


...oh, and if you like fast and bad food, it's paradise. Luckily, in most places there's a few good restaurants, but you have to search for them.
 
#12
Whiskeybreath said:
Really, really, don't plan to go there during the hurricane season. Trust me on this.


...oh, and if you like fast and bad food, it's paradise. Luckily, in most places there's a few good restaurants, but you have to search for them.
And I concur. I sat out Hurricane Frances at my condo in 2004. I was there with a friend and we spent the day watching the palm trees fall and the carports disintegrate and fly all over the place including 12 inches from my sliding glass door. No electricity, electric stove and nothing to eat but pasta (can't do that raw!). No damage to the condo and Hertz did not charge me for the car the carport fell on. It could have been worse but not a fun day.

Food not quite as bleak as Whiskeybreath says IMHO. If you look there are are a lot of good places as well as the bad ones.
 
#13
DavidBOC said:
And I concur. I sat out Hurricane Frances at my condo in 2004. I was there with a friend and we spent the day watching the palm trees fall and the carports disintegrate and fly all over the place including 12 inches from my sliding glass door. No electricity, electric stove and nothing to eat but pasta (can't do that raw!). No damage to the condo and Hertz did not charge me for the car the carport fell on. It could have been worse but not a fun day.
.
Me too. Fortunately no damage but lost power and a/c for three days which was a bit of bore. Now I've replaced hurricanes with earthquakes here in CA.
 
#14
I am going to Florida on thursday, this is my 6th trip so that makes me a bit of a veteran. Organising yourself to travel is cheap, but for first timers the luxury of a travel agent is one you should consider. Without any doubt, the cheapest decent operater in the UK is travel city direct. My boss has just returned from one of their hols and he reckons it was as professional as any other outfit. We go from manchester on thursday, 2 weeks basic hotel on Int Drive, economy seats, double baggage each (40kg), in resort check in to save queueing at the airport, upgraded car and insurance (car insurance essential) and travel insurance.... all for £1450 quid. Over 2 grand for same deal with MyTravel/TCook.
Park tickets are best bought in advance, around £140 gets a 2 week Seaworld/Universal/Busch/Wet&Wild ticket. £160 gets a 2 week all Disney Park ticket. £150 each to swim one day with dolphins (expensive but good). Food is basic and cheap, Photo opportunities in the parks are manufactured to be perfect, but not really any commercial value. On the coasts, beaches are great but plain and flat, photos no value. Many many people have walked before you so any florida photos are pretty low value.
Shopping for clothes/ipods/sports kit is cheap, dollars for pounds usually so half price. Overall a great holiday, great value, but not cheap for a family!!
 
#15
Don't splash out on a pricey hotel in the Orlando area- you'll never be there. Just make sure that the beds are clean and the pool doesn't look like minestrone soup and you'll be fine.

Used to go there a fair bit as a kid with my parents. The usual drill was a fly/drive. Figure out the first couple of night's accom and then bimble about to your heart's content.

Disney et al caught on a while ago to the fact that nobody has the energy to go to theme parks for 2 weeks straight, so they've thrown in access to their water parks as an incentive to keep you in the Orlando area and it's a good way to recharge your batteries whilst still having fun. I used to complain about heading off to the quiet Gulf Coast when I was an ankle biter, but now I can see the logic in it. (And, old leathery-looking people- and Ctauch- aside, it is quite nice over there.)

Depending on the time of year, you might want to consider a day or two staying Daytona/Cocoa Beach if you're going to the Kennedy Space Center.

I wouldn't bother with Miami unless you're coke-head, a homo or the missus doesn't mind you ogling birds with big, plastic tits. The kids will be bored sh1tless and a pain in the arse.

Key West is full of homs too.
 
#16
Ft Myers/Sanibel Island is nice you can get a 2 bed 2 bath full kitchen, dining room living room accoms for about $1600 a week. Search for Lighthouse and Sanibel Beach Club resorts and go from there. Ft Myers now offers a high speed ferry to Key West and is about 1.5-2 hours drive from Everglades and Miami, 3-4 hours from Tampa and 5 hours from Orlando.

Crystal River is nice as well and accoms are reasonable and it is about 1.5 - 2 hours drive west of dizzy world.

I found that if you do dizzy world you look at booking the value resort, they come with all the getting early stay late perks and are quite reasonable and nice accoms. check their web site for package deals, but what ever you do only stay 3 days at the most 4, any longer and it turns from happiest place on earth to your worst nightmare.
 
#17
DavidBOC said:
Thor:

I just got back last night after 2 weeks at my condo in Largo (near Claerwater) Perfect weather right now 82-83F days, 70-72Fnights.
Largo is crap, the construction on Ulmerton Rd makes it near impossible to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. Clearwater is crap construction and limited parking on the beach makes it all a pain. Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Islands are nice. If you are looking for reasonable rates and access to Tampa and Orlando look at North Pinellas, Palm Harbor and Oldsmar. Get's you to most places in Tampa in about 20-30 minutes and Tarpon Springs in about 10-20 minutes.
 
#18
use ur mod 90 at seaworld/bush gardens to get in for free plus two dependants i think,
u need to register in the lobby at one of them though!
 
#19
Anna Maria Island is very nice, though I've no idea what things rent for there these days. Lots of beaches though, and free parking, and on off season is not too crowded.
 
#20
Although I disagree with ctauch about some things I do agree that Caladesi Island State Park and Honeymoon Island State Park are very nice and have never been crowded when I am there. You get to them from Dunedin, driving down a causeway to Honeymoon Island and then parking and taking a ferry to Caladesi Island. Quite unspoiled for the gulf coast.
Info is here clicky

If on the west coast you could go a little further north to Homosassa State Park Info here( clicky) and see manatee which are large gentle endangered sea mammals. If you are certified as a scuba diver there are places to rent equipment and swim with them and also see lots of fish attracted to the underwater limestone wall of the spring, sort of a shimmering curtain of fish at the spring wall. My son my (now ex) wife and son are certified and had a great time diving there.

If you try the east coast of Florida the area from Boca Raton to Palm Beach is pretty and nice. Palm Beach is pricy but there are nice areas on the water. In the small town of Highland Beach, next to Boca, there is one hotel, a Holiday Inn IIRC. Surrounding area is upscale residential and the beach is nice. I have not been there since my Mom and aunt passed away but a very nice area.

Clearwater Beach is crowded and busy nowadays and the town of Clearwater is very odd indeed. Clearwater is sort of the Vatican of the Church of Scientology and they have taken over most of downtown. Their security force "Sea Org" is omnipresent and wear replicas of USN officers uniforms. An entire Walt thread could be devoted to them. Odd place to me.

Hope you have a good time.

Edited to add: If you take the kids to the beach on the gulf coast it is a good idea to scuff your feet along as you enter the water as a resting sting ray will be quite annoyed if you step on it. If a school of sting rays comes along stand still and they rays will swim right around you but you will feel their leathery wings brushing you. My kid loved this when he was little.
 

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