Florida is known as the Sunshine State, and with good reason. Located in the south-east of the USA, most of the state is a peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, so there are more beaches than you can shake a stick at. Temperatures are warm year-round, and downright sizzling in the summer months.
If you're looking for a cheap holiday to Florida then Orlando is your best bet, with plenty of direct flights to Orlando from the UK and no end of package deals including accommodation and entrance to the parks. If theme parks aren't your thing, fear not, because from the big-city buzz of trendy Miami and the luxury of West Palm Beach to the wildlife in the Everglades, Florida has it all.
Orlando is a dream holiday destination for families, with plenty of theme parks featuring everything from death-defying rollercoasters and swimming with sharks to shopping for magic wands and getting Mickey's autograph. The parks, including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Magic Kingdom and SeaWorld, just keep getting bigger and better every year. You can save by booking a package holiday that includes entrance to theme parks. There are plenty of ticketing options available too if you prefer to buy when you arrive. You can purchase park 'hopper' tickets that as the name suggests, allow you to hop from one park to another, and these can often be booked through your hotel concierge if you're looking to avoid the queues.
It's not just theme parks in Orlando; shopping at the Florida Mall and the designer outlet stores in Lake Buena Vista is pretty fabulous. There are also countless restaurants offering a wide range of cuisine, and in the evening there's plenty of entertainment at Downtown Disney (child-friendly) and Pleasure Island (not so child-friendly).
The Florida Keys are a line of islands beginning at the south-eastern tip of the Floridian peninsula and stretching out to Key West. In parts just 90 miles from Cuba, the Keys offer a taste of the Caribbean with an American twist. The beaches are beautiful, Key West Cooler cocktails are delicious, and with an average daily temperature of 25°C, you can't go wrong.
On the Atlantic coast you'll find the glamorous West Palm Beach, known for its beautiful beaches, pristine golf courses and designer boutiques. You can take a ferry past the city's opulent mansions to Peanut Island which has plenty of biking and walking paths. Just down the coast is Fort Lauderdale, a hub for art and culture. Visiting the historic riverfront, shopping on Las Olas Boulevard and taking gondola rides on the canals are just some of the relaxing activities Fort Lauderdale has to offer.
Further down the Atlantic coast is the buzzing metropolis of Miami, famous for its art deco hotels and vibrant nightlife. There's a real Cuban influence in the music and the cuisine in this city. As far as beaches go, South Beach is the best-known beach in Miami, known for its brightly-coloured lifeguard stands. Just inland is the Everglades National Park, where you can take guided boat tours and admire the wildlife - just don't get too close!
Not to be repetitive, but mid-way up the Atlantic coast is another area of Florida with world-class beaches. Well, in a state with well over 1,000 miles of coastline, it's only to be expected! Cocoa Beach is the closest beach to Orlando, making it a great day trip away from the theme parks. It's known for its surfing and for its proximity to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Centre. You'll find New Smyrna Beach and Daytona Beach nearby, with excellent surfing conditions and plenty of surf shops dotted around.
We're not forgetting the warm waters of the Gulf and the many attractions on this side of Florida. Sanibel Island is a peaceful retreat with pretty shelling beaches and crystal-clear warm waters. Back on the mainland are St Petersburg, offering stunning white sands and refreshing breezes blowing in from Tampa Bay, and Tampa, where wildlife lovers will enjoy a day out to the Busch Gardens theme park.
You're less likely to find a great deal on a Florida break during the school holidays as prices rise noticeably. It's also much hotter in July and August, while in spring and autumn temperatures will be far milder. It's in the tropics so do expect some rain, but it'll mostly be short, heavy showers in the afternoon while the rest of the day should be nice and sunny. For the ideal combination of good weather and good value Florida deals try September, early March and late April.
The Sunshine State is such a popular holiday destination, particularly among us Brits, that you won't be hard-pushed to find cheap flights to Florida. You can fly from a number of UK airports including Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic operate a large number of flights, but you can also find a range of cheap Florida flights from Monarch and Thomson Flights. Direct flights from London will normally take about nine hours.
Orlando is served by several airports. Orlando International Airport is the closest, followed by Orlando Sanford which is about half an hour's drive north of the city. You could even fly into the airports in Daytona Beach, Melbourne and Tampa, though they're a bit further away. You can also find cheap flights to Miami direct from the UK. Wherever in Florida you're planning to go, it's always a good idea to book as far in advance as possible to get a great deal on flights.
Once you arrive, it's best to book yourself car hire in Florida, as public transport options are few and far between. Some of the resort hotels arrange transport to the theme parks, and in Miami there's the free MetroMover, but generally hiring a car in Florida is the way to go. It's such a huge state and even the Orlando parks are spread miles apart - pedestrians are a rare sight! Hiring a car in Florida will also allow you to see more of the out-of-the-way attractions.
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