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Tuesday Travels: the Central Florida Edition

Welcome to Tuesday Travels on Traveling with Baby.  Each week, a a cool city will be featured, and a local blogger will guide you through the ins and outs of family vacationing fun.  This weekly tour will help you find the most fun and inexpensive family activities for babies, toddlers, and young children–including the best kept secrets that aren’t on the traveler’s bureau .  This summer’s series features cities from coast to coast, and even Canada!

I always welcome guest blogger participation.  Please contact me if you’d like to join in on Tuesday Travels tours.

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As a central Florida resident for three years, I’ve found some exceptionally cool and hidden treasures in the state whose #1 revenue is tourism.  Sunny beaches, theme parks, citrus fruit sweeter than honey, and manatees are only a few of the gems you’ll find in America’s #1 vacationing spot.

Theme Parks

Want to maximize your fun in the parks without minimizing your wallet?  Check out the MouseSavers site for great tips on visiting anything Disney.  From someone who owned an annual pass and visited all Disney parks year-round, here are my personal tips.

  • Visit in October.  It’s the LEAST crowded time of year, which  means minimal to no lines on rides and shows.
  • The MOST crowded time of year is March-April during spring break season, and Thanksgiving – New Year’s which is the uber-crowded holiday season.
  • Best park for little tykes is Magic Kingdom (which happens to be the most crowded of all the parks year round).
  • Least interesting park for little ones is MGM Studios–lots of thrilling rides for older and taller kids/adults, but not a lot of fun stuff for little pirates and princesses.  However, for date night, MGM Studios has the BEST and most romantic evening show of all the parks.
  • Food is expensive in the parks, but there are ways to make the most of your buck.  I highly recommend the AWESOME turkey legs.  There’s at least one turkey leg stand in each park (except for Epcot).  It’ll fill you up and it’s super tasty.  Lots of “fast” food lunch type options which are cheaper than the sit down restaurants.  You may want a nicer meal once or twice at Disney, but it’s pretty pricey to do it at every meal.  Each park also offers fresh fruit stands among the myriad of fried junk and sugar options.
    • If you DO want to eat at a nice restaurant at Disney, don’t expect to just show up when you’re hungry and have a table available.  Often times, many of the restaurants are booked weeks in advance, especially the best restaurants which are at Epcot.  Call (407) WDW-DINE at LEAST 2 weeks in advance to book a time, table, and restaurant for that special occasion.
    • Some of the most memorable and fun meals are the character meals.  Again, those must be booked in advance.  My nieces and nephew adored having brunch with the Disney princesses inside Cinderella’s castle–we still remember Snow White’s lipstick kiss that stayed on Isaiah’s forehead all day long.
  • If you have little ones, bring a stroller or rent one at the park.

A day pass costs the same as an annual pass at SeaWorld–concerts for the big kids, and rides and shows for all ages.  Of all the theme parks they visited, my nieces and nephew (at the time, ages 3, 7, and 10) loved SeaWorld the best.  Killer whales, dolphins, and sweet roller coaster rides.

For more info on central Florida theme parks (and there are many, many more), visit Florida Theme Parks.

Beaches and a Space Center

Just an hour away, you’ll find the Kennedy Space Center in Cocoa Beach, Florida.  Complete with an IMAX theater, Astronaut Hall of Fame,  flight simulators, tram tours, mini replicas of the space station, this is an attraction not to miss.  Admission is $38 adult/$28 child (ages 3-11) plus tax.  If you time it right, you may even see a rocket or shuttle launch.  Most impressive are the night shuttle launches which look as bright on the horizon as the rising sun.

Swim with the Fishes

There are plenty of places where you can spend $100 to swim with dolphins.  But, you might as well visit Blue Spring, a local state park, and pay only $5 per vehicle to swim with a myriad of freshwater fish in crystal clear spring waters.  If you visit in the cold winter months, you may even see several manatees who migrate to the springs to stay warm.

Daytona Beach

If you like watching cars drive in circles for hours and hours with an ear-splitting roar, then, NASCAR’s for you!  Check out the Daytona International Speedway in nearby Daytona Beach.  Feel like a pro in the NASCAR IMAX theater.

While in Daytona, don’t forget to check out the world’s most famous beach and the incredible Daytona Flea and Farmer’s Market where you can purchase orange blossom honey, peach preserves, and citrus fruit year-round.  My personal favorites are the red sugar navels and the honeybells.  Buy your citrus and honey from Pell’s and your produce and preserves from Jackson’s Groves.  Tell Johnny Jackson and Melanie that Dr. Dolly sent you.  They might even throw in something extra for good measure!

St. Augustine – Old City

Another secret gem is St. Augustine, Florida–the oldest city in the United States!  It’s complete with pedestrian-only cobblestone streets and rich Spanish architecture, the oldest schoolhouse and the oldest house in the U.S.  Visit an old Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos, an Alligator Farm, a winery, an historic hotel for the rich and famous-turned-college (Flagler College) and many other great activities and fantastic restaurants year-round.

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One Response

  1. hey, sorry we dropped the ball on helping out w/the florida edition. but to be honest, we haven’t done anything here except go to the park & the library. though we’ve gone to universal w/the kiddos on my parents dime (which was great fun, though i suspect disney would be even more so w/little kids). Guess the only thing I’d add would be in the “non-tourist” living areas of orlando, there are parks & playgrounds GALORE. When it’s not sweltering hot, it’s lots-o-free-fun. We went to playgrounds nearly everyday during the winter.

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