Branded as a “Sunshine State”, Florida has perpetually great weather even through the winter (although we experienced a chilly front for a few days, it never dipped below 15 °C). Surrounded by the southernmost east coast of the country, it is home to some great cities and beautiful beaches. Florida also plays host to beautiful historical areas (which to North American standards, means no more than 500 years old).
Orlando is a beacon of consumerism with its theme parks and shopping malls. If you’re into Disney, there are a variety of parks and rides to choose from. In my opinion, you only need a one-day pass to get the full experience; take the monorail between the parks and do stay for the fireworks.
I’m not really into theme parks but Universal Studios has cool rollercoasters, simulation rides, and the magical Harry Potter World. I’d suggest going late so its cooler and the queues are much shorter. For some retail therapy, it’s worth checking out the premium outlet malls where you can find major discounts on American brands like Nike (I found some trainers for $39!)
Around 2 hours from Orlando is the heritage town of St. Augustine, a surprisingly well-preserved Spanish settlement gem. The first view from the bridge is so unexpected – as you begin to see the fort, cathedral, lighthouse, jail-turned-museum, and old Slave Market – and so distinct from the rest of the modern state.
We took another two hours trip from Orlando to visit a friend near Cocoa Beach. As a Florida local she took us to the wetlands and on an amazing airboat at the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp on St. John’s River to see the wildlife. We saw so many stunning birds (Pelicans, Storks, Herons, Sandpipers, etc.) and about 10 alligators!
We also ended up going to Tampa for a few days. To be honest it’s not worth spending too much time, but some of the highlights were taking a water-taxi down the Hillsborough River and seeing points of interest, such as the intriguing Moorish architecture of the University of Tampa. And make sure to take a ride on a streetcar (not named Desire) to Ybor City, a Historic Latin, Cuban, and Spanish Quarter where you can see cigars being made and walk back in time through the musty vintage shops.
St. Petersburg is another beautiful town, located in the Tampa Bay Area that features lots of interesting culture. We went to the Dali Museum where there was a fascinating exhibition on the life of Frida Kahlo.
In between Tampa and Orlando, there is Cape Canaveral, the hub of the NASA Space Kennedy centre. The visitor complex is huge! We saw building stations, historic launch sites, and the control room of the first successful mission. Of course we also got to see the space suits and the actual rockets.