By Susan & Simon Veness
It is a refrain we have heard again and again over the years. “When is the right time to visit Florida?” If we had a penny for every time we’ve been asked, we would be around £23.57 richer.
But that’s just by the by. If you’ve heard us before, you’ll already know there is no wrong time to come to the Sunshine State, it’s just a case of finding the optimum time for YOU. Every month has its charms and, occasionally, its drawbacks (heat, crowds, etc), hence it is largely a question of what type of holiday you are looking for.
Escaping the British Winter?
Yes, yes, and thrice yes. If there is ever a time to get away from the cold, the wet, the grey and the icy, it is the start of the New Year. January is simply the best time NOT to be in the UK. You’ve heard of S.A.D. (or Seasonal Affective Disorder)? Well, it is at its peak in the depths of the first month of the year, hence you need an effective way to combat it.
When you remember Florida’s main nickname, it should be the lightbulb moment you need for an instant SAD cure – there WILL be sunshine, and you WILL feel a million per cent better for it. Gales and sou-westers? Not in Florida in January!
Avoiding the crowds?
Unless you are an avid golfer, keen to play every day of your holiday, January is not peak season for a whole lot in this part of the world. Yes, the ‘snowbirds’ (the wealthy and elderly from Canada and the north-east USA, who have second homes in Florida) do flock here in serious numbers from November to April, but they rarely create a queue anywhere.
And, when it comes to having acres of beach to yourself, shorter lines at the theme parks, and low wait times at most restaurants (“What time do we open? What time can you get here!”), this is definitely the right time to enjoy the state at its most relaxing and crowd-free.
Is it cheaper in January?
Again, unless you are that gung-ho golfer, this is just about the cheapest time of year for flights, hotels and car hire. Nearly everyone will have ‘special rates’ on their adverts and display signs, so you can really cash in by planning your hols for an early year getaway.
There are a few caveats to this, though. January to March is actually peak season in the Florida Keys and a few places along the coast, notably at Naples, Marco Island and Sarasota, so you probably won’t find the best deals here. But, in places like Orlando, the Gulf Coast north of Sarasota, and the Atlantic coast from St Augustine to Palm Beach, this is genuinely budget territory.
Won’t it be cold?
Possibly. By Florida standards. That means it might be ‘only’ 15C during the day. It could even – shock, horror – drop down to barely 5C on a cold evening. Whisper it quietly, a couple of times a year, we get frost. But that’s the low point. This is not the Cairngorms in January.
For the most part, the Orlando area is around 21-22C, and it isn’t out of the question to get days in the 26-27 range. And there will be sun – and plenty of it – even if the mercury insists it is only 10 degrees. Down in the Miami area the average temperature is more likely to average 23C and, you can expect 15-20 days at 25 or above. Plus, this is the driest time of the year. There are rarely more than a couple of inches of rain in total in the whole month, and it is extremely rare to get rain for more than a day at a time.
You will need to pack for a variety of weathers (a light rain jacket; a couple of sweaters; a hat and gloves for the evening), but those long, grey spells of a British winter? Not in these parts.
So, you’re saying it’s a good idea?
Absolutely. While much of the country shivers and shakes in the grip of a northern hemisphere winter, Florida is a climate law unto itself, blissfully out of step with the weather gods. It may not offer beach conditions every day – and the sea will be a touch chilly – but the comparison between, say, Miami Beach and Bournemouth at this time of year is stark.
Even better, this is the ideal time to grab a hire car and tour the state. Without the heat of the summer months, driving is an absolute pleasure and you can go for long walks in the state parks and nature preserves without needing Sun Protection Factor 50+ (suncream IS still necessary, though – don’t travel to Florida at any time of the year without it).
What are the January highlights?
With the fact that this is the Sunshine State’s coolest time of the year – in just about every way – it makes sense that this is a more outdoorsy experience in January. Without the heat and humidity of summer, there are more events and festivals than at any other period, and you can enjoy the full array of al fresco opportunities with impunity.
Look out in particular for Art Deco Weekend in Miami Beach; the Central Florida Highland Games in Winter Springs; South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach; the Annual Homestead Rodeo in the Miami suburb of Homestead; Tampa Bay’s fabulous Gasparilla Pirate Festival (a rival to Mardi Gras at New Orleans); the unique Art Fort Lauderdale event; and the don’t-miss Florida Manatee Festival in Crystal River.
It makes for a totally compelling holiday experience, as well as a completely different Florida vibe than most other months. And you get the satisfaction of knowing your neighbours are wet and shivering back home!
Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.