By Susan & Simon Veness
Stop us if you’ve heard this before – but Florida is a BIG place and there is an awful lot of it to see. It’s one of the reasons we moved here and, more importantly, it’s one of the reasons people come back year after year.
Among all the world’s compelling destinations, the Sunshine State repeatedly comes to the fore for its great variety of attractions AND the sheer scope of its landscape. It’s a seemingly never-ending vista of beauty and fascination, topped off by a gorgeous climate.
And, with so much uncertainty in our virus-hit world right now, it also makes sense to fall back on our favourites, or ‘old faithfuls,’ of the travel world, in hopeful expectation of a return to normal in the not-too-distant future.
Obviously, the ‘new normal’ will be a bit different from the ‘old’ version, as a function of the alterations to our lifestyle we are all being forced to make by COVID-19. Florida will be no exception to the additional strictures being placed on our everyday lives, at least in the short term.
But the thing we see most of all through all the current socially-distanced situation is one of opportunity – an opportunity to return to Florida with a slightly different outlook and a new eye for the appreciation of all that’s here.
Because, even though you may have been here many times, there is a lot more of this fascinating state to discover. Just to start with, the familiar things will seem fresh again, and the unfamiliar will seem positively exotic.
And – trust us on this – for all the things you have already seen and experienced, there are even more that you haven’t, and that should be hugely appealing when you sit down to decide your next holiday option.
Consider Orlando, for instance (as we know thousands of you do!). The theme parks will certainly still be here, and they will have lined up a new array of attractions and experiences, even if they may also have to make allowances for extra health and safety guidelines in places.
Our hotels and villas will also be waiting to accept guests once again, with additional measures to ensure a new level of cleanliness and reassurance (have a quick read of this post by a local hotels expert, who is already seeing major changes for the better).
Orlando’s major attractions – Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld – will continue to be the headline acts in this high-profile, high-energy destination, but they are far from all that’s on offer, and we think there will also be a host of additional opportunities and experiences that will be just as appealing, if not more so.
In fact, it’s possible that some of them will actually be more authentic during the time of coronavirus by virtue of needing fewer high-tech elements to enjoy them. Airboat rides will still operate in largely the same manner because they are a small-scale, outdoor attraction that already include a measure of social distancing that is easy to expand on for the safety of all.
By the same token, zipline and ropes courses will continue to be offered in the same largely carefree vein, as will things like kayaking, cycling and quad-biking. Fishing – which is a true Floridian speciality – will be another great novel opportunity, especially if you haven’t tried it before, and golf remains the ideal outdoor pursuit for our current situation, as long as you don’t over-indulge at the 19th hole!
With all that in mind, we have identified 10 compelling ‘new’ opportunities in the Orlando area that most visitors have yet to try – and which are guaranteed to make your Florida holiday better than ever.
Jump on one of their quad bikes in nearby rural Lake County – just 20 miles from Disney – and enjoy some rip-roaring outdoor fun on their carefully-created trails as you soak up the genuine charm and expansiveness of the unspoiled countryside around you.
Take to the headwaters of the Everglades without leaving the greater Orlando tourist area with this opportunity to go kayaking, paddle-boarding or canoeing along Shingle Creek. This impressive Kissimmee area of cypress marsh and river is ideal for exploring on your own or on a guided tour.
Central Florida’s favourite ‘watering hole,’ Wekiva Island is another option for a real close-up with Florida nature, offering a laid-back base – complete with private, comfy cabanas – to go paddling by kayak or paddleboard along the crystal-clear Wekiva River.
Here’s a great adventure for all the family, with Central Florida’s most appealing – and challenging – ropes course and ziplines. Soar through the tree-tops and take on some fiendish obstacles, including ladders, swings and suspended bridges, 50ft up in the air.
Head out into the wilds of Osceola County for this fabulous, action-packed centre of wildlife, nature and thrills, with the chance to enjoy both a signature airboat ride AND sample their new Drive-Through Safari, with its mixture of exotic and Floridian animals. The Alligator Park is pretty cool, too!
For those who don’t want too much of a challenge on holiday, Winter Park’s long-running hour-long pontoon boat tours provide a gentle look at this gorgeous part of the greater Orlando conurbation, with its lakeside mansions, canals and plentiful wildlife.
Staying in Winter Park and of special appeal to culture vultures, the Morse Museum is a beautifully presented setting for a wide range of 19th and early 20th century artwork, including the world’s largest collection of the works of groundbreaking artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.
For some truly memorable golf without having to venture more than a mile from Tourist Central on International Drive, the swish Rosen Shingle Creek Resort affords excellent facilities, a wonderful vista and the Brad Brewer Golf Academy to really kick your game up a notch or three.
This region is rightly world-famous for its bass fishing, and you simply cannot go wrong for a memorable experience with the top-rated guides of AJ’s Bass Fishing in Kissimmee. From two-and-a-half to eight hours, this is a unique way to enjoy a genuine slice of Florida on Lake Toho.
Take the short drive east to Cocoa Beach and you can discover some more blissful Sunshine State wildlife and wonders with the daily two-hour eco-cruises among the Thousand Islands, a conservation area on the Banana River that usually provides sightings of dolphins and manatees.
Orlando’s premier bike trail is ideally suited to visitors who’d like a few hours exploring this peaceful and historic route just north of the main attractions. Hire a bike by the hour or day and explore in blissful isolation, being sure to stop at the Crooked Can Brewery in Winter Garden for a drink or two!
There are even more we could mention, all of which provide that essential ‘something different’ factor that makes this such a rewarding place to visit. And, when it comes to our holidays these days, we think we need all that, and more besides. Yes, Florida really does have it all.
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.