The Sunshine State makes it so easy for families to have a good time that many return year after sandy, sunburned year. But with so many beaches, theme parks and kid-perfect destinations and activities, the challenge is deciding exactly where to go and what to do.

Here's a rundown on visiting Florida with kids.

Is Florida good for kids?

Kids love Florida. And what's not to like? Sandcastles and waves, dolphins and alligators, Cinderella and Harry Potter. There are the classics and the don't misses, the obvious and the cliché, but just as memorable – and often far less stressful and less expensive – are the distinctly Floridian under-the-radar discoveries.

Roadside attractions, mom-and-pop animal rescues, intimate wildlife expeditions, street festivals and more…and when you've had enough, there's plenty of opportunities to do a whole lot of nothing in the sun.

If you're a parent, you already know that fortune favors the prepared. In Florida's crazy-crowded, overbooked high-season tourist spots, a little bit of planning can make all the difference.

Sort out where to go, where to stay, and a few pillars of plans to hang the trip on in advance – book that manatee cruise, schedule a day at the Kennedy Space Center, reserve a character meal at Disney, but always check about cancellation policies. Once there, it may turn out that all anyone wants to do is play in the sun and sand.

Boys jumping into swimming pool at a Florida resort
Resorts and hotels in Florida cater to families' needs © Tetra images RF / Getty Images

Resorts and Hotels

The vast majority of Florida hotels stand ready to aid families. They have cribs, roll-away beds and sleeper-sofas, suites and adjoining rooms, refrigerators and microwaves, and most do not charge extra for kids under 18.

Most full-service resorts offer children's programs, including beach walks, art activities and educational workshops exploring Florida sea life, and at theme-park hotels in Orlando, you'll find poolside screenings of family-friendly movies.

Renting a house or condo

Though staying in a hotel may feel like more of a vacation for harried parents, and it's awfully nice to have room service, on-site children's activities and daily housekeeping services, renting a private house or condo can save thousands of dollars.

And it can, in fact, ultimately be much more relaxing than staying in a hotel. You have plenty of room to spread out, you don't have to worry about eating in restaurants for every meal, and many homes are right on the beach or boast private pools.

On top of that, Florida is particularly overflowing with vacation-home rentals – you'll find options in every nook and cranny of the state, from riverside cabins to urban bungalows to Mickey-themed extravaganzas. Be sure to peruse the listing details carefully and always ask about cancellation policies before committing to a rental.

Family walking together in airport
From foul-weather gear to extra sunscreen, here's what you should pack for a family trip to Florida © Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

What to bring

Pack light rain gear, a snuggly fleece (for air-conditioning and cool nights), water sandals (for beaches, fountains and water parks), mosquito repellent and a simple first-aid kit with band-aids, antibiotic cream, tweezers (for splinters), anti-itch cream, children's paracetamol and Vaseline (perfect for little faces after too much sun and wind). If you have infants, a pack-and-play can be helpful, especially if you're road-tripping or sticking to amenity-poor, budget-range motels.

Most importantly, bring and use sunscreen. We've tried them all, from thick white goos that never seem to rub in to fancy stuff from the cosmetic aisle, and our hands-down favorite is the made-in-Florida Sun Bum and their naturally sourced Baby Bum line.

Florida car-seat laws require that children must be in a rear-facing car-seat until they are 20lb and one year old, a separate or integrated child-safety seat until five, and a booster until the seat-belts fit properly (over 4ft 9in and 80lb). Rental-car companies are legally required to provide child seats, but only if you reserve them in advance. Avoid surprises by bringing your own.

Don't sweat it if you forget something. Except for your child's can't-sleep-without stuffed blue elephant and favorite blanket, you'll be able to find anything you need in Florida.

If the thought of lugging all that infant gear makes you want to stay home, consider renting the necessities © Gorlov-KV / Shutterstock

Renting baby gear

If you prefer to travel light and save the hassle of lugging loads of essentials, several services such as Traveling Baby Company offer baby-gear rental (cribs, strollers, car seats etc) and infant supplies (diapers, baby food etc), all delivered to your hotel; some deliver to the airport.

Babysitting and Childcare Centers

Traveling with children doesn't necessarily mean doing everything as a family. Several childcare services, including Sunshine Babysitting, the Babysitting Company and the Disney- and Universal-recommended Kid's Nite Out, offer in-hotel babysitting by certified sitters, and full-service resorts often have childcare centers, organized kids' camps and local sitter recommendations. At Walt Disney World, you don't need to be a resort guest to reserve a spot at a Disney's Children Activity Center; five centers, located at resort hotels, welcome kids aged three to 12.

Best things to do with kids in Florida

From the wet and wild landscapes of Florida’s swamps and beaches to the thrilling spills of its top amusement parks, the Sunshine State has enough family fun to come back to year after year.

Believe it or not, these extensive highlights merely cherry-pick the best of the best.

Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World is sure to be in the sights of any family visiting Florida © Roberto Machado Noa / LightRocket via Getty Images

Walt Disney World

Twice the size of Manhattan and with more annual visitors than New York City, Walt Disney World has no equal in the world of theme parks... or any other form of entertainment. Within its 42-sq-mile area are four contained, spotlessly sanitized parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – as well as two water parks, 36 hotels, golf courses and a shopping center. There's also a monorail and its own set of eight-lane highways.

Universal Orlando Resort

Pedestrian-friendly Universal Orlando Resort has got spunk, spirit and attitude. With fantastic rides, excellent children's attractions and entertaining shows, it's comparable to Walt Disney World.

But Universal does everything just a bit smarter, funnier and smoother, as well as being smaller and easier to navigate. Instead of the Seven Dwarfs, there's the Simpsons. Instead of Mickey Mouse, there's Harry Potter. Universal offers pure, unabashed, adrenaline-pumped, full-speed-ahead fun for the entire family.

Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park

Tampa's zoo gets you as close to the animals as possible, with several Florida specialties in the Native Florida Wildlife Habitat, including the critically endangered Florida panther, alligators, black bears and manatees. Other highlights include free-flight aviaries, giraffe feeding, a wallaby enclosure and a rhino encounter.

The entrance to Legoland Florida
Legoland is a fun but stress-free theme park experience ©Rob Hainer/Shutterstock


Legoland is a joy. With manageable crowds and lines, and no bells and whistles, this lakeside theme park maintains an old-school vibe – you don't have to plan like a general to enjoy a day here, and it's strikingly stress-free and relaxed. This is about fun (and yes, education) in a colorful and interactive environment. Rides and attractions, including the attached water park, are geared towards children aged two to 12.

St Augustine

The oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the US, charming St Augustine was founded by the Spanish in 1565 and is one of Florida's stand-out attractions. What makes St Augustine's 144-block National Historic Landmark District so genuinely endearing is the accessibility of its rich history via countless top-notch museums and its well-preserved, centuries-old architecture, monuments and narrow cobbled lanes.

An exhibit of a spacecraft hanging from the ceiling
Budding astronauts will swoon at the sight of Kennedy Space Center © Robert Hoetink / Shutterstock

Kennedy Space Center

Whether you're mildly interested in space or a die-hard sci-fi fan, a visit to the Kennedy Space Center is awe-inspiring. To get a good overview, start at the Early Space Exploration exhibit, progress to the 90-minute bus tour to the Apollo/Saturn V Center (where you'll find the best on-site cafe) and finish at the awesome Atlantis exhibit, where you can walk beneath the heat-scorched fuselage of a shuttle that traveled more than 126,000,000 miles through space on 33 missions.

Glazer Children's Museum

This crayon-bright, interactive museum provides a creative play space for kids under 10. The staff is delightful and the adjacent Curtis Hixon Park is picnic- and playground-friendly.

Everglades National Park

Encompassing 1.5 million acres, this vast wilderness is one of America's great natural treasures. As a major draw for visitors to South Florida, your biggest challenge is deciding to opt for quiet pleasures like spying alligators basking in the noonday sun as herons patiently stalk their prey in nearby waters, or going the active route and kayaking in tangled mangrove canals, then wading through murky knee-high waters among cypress domes on a rough-and ready “slough slog.”

A family strolling along the beach at sunset
The Florida Keys have some of the best beaches in the state © Natalia Bratslavsky / Shutterstock

Florida Keys

Curving beneath Southern Florida, this 113-mile-long archipelago is a land of mangrove and sandbar islands, teal waters and magnificent sunsets. A memorable journey down the Overseas Highway takes you from the bustle of Key Largo to Key West, passing arts-loving villages, family-friendly roadside eateries and stretches of verdant hardwood forest, crossing some 42 bridges along the way (including one that stretches 7 miles across open waters).

Vero Beach

This coastal town has lovely grassy parks, wide ivory beaches and a pedestrian-friendly downtown. Vero's unique lack of high-rise buildings gives the place a less developed feel, with consistently better sea views than neighboring beach communities.

Gasparilla Island State Park

This park centers on the restored, historic Boca Grande Lighthouse, which has been a beacon to mariners since 1890. The interior has been converted into a museum featuring old photographs, bones, fossils, shells and exhibits dedicated to the area's first inhabitants (open 10am to 4pm Monday to Saturday, from noon Sunday). Apart from touring the lighthouse, guests often swim, snorkel, fish or shell hunt on the park's virtually deserted beaches.

Miami Children's Museum

This museum is a bit like an uber-playhouse, with areas for kids to practice all sorts of adult activities – banking and food shopping, caring for pets, and acting as a local cop or firefighter. Adults must go accompanied by children, and vice versa.

Other imaginative areas let kids make music, go on undersea adventures, make wall sketches, explore little castles made of colored glass, or simply play on outdoor playgrounds.

17 best free things to do in Miami

Turtles sitting on a branch near the waters of the LoxahatcheeRiver, Florida, USA
Wildlife spotting at Florida's rivers is great for kids of all ages © Lynne Buchanan / Getty Images / Cavan Images RF

Loxahatchee River

One of two federally designated “Wild and Scenic” rivers in the state, the free-flowing Loxahatchee River is home to a wide range of habitats, from tidal marsh riverines and dense mangrove communities to tidal flats and oyster bars.

Translated as “River of Turtles,” the coffee-colored river, which flows north, is home to countless shelled reptiles, as well as herons, ospreys, otters, raccoons, the occasional bobcat – and lots of alligators. It’s gentle enough to be kid-friendly but eye-popping enough to appeal to the discerning adventurer.

Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach is a pretty stretch of powdery white sand, gentle, warm waters and a string of mellow beachfront hotels. The beach occupies nearly 8 miles of the 40-mile-long Santa Rosa barrier island, surrounded by the Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico to the north and south, and by the federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore on either side.

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