Outside of flea markets and the occasional outdoor bazaar, bargaining is not part of Florida's shopping culture.
Dangers & Annoyances
When it comes to crime, there is Miami, and there is the rest of Florida. As a rule, Miami suffers the same urban problems facing other major US cities such as New York and Los Angeles, but it is no worse than others. The rest of Florida tends to have lower crime rates than the rest of the nation, but any tourist town is a magnet for petty theft and car break-ins.
- If you need any kind of emergency assistance, such as police, ambulance or firefighters, call 911. This is a free call from any phone.
Florida hurricane season extends from June through November, but the peak is September and October. Relatively speaking, very few Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico storms become hurricanes, and fewer still are accurate enough to hit Florida, but the devastation they wreak when they do can be enormous. Travelers should take all hurricane alerts, warnings and evacuation orders seriously.
Hurricanes are generally sighted well in advance, allowing time to prepare. When a hurricane threatens, listen to radio and TV news reports. For more information on storms and preparedness, contact the following:
Florida Division of Emergency Management (www.floridadisaster.org) Hurricane preparedness.
Florida Emergency Hotline (800-342-3557) Updated storm warning information.
National Weather Service (www.weather.gov)
Government Travel Advice
- Australia www.smartraveller.gov.au
- Canada https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories
- Germany www.auswaertiges-amt.de
- New Zealand www.safetravel.govt.nz
- UK www.fco.gov.uk
- USA www.travel.state.gov
There are no Florida-specific discount cards. Florida is a very competitive tourist destination, so persistence, patience and thorough research often pays dividends.
Being a member of certain groups also gives access to discounts (usually about 10%) at many hotels, museums and sights. Simply carry the appropriate ID.
Seniors Generally refers to those 65 and older, but sometimes those 60 and older. Join the American Association of Retired Persons (www.aarp.org) for more travel bargains.
Students Any student ID is typically honored; international students might consider an International Student Identity Card (www.isiccard.com).
Voltage is 110/120V, 60 cycles.
Embassies & Consulates
To find a US embassy in another country, visit www.usembassy.gov. Most foreign embassies in the US have their main consulates in Washington, DC, but some have representation in Miami, including the following nations.
Emergency & Important Numbers
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Entry & Exit Formalities
A passport is required for all foreign citizens. Unless eligible under the Visa Waiver Program, foreign travelers must also have a tourist visa.
Travelers entering under the Visa Waiver Program must register with the US government's program, ESTA (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov), at least three days before arriving; earlier is better, since if denied, travelers must get a visa.
Upon arriving in the US, foreign visitors must register with the Office of Biometric Identity Management, also known as the US-Visit program. This entails having two index fingers scanned and a digital photo taken. For information see www.dhs.gov/obim. Canadian citizens are often exempted from this requirement.
For a complete, up-to-date list of customs regulations, visit the website of US Customs & Border Protection (www.cbp.gov). Each visitor is allowed to bring into the US duty-free 1L of liquor (if you're 21 or older), 200 cigarettes (if you're 18 or older) and up to $100 in gifts and purchases.
Nationals qualifying for the Visa Waiver Program are allowed a 90-day stay without a visa; all others need a visa.
All visitors should reconfirm entry requirements and visa guidelines before arriving. You can get visa information through www.usa.gov, but the US State Dept (www.travel.state.gov) maintains the most comprehensive visa information, with lists of consulates and downloadable application forms. US Citizenship & Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov) mainly serves immigrants, not temporary visitors.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 38 countries to enter the USA for stays of up to 90 days without first obtaining a US visa (you are not eligible if you are also a national of Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan). See the ESTA website (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) for a current list. Under this program you must have a nonrefundable return ticket and an 'e-passport' with digital chip. Passports issued/renewed before October 26, 2006, must be machine-readable.
Visitors who don't qualify for the Visa Waiver Program need a visa. Basic requirements are a valid passport, recent photo, travel details and often proof of financial stability. Student visas require extra documentation.
The validity period for a US visitor visa depends on your home country. The length of time you'll be allowed to stay in the USA is determined by US officials at the port of entry. To stay longer than the date stamped on your passport, visit a local USCIS office (www.uscis.gov).
As of 2017, the USA has embarked on a policy of pursuing more stringent border controls. Be warned that the above information is perishable; keep an eye on the news and www.travel.state.gov.
Florida isn't terribly different from the rest of the US when it comes to etiquette. Here are some basic rules to follow.
- Politics The Sunshine State is as divided as America gets when it comes to politics. While the topic may come up, it may be prudent to let others introduce it.
- Greetings Florida is pretty casual when it comes to greetings. In South Florida, with its large European and Spanish-speaking populations, don’t be surprised if you get a kiss on the cheek.
- Bilingualism If everyone around you is speaking Spanish, try leading with 'Lo siento, no hablo español' (I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish).
- Conversation Floridians, on average, wear their heart a little more openly on their sleeves. Don’t be surprised if they broach sensitive subjects with you with little prompting.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Florida is not uniformly anything, and it's not uniformly embracing of gay life. The state is largely tolerant, particularly in major tourist destinations, beaches and cities, but this tolerance does not always extend into the more rural and Southern areas of northern Florida. However, where Florida does embrace gay life, it does so with a big flamboyant bear hug. Miami and South Beach are as 'out' as it's possible to be, with some massive gay festivals. Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Key West have long supported vibrant gay communities and are now regarded as some of the 'gayest' destinations in the world. Despite the tragedy of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, Orlando retains a vibrant, active and strong gay community. Notable gay scenes and communities also exist in Jacksonville, Pensacola, and, to far lesser degrees, Tampa and Sarasota.
Good LGBT resources:
Damron (https://damron.com) An expert in LGBT travel offering a searchable database of LGBT-friendly and specific travel listings. Publishes popular national guidebooks, including Women’s Traveller, Men’s Travel Guide and Damron Accommodations.
Gay Cities (www.gaycities.com) Everything gay about every major city in the US and beyond.
Gay Yellow Network (www.glyp.com) City-based yellow-page listings include six Florida cities.
Out Traveler (www.outtraveler.com) Travel magazine specializing in gay travel.
Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com) Lists queer accommodations, travel agencies and tours worldwide.
- It's expensive to get sick, crash a car or have things stolen from you in the US. Make sure you have adequate coverage before arriving.
- To insure yourself for items that may be stolen from your car, consult your homeowner's (or renter's) insurance policy or invest in travel insurance.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- The USA and Florida are wired. Nearly every hotel and many restaurants and businesses offer high-speed internet access. With few exceptions, most hotels and motels offer in-room wi-fi; it's generally free of charge, but do check for connection rates.
- Many cafes and all McDonald's offer free wi-fi and most transport hubs are wi-fi hot spots. Public libraries provide free internet terminals, though sometimes you must get a temporary nonresident library card ($10).
- For a list of wi-fi hot spots, check Wi-Fi Free Spot (www.wififreespot.com) or Open Wi-Fi spots (www.openwifispots.com).
In everyday matters, if you are stopped by the police, note that there is no system for paying traffic tickets or other fines on the spot. The patrol officer will explain your options to you; there is usually a 30-day period to pay fines by mail.
If you're arrested, you are allowed to remain silent, though never walk away from an officer; you are entitled to have access to an attorney. The legal system presumes you're innocent until proven guilty. All persons who are arrested have the right to make one phone call. If you don't have a lawyer or family member to help you, call your embassy or consulate. The police will give you the number on request.
Drinking & Driving
To purchase alcohol, you need to present a photo ID to prove your age. Despite what you sometimes see, it is illegal to walk with an open alcoholic drink on the street outside of certain designated zones. More importantly, don't drive with an 'open container'; any liquor in a car must be unopened or else stored in the trunk. If you're stopped while driving with an open container, police will treat you as if you were drinking and driving. A DUI (driving under the influence) conviction is a serious offense, subject to stiff fines and even imprisonment.
- Newspapers Florida has several major daily newspapers, including the Miami Herald (in Spanish, El Nuevo Herald), Orlando Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Sun-Sentinel.
- TV Florida receives all the major US TV and cable networks.
- Radio Check www.npr.org/stations to find the local National Public Radio station.
ATMs are widely available everywhere.
- Personal checks not drawn on US banks are generally not accepted.
- Exchange foreign currency at international airports and most large banks in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and other cities.
- Major credit cards are widely accepted, and they are required for car rentals.
- Most ATM withdrawals using out-of-state cards incur surcharges of $3 or so.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping is standard practice across America.
- In restaurants, for satisfactory to excellent service, tipping 15% to 25% of the bill is expected.
- Bartenders expect $1 per drink; cafe baristas, put a little change in the jar.
- Taxi drivers and hairdressers expect 10% to 15%.
- Skycaps (airport porters) and porters at nice hotels expect $1 a bag or so. If you spend several nights in a hotel, it's polite to leave a few dollars for the cleaning staff.
Standard business hours are as follows:
Banks 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Thursday, to 5:30pm Friday; sometimes 9am to 12:30pm Saturday.
Bars Most bars 5pm to midnight; to 2am Friday and Saturday.
Businesses 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
Post offices 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday; sometimes 9am to noon Saturday.
Restaurants Breakfast 7am to 10:30am Monday to Friday; brunch 9am to 2pm Saturday and Sunday; lunch 11:30am to 2:30pm Monday to Friday; dinner 5pm to 9:30pm, later Friday and Saturday.
Shops 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday, noon to 5pm Sunday; shopping malls keep extended hours.
- The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) is reliable and inexpensive. For exact rates, refer to http://postcalc.usps.com.
- You can have mail sent to you 'c/o General Delivery' at most big post offices (it's usually held for 30 days). Most hotels will also hold mail for incoming guests.
On the following national public holidays, banks, schools and government offices (including post offices) are closed, and transportation, museums and other services operate on a Sunday schedule. Many stores, however, maintain regular business hours. Holidays falling on a weekend are usually observed the following Monday.
New Year's Day January 1
Martin Luther King, Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents Day Third Monday in February
Easter March or April
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
Smoking is banned in all enclosed workplaces, including restaurants and shops, but excluding 'stand-alone' bars (that don't emphasize food) and designated hotel smoking rooms.
Taxes & Refunds
- Florida has a state sales tax of 6%. When you add in local (ie city) taxes, the total sales tax rate can go as high as 8%.
- Different cities and similar local government entities may also charge hotel and resort taxes.
- The USA does not offer reimbursement of sales tax as European nations do with the VAT.
- Always dial 1 before toll-free (800, 888 etc) and domestic long-distance numbers. Some toll-free numbers only work within the US. For local directory assistance, dial 411.
- To make international calls from the US, dial 011 + country code + area code + number. For international operator assistance, dial 0. To call the US from abroad, the international country code for the USA is 1.
- Pay phones are readily found in major cities, but are becoming rarer. Local calls cost 50¢. Private prepaid phonecards are available from convenience stores, supermarkets and drugstores.
- Most of the USA's cell-phone systems are incompatible with the GSM 900/1800 standard used throughout Europe and Asia. Check with your service provider about using your phone in the US. Cellular coverage is generally excellent, except in the Everglades and parts of rural northern Florida.
Europe and Asia's GSM 900/1800 standard is incompatible with USA's cell-phone systems. Confirm your phone can be used before arriving.
Most of Florida is in the US Eastern Time Zone: noon in Miami equals 9am in San Francisco and 5pm in London. West of the Apalachicola River, the Panhandle is in the US Central Time Zone, one hour behind the rest of the state. During daylight saving time, clocks 'spring forward' one hour in March and 'fall back' one hour in November.
- Sit-down toilets are the norm, with the exception of a few primitive camping facilities.
- Public restrooms can be found in some cities and are usually free, and of varying degrees of cleanliness. Visitor centers are always a good bet in this regard.
Most Florida towns have some sort of tourist information center that provides local information; be aware that chambers of commerce typically only list chamber members, not all the town's hotels and businesses.
To order a packet of Florida information prior to coming, contact Visit Florida (www.visitflorida.com).
Travel with Children
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.
Best Regions for Kids
A spinning wheel of theme-park fun and oodles of family entertainment beyond the gates.
- Tampa Bay & Gulf Coast
Great zoos, aquariums and museums, plus some of Florida's prettiest, most family-friendly beaches and alluring island getaways.
- Florida Keys
Snorkeling, diving, fishing, boating and an all-around no-worries vibe.
- Space Coast (Hwy A1A)
World-class surfing, nature preserves and sleepy beach towns combine with vintage airplanes and all-things-space to make this 75-mile stretch of barrier islands a favorite.
- Emerald Coast
The Panhandle coastline has stunningly white sand beaches, crystal water and pockets of frenetic boardwalk amusements.
Kid-focused zoos and museums, but also Miami itself, one of the USA's great multicultural cities.
Florida 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.
The self-contained resort complexes of Walt Disney World® and Universal Orlando Resort offer multiple theme and water parks, on-site hotels and transportation systems, and just beyond their gates you'll find Legoland. The only big-hitter theme park beyond Orlando is Busch Gardens.
While the prototypical Florida family beach is fronted by crowded commercial centers, you'll find loads of beaches that echo that quintessential Old Florida feel. Many are protected in state parks, wildlife preserves and island sanctuaries, and there are pockets of road-trip-perfect coastline, with mile upon mile of beautiful emptiness dotted with flip-flop-friendly low-rise towns. Remember that there's a distinct difference between Gulf and Atlantic beaches – many find the shallows and gentle surf of the Gulf perfect for little ones, but Atlantic beaches often lie on barrier islands that are flanked by calm-water rivers and inlets to the west. Currents can be dangerously strong along both coasts; always pay attention to rip-tide warnings.
Zoos & Museums
Up-close animal encounters have long been a Florida tourist staple. The state has some of the best zoos and aquariums in the country, as well as all kinds of small-scale jewels and Old Florida favorites that offer hands-on interactions and quirky shows. Florida's cities also have top-quality children's museums, and art museums and centers throughout the state almost always offer excellent kids' programs.
Getting into Nature
It's easy to get out into nature in Florida – there are wilderness preserves and state parks up and down the state, and you don't have to drive far, hike long or paddle hard to get away from it all. The best part is, once you get there, you're almost guaranteed to see some pretty cool critters.
Florida is exceedingly flat, so rivers and trails are frequently ideal for short legs and little arms. Placid rivers and intercoastal bays are custom-made for first-time paddlers, and often are so shallow and calm you can just peek over the boat and see all kinds of marine life. Never snorkeled a coral reef or surfed? Florida has gentle places to learn. Book a sea-life cruise, a manatee swim or nesting-sea-turtle watch, or simply stroll along raised boardwalks through alligator-filled swamps, perfect for pint-size adventurers.
Believe it or not, these extensive highlights merely cherry-pick the best of the best.
Family Beach Towns
On the Atlantic
- St Augustine Pirates, forts, jails and reenactors.
- Cocoa Beach Surfing rattle-and-hum energy along the Atlantic with lessons for kids and easy access to lovely Banana River kayaking.
- Vero Beach Carefully zoned with grassy parks, a pedestrian-friendly downtown and wide, life-guarded beaches.
- Indialantic Flip-flop Old Florida beach life with a boho vibe.
- Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Less snooty than towns just south; great butterfly park.
- Stuart For outdoors-eager families, with getaway beaches and a Smithsonian Marine Station on Hutchinson Island.
- Amelia Island Easygoing and upscale.
On the Gulf
- Anna Maria Island Old Florida, with a low-rise beachfront, independent hotels and a historic fishing pier.
- Florida Keys The whole island chain brims with activities for all ages; check out the street performances at Key West's Mallory Sq.
- Naples Upscale downtown bustles each evening; easy access to miles of beautiful wide beaches.
- Sanibel Island Bike, kayak and shell the days away; undeveloped beaches but no pedestrian-friendly downtown.
- Siesta Key Crescent of soft white sand, plenty of activities and a lively village scene at night.
- Fort Myers Beach Party atmosphere, lots to do, yet quieter beaches just south (we like Lovers Key State Park).
- Gasparilla Island Intimate, easy and blissfully free of high-rises and chain restaurants and hotels; ditch the car and toot around in a golf cart.
- St Pete Beach Activity-filled social epicenter of Tampa Bay area.
- Pensacola Beach Mix of unspoiled strands and low-key tourist center.
- South Walton Family-perfect Panhandle beauty.
- Apalachicola Tiny historic fishing town on Apalachicola Bay; close to excellent beachside state parks.
- Lowry Park Zoo Tampa; fantastic zoo with up-close encounters.
- Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park Gulf Coast, 70 miles north of Tampa; Old Florida don't-miss staple emphasizing Florida wildlife; underwater manatee observatory.
- Zoo Miami Extensive, with all the big-ticket species.
- Monkey Jungle Miami; the tagline 'Where humans are caged and monkeys run wild' says it all. Unforgettable classic, opened in 1933; don't miss the wild monkey swimming pool.
- Jungle Island Miami; tropical birds and exotic species such as the liger, a tiger-and-lion crossbreed.
- Lion Country Safari West Palm Beach; an enormous drive-through safari park and rehabilitation center.
- Brevard Zoo Melbourne, on the Space Coast; little old-school favorite; feed giraffes and lorikeets.
Nature Centers, Wildlife Preserves & Parks
- Everglades National Park Don't miss the Anhinga Trail, an easy boardwalk past alligators and beautiful birds; for family-friendly kayaking, head to Everglades City and Flamingo centers.
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center Key Biscayne; kid-friendly intro to subtropical South Florida.
- Environmental Learning Center Vero Beach; Florida ecosystems and touch-tanks.
- Loggerhead Marinelife Center Juno Beach, 18 miles north of West Palm Beach; excellent little turtle rescue and rehabilitation center with children's programs.
- McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary West Palm Beach; first-rate animal rescue featuring endangered animals and discarded exotic pets in botanical surrounds and up-close interactions.
- Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center Key West; entertaining displays pull together Florida Keys ecology.
- JN 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge Sanibel Island; easy tram tours and the park's education center is tops.
- Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden Key West; intimate labor-of-love parrot rescue and rehab sanctuary in a private garden, with education, bird interaction and storytelling.
- Naples Botanical Garden Designed especially with kids in mind.
Wildlife Encounters on Land
- National Key Deer Refuge Big Pine Key, Florida Keys; kids love spotting these cute-as-Bambi mini deer.
- Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park Key Biscayne; accessible island-ecology walk.
- John D Macarthur State Park West Palm Beach; ranger-led sea-turtle watches, beautiful beaches, calm-water kayaking.
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Thirty miles northeast of Naples; maybe the most diverse and rewarding swampy boardwalk trail.
- Myakka River State Park Sarasota; tram and air-boat tours, canoeing, short hikes and hundreds of alligators.
- Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve Fort Myers; another ideal, shady boardwalk trail often packed with wildlife.
- Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park Gainesville; hiking trails through prairies, woods and wetlands, with alligators, armadillos and more.
- Leon Sinks Geological Area Tallahassee; bizarre sinkhole terrain is bound to make an impression.
- St George Island State Park Apalachicola; loggerhead nesting.
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge Cocoa Beach; Black Point Wildlife Dr and excellent visitors center.
- Butterfly World Coconut Creek, outside Lauderdale-by-the-Sea; sanctuary of butterflies and exotic birds.
Wildlife Encounters by Water
- Biscayne National Park Homestead, 30 miles south of Miami; glass-bottom boat tours, snorkeling over an epic reef.
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Key Largo, Florida Keys; great coral reefs, by snorkel or glass-bottom boat tour.
- Loxahatchee River Jupiter, 20 miles north of West Palm Beach; one of Florida's two National Wild and Scenic Rivers, this placid 8-mile river is great for kayaking and canoeing.
- Canaveral National Seashore Titusville, 35 miles south of Daytona; easy paddling on the Indian River and sea-turtle watches along 24 miles of undeveloped Atlantic Coast beaches.
- Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge 80 miles north of Tampa; legendary manatee spot where you can boat and swim among them.
- Ichetucknee Springs State Park Fort White, 37 miles northwest of Gainesville; inner-tube along crystal-clear slow-moving water with manatees, otters and turtles.
- Blue Spring State Park DeLand, 35 miles north of Orlando; canoe and cruise among manatees.
- Suwannee River State Park 75 miles east of Tallahassee; great muddy river dotted with crystal-clear springs for swimming.
- Dolphin Study Naples; dolphin-spotting ecotours.
- Fin Expeditions Cocoa Beach; kayak through the mangroves with small-group nature tours tailor-made for kids.
Not all of Florida's wildlife encounters are with animals of the here and now. Much of central and southern Florida was underwater as recently as 100,000 years ago, and as a result, the rocks and sands of the state are teeming with remnants of ancient marine life. Look carefully and it's not hard to find fossilized shells of clams, sand dollars and corals. More rare, but not uncommon if you know where to look, are shark teeth (including those of the megalodon, a school-bus-sized relative of the great white) as well as bones of extinct ice age mammals.
Mark Renz, an expert on Florida fossils, has been leading family-friendly fossil-hunting expeditions for more than 20 years. Small-group kayak and river-walking trips with his Fossil Expeditions include screen-washing and snorkeling in knee-deep water, and Mark is great with kids – even little ones enjoy digging around in the mud and muck. Trips are usually in streams between Arcadia and Wauchula, and in the Peace River, 45 to 70 miles north of Fort Myers.
- Glazer Children's Museum Tampa; charming interactive extravaganza.
- Museum of Science & Industry Tampa; huge hands-on science fun, with an IMAX and a planetarium.
- Miami Children's Museum Extensive role-playing environments.
- Golisano Children's Museum of Naples Modern facility geared toward kids under eight.
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.
Resorts & 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.
Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) Your best bet for rentals of less than a week.
Home Away (www.homeaway.com) Easy-to-use with a dizzying number of choices.
VRBO (www.vrbo.com) Reputable and user-friendly vacation-home rental.
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 paracetemol 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.
Renting Baby Gear
If you prefer to travel light and save the hassle of lugging loads of essentials, several services 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.
Babies Travel Lite (www.babiestravellite.com)
Jet Set Babies (www.jetsetbabies.com)
Traveling Baby Company (www.travelingbabyco.com)
Babysitting & Childcare Centers
Traveling with children doesn't necessarily mean doing everything as a family. Several childcare services, including Sunshine Babysitting (www.sunshinebabysitting.com), the Babysitting Company (www.thebabysittingcompany.com) 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.
Florida-Themed Books for Kids
Get kids in a Florida mood with these great books.
- Hoot (Carl Hiaasen) Zany characters, snappy plot twists and an environmental message.
- Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo) Heartwarming coming-of-age tale about a 10-year-old girl adjusting to her new life in Florida.
- The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) Pulitzer Prize–winning tear-jerking classic about a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn in Florida's backwoods.
- The Treasure of Amelia Island (MC Finotti) Spanish-ruled Florida through the eyes of an 11-year-old.
- Bad Latitude (David Ebright) Unabashed pirate adventure.
- Suzanne Tate's Nature Series More than 30 paperback picture books on southeastern USA sea animals; there's Oozey Octopus: A Tale of a Clever Critter, Tammy Turtle: A Tale of Saving Sea Turtles, Rosie Ray: A Tale of Watery Wings and more.
Travellers with Disabilities
Because of the high number of senior residents in Florida, most public buildings are wheelchair accessible and have appropriate restroom facilities. Transportation services are generally accessible to all, and telephone companies provide relay operators for the hearing impaired. Many banks provide ATM instructions in braille, curb ramps are common and many busy intersections have audible crossing signals.
A number of organizations specialize in the needs of travelers with disabilities:
Flying Wheels Travel (http://flyingwheelstravel.com) A full-service travel agency specializing in disabled travel.
Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org) Advises on mobility issues and runs an educational exchange program.
Wheelchair Travel (www.wheelchairtravel.org) An excellent website with many links.
Volunteering can be a great way to break up a long trip, and it provides memorable opportunities to interact with locals and the land in ways you never would when just passing through.
Volunteer Florida (www.volunteerflorida.org), the primary state-run organization, coordinates volunteer centers across the state. Though it's aimed at Floridians, casual visitors can find situations that match their time and interests.
Florida's state parks would not function without volunteers. Each park coordinates its own volunteers, and most also have the support of an all-volunteer 'friends' organization (officially called Citizen Support Organizations). Links and contact information are on the website of Florida State Parks (www.floridastateparks.org/get-involved/volunteer).
Finally, Habitat for Humanity (www.miamihabitat.org) does a ton of work in Florida, building homes and helping the homeless.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Distances are measured in feet, yards and miles; weights are tallied in ounces, pounds and tons.
Women traveling by themselves or in a group should encounter no particular problems unique to Florida.
The community resource Journeywoman (www.journeywoman.com) facilitates women exchanging travel tips, with links to resources.
These two national advocacy groups might also be helpful:
- National Organization for Women (www.now.org)
- Planned Parenthood (www.plannedparenthood.org)
In terms of safety issues, single women need to exhibit the same street smarts as any solo traveler, but they are sometimes more often the target of unwanted attention or harassment. Some women like to carry a whistle, mace or cayenne-pepper spray in case of assault. These sprays are legal to carry and use in Florida, but only in self-defense. Federal law prohibits them being carried on planes.
If you are assaulted, it may be better to call a rape-crisis hotline before calling the police (911); telephone books have listings of local organizations, or contact the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673), or go straight to a hospital. A rape-crisis center or hospital will advocate on behalf of victims and act as a link to other services, including the police, who may not be as sensitive when dealing with assault victims.
Seasonal service jobs in tourist beach towns and theme parks are common and often easy to get, if low paying.
If you are a foreigner in the USA with a standard non-immigrant visitors visa, you are expressly forbidden to take paid work in the USA and will be deported if you're caught working illegally. In addition, employers are required to establish the bona fides of their employees or face fines. In particular, southern Florida is notorious for large numbers of foreigners working illegally, and immigration officers are vigilant.
To work legally, foreigners need to apply for a work visa before leaving home. For nonstudent jobs, temporary or permanent, you need to be sponsored by a US employer, who will arrange an H-category visa. These are not easy to obtain.
Student-exchange visitors need a J1 visa, which the following organizations will help arrange:
- American Institute for Foreign Study (www.aifs.com)
- BUNAC (www.bunac.org) British Universities North American Club.
- Camp America (www.campamerica.aifs.com)
- Council on International Educational Exchange (www.ciee.org)
- InterExchange (www.interexchange.org) Camp and au-pair programs.