Bargaining

There isn't much opportunity to bargain in South Florida. Prices are fixed in most places. At some flea markets, you might be able to haggle a bit.

Dangers & Annoyances

  • Parts of Miami proper, including Little Haiti and nightlife hot spots such as Overtown (just north of Downtown), experience high crime rates. Be careful in these areas, and avoid hanging out too much in Downtown after dark.
  • Crime is on the rise in South Beach, particularly along the carnival-like mayhem of Ocean Dr between 8th and 11th Sts.
  • Drunk driving is a big problem all around South Florida. Be particularly vigilant when traveling late in the evening, especially on weekends.
  • Be mindful of swimming conditions in the ocean: rip currents and jellyfish (particularly the man o' war) can sometimes be present.

Hurricanes

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.

Florida Division of Emergency Management (www.floridadisaster.org) Hurricane preparedness.

Florida Emergency Hotline (800-342-3557) Updated storm-warning information.

Hurricane Hotline (305-468-5400)

National Weather Service (www.weather.gov)

Government Travel Advice

Australia (www.smarttraveller.gov.au)

Canada (www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca)

Germany (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)

Japan (http://www.anzen.mofa.go.jp/)

New Zealand (www.safetravel.govt.nz)

UK (www.fco.gov.uk)

USA (http://travel.state.gov)

Embassies & Consulates

To find a US embassy in another country, visit the US Department of State website (www.usembassy.gov). Most foreign embassies in the USA have their main consulates in Washington, DC, but the following have representation in Miami, except Italy, which is in Coral Gables.

Brazilian Consulate

Canadian Consulate

French Consulate

German Consulate

Italian Consulate

Mexican Consulate

Netherlands Consulate

UK Consulate

Emergency & Important Numbers

You need to dial the area code for all calls, including domestic. The only exception is the emergency number (which is also a free call).

Miami & the Keys/Everglades Area Codes305, 786/239
Emergency (police/fire/ambulance)911
Miami Beach Patrol305-673-7714
Hurricane Hotline305-468-5400
Everglades National Park305-242-7700

Entry & Exit Formalities

A passport is required for all foreign citizens. Unless eligible under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), foreign travelers must also have a tourist visa. To rent or drive a car, travelers from non-English-speaking countries should obtain an International Driving Permit before arriving.

Travelers entering under the Visa Waiver Program must register with the US government’s ESTA program (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) at least three days before arriving; earlier is better, since if denied, travelers must get a visa. Registration is valid for two years.

Upon arriving in the USA, all foreign visitors must register with the Orwellian-sounding Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), which entails having two index fingers scanned and a digital photo taken. For more information, see the Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov/obim).

Customs Regulations

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 USA duty-free 1L of liquor (if you’re 21 years or older) and 200 cigarettes (if you’re 18 or older) and up to $100 in gifts and purchases.

Visas

Required for most foreign visitors unless eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.

More Information

All visitors should reconfirm entry requirements and visa guidelines before arriving. You can get visa information through www.usa.gov, but the US State Department (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 three dozen countries to enter the USA for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a US visa. See the ESTA website (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) for a current list. Under this program you must have a nonrefundable return ticket and ‘e-passport’ with digital chip.

Travelers entering under the Visa waiver program must register with the US government's ESTA program (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) at least three days before arriving; earlier is better, since if denied, travelers must get a visa. Registration is valid for two years

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. Students and adult males also must fill out supplemental travel documents. 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 (www.uscis.gov) office.

Etiquette

South Floridians are a pretty informal bunch, there are a few things to keep in mind when traveling here:

  • Greetings When meeting for the first time, it's common courtesy to shake hands and introduce yourself.
  • Walking If you're out walking in country towns, hiking on a trail, strolling a beach etc, it's common practice to say hello to people you pass.
  • Eating There's plenty of hand-held food here. Most folks eat pizza and burgers with their hands, not with a knife and fork.
  • Conversation Talk of religion or politics is best avoided. Things can get heated among those who share divergent views.

Gay & Lesbian Travellers

Miami, the Keys and Key West are out areas, where homosexuality is practiced openly year-round. Events such as the White Party and Fantasy Fest are major dates in the North American gay calendar. Smaller towns in the Everglades region are more culturally conservative, but gay travelers won’t cause much of a stir. In Miami the gay scene is so integrated it can be difficult to separate it from the straight one; popular hot spots include South Beach, North Beach, and Wynwood and the Design District.

Damron (https://damron.com) Damron, an expert in LGBT travel, offers 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 Key West (www.gaykeywestfl.com) Clearing house for information on LGBT topics in Key West.

Gay Yellow Network (www.glyp.com) City-based yellow-page listings include six Florida cities.

Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (www.gogaymiami.com) Gay businesses and travel tips.

Out Traveler (www.outtraveler.com) Travel magazine specializing in gay travel.

Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com) Lists queer accommodations, travel agencies and tours worldwide.

Insurance

It’s expensive to get sick, crash a car or have things stolen from you in the USA. Make sure to 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 consider investing 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…

Internet Access

Nearly every hotel and many restaurants and cafes offer high-speed internet access. The vast majority of places provide free wi-fi, though some pricier hotels still charge a premium for wi-fi.

You can also find wi-fi in some transportation stations in city parks, and of course at a public library (many of which also have terminals, if you lack a laptop or smartphone).

If you bring a laptop/phone from outside the USA, invest in a universal AC and plug adapter.

Media

  • Newspapers South Florida has a number of major daily newspapers: Miami Herald (in Spanish, El Nuevo Herald), the Miami New Times, the Key West Citizen and the South Dade News Leader (www.southdadenewsleader.com).
  • TV Florida receives all the major US TV and cable networks. Florida Smart (http://floridasmart.com/news) lists them all by region.
  • DVDs Video systems use the NTSC color TV standard, which is not compatible with the PAL system.

Money

Twenty-four-hour ATMs widely available across Miami, the Keys and the towns that border the Everglades. Credit cards accepted at most businesses.

More Information

Exchange foreign currency at international airports and most large banks in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and other Florida cities.

There is ease and availability of ATMs. Most ATM withdrawals using out-of-state cards incur surcharges of $3 or so.

Major credit cards are widely accepted, and they are required for car rentals.

ATMs have largely negated the need for traveler’s checks. However, traveler’s checks in US dollars are accepted like cash at most midrange and top-end businesses (but rarely at budget places).

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1A$0.77
CanadaC$1C$0.75
Europe€1€1.08
Japan¥100¥0.90
New ZealandNZ$1NZ$0.70
UK£1£1.25

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Tipping

Tipping is not optional in America; only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.

  • Restaurant servers Normal service 15%, good service 18%, great service 20%
  • Bartenders $1 per drink, $2 or more for complicated cocktails
  • Cafe baristas Some change in the jar
  • Taxis Tip 10-15%
  • Hairdressers Tip 10-15%
  • Airport & hotel porters $1 per bag
  • Hotel maids A few dollars after a few nights

Opening Hours

Unless otherwise noted standard business hours are as follows:

Banks 8:30am–4:30pm Monday to Thursday, to 5:30pm Friday; sometimes 9am–12:30pm Saturday

Bars In Miami, most bars 5pm–3am; in Miami Beach, most bars close at 5am; in Key West 5pm–4am, elsewhere 5pm–2am. In all places, some bars close earlier if business is slow.

Businesses 9am–7pm Monday to Friday

Eating Breakfast 7am–10:30am Monday to Friday; brunch 9am–2pm Saturday and Sunday; lunch 11:30am–2:30pm Monday to Friday; dinner 5pm–10pm, later Friday and Saturday

Post offices 9am–5pm Monday to Friday; sometimes 9am–noon Saturday

Shopping 10am–6pm Monday to Saturday, noon–5pm Sunday; shopping malls keep extended hours

Post

The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) is reliable and inexpensive. For 1st-class mail sent and delivered within the USA, postage rates are 49¢ for letters up to 1oz (21¢ for each additional ounce) and 34¢ for standard-size postcards. International airmail rates for postcards and letters up to 1oz are 98¢.

Public Holidays

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

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

  • Smoking Florida bans smoking 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

As elsewhere in the USA, tax isn't included in the posted price. You'll have to factor in an extra 7% or 8% (which varies between municipalities) when shopping, ordering food at a restaurant, purchasing concert tickets and booking tours. Groceries are exempt from this tax.

There are higher taxes for overnight lodging, with hotels charging an extra 10% to 13%.

Telephone

  • 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 USA, dial 011 + country code + area code + number. For international operator assistance, dial 0.
  • To call the USA from abroad, the international country code for the USA is 1.
  • Pay phones are a rarity even in major cities. Local calls cost 50¢.
  • Private prepaid phone cards are available from convenience stores, supermarkets and pharmacies.

Mobile Phones

Local SIM cards can be used in European or Australian phones. Europe and Asia’s GSM 900/1800 standard is incompatible with the USA’s cell-phone systems.

More Information

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 USA. In terms of coverage, Verizon has the most extensive network, but AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are decent. Cellular coverage is generally excellent, except in the Everglades and parts of rural northern Florida.

Time

South Florida is in the US eastern time zone (UTC/GMT minus four hours): noon in Miami equals 9am in San Francisco and 5pm in London. During daylight-saving time, clocks move forward one hour in March and move back one hour in November.

Toilets

You'll find public toilets at some parks and at various posts along city beaches. Outside of this, public toilets can be sparse. It's best to pop into a cafe, or if you're on the road, stop at a fuel station.

Tourist Information

There are plenty of chambers of commerce and visitor centers in the region itching to help you make the most of your trip and pass out veritable libraries of pamphlets and coupons.

To order a packet of Florida information before coming, contact Visit Florida (www.visitflorida.com).

In Miami:

Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce

Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce

Downtown Miami Welcome Center Provides maps, brochures and tour information for the downtown area.

Greater Miami & the Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau Located in an oddly intimidating high-rise building.

Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce

In the Everglades:

Everglades Area Chamber of Commerce

Homestead Chamber of Commerce

Ernest Coe Visitor Center

Shark Valley Visitor Center

Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center

In the Keys:

Key West Chamber of Commerce

Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce

Marathon Visitors Center Chamber of Commerce

Islamorada Chamber of Commerce

Key Largo Chamber of Commerce

Travel with Children

South Florida doesn’t possess the reputation that child-friendly Orlando has, but sheesh, where does? This region still knows how to care for your young ones, with a plethora of parks, nature trails, megamalls, beaches, zoos and family-friendly hotels and restaurants to keep your kids happy on holiday.

Best Regions for Kids

  • Coconut Grove

Big malls, mainstream cuisine and a pedestrian-friendly center.

  • Everglades

Kid-friendly national park exhibits. And big alligators. Kids love alligators.

  • Florida Keys

Active families with older kids will adore the snorkeling, diving, fishing, boating and all-around no-worries vibe.

  • Key Biscayne

An enormous, central park devoted to kids and surrounded by child-friendly nature trails and public beaches.

  • Coral Gables

More malls, midrange restaurants that are happy to host children, and the fairy-tale Venetian Pool.

  • Miami Beach

Lincoln Rd, South Pointe Park, Ocean Dr neon and the sandy beach will keep your kids grinning.

South Florida & the Keys for Kids

There is a plethora of kid-themed activities in South Florida. And in Florida, every tourist town has already anticipated the needs of every age in your family. With increasing skill and refinement, nearly every Florida museum, zoo, attraction, restaurant and hotel aims to please traveling families of all stripes.

Your only real trouble is deciding what to do. Florida offers so much for kids and families that planning can be tough. Simple itineraries can suddenly become a frantic dawn-to-dusk race to pack it all in.

Eating Out

Most midrange Florida restaurants have a dedicated kids’ menu, along with high chairs, crayons for coloring, and changing tables in restrooms. Even cheap ethnic eateries – a delicious, ubiquitous constant in the South Florida dining scene – are good at accommodating children. Most restaurants, even high-end ones, are happy to make a kids' meal by request. As a rule, families with infants or toddlers will get better service earlier in the dinner hour (by 6pm). Some high-end restaurants may look askance at young diners; simply ask when making reservations.

Our favorite restaurants for kids:

Big Pink

Boater’s Grill

11th St Diner

Steve's Pizza

Shuckers

Blue Heaven

Keys Fisheries

Camellia Street Grill

Robert Is Here

Animal Parks

Some visitors expect Disney World and Universal Studios to be just outside Miami (they’re actually a few hours away). South Florida isn’t a theme-park contender, but what it does possess, in oddly high numbers, are animal parks. Some are grassroots volunteer outfits that rescue injured beasts, such as the Turtle Hospital and Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary in the Keys. Others more closely resemble hybrid zoo-theme parks, such as Monkey Jungle and Jungle Island in Miami. These locations are a hit with kids, although you can expect more child-oriented infrastructure and exhibits in the Miami examples. There's also easy wildlife access at Royal Palm Visitor Center in the Everglades.

Beaches

The prototypical Florida family beach is fronted by – or near – very active, crowded commercial centers with lots of water sports and activities, tourist shops, grocery stores, and midrange eats and sleeps. Admittedly the region’s most popular beach, South Beach, is a bit more sophisticated and snooty. But c’mon – this is still Florida. Lots of families hang out on the southern end of South Beach. Mid-Beach and North Beach are also more traditionally family-oriented, as are the beaches on Key Biscayne.

The Keys have only a few small beaches, despite being islands. However, Bahia Honda State Park on Bahia Honda Key is safe, reasonably nature-focused while still fun in a beachy way, and has a small, kid-oriented science center on-site. Sombrero Beach on Marathon is near a playground and has good food options.

Museums & Attractions

South Florida and the Keys holds its own in the 'Stuff Kids Love' stakes. In addition to all the animal life in the Everglades National Park and outside of it, there is decades worth of only-in-America kitsch. Hard to define ‘sites’ such as the Coral Castle in Homestead wow kids if only for their unique weirdness. The visitor centers of the area’s many parks all have child-friendly interactive exhibits.

Some of the art museums may not jive with your kids (although the more cerebral ones will appreciate the trip), but institutions such as the Bass directly and indirectly sneak learning right into a child’s day.

Getting into Nature

Much of your time here is spent in air-conditioning, but don’t overlook unpackaged nature. Florida is exceedingly flat, so rivers and trails are ideal for short legs and little arms. Raised boardwalks through alligator-filled swamps make perfect pint-sized adventures. Placid rivers and intercoastal bays are custom-made for first-time paddlers, adult or child. Never snorkeled a coral reef or surfed? Florida has gentle places to learn. Book a sea-life cruise, a manatee swim, a nesting-sea-turtle watch or a glass-bottom boat tour. At Oleta River State Park and almost every state park we review in the Keys, there’s family-accessible kayaking and boating.

Children’s Highlights

Beaches, Pools & Parks

South Pointe Park, South Beach Ice-cream stands, soft grass, a beach and mini waterpark.

Mid-Beach Boardwalk, North Beach Fronts a family-friendly stretch of sand.

Arch Creek Park, Miami Has nature walks and ghost walks.

Crandon Park, Key Biscayne Pretty spot with sand and nature trails.

Venetian Pool, Coral Gables One of the most beautiful public pools in the country.

Jacob’s Aquatic Center, Key Largo Small water park and plenty of kiddie pools.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne Picnic tables front a pretty sweep of beach.

Village of Key Biscayne Community Center, Key Biscayne Playgrounds, sports fields and a packed kids’ activities schedule.

Barnacle Historic State Park, Coconut Grove Outdoor paths and frequent family-friendly outdoor concerts.

Fruit & Spice Park, Homestead Pretty trails wind past freshly fallen fruit.

Biscayne National Park, Homestead Glass-bottom boat tours and snorkeling over epic reefs.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo Great coral reefs, by snorkel or glass-bottom boat tour.

Harry Harris Park, Key Largo This small park is one of the best in the Keys for kids.

Sombrero Beach Park, Marathon Sugar-soft sand lines calm water on one side; playground facilities are on the other.

Animal Encounters

Zoo Miami, Miami This extensive and wide-ranging zoo has all the big-ticket species.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, Key Biscayne Kid-friendly intro to subtropical South Florida; has great hands-on programs.

Monkey Jungle, Miami The tagline at this zoo says it all: ‘Where humans are caged and monkeys run wild.' Unforgettable.

Jungle Island, Miami This zoo has tropical birds and exotic species such as the liger, a tiger-and-lion crossbreed.

Everglades Outpost, Florida City This volunteer-run animal sanctuary is essentially a great small zoo.

Shark Valley, Everglades Cycle or take a tram tour along the paved road of this park. Wading birds and alligators are practically guaranteed.

Royal Palm Visitor Center, Everglades Take a boardwalk trail over some of the most beautiful wetland landscapes.

National Key Deer Refuge, Big Pine Key Kids love spotting these cute-as-Bambi minideer.

Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary, Tavernier Injured birdlife is sheltered along several windy paths at this refuge.

Turtle Hospital, Marathon Turtles get tender loving care from a staff of dedicated volunteers. Visitors welcome (and appreciated).

Robbie’s Marina, Islamorada A sort of ‘working’ harbor and aquatic petting zoo.

Robert Is Here, Everglades This favorite farmers market has a petting zoo and fresh juice.

Quirky Fun

Metromover, Miami See the city from the sky via this free elevated train.

Mallory Square, Key West A carnival for the crowds that pops off on any evening as the sun sets.

Museums

Miami Children’s Museum, Miami Extensive role-playing environments.

HistoryMiami, Downtown Miami Bookish kids will appreciate the thoughtful exhibitions.

Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, Downtown Miami A new museum with lots of fun and stimulating exhibits.

Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Miami Little train-spotters will get their fix here.

Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Key West Fantastic and entertaining displays pull together Florida Keys ecology.

Crane Point Museum, Marathon Excellent alfresco introduction to the ecology of the Keys.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Coconut Grove Older children will appreciate the whimsy of this fairy-tale mansion.

Coral Castle, Homestead Kids may not appreciate the kitsch, but they still love the weirdness of this odd structure.

Miami-Dade Public Library, Downtown Miami Flagship library for Miami.

Miccosukee Village, Everglades On Tamiami Trail, this Native American village has culture shows and alligator wrestling.

Planning

If you’re a parent, you already know that fortune favors the prepared. But in Florida’s crazy-crowded, overbooked high-season tourist spots, planning can make all the difference. Before you come, plot your trip like a four-star general: make reservations for every place you might go. Then, arrive, relax and go with the flow.

For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet's Travel with Children.

What to Bring

If you forget something, don’t sweat it. Just bring yourself, your kids and any of their can’t-sleep-without items. Florida can supply the rest, from diapers to clothes to sunscreen to boogie boards.

That said, here are some things to consider:

  • For sleeping, a pack-and-play/portacot for infants and/or an inflatable mattress for older kids can be handy, especially if you’re road-tripping or sticking to amenity-poor, budget-range motels.
  • Bring light rain gear and umbrellas; it will rain at some point.
  • Bring water sandals for the beach, water parks and play fountains.
  • Bring sunscreen (a daily necessity) and mosquito repellent.
  • Prepare a simple first-aid kit; the moment an unexpected cut or fever strikes is not the time to run to the drugstore.

Accommodations

The vast majority of Florida hotels stand ready to aid families with cribs (often pack-and-plays), rollaway beds (some charge extra), refrigerators, microwaves, adjoining rooms and suites. Ask about their facilities when you book. Large hotels and resorts can go toe-to-toe with condos for amenities: including partial or full kitchens, laundry facilities, pools and barbecues, and various activities.

While some high-end boutique hotels in Miami Beach and adult-oriented B&Bs in the Keys may discourage young kids, they aren’t allowed to discriminate and ban them. If you’re unsure, ask about their minimum age preference. In general, the best Miami neighborhoods to stay with kids are South Beach (despite the mad party scene, it has the best hotels in town), North Beach, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables. Children should be fine at most of these places, except for South Beach’s priciest hotels – these hotels generally attract a celebrity-party crowd rather than families. Good family-style motels and B&Bs can be found in the Keys, Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo.

Travel Advice & Baby Gear

If you prefer to pack light, several services offer baby-gear rental (high chairs, strollers, car seats etc), while others sell infant supplies (diapers, wipes, formula, baby food etc), all delivered to your hotel; book one to two weeks in advance.

These websites provide family-centered travel advice and services:

Baby's Away (http://babysaway.com)

Babies Travel Lite (www.babiestravellite.com)

Jet Set Babies (http://jetsetbabies.com)

Feature: Florida-themed Books for Kids

Get reading-age kids in a Florida mood with these great books.

  • Hoot (2002; Carl Hiaasen) Hiassen normally writes dark satire for adults, but books like this, Flush (2005) and Scat (2009) feature his same zany characters, snappy plot twists and environmental message.
  • Because of Winn-Dixie (2000; Kate DiCamillo) Heart-warming coming-of-age tale about a 10-year-old girl adjusting to her new life in Florida.
  • The Yearling (1938; Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) Pulitzer Prize–winning literary classic about a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn in Florida’s backwoods.
  • The Treasure of Amelia Island (2008; MC Finotti) Historical fiction that recreates Spanish-ruled Florida through the eyes of an 11-year-old.
  • Bad Latitude (2008; David Ebright) Unabashed pirate adventure for tween boys, with a dash of historical realism.

Feature: Rules of the Road

Florida car-seat laws require children aged under three to be in a car seat, and children under five in at least a booster seat (unless they are over 80lb and 4ft 9in tall, allowing seat belts to be positioned properly). Rental-car companies are legally required to provide child seats, but only if you reserve them in advance; they typically charge upwards of $10 a day extra. You can also rent them from baby-gear-rental companies.

Feature: Date Night

Traveling with kids doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything as a family. Want a romantic night on the town? Several child-care services offer in-hotel babysitting by certified sitters; a few run their own drop-off centers. Rates vary based on the number of children, and typically they require a four-hour minimum (plus a $10 travel surcharge). Hourly rates cost $14 to $25. These services generally apply to Miami; in the Keys you may have to ask the folks at your hotel front desk about local babysitting options, although larger resorts should have sitter staff in-house.

Kid’s Nite Out (www.kidsniteout.com)

Sittercity (www.sittercity.com)

Sunshine Babysitting (www.sunshinebabysitting.com) Statewide.

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.

There are a number of organizations that specialize in the needs of disabled travelers:

Access-Able Travel Source (www.access-able.com) An excellent website with many links.

Flying Wheels Travel (http://flyingwheelstravel.com)

Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org) Advises disabled travelers on mobility issues and runs an educational exchange program.

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Volunteering

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. Animal sanctuaries and small parks are always on the lookout for short-term volunteer help.

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 main state park website (www.floridastateparks.org/get-involved/volunteer).

Everglades National Park Active volunteer program recruits both individuals and groups.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Can hook folks up with a plethora of environment-focused volunteer programs across the Keys.

Miami Habitat for Humanity (www.miamihabitat.org) Does a ton of work in Florida, building homes and helping the homeless.

Shake a Leg Miami A community water-sports complex in Coconut Grove that aims to serve economically and physically disadvantaged children.

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.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures Distances are measured in feet, yards and miles; weights are tallied in ounces, pounds and tons.

Women Travellers

Women traveling by themselves or in a group should encounter no particular problems unique to Florida besides the usual drunken loutishness in Miami and Key West.

There are a number of excellent resources to help traveling women:

  • Community website www.journeywoman.com facilitates women exchanging travel tips, with links to resources.
  • The Canadian government (www.voyage.gc.ca) publishes the useful, free, online booklet ‘Her Own Way’; look under ‘Publications.’

These two national advocacy groups might also be helpful:

National Organization for Women (www.now.org)

Planned Parenthood (www.plannedparenthood.org) Offers referrals to medical clinics throughout the country.

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); phone books have lists of local organizations, or contact the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline on 800-656-4673 or visit www.rainn.org. Or go straight to a hospital. A rape-crisis center or hospital will advocate on behalf of survivors and can act as a link to other services, including the police, who may not be as sensitive when dealing with victims of assault.

Work

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 nonimmigrant visitors visa, you are 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, South 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. 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)

Camp America (www.campamerica.aifs.com)

Council on International Educational Exchange (www.ciee.org)

InterExchange (www.interexchange.org) Camp and au-pair programs

International Exchange Programs (www.iep.org.au; www.iep.org.nz)

For nonstudent jobs, temporary or permanent, you need to be sponsored by a US employer (who will arrange an H-category visa). These aren’t easy to obtain.