Get close to some gentle giants in their natural habitat by snorkeling with manatees in the Crystal River. These amazingly tranquil creatures live in a group of around 100-150 in the Homosassa State Wildlife Park on Florida’s Nature Coast, and you can spend a leisurely session swimming beside them on a trip with Attraction Tickets Direct. Included in the 12-hour trip is a narrated boat tour through the heart of manatee country, an airboat ride and swimming time, plus two meals and snorkeling gear hire. The best times to see them are between October and March.
- Bookable from the UK, adults £64, children £48. Call 0808 271 4453 or click here
Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida, has a whole host of ways to see its residents. For the brave there’s the tree-top trek – an aerial adventure in the trees, with ziplines over alligator pools, or if you’re the active type, you can kayak past a herd of giraffe! There are plenty of animals to see, such as white rhinos, monkeys and jaguars. You can also go on a night hike, if you dare, or handle some of the animals – perfect for children.
- Adults $16.95, children $12.95. Call 321 254 9453 or visit www.brevardzoo.org
Relive your childhood memories of a time when men walked on the moon by visiting the world-famous Kennedy Space Center. Based an hour outside Orlando, it offers a fascinating insight into space travel, including spaceflight simulators, IMAX films, moon rocks which you can touch, and tours of actual rocket launch areas.
- Bookable from the UK, adults from £31, children from £26. To book call 0808 271 4453 or click here
Roll up, roll up…
For the greatest show on earth! Take a trip to the Circus Museum, which houses stunning hand-carved animal wagons and artifacts from the Ringling Bros’ original travelling show. Other exhibits trace the history of the big top, right up to today’s Cirque du Soleil. You can marvel over a tiny scale replica of the old circus in action, built over the course of 50 years. The Ringlings were an interesting family, and amassed an enormous collection of 14th-18th Century European artwork. The John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, on the same estate, is also worth a visit.
- Admission $25 adults, $5 children aged 6-plus. Call 941 359 5700 or visit www.ringling.org
Florida is famous for its citrus fruits, as the warm climate is perfect for them. You can tour various grapefruit or orange groves year-round by contacting the growers directly. Try Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradeton, where the kindly owners also look after injured wildlife who are cared for among the orange groves.
Take the train
For a slice of movie magic, catch the beautiful Orange Blossom Cannonball train from Mount Dora or Tavares. Various steam train models are in service, including a wood-burning engine which features in films such as
’O Brother, Where Art Thou? and runs mostly on Saturdays.
- 352 742 7200 or visit www.orangeblossomcannonball.com
Dining with a difference
There are all sorts of quirky dinner experiences to be had across Florida. Broadway Palm, in South-West Florida, offers a dinner buffet with both matinee and evening performances of traditional plays and musicals. Would-be sleuths will want to head to Tampa for a night at the Detective Dinner Theater. An interactive murder mystery dinner, you’ll be given play money with which to ‘bribe’ the actors for more clues. Meanwhile the grandchildren will love the swashbuckling Pirate’s Dinner Adventure in Orlando, where you’ll dine next to a replica boat with plenty of live action.
- Broadway Palm ticket prices vary, 239 278 4422; Detective Dinner Theater tickets cost $52.50; Pirate’s Dinner Adventure tickets cost $35 adults, $30 children, 800 866 2469
If you want to escape the crowds and find your own quiet spot, head to the unspoilt beaches of the Gulf Coast. Fort de Sota, near St Pete’s, is a wildlife-lover’s heaven. Here you can spot dolphins, or take a canoe ride through the mangroves. If you’ve got the grandchildren in tow, Tigertail Beach on Marco Island is perfect. It’s a bit tucked away, has a playground and is bursting with gorgeous seashells.
Where to stay for less
Love Holidays offers various packages at a lower price point. Call 0800 215 5900 or visit www.loveholidays.com