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Florida

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Travel Guide North America USA Southern United States Florida

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Introduction

Epcot

Epcot

© All Rights Reserved SirRogue58


Florida enjoys a subtropical climate and kilometres of coastline, and easily attracts 60 million visitors each year. Amusement parks, natural attractions and modern cities make this one of the USA's premier holiday destinations and it is a popular playground for the 'snowbirds', people from the more northern states of the USA and also from Canada and Europe who will flock here from December to April, the best time for a visit.

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Regions

Florida is generally divided into four main geographical areas:

Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle is an informal, unofficial term for the northwestern part of Florida. The term is also generally synonymous with West Florida and Northwest Florida. Cities in this region include Tallahassee, Destin, Pensacola, and Panama City Beach.

North Florida

North Florida includes the region in the northern part of the state, excluding the Florida Panhandle. It includes the vibrant, cosmopolitan city of Jacksonville.

Central Florida

Central Florida is home to some of the world's famous theme parks: Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, Universal Studios Florida. The Kennedy Space Center, Cypress Gardens, Daytona International Speedway and Gatorland are also located in this region.

South Florida

South Florida is home to the populous Miami metropolitan area, the Florida Keys, and other localities. It is the only part of the continental United States with a tropical climate.

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Geography

Florida is the most southeasterly state in the USA, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the Straits of Florida on the south and the Gulf of Mexico on the west. Spanning two time zones, it extends to the northwest into a panhandle, extending along the northern Gulf of Mexico. It is bordered on the north by the states of Alabama and Georgia, and on the west, at the end of the panhandle, by Alabama. It is near several Caribbean countries, particularly the Bahamas and Cuba. At 105 metres above mean sea level, Britton Hill is the highest point in Florida and the lowest highpoint of any state in the country. Much of the state south of Orlando is low-lying and fairly level; however, some places, such as Clearwater, feature vistas that rise 15-30 metres above the water. Much of Central and North Florida, typically 40 kilometres or more away from the coastline, features rolling hills with elevations ranging from 30 to 75 metres. The highest point in peninsular Florida (east and south of the Suwanee River), Sugarloaf Mountain, is a 95-metre-high peak in Lake County.

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Cities

Miami

Miami Beach, Florida - USA

Miami Beach, Florida - USA

© All Rights Reserved airwolf09

Divided into two parts, Mainland and South Beach, Miami is one of the most visited destinations in the USA. The busiest part of the city is the Art-Deco district, in South Beach, fully loaded with night-clubs and restaurants; the beach opposite this area is also very popular amongst tourists. In the Key Biscayne area, tourists are offered the chance to visit some celebrities' houses. Shopping lovers would find in Miami a wide variety of shopping malls, such as Bayside, Coco Walk, the Dolphin mall, amongst others. In the end, Miami is the place to be!

Orlando

Located in Central Florida, Orlando is the busiest metropolitan area in the state. The reason for this is undoubtedly the theme parks, and in particular, Walt Disney. With more than a dozen of different parks, Orlando is the place to have fun in family. If you are not keen on family holidays, them parks and other joy, it is best to get out of here as quickly as possible, because Florida has much more enjoyable cities, beaches, nature and culture for you.

Other cities

Tampa, FL - USA

Tampa, FL - USA

© All Rights Reserved airwolf09

Other significant cities in the state include Hollywood, Delray Beach, Port St. Lucie, Coral Springs, West Palm Beach, Gainesville, Miramar, Clearwater and Pompano Beach.

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Sights and Activities

Coasts/Beaches

With exciting cities to visit, such as Sarasota, Tampa and Clearwater, and the world-wide famous Everglades National Park, The Gulf Coast is a hidden treasure in Florida. On the other side of the peninsula, the Gold Coast extends itself over sixty miles long on the Atlantic Coast. Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Boca Raton and many other cities offer an endless variety of entertainment, culture, nightlife and restaurants. The ride in a car is a must over the A1A.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Dry Tortugas National Park is a national park about 110 kilometres west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The park preserves Fort Jefferson and the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the westernmost and most isolated of the Florida Keys. The archipelago's coral reefs are the least disturbed of the Florida Keys reefs. Fort Jefferson and birdwatching are the highlights here, although there is good snorkelling as well. Visiting the park by private boat is difficult because of its distance, so most visitors come by boat or seaplane from Key West, Florida. Official ferry and transportation services to the Dry Tortugas includes the Yankee Freedom III catamaran and seaplane services. They offer daytrips for US$165 ($120 children), including breakfast, lunch, a tour of Fort Jefferson, snorkelling gear and a great boat trip (usually good weather). Key West Seaplan Charters offers half day and daytrips at (much) higher prices. You can camp at the island for $3 a night but you have to reserve space beforehand, also making sure you book the boatride back.

Everglades National Park

Everglades Gatorade

Everglades Gatorade

© All Rights Reserved zmey

The Everglades encompasses an area of marshland taking up most of the south of Florida. It is a popular tourist destination and the park plays a unique part in local folklore, with legends of moon shiners, smugglers and alligators. The Everglades National Park takes up much of the region. It protects the southern 20% of the original Everglades. In the United States, it is the largest subtropical wilderness, the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River, and is visited on average by one million people each year. It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone. It has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, one of only three locations in the world to appear on all three lists. There are many things to do, including a tram tour at Shark Valley, boat trips from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center (10,000 islands reserve) and Flamingo and beautiful hikes, including the Anhinga Trail.

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are the most southern point of North America, bordering almost with Cuba. Not only they are quite famous for the beaches and wildlife parks, but also for the nature reserves and architecture. The night life is also another good reason to go to the 'keys'. Key West is the most popular island and therefore the most visited one of the string. From Miami, it takes a good five hours by car to get there, crossing by dozens of bridges.

Manatees

Big Beautiful Manatee

Big Beautiful Manatee

© All Rights Reserved Utrecht

Florida is one of the best places in the world to see manatees without too much effort. There are dozens of places along the coast (mainly the southern half of the state) where you will see this big beautiful creatures of nature. Several of them are difficult to get to or are forbidden to enter by travellers. Others can only be reached independently for example by kayaking or walking a bit to a place you can spot them. But the Manatee Capital of the world is Crystal River, about midway along the west coast. The main season is winter, from December till April, with peaks in January and February when the weather is at its coldest. Especially after brief cold spells when temperatures can drop to around zero, the manatees will flock here in the hundreds at least. But even on a normal day there are at least a dozen or so of these fantastic animals that you can spot. There are loads of tour operators in the area, so it's best to check Tripadvisor's Activities in Crystal River to decide which one is perfect for you. There won't be any major differences, but one tip is to go as early as possible. Some of them leave just after 6:00am which is recommended.

Seven Mile Bridge

Seven Mile Bridge

Seven Mile Bridge

© All Rights Reserved porz

The Seven Mile Bridge is a famous bridge in Monroe County, Florida Keys, United States. It connects Knight's Key in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. Among the longest bridges in existence when it was built, it is one of the many bridges on US 1 in the Keys, where the road is called the Overseas Highway. There are two bridges in this location. The older bridge, originally known as the Knights Key-Pigeon Key-Moser Channel-Pacet Channel Bridge, was constructed from 1909-1912 under the direction of Henry Flagler as part of the Overseas Railroad. The current road bridge was constructed from 1978 to 1982. The vast majority of the original bridge still exists, used as fishing piers and access to Pigeon Key, but the swing span over the Moser Channel of the Intracoastal Waterway has been removed.
The total length of the new bridge is actually 6.79 miles, and is shorter than the original. Each April the bridge is closed for approximately 2.5 hours on a Saturday and a "fun run," known as the Seven Mile Bridge Run.

Other Sights and Activities

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Events and Festivals

Daytona 500

The Daytona 500 is the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the most prestigious one of them all. It is held on a Sunday during the second half of February and attracts over 150,000 visitors every year. Tickets vary from just about US$50 to hundreds of dollars for VIP tickets, usually sold in combination with tickets for other events or as a package for the whole weekend.

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Weather

Florida is the warmest state of mainland USA. Only Hawaii has comparable weather. Temperatures are usually between 25 °C and 30 °C for most of the year, a bit warmer from June to September and cooler from November to March. The north is rather colder though during winter, when winds from the north occasionally bring frost and possible snowfall, but this is rather rare. Conditions are hot and sticky for most of the year in the southern area. June to November is the rainy season and hurricanes are a possibility for most of the state during this time. Florida leads the United States in tornadoes per area (when including waterspouts) but they do not typically reach the intensity of those in the Midwest and Great Plains. Hail often accompanies the most severe thunderstorms.

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Getting There

By Plane

1. Miami International Airport (MIA/KMIA) is the city's main airport and is one of the United States' largest airports. It is located around 13 kilometres from downtown Miami. There are non-stop routes from and to well over 100 destinations worldwide, including cities throughout North and South America, Europe and the Middle East. Miami International Airport is also the largest international gateway for American Airlines, which has nearly 100 destinations served alone!
Some of the main destinations are Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Havana, Düsseldorf, Toronto, Madrid, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Aruba, La Paz, Lima, London, Rio de Janeiro, St. Thomas, Panama City, Manaus, Santiago, Frankfurt, Sao Paulo and Washington, D.C..

To/from the airport

  • Bus: Miami-Dade Transit provides excess with its Metrobus.
  • Rental cars, shuttles and taxis are available at the airport
  • Rail: There are free shuttle buses to nearby Tri-Rail stations.

2. Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the major airport for the city and many airlines serve destinations within the USA and to Europe and South America. The airport is located about 11 kilometres from the CBD of Orlando. It's the second busiest airport in Florida and even in the top 30 worldwide.

To/from the airport

  • Bus: Lynx provides a sub-station at the airport with service to Downtown Orlando and other area routes.
  • A complimentary coach transportation service for guests staying at Walt Disney World resort hotels. The motor coach service is operated by Mears Transportation. Guests have to book in advance reservations.
  • Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line, SunCruz Casinos, Sterling Casinos and Mears Transportation all run scheduled buses from the airport to Port Canaveral for incoming cruise passengers
  • The community of The Villages in Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties operates a shuttle between the community and Orlando International Airport. The shuttle stops at Lake Sumter Landing and Spanish Springs
  • Taxis and rental cars are both widely available at the airport as well.

3. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) has a number of international connections as well as a fair number of domestic flights. It is located about 5 kilometres from the CBD of Fort Lauderdale and about 33 kilometres from Miami.

To/from the airport

  • Bus: The airport is served by Broward County Transit bus Route 1. It has connecting service through the Central Terminal, and also buses to Aventura, in Miami-Dade County.
  • Rail: Rail service is provided by Tri-Rail, at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport Tri-Rail station, where there is a shuttle that goes to the airport.
  • Car: The airport offers airport parking and has rental car facilities. Taxis are available as well.

4. Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), also known as Fort Myers International Airport, is the main gateway for Fort Myers and the surrounding area, including Cape Coral and Naples. It mainly has connections to other cities in the USA, but there are quite a few flights to Toronto and less so to Montreal and even Düsseldorf.

5. Tampa International Airport (IATA: TPA, ICAO: KTPA, FAA LID: TPA) is located around 11 kilometres from Tampa's CBD. A few dozen of airlines serve the airport, mainly on domestic routes, but there are a few interesting alternatives on international routes, like the one to London Gatwick Airport.

Other airports with mainly domestic flights are located near Palm Beach, Melbourne, Daytona, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola.

By Train

By Car

The main interstates entering Florida are the I-10 from the west (Alabama) and the I-75 and I-95 from the north (Georgia).

By Bus

Check Greyhound for options. Amtrak has some coaches in additions to trains.

By Boat

Discovery Cruise Line operates a daily (except Wednesdays) cruise ferry between Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale in Florida and Freeport on Grand Bahama. It leaves at 9:30am from Fort Lauderdale, arriving in Freeport around 1:30pm, and returns from Freeport at 5:15pm, arriving in Fort Lauderdale around 10:30pm. So a one-way trip takes around 4 hours to the Bahamas, and about 5 hours back, which barely leaves you 4 hours at Grand Bahama Island. There are options to spend the night though and take a ferry the next day back to Florida. Services on board include three buffet meals and a Las Vegas style casino! A return ticket costs around US$140.

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Getting Around

By Plane

There are some intrastate flights in Florida, connecting Miami with Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola for example. Within Southern Florida, it hardly pays off to fly as distances are relatively short.

By Train

Tri Rail offers connections between Miami and Palm Beach. All other connections are with Amtrak.

By Car

You will find most of the big cities with rental offices by one or more of these companies so picking up a rental car in Florida is easy. Prices will vary depending on the time of the year you are booking. Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include SixtHertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

Florida has a number of National Scenic Byways which offer a great way to explore the state crossing beautiful landscapes. Mostly, there are lots of national parks, state parks or monuments along the way and it's generally a better alternative than the faster but boring Interstate Highways.

By Bus

Check Greyhound for options within Florida.

By Boat

Usually, most boat travelling is with your own yacht, but there are a few ferry services including those between Fort Myers/Marco Island and Key West.

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Sleep

Hotel and Motel Chains

There are dozens of hotel and motel chains, ranging from budget to top end. Allthough they are not the most charming accommodations, they usually have a very decent midrange service with good rooms and are generally good value. At least you know what to expect and in some cases they are either the only or the best option in the area. Some of them include:

Deluxe Accommodations

Florida boasts many exclusive and even over-the-top hotels and condominiums for vacation rental, overlooking the great beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, near high-fashion spots like South Beach, Amelia Island and Boca Raton, or more low-key areas like Pensacola Beach, at the far western end of the Florida Panhandle, close to Mobile, Alabama. Here are two adjacent to the Gulf Shores National Seashore and the quaint village of Pensacola Beach.

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References

  1. 1 2010 census - FL. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on 2013-01-11.

Quick Facts

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Capital
Tallahassee
Population
18,801,310[1]

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This is version 77. Last edited at 8:20 on Jun 4, 13 by Utrecht. 54 articles link to this page.

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