Natural Holidays in Florida
Orlando is known around the globe as the capital of all things Disney and home to sixteen world-class theme parks packed with pulsating rollercoasters, real-life cartoon characters and enough stimuli to feed a child’s imagination until adulthood… but let’s forget about Mickey and the “Theme Park Capital of the World” for a while. Instead, let focus on another of Orlando’s nicknames – “The City Beautiful”. It’s a big title for any urban area but Orlando is genuinely blessed geographically, with an impressive array of natural wonders and geological phenomena.
Maybe you’ve visited Orlando before, been hurled around Space Mountain a few times and seen enough Universal Film Studio sets to last a lifetime, or perhaps you’re a first-timer. Either way, don’t let the headline attractions fill your holiday schedule, instead plan a bit of time to see the wilder side of Orlando and its spectacular natural surroundings. Try booking with a reputable company such as Florida specialist Holiday Genie and read up on Florida’s non-Disney attractions before you depart.
A Tropical Affair
Orlando has a wonderful climate, with blue skies and warm sun a constant throughout the year. You’ll find the hottest temperatures between June and September, averaging around 27-30 °C whilst, the average maximum temperature, hits anywhere up to 33 °C, so don’t forget the sun cream!
Given Orlando’s tropical latitude and proximity to the Caribbean, things can get rather humid with saturation levels reaching 83% in August and so thunderstorms are a daily feature. These thunderstorms are timely affairs and actually quite impressive to watch, often no more than 30 mins in duration and you can usually set your watch by the first of the daily thunder claps! Aim for the shoulder seasons of early spring to get the best of the climatic conditions – from mid-March to May, temperatures average around 27 °C, plus it’s a little drier too. See VisitOrlando for a weather overview.
Orlando – Always on the Brightside
Florida has the nickname “The Sunshine State”, and it’s easy to see why: with up to 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, you’re almost guaranteed a sunny vacation. In the Orlando region, you’ll get at least ten hours a day from April to July, nine hours in August and September, and eight hours after that. If long, warm days are what you’re desperately craving from a holiday then Orlando is the place to be.
Pick a Coast
Orlando is just 50 miles from the Atlantic Coast and 75 miles from the Gulf Coast, which means a twin-centre stay is the perfect mix and match of sightseeing and beach dwelling! The closest is the world-famous Daytona Beach, which is about an hour’s drive. Daytona has calmed down a lot since its “Spring Break” party heyday, and is now a weekend destination for locals living in downtown Orlando and a superb water sports destination. Daytona is also host to the week-long Biketoberfest, an event featuring thousands of motorbikes, which rev up and down the promenade – not everyone’s cup of tea though!
Another stunning stretch of golden sand close to Orlando is the Alan Shepard Beach Park at Cocoa Beach. And your reward for an hour’s drive is the opportunity to sun yourself on five linear acres of gorgeous golden sand. The beach is named after the first American in space and it’s pretty close to Cape Canaveral too – if you’re here at the right time, you’ll get an astounding view of a space shuttle launch.
If you’re prepared to travel a bit further, you should head to the Gulf Coast. One of the most picturesque beaches in the entire state is on St. George Island, just off the coast of the mainland. St. George is a 22 mile barrier island, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and offers a lot more than just a tranquil, sandy expanse. It houses a State Park containing 9 miles of undeveloped coastline, home to birds such as the black skimmer and even some loggerhead sea turtles – watch throngs of babies hatch and make their way back into the sea in the early summer months.
Florida’s wetlands are a natural habitat for both alligators and crocodiles to co-exist side by side (the only place in the world). The ‘gators’ are far more abundant however and, often found basking in the sun beside rivers, but if you want to get really up close and personal with them, take a trip out to the 110-acre Gator Land, where you can even try your hand at wrestling one.
The Sunshine State boasts an incredibly diverse array of birdlife too. Home to more than 500 native species of birds, including pelicans, storks, egrets, herons, spoonbills, ibis, flamingos, vultures and even the bald eagle, it’s a twitcher’s paradise. You’ll find quite a few of these species in the Everglades National Park and the Bird Rookery at Gator Land Park.
Orlando’s Natural Attractions
Big Tree Park was home to a 3,500 year old bald cypress tree until it was tragically lost in a blaze in 2012. However, its remains are still there to be seen, as is its sister tree, the 2000 year old “Lady Liberty”. The Park is free to enter, and you could easily lose a day here, walking through the incredible hydric hammock swamp. It’s like stepping back in time a few millennia.
Next, we have Bok Tower Gardens, a National Historic Landmark just outside of the city. The star attraction is the Singing Tower, a 205-foot neo-Gothic tower. The Tower is home to a 60-bell carillon, so visit at around 3pm to experience some ethereal musical delights. There is a divinely beautiful reflecting pool to chill out by, after you’ve taken a walk along the rugged Pine Ridge Trail.
Another fantastic place to go is the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area. This ginormous area covers more than 30,000 acres of land, and contains everything from cypress swamps and freshwater creeks to cabbage palm hammocks and pine flatwoods. It’s home to glorious orchids, white-tailed deer, and the obligatory alligators, and the options for spending your time are endless – you can go mountain biking, you can hike, you can go lake fishing, you can spend your time on horseback… In fact, there’s so much to do that you may wish to spend a few nights camping!