Florida: Top Family Destinations for October Half Term

Donald Duck dressed in a sombrero hat and a colourful striped poncho in front of an Aztec wall.

It is feeling like Autumn is most definitely here now. The autumn storms have begun and my coat has been dug out of the wardrobe. Therefore, it is no surprise that I am dreaming of sunshine and warmer climes and have already booked my autumn getaway. If you are still unsure about where to head to for your Autumn family holiday I have three destinations that I highly recommend. This week I focus on the faraway shores of Florida.

 

 

We spent a fabulous and dream filled holiday in Florida earlier this year and I am already planning a return visit for the future. With warm weather, gorgeous beaches, yummy food, fabulous wildlife, an abundance of holiday accommodation and the best theme parks in the world (in my opinion) it really is the perfect destination for families.

 

Disney World

It would be wrong to suggest a family holiday in Florida without mentioning Disney World. Our holiday in May was filled with many a happy day at five of the Disney parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Blizzard Beach. It was truly a magical place to visit where we were able to make happy memories to last a lifetime with my mum and J.

 

J hugging Mickey in his sorcerer's costume.

 

Disney World Top Tips

  • Despite the mix of ages in our group, we all loved Animal Kingdom best, although Magic Kingdom and Blizzard Beach came a close second.
  • We found that Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios were the best for character meet and greets.
  • If you have a foodie in your group then Epcot World Showcase is a must visit to try out food from around the world (maybe skip breakfast as there is so much food to try).
  • Our favourite play area for J was the Boneyard in Animal Kingdom. This dinosaur themed fun zone was full of slides, bridges and a giant sand pit. J could have spent hours in there.
  • If you are travelling with someone who has Autism or Sensory Challenges then Disney World has an amazing guide to help you navigate your visit. I wrote about our Sensory Experience at Disney.
  • The Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom had J’s favourite rides and attractions.
  • I found the Disney Magic Kingdom park and Disney Springs best for shopping.
  • I wish I had worn family t-shirts! Some of the ones people wore were fabulous.
  • The food is extortionate, so take your own picnics into the parks.
  • Free water is available at certain points around the park if you ask for it.

 

The Epcot ball in the background with topiary Mickey and flowers in a pot in the foreground.

 

Disney World offers some great passes if you buy in advance in the UK and this makes it much cheaper than buying tickets when you arrive. The 7, 14 and 21 day Ultimate Tickets include Fastpass and Memory Maker which were two benefits we took full advantage of.

Fastpass

  • Fastpass offers you the option to prebook 3 rides/attractions per day for each member of your party. You then join the Fastpass queue during your selected time and you only have to queue for 5 or 10 minutes (if at all). We found this very handy with an impatient three year old to entertain. Once your three pre chosen Fastpasses have been used you can then book additional Fastpasses for that day if there are any left.

Memory Maker

  • Memory Maker allows you to download all of the photos you have taken at Disney World including the ride pictures and those taken by the Disney photographers. You also get the magic photos and animations included if the photographer uses these (you can ask them too). If you waited to buy this when you arrive at Disney World it will cost you $199 per person, so it really is great value for money to have it included in your package and we loved having photos of all of us together to cherish forever.

 

Magic Kingdom is getting competitive with hubby and I battling out to win Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin ride. We are laughing as we shoot lasers at Z's

 

 

Myakka River State Park/Alligators

J loves animals and has always been fascinated by crocodiles, so I was adamant that I wanted to take him to see alligators in the wild since they are so abundant in Florida. Having done quite a lot of research I discovered that Myakka River State Park was THE place to go to see wild alligators without the commercialism that I encountered previously at the Everglades.

 

Myakka River State Park is home to over 1000 wild alligators and is one of the best places in Florida to spot them in their natural habitat. This photo shows an alligator on the sandy shore with tall grass behind. The alligator is walking into the water.

 

It is about a 2/2.5 hour drive from Orlando to Myakka River State Park and only 20- 30 minutes  drive inland from Sarasota on the Gulf coast of Florida.

 

We entered the park and paid a small charge. Within minutes we were driving over a river and spotted 10 alligators below us. We pulled into a little lay-by and J got his first close encounter with wild alligators in Florida. He was absolutely fascinated and if that had been all we had seen J would have been over the moon. We continued driving into the park to the visitor centre where we had our picnic and then went on a small boat trip where we saw at least 100 wild alligators. It was incredible and we will never forget seeing these magnificent creatures swimming under our boat and surfacing just below us. J talks about the alligators even more than Disney World. It was unmissable! We could easily have spent a whole day at the park and you can camp here for a longer visit.

 

Myakka River State Park has an abundance of alligators. Here are two swimming side by side with their snouts, eyes and backs visible on the water. They are swimming away from the boat.

 

 

Gulf Coast Beaches

I have always wanted to visit the Gulf Coast of Florida, so on our most recent visit to Florida we combined a trip to Siesta Key (one of the best beaches in the world) with a visit to the Myakka State Park. The warm, clear turquoise waters and the white sand that feels like talcum powder running through your toes was stunningly beautiful. I was disappointed not to see dolphins leaping off the coast since they are a regular sight but we had a fabulous time anyway. We popped into the laid back village of Siesta Key for a delicious dinner before we headed back to Orlando, but there was easily three or four days worth of activities we would have like to have done in Sarasota alone and at least a weeks worth of other activities spread further along the Gulf coast so we will definitely be heading back for a longer visit in the future.

 

me on Siesta Key beach

 

 

Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Centre

Kennedy Space Centre is a must visit Florida attraction for any space lovers in your family. Hubby and I are space fans and we loved our visit to Kennedy Space Centre. Seeing the space rockets up close and hearing about all the history of the site and the key moments of jubilation and tragedy that have taken place there was both uplifting and heartbreaking.

 

View from Cocoa Beach toward Kennedy Space Station.

 

On our recent visit to Florida with J, we chose to visit Cape Canaveral to watch a space rocket launch. We chose Cocoa Beach to watch the launch but sadly it was aborted with seconds to go. We would definitely like to try again on a future trip though and I recommend you keep an eye on the launch timetable if you are heading to Florida.

 

Cocoa Beach pier.

 

 

Florida is one of my all-time favourite family holiday destinations so I would recommend going whenever you can. Beautiful beaches, exciting wildlife, space rockets, terrific theme parks, national parks – what’s not to love? With it’s sunny climes Florida is the perfect long haul destination for families in October half term. Have fun!

 

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