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Travel & Holidays in later life


On a Gulf beachMost first-time visitors start with maybe a week in Orlando for the fantasy of the Theme Parks; and then move on to the other world of beaches, alligators, birdlife, golf or watersport.
The biggest surprise is the enormous variety of things to see and do. Walt Disney World Resort is the magnet which draws millions of visitors to Orlando. But around that nucleus in Central Florida there are dozens more theme parks and attractions that cover every possible interest.


Within one or two hours' drive there are superb sandy beaches, equipped with every imaginable aid to watersport. The entire coast of Florida is fringed with 'barrier islands' that offer choice of over a thousand miles of beaches, secluded or sophisticated, whichever you prefer.


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The Senior Citizen lobby is very active in Florida, with a high residential count of the over-50s. Many attractions, museums and even restaurants offer special age-related deals. 

Summer months are humid, with temperature into the 90's. Normally it then rains every afternoon, cooling things down. 

When to visit Florida? Many people, not tied to school holidays, prefer September, October and November. The hurricane season is over; there are fewer crowds; hotels and theme parks offer discounts. From December until mid-April is high season, when 'snowbirds' from Canada and northern USA flock south to escape their winter. 

In the Sunshine State, weather men never say it will be "partly cloudy". Instead, it's "mostly sunny". That means an average of at least 8 hours' daily sunshine year-round. 

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The inevitable comparison is with the Mediterranean. But Florida has several more trump cards which help make a holiday even better than expected. There's the huge benefit of no language barrier. Everywhere there's excellent value for money. Service comes with a commercial friendly smile.

One of Florida's greatest attractions is the Kennedy Space Center, only one hour from Orlando. Admission is free, but you pay for well-organised bus tours of the immense Cape Canaveral site. Demonstrations show how moon astronauts were trained, and you drive close to the huge launch pad installations.

Possibly the most memorable sight is the Apollo spacecraft exhibit, with a 364-ft rocket laid on its side and dissected into its component modules. 

Florida's man-made attractions get most of the publicity, but the state's natural features can delight the dedicated nature-lover.

Consider, for instance, an out-of-this-world visit to Sanibel Island where gorgeous beaches are kept sparkling by the tidal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. If you're in a hurry, you don't belong in this palm-tree paradise. 

This is where Native Americans lived for a few thousand years, dining off seafood and piling millions of discarded shells to form hillocks that still remain among the mangroves.

Rent a bike and potter around miles of bicycle paths, enjoying this former Indian territory. There are lagoons and mangrove swamps, with rich birdlife everywhere: ospreys, heron, egrets, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Turkey Vultures. You'll really kick yourself if you don't take binoculars.

In the 'Ding' Darling wildlife sanctuary, it's easy to find alligators, dozing in the sun. 

Florida has over 100 state parks and reserves. Grand-daddy of them all is the Everglades National Park, which rates among the best-known in the world. There you can see first-hand the wild and primitive setting which was experienced by the early pioneers.

Beaches aren't the only places you can enjoy Florida on a budget. Many attractions and festivals, scattered all over the state, are free. The year-round calendar is full of cultural, historical and recreational activities for the entire family. Check on arrival to find "What's On".

At reasonable cost, you can tour great art galleries, museums and semi-tropical gardens. Florida is well stocked with the great masters of classical painting, through to the world's largest collection of Salvador Dali's work outside of Spain.

At the Venetian-style palace built by the Ringling Circus family By European standards, America may seem young and brash. But Americans themselves, touring their own USA, are keenly interested in making the most of their few centuries of history. 

Anywhere you go, buildings still standing from the 19th century are cherished as historic museum-pieces, filled with relics of the pioneer past, and heavily promoted to attract tourists - that is, mainly American tourists. But there's no reason why a British visitor can't get just as much enjoyment, gazing in awe at anything that's just over a hundred years old. 

There's even a Florida version of Britain's Stately Homes circuit. In late 19th century and early 20th, America's wealthiest tycoons were lured by Florida's climate to build winter homes. 

Several are open to visitors, such as railwayman Henry Flagler's mansion in Palm Beach, Rockefeller's two-storey home at Ormond Beach, circus-magnate Ringling's Venetian-style palace at Sarasota, Edison's winter retreat at Fort Myers, or International Harvester's John Deering at Villa Vizcaya, on Biscayne Bay, Miami.

Florida is a great place for the sports-lover, whether it's spectator sport or do-it-yourself. The climate is idyllic for watersports. Every resort, however small, can offer a good choice of golf courses, tennis courts and riding stables. 

In many locations there are opportunities to watch first-hand some of those all-American sports like baseball, football and basketball, besides the Hispanic import of jai-alai.

Two things stand out about Florida. 

Firstly, there's the remarkable range of things to do, places to visit, and the incredible variety of the theme parks. 

Secondly, once you've paid the cost of trans-Atlantic travel, all the expenses on accommodation, food, self-drive transport and general etceteras total up less than you'd pay inThe waterfront skyline of Miami Britain or continental Europe. 

That combination of value-for-money and catering for every taste is what makes the Florida travel industry tick. On the homeward flight, most holidaymakers are thinking about where to go in Florida "next time". You can't see it all in two weeks!

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Walt Disney World Resort & Orlando (Eyewitness Travel Guides)  If, despite the article above, you decide to base yourself on Orlando and its attractions, here's the latest guide-book to ensure that you really make the most of your time.

The Rough Guide to Florida  -  Choose this guide for the traditional Rough Guide style of getting best possible value for money. 

DK Eyewitness Travel Map: Florida - Excellent for self-drive holidaymakers, this detailed map makes an excellent guide for advance route-planning.

Florida (Eyewitness Travel Guides) - Take your choice at yet another excellent guidebook.


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