South Florida is the most popular destination for New Yorkers this spring — and it’s not hard to see why.
Whether vacationers crave a romantic island retreat, a relaxing fishing trip or fun and games with the kids, the Sunshine State has plenty to thrill visitors of all ages.
And with numerous direct flights to Florida from NYC-area airports, competition continues pushing airfares down. While the national average for a domestic round-trip flight is $351, the round-trip fare between New York and Orlando averages just $314, or $332 from New York to Miami, Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach.
But there’s more to Florida than its famous amusement parks and sandy beaches. From ecotours on airboats through the Everglades National Park to adventures inside a mock space shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center, these are the hot spots that travelers won’t want to miss.
1. AMELIA ISLAND
Who hasn’t dreamed of a romantic horseback ride along the beach? This historic island in northeast Florida has the only beachside ranch in the state. Saddle up at the Kelly Seahorse Ranch in Amelia Island State Park ($60 per person) for a one-of-a-kind experience. Guests can also bike and hike through the beautiful historic district, or make a splash with scuba-diving trips.
2. KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
Space buffs are guaranteed an out-of-this-world experience at Cape Canaveral, the heart of America’s space program. Tour the life-size space shuttle replica, or buckle up for the Shuttle Launch Experience designed by astronauts to simulate what it feels like to blast off. There’s also the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which stores equipment from Apollo missions to the moon. Tix are $38 for adults, $28 for children. For more information, contact the Space Coast Office of Tourism at 1-877-572-3224 or visit www.Space-Coast.com.
3. COCOA BEACH’S THOUSAND ISLANDS
Water buffs will enjoy exploring the islands up close on a guided boat tour by Adventure Kayak of Cocoa Beach. Paddle in relaxing shallow waters and get an eyeful of the exotic wildlife, while venturing through mangrove tunnels, channels and islands, where you can spot great blue herons, bottlenose dolphins and manatees. No experience is necessary, and the going is nice and slow, so this trip is suited for paddlers of all ages. Tours are $28 for adults, $15 for kids. Visit www.KayakCocoaBeach.com or call (321) 480-8632.
4. THE EVERGLADES
The nation’s largest subtropical wilderness is teeming with opportunities for adventure. Visit the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, where Native Americans have preserved an area of the park for ecotours via the Billie Swamp Safari. Ramble through the bramble in a swamp buggy ($25 for adults, $15 for kids) or glide across the wetlands on airboat adventure tours ($15 per person). Overnight packages are also available, combining activities and lodging for $73.35 for adults, $51.75 for kids.
5. PALM BEACH
Couples who prefer pedaling to paddling will get the most out of Palm Beach, which boasts plenty of activities for two. Visitors can golf, shop or get pampered in the area’s spas. One of the city’s best outdoor activities is biking along the Intracoastal Waterway and scoping out the manicured hedges and lavish mansions. Bike rentals are $15 an hour, $39 for the day at the Palm Beach Bicycle Trail Shop (www.PalmBeachBicycle.com). For information about the town, call 1-800-554-7256 or visit www.PalmBeachFL.com.
6. KEY WEST
Savor a taste of the Caribbean without breaking out your passport. Key West is the perfect place to test your fins with a variety of water sports, from easy, inexpensive snorkeling in the shallow waters off the island to scuba diving farther out for the more experienced. Adventurers can also take a shot at kiteboarding, which combines a parachute and a surfboard for some highflying adventure. For more information, call 1-800-FLA-KEYS or visit www.Fla-Keys.com.
7. FORT MYERS BEACH
Indulge in a spa package, without blowing your budget, in Fort Myers. The DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa features a Gulfside pool and full-service spa and is within walking distance of championship golf courses, boutiques and Fort Myers’ famous entertainment district.
Florida nightlife doesn’t get any hotter than Miami Beach, where high-end hotels are offering deep discounts. “If you think you can’t afford a luxury hotel, just take a look and see,” says Travelocity’s Brown. “They’re the ones you see doing the free-night deals and 30% to 50% off on some nights, so it might be less expensive than you think.” The area boasts some of the state’s greatest restaurants and clubs, the Florida Grand Opera and the Wynwood Art District www.VisitFlorida.com/miami_beach.
Book a romantic table for two aboard the Naples Princess Sunset Dinner Cruise, which serves a double entree dinner as you view the sunset. The yacht tours the waters of southwest Florida, including Naples Bay, Port Royal, Royal Harbor, Gordon Pass and the Gulf of Mexico. Private charters are also available for birthdays, weddings and family reunions. Sunset dinner tix are $64.45 per person, but afternoon and sunset sightseeing tours are just $30 apiece. For more information, call 1-800-979-3370 or visit www.NaplesPrincessCruises.com.
Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando. SeaWorld. This central Florida hot spot is indeed a magic kingdom for families — especially with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter hitting Universal this spring. But don’t overlook the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, golfing at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge or the area’s many shopping malls. Families can save cash by staying at Mike Ditka’s Runaway Beach Club, which has reduced rates to $69 a night for a one-bedroom villa with gourmet kitchen (so you can cook instead of eating pricey restaurant meals) and flat-screen TV.