Florida for families

by wendy.gomersall

From wildlife and wild rides to giant steaks and enormous rockets, there's plenty to keep you entertained in Florida

TV couple Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley were snapped looking super-glum when they were on holiday in Florida in December. But how could that be, when there's so much to smile about? Things were a whole lot jollier when the Gomersall family went there recently. Here - with comments from myself, brother Owen, his wife Debbie and their children, Holly (16) and Jake (11) - are our 20 favourite Sunshine State experiences...

1 Say hello to Snooty the manatee at the South Florida Museum, Bradenton
Debbie: ‘We knew nothing about manatees so it was really interesting to see one, and the keepers were so informative. Snooty was massive, but so cute, and seemed really curious about us, too.’

2 Gaze up at the enormous Saturn 5 rocket at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral
Owen: ‘It’s only when you see actual space rockets and shuttles close up that you realise the enormity of what astronauts have done. Amazing, out of this world.’

3 Yell for Britain on SheiKra at Busch Gardens, Tampa
Holly: ‘This is an awesome rollercoaster; such fun. It goes up 200ft then drops like a stone straight down, and you feet are just dangling there because there’s no floor. I didn’t know whether to scream my head off, or laugh at everyone else yelling.’

4 Swim with dolphins and stingrays at Discovery Cove, Orlando
Jake: ‘The dolphins were fantastic but I liked the rays too because they seemed really friendly and kept swimming over to me. I was surprised just how big and gentle they were.’

5 Jump with fright on the JAWS ride at Universal Studios, Universal Orlando
Wendy: ‘It’s an oldie but still a goodie – technology has long overtaken this ride, but it’s still brilliant and still makes you squeal, even though you know what’s coming.’

6 Scream your head off on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Debbie: ‘I love everything about Disney – the atmosphere, attention to detail, friendly staff and all the rides. But my favourite is the Tower of Terror because it’s a bit scary and you get to have a good scream.’

7 Go net dipping at Emerson Point with Around the Bend Ecotours
Owen: ‘It was brilliant - you never knew what was going to come up out of the sea in your net – we caught puffer fish, hermit crabs, tiny prawns and big blue crabs. Great fun.’

8 See the amazing leaf dragons at Florida Aquarium, Tampa
Jake: ‘These funny little creatures were practically the smallest things at the Aquarium but they were incredible. I’ve never seen anything like them – unreal!’

9 Be amazed by Shamu the killer whale’s Believe show at SeaWorld, Orlando
Holly: ‘How can such huge animals move so beautifully? And the obviously extremely close relationship between the orcas and their trainers was so touching. I loved it.’

10 Hand-feed the giraffes at Busch Gardens, Tampa
Wendy: ‘Giraffes are the most graceful creatures, and seeing them up close, taking leaves from your hand as you look into those big gentle eyes, is truly magical.’

11 Gaze in awe at the 'IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth' fireworks display at Epcot, Orlando
Debbie: ‘What an extraordinary display – more than a thousand fireworks lit the sky and this amazing floating Earth glided across the lake. Older kids will especially enjoy this.’

12 Paddle a canoe on river backwaters in Tampa with Canoe Escape
Owen: ‘You’d never believe this wild environment could be so close to all the busy parks, and it was fantastic to see so many alligators – they were small, though!’

13 Stitch’s Great Escape, Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando
Holly: ‘I love Stitch so much, even though he burps in your face and spits on you! It’s a simple ride, based on the kids' animated film, Lilo and Stitch, but it’s so good.’

14 Get your heart thumping on Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Jake: ‘This is a really serious rollercoaster, especially when you start speeding backwards. Auntie Wendy didn’t open her eyes once. It was so good – and the yeti was quite scary!’

15 Zip through a big tube past little dolphins at Aquatica, Orlando
Wendy: ‘Commerson’s dolphins are so cute and curious, and whizz around their pool like mini-rockets. The Aquatica water park is a great place to cool off in the hot weather, too.’

16 Spot the wildlife on the Serengeti Safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Debbie: ‘Cheetah, rhino, giraffe, hippo, lion, elephant, alligator – you see so many animals on this ride. And they’re all such beautiful, well-kept animals, too.’

17 Tuck into the best steak in the world at Bern’s Steakhouse, Tampa
Owen: ‘Two tips – check out the steak menu before you go, as there’s so much to choose from, and don’t eat for a day before you go, so you can do justice to the truly scrumptious, succulent steak. Yum.’

18 Stretch out on the sand on Anna Maria Island
Holly: ‘The beaches were so beautiful, with white, clean sand and hardly anybody else there. We saw lots of pelicans and, best of all, wild dolphins swimming past.’

19 See the tigers at Jungala, Busch Gardens, Orlando
Jake: ‘There’s this place where you can stick your head up into a kind of glass box in the tigers' enclosure, and if one of the cats is close by… wow!’

20 Feed the birds in Lorikeet Landing at Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa
Wendy: ‘Totally wonderful – you hold out a little pot of nectar and these beautiful little birds fly onto your hand so you can get a really good look at their colourful feathers.’



After spending 10 years on the Daily Mail, slipping a disc and reaching a significant birthday, I decided to get a life, went freelance, and have since travelled the world. I currently write travel articles for the Mail on Sunday, TravelMail.co.uk, Sainsbury's magazine, Scotsman magazine, and also contribute to numerous other newspapers, magazines, books and websites. My most memorable travel experiences so far include: bathing in the Arctic Ocean, darting a rhino in Africa, swimming with polar bears in Canada and learning to surf in Hawaii - with firemen. Favourite places: Egypt Botswana Bhutan Florida Western Australia Tasmania Everywhere I've been, in fact!