Thrill to the attractions of Orlando with its world-famous theme parks and waterparks. Then drive or hop aboard the bus to the Space Coast two hours away, home to the Kennedy Space Center, NASA’s main human spaceflight launch centre. Book ahead to meet a veteran NASA astronaut during the live Astronaut Encounter Show and be wowed by the Shuttle Launch Experience – part of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibition.
Head north of the Kennedy Space Center to discover Daytona Beach, stretching 37km. Dozens of parks and launching points for kayaking/canoeing here include Blue Springs State Park, which is also a winter refuge for a number of West Indian manatees.
Discover the Gulf Coast (on the Gulf of Mexico), with 60km of lovely beaches and more theme-park fun. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay combines an impressive zoo with thrilling African-themed rides and America’s first dive rollercoaster, while across the street there are slides aplenty at Adventure Island, Tampa’s only waterpark.
At nearby Clearwater Beach, sink into the pristine white sands and visit Pier 60 with its giant inflatable slides, bungee-harness rides, huge playground and nightly sunset celebrations. St Pete (St Petersburg)/Clearwater itself also offers up cannon-firing, swashbuckling entertainment aboard Captain Memo's Original Pirate Cruise, interactive exhibits aplenty at Great Explorations: The Children’s Museum, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Sea Life Safari nature cruises, and the Brooker Creek Preserve nature trails.
Explore the Gulf Coast south of St Pete – Sarasota is famous for its sandy beaches, as is Fort Myers down the coast. If you make it as far as the latter, cross the five-kilometre causeway to enjoy the protected white-sand beaches of Sanibel and Captiva islands with their vast array of shell varieties, wildlife including river otters, loggerhead sea turtles and dolphins, and family atmosphere.
Alternatively, head north up the Gulf Coast, to the Adventure Coast around Brooksville and Weeki Wachee, where attractions include the TreeUmph! Adventure Course over 50 acres of wooded landscape and a newly mapped Adventure Coast Blueway paddling trail through winding waterways, scenic salt marshes and the open Gulf of Mexico.
Travel further north still, to Panama City with its 40-plus kilometres of white-sand beaches and activities including paddle-boarding and snorkelling. Panama City Beach with its vintage funfair is a highlight, or spend the day swimming, snorkelling, scuba-diving, kayaking and following nature trails at St Andrews State Park and/or wildlife-spotting on Shell Island. Panama City is also just a great place for eating, showcasing the best of Southern comfort food, Cajun cuisine, Caribbean cooking styles and fresh Gulf seafood. There's a huge choice of self-catering accommodation on the beach, ideal for families, with farmers' markets for stocking up just a quick water-taxi ride away. Come in October to enjoy the rip-roaring Pirates of the High Seas Fest.
Venture to the Atlantic side of Florida south of Orlando, where St Lucie County is home to the Tug Kathleen, a 21-metre steel vessel recently sunk to form an artificial reef for divers. The new Becker Preserve on the North Fork of the St Lucie River in Fort Pierce has a boardwalk trail and woods to explore, and the same city has the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, where you can test your skills on a Navy SEAL obstacle course.
Move south to Miami, whether to hit the beach or use it as a base to check out the nearby attractions. Miami Beach has plenty of family-friendly resorts and a less urban feel than mainland Miami, with colourful Art Deco hotels. The northern end of South Beach is best for families, away from the partygoers further south. The Miami Children’s Museum is worth a visit, or take a peek at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in waterfront Museum Park, including a state-of-the-art planetarium, an aquarium complex and exhibitions on living ecosystems, the human body, outer space and technology. Zoo Miami is also a guaranteed hit – don’t miss the $50 million Amazon and Beyond exhibit. For a more low-key animal encounter, try Monkey Jungle wildlife park in South Miami.
Discover Fort Lauderdale 40km north of Miami, where attractions include the biggest drive-in movie theatre in the world (14 screens), the International Swimming Hall of Fame and Museum, complete with a large water complex, and the vast beachside Hugh Taylor Birch State Park with its nature trails, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, eco visitor centre, and camping and picnic areas.
Alternatively, drive 80km south from Miami to the entrance of the Everglades National Park, the third-largest National Park in the lower 48 states of the USA. Camping, hiking, canoeing and bird-watching are popular here, and a stop at the Everglades Alligator Farm with its airboat rides is a must.
Drive down into the Florida Keys for a totally different kind of holiday in the region.