Think Florida and you often think of Disney World, Sea World and Universal, but there’s much more to this popular tourist destination than those theme parks. On our last trip to Florida we tried to balance educational activities with fun ones for our daughter and we had a blast, too – without a single cartoon character in sight. Here are some suggestions for the best things to do in Florida that aren’t Disney.
I defy anyone not to feel uplifted by a visit to Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida. The spacious grounds play home to at least 3,000 brilliantly hued butterflies at any time and the centre has raised more than 1 million butterflies since it opened in 1988.
This is one attraction where it’s worth getting the guidebook, as it gives a list of the different butterfly species which you can tick off as you spot them. I particularly enjoyed the wide array of blue butterflies which I’d never seen before. Through the 13-stop self-guided tour, you can see the butterfly life-cycle, starting in the lab and proceeding through the different butterfly aviaries. Aviaries containing parrots, macaws, lorikeets, hummingbirds and other birds complement the array of butterflies and the whole is set in attractive surroundings.
One of my favourite parts was crossing the rickety suspended bridge between the rose gardens and the macaw landing, while my daughter found the huge insects in the bug zoo fascinating. All in all, this attraction provided fun and education for the whole family and surely is one of the best things to do in Florida.
Boomers in Dania Beach has something for everyone, both indoors and outdoors. There are several themed mini-golf courses (different ones open on different days) where you can be surrounded by fairy tale castles one minute or putting into a sphinx the next. Also outdoors is a children’s theme park, with some tame rides for younger family members, next to a small go-kart track. I’d recommend you leave this track alone and go to Boomers’ other track, which is longer, with more twists and turns and bigger karts. We had a whale of a time, whether riding alone or in two-person family karts; on a sunny day, it is one of the best things to do in Florida Depending on how much adrenaline you’re comfortable with, you will either love the Dania Beach Hurricane or lose your lunch. It’s a rickety wooden roller coaster (newer than it looks) with more twists and turns than your small intestine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Indoors is the gaming section with game machines of all descriptions, from shuffleboard to driving games (both bikes and cars) to other tests of skill. There are machines where you can win all manner of stuffed toys and other knick-knacks, as well as an indoor climbing wall. Boomers describes itself as a family entertainment centre – and it certainly is!
Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science
How often when you travel do you arrange an activity for the kids only to find that you are having just as much fun – and maybe even more? That’s what happened when we visited the Interactive Science Museum, which – dare I use the cliché – completely blew my mind.
First of all there was the aviation section, where you could practice landing planes of all descriptions via a series of flight simulators. Then I got to check out the water table, seeing how water gets into our homes and where it gets wasted. Next, it was time to play with some large magnets, weights and levers. It was just like experimenting with magnets and pulling iron filings into various shapes, only much, much bigger. Next, it was off to the puzzle section, with a selection of brain teasers that left me scratching my noggin.
Add to that making a robot move in different ways by changing gears and nuts and a quick whizz round an exhibition of dinosaur bones and you have the perfect afternoon. Definitely one of the best things to do in Florida.
Kennedy Space Center
Having grown up on Star Trek and other spacefaring television, KSC has been on my must-see list for quite a while and it was the highlight of this year’s Florida adventure. By the time I’d finished the tour, I was ready to sign up for the space program – that’s how good it was, and hence one of the best things to do in Florida even if you’re not a space geek.
I was as awed as any small child when I saw the actual size of the rockets that went into space and the battered old lunar module (so different from the pristine version in the courtyard. I loved the screen presentations on the space program and the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as the views of the space shuttle launch pads.
The visit included a three-stop bus tour to the Complex 39 Observation Gantry, the Apollo/Saturn V Center and the International Space Station Center. While on the bus, we saw short videos about our next stop – and there was plenty to do and see every time we disembarked. You can also meet an astronaut, enjoy a simulated shuttle launch and check out the wildlife (KSC is a Wildlife Refuge). And there’s more. We spent an entire day there and ran out of time to see the Astronaut Hall of Fame, but it’s included in the ticket price and is worth a look.
Photos courtesy of author.