Ultimate Travel Guide to Miami

The Florida Keys, a hundred-mile stretch of islands noted for sport fishing, and coral-reef diving, and Key West, famous for its sunsets and liberalism, are a short drive south. Back on the mainland, west of Miami are the easily accessible Everglades, a water-logged sawgrass plain with alligators, a state symbol that can be found on college campuses (well, as a game mascot), and endless billboards. Sunbirds fleeing the northeast US have built up much of Florida's east coast. The Kennedy Space Center launches NASA shuttles north, loosening the residential stranglehold. The longest-occupied European settlement in the US is St. Augustine.

Orlando and Walt Disney World sprawl across central Florida, turning everything green. The Gulf Coast and the Panhandle, Florida's link to the Deep South, is west and north of here, respectively.


  • In 1498, John and Sebastian Cabot may have seen Florida for the first time, six years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World. At the time, the area's 100,000 residents were divided into four tribes: the Timucua in northern Florida, the Calusa in the southwest and Lake Okeechobee, the Apalachee in the Panhandle, and the Tequesta along the southeast coast.
  • In 1498, John and Sebastian Cabot may have seen Florida for the first time, six years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World. At the time, the area's 100,000 residents were divided into four tribes: the Timucua in northern Florida, the Calusa in the southwest and Lake Okeechobee, the Apalachee in the Panhandle, and the Tequesta along the southeast coast.
  • After American Independence, Florida returned to Spain. The First Seminole War began in 1814 when US general and future president Andrew Jackson marched south from Tennessee, murdering hundreds of Native Americans. After the war, Spain gave Florida to the US in exchange for $5 million of Spanish debt. After being sworn in as Florida's first American governor, Jackson chose Tallahassee as the new capital.
  • Eleven years later, the Act of Indian Removal ordered all eastern Native Americans to reservations in the Midwest. Most Seminoles wanted to stay, which led to the Second Seminole War, which drove them south into the Everglades. Florida became the 27th state on March 3, 1845, around the same time the railroad began bringing prosperity to the area.
  • At the start of the 20th century, publications praised Florida's climate, and northern speculators invested. The wealthy wintered in Florida after Henry Flagler and Henry Plant extended their railroads and established luxury resorts. Charter trains drew thousands of eager purchasers to Florida after World War I. However, most arrangements were only as good as the paper they were written on, and banks started defaulting in 1926. Millionaires who had shaped the state became penniless after the Wall Street Crash.
  • Florida was saved by WWII. Thousands of troops arrived to patrol the coastline throughout the war, giving many a taste of Florida that would entice them to return. After the war, the government extended its facilities in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Pensacola, attracting thousands more people and billions of investment dollars. In the mid-1960s, the state government helped the Disney Corporation build Walt Disney World in central Florida. Florida's worldwide tourism market was strengthened by its commercial success.
  • Problems lurk underneath the optimistic surface. Florida receives at least 25% of the US's cocaine, and gun laws are loose. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster also threatened Florida's Gulf Coast ecology. In 2013, the state sued the oil corporation and its contractor to collect some of the estimated billions of dollars it lost in tax revenue.

Florida's east coast

From Miami to St. Augustine, Florida's East Coast is packed with hotels, resorts, beaches, and upscale developments. It's not bad, although the western Gulf Coast is more easygoing. Today, Fort Lauderdale is a sophisticated cultural center with a lively, more upscale social scene. Boca Raton and Palm Beach, to the north, are calm, private towns with Mediterranean Revival houses occupied almost entirely by multimillionaires. Beyond Palm Beach, the coast is less urbanized. Even the Space Coast, with the popular Kennedy Space Center, is in a nature preserve. Race car and motorbike fans flock to Daytona Beach's festivals and Daytona International Speedway. Spanish settlers built North America's first permanent European settlement in St. Augustine, south of Georgia.

The scenic route along the coast by car is Hwy-A1A, which follows the ocean side of the Intracoastal Waterway, formed when the rivers separating the mainland from the barrier islands were linked and deepened during World War II. When necessary, Hwy-A1A turns inland and joins US-1. I-95, the region's fastest road, is about ten miles west of the ocean and is only worth it if you're in a hurry.

40 miles north of Daytona Beach, US-1 runs through picturesque St. Augustine. Unlike much of Florida's East Coast, it is walkable and has a Mediterranean atmosphere. It has two beautiful beaches across Matanzas Bay and is the oldest permanent town in the US.
St Augustine's Old Town is bordered on the west by St George Street, once the principal roadway and now a pedestrianized strip, its entry anchored by the eighteenth-century City Gate, and on the south by Plaza de la Constitución. It may be little, but there's a lot to see: an early start, around 9 am, will give you a lead on the tourist throng and allow you to see practically everything in one day.

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived on St. Augustine's Day in 1565, half a century after Ponce de León's 1513 arrival. The town became east Florida's capital. Tallahassee became Florida's capital, and St. Augustine declined. Since then, growth has mostly evaded the town, which has helped restore this tranquil settlement into a wonderful historical showcase.

Space Center Kennedy

Space vehicles are created, tested, and launched from the Kennedy Space Center. NASA moved to Merritt Island in 1964 when Cape Canaveral US Air Force base's launch pads were too small for the Saturn V rockets used to launch the Apollo missions. With the shuttle Atlantis in 2011, NASA ended its human launch program for the foreseeable future, phasing out hundreds of workers and hurting local businesses that served them.

Weekends and May and September are the quietest, but leave a whole day to see everything. Mission capsules, spacesuits, lunar modules, and a mock-up Space Shuttle flight deck will keep space enthusiasts entertained for hours at the Visitor Complex. After, see the two stunning IMAX movies and walk around the Rocket Garden, which features 1950s rockets brilliantly illuminated to show how they looked at blast-off. The Shuttle Launch Experience simulates vertically "launching" into space and orbiting Earth on the Space Shuttle. The rest of the visit is a two-hour guided bus tour that passes the 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building (where Space Shuttles are prepped for launch), stops at the launch pad, and ends with an opportunity to inspect a Saturn V rocket and watch a simulated Apollo countdown. Visit the website or sign up for email reminders for real-life debuts.

The Astronaut Hall of Fame, on Hwy-405 near Titusville, is one of Florida's most entertaining interactive museums, where you can feel G-force and a bumpy voyage across Mars.

National Park Everglades

The EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, one of America's most famous natural regions, is a large, quiet wildlife reserve with a subtle, raw appeal. Small patches of trees peeking above a completely flat sawgrass plain are the most dramatic images, yet these wide-open regions echo with life as part of an ever-changing ecosystem that emerged through a unique combination of climate, vegetation, and fauna.

The EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, one of America's most famous natural regions, is a large, quiet wildlife reserve with a subtle, raw appeal. Small patches of trees peeking above a completely flat sawgrass plain are the most dramatic images, yet these wide-open regions echo with life as part of an ever-changing ecosystem that emerged through a unique combination of climate, vegetation, and fauna.

When to go: Florida's weather

Sunshine and blue skies are typical in Florida. Subtropical in the south and warm temperate in the north, the state has two climates. The main tourist season in Orlando and southern Florida is October through April when temperatures are warm and humidity is low. Southern summer (May-Sept) delivers severe humidity and afternoon storms, but reduced costs and fewer tourists are the benefits.

Even while daytime temperatures are tolerable north of Orlando, winter is off-peak (although snow has been known to fall on the Panhandle). Summer in northern Florida is hot and humid, and crowds gather. Remember that June through November is hurricane season, and large storms might hit the entire state.

Theme parks and Orlando Travel Guide

When vacation mania swept Florida's coastal strips, most of Central Florida was farming and ranching area. This serene scene was disrupted by modern tourism in the 1970s. The state's most visited city, Orlando, is now surrounded by freeway interchanges, motels, and advertising. The city's best nightlife is still in downtown Orlando, although Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and other attractions are the reason.

Theme park accommodations in Orlando

Stay outside Walt Disney World if you're on a budget or wish to explore other parks. International Drive chain hotels are near Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando, with several restaurants and stores nearby. Budget hotels and a hostel line Hwy-192, while Disney property around Lake Buena Vista has many hotels (also close to Disney). A few beautiful, privately owned hotels and B&Bs are in downtown Orlando.

Animal Kingdom at Disney

Disney's Animal Kingdom Park began in 1998 as an animal-conservation theme park with Disney's trademark exaggeration. The park, home to 250 species and 1700 animals, is separated into seven "lands": Africa, Asia, Discovery Island, Oasis, Camp Minnie-Mickey, DinoLand U.S.A., and Rafiki's Planet Watch, with Africa and Asia being the most visually spectacular.

The best-realized attraction is Africa's Kilimanjaro Safaris, where a jeep takes you on a safari to see giraffes, zebras, elephants, lions, gazelles, rhinos, and anti-poacher maneuvers. In Africa, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail's lowland gorillas are worth seeing. At the Maharajah Jungle Trek in Asia, you can see the healthiest tigers in captivity. DinoLand U.S.A.'s Dinosaur is a leisurely but thrilling rollercoaster with modest drops and dark stops when fearsome dinosaurs appear.

Theme park dining in Orlando

The best eateries for locals are downtown and surrounds, while most visitors travel to International Drive's cheap all-day buffets and gourmet restaurants. You can't bring food into the theme parks, but Epcot's World Showcase has the greatest eateries, especially the French and Mexican ones.

Nightlife and entertainment at Orlando theme parks

Since Downtown Disney's nightclubs closed several years ago, Orlando's nightlife is now focused on two primary districts, each with a distinct vibe. Universal Orlando's Citywalk (6000 Universal Blvd; citywalkorlando.com) is thirty acres of restaurants, dance clubs, and stores between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Downtown Orlando's bars, lounges, and clubs are more diverse and enticing than those near the theme parks. Orange Avenue is where the nightlife is.

Orlando SeaWorld
Five million people visit Orlando's SeaWorld, which has acres of ocean-themed attractions, whale and dolphin shows, and thrill rides. However, after the 2013 film Blackfish, which exposed the perils and ethics of killing whale captivity, it suffered a PR disaster. Several airlines, tour operators, and artists like Willie Nelson have cut links with the brand due to declining visitor numbers and stock prices.

Given the global opportunities to watch whales and dolphins in the wild, SeaWorld's use of these fiercely intelligent marine mammals for entertainment seems increasingly anachronistic. Its recent pledge to invest more money in research and enlarge its killer whale enclosures is unlikely to change public or corporate opinion.

Walt Disney's World
The great painter and animator Walt Disney created the world's first theme park, California's Disneyland, but he had no control over the hotels and restaurants that swiftly devoured it, restricting expansion and eliminating revenues he thought were his. Disney covertly bought 27,500 acres of central Florida farmland in the late 1960s, obtaining a property 100 times larger than Disneyland. With the promise of a jobs bonanza for Florida, the state government gave the corporation the authority of any big municipality (via a special jurisdiction called the Reedy Creek Improvement District) to lay roads, adopt building standards, and enforce the law with its own security force.

Walt Disney World's first "land," the Magic Kingdom, opened in 1971 and was a hit. The far more ambitious Epcot, unveiled in 1982, was the first major break from cartoon-based escapism, but its rose-tinted view of the future was met with mixed reviews. This and poor management led to the mid-1980s bankruptcy of the Disney empire (Disney died in 1966). Since then, the firm has risen from the abyss and runs a tight and competitive ship that $this->load->views broadcast networks, publishing, movies, and a large merchandising arm. The Disney Corporation trades in fiction, yet it makes money in reality.

Orlando Universal
TV and film production seemed to be moving from California to Florida, with its lower taxes and cheaper labor. That tendency was confirmed by Universal Studios' 1990 opening. For various reasons, Florida has not been a realistic alternative. Universal Orlando, the Universal Studios enclave here, has become a major Orlando theme park player despite this. Universal's high-tech movie-themed attractions and great thrill rides at Islands of Adventure have drawn many people away from Disney World. CityWalk is currently downtown Orlando's main nightlife competitor after Disney's nightclubs shuttered. Universal's three magnificent hotels make it a resort.

As important as air conditioning in shaping the state, WALT DISNEY WORLD transformed a slice of Florida farmland into one of the world's most profitable vacation spots. Florida went from a rundown mix of cheap motels, retirement homes, and alligator parks to a showcase of sophisticated world tourism overnight thanks to the massive and well-planned empire.

Theme parks follow Disney World. It surpasses Disneyland, which debuted in Anaheim, California, in 1955, offering technologically superior and psychologically dazzling escapism almost twice Manhattan's size. Each of its four big theme parks deserves a full day. The Magic Kingdom is the Disney park of popular fantasy, where Mickey mixes with the public. At its best, it can captivate even the most jaded adult. Epcot, Disney's celebration of science, technology, and various cultures, is known for its gigantic, golfball-like geosphere. Young children may tire of wandering across this large region. Disney's Hollywood Studios, inspired by movies, TV, and music, has thrill rides and live shows for all ages. The newest theme park, Disney's Animal Kingdom Park, has African and Asian animals.

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