Florida

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From its Panhandle to its Keys, Florida is kid-friendly to the core, with more than its share of theme parks, wildlife encounters, unspoiled parks, and museums to cater to all pocketbooks. Florida's family attractions are most concentrated around Central Florida, the home of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and, a bit further southwest, Busch Gardens.

Florida Family Attractions

Billie's Swamp Safari

Located amid 2,200 acres of the Big Cypress Reservation, Billie's Swamp Safari provides access to the wetlands and hardwood hammocks owned by the Seminole tribe. Swamp buggy tours and airboat rides delve into the wilderness, where alligators, wild hogs, and roseate spoonbills share the grounds with exotic imports such as Asian water buffalo and African antelope. Frog legs, gator nuggets, and American fare are on the menu at the Swamp Café. Also on site: interactive "swamp critter" shows and a boardwalk nature trail. Overnight stays are available in native chickee huts (thatched roof buildings that call to mind Tiki huts).

Alligator Alley (I-75) to exit 49, FL, 800-949-6101, www.seminoletribe.com/safari
Tags: family | culture | history | tour | family attraction | wildlife

Busch Gardens Africa

When locals want major amusement-park thrills, they bypass Disney for the big coasters of Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa. The theme park melds high-octane rides with kid-friendly shows and wildlife habitats like the Serengeti Plain and the Myombe gorilla and chimpanzee reserve. Over 21? Make a complimentary reservation at the Brewmaster's Club to sample Anheuser-Busch beers.

10165 N. McKinley Dr., FL, 888-800-5447, www.buschgardens.com
Tags: family | family attraction | wildlife | amusement park

Kennedy Space Center

NASA's Florida launch headquarters sit within a wildlife refuge eight times the size of Manhattan and encompass the history of space travel, that "giant leap for mankind." Meet an astronaut, visit the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, and get a taste for space flight in the shuttle launch simulator. Space films screen daily in two IMAX theaters. Tours visit the International Space Station Center, the 60-foot launch observation gantry overlooking the two shuttle pads, and a facility containing a Saturn V rocket. Still, nothing can compare to lucking into seeing one of the live shuttle launches; plan now as the program ends in fall 2010. Launch dates are listed on the Kennedy Space Center's website, but schedules are subject to change at a moment's notice, so don't plan your whole vacation around a shuttle takeoff.

State Rd. 405, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 321-449-4444, www.kennedyspacecenter.com
Tags: family | history | family attraction | museum

Lion Country Safari

When it opened in 1967, Lion Country Safari was the first drive-through safari park in the United States. Still a top draw, the Palm Beach County park's 4-mile loop leads vehicles (no convertibles!) past white rhinos, zebras, lions, giraffes, wildebeest, and hundreds of other jungle animals. The adjacent Safari World amusement park has a Ferris wheel, petting zoo, mini-golf course, shops, reptile displays, and giraffe feeding. Extend the safari experience with a stay at the KOA Campground next door, where roaring lions can be heard at night.

2003 Lion Country Safari Rd., 22 miles west of Palm Beach, FL, 561-793-1084, www.lioncountrysafari.com
Tags: family | family attraction | wildlife | amusement park

Miami Children's Museum

Best for pre-school and elementary-age kids, the interactive Miami Children's Museum promotes education and self-expression through 14 eye-popping galleries. Ocean Odyssey has a 900-gallon, two-tank aquarium where kids can see coral reef fish; the Safety Zone allows kids to step into the shoes (and uniforms) of firefighters and police officers; the World Music Studio is a hands-on melody-making space. Traveling exhibitions featuring icons like the Blue Man Group or Clifford, the Big Red Dog drop in for a few months at a time – check the website for information on current exhibitions.

980 Macarthur Causeway, FL, 305-373-5437, www.miamichildrensmuseum.org
Tags: family | great value | family attraction | museum

Myakka River State Park

A 12-mile section of one of the state's two Florida legislature-designated "Wild and Scenic Rivers," flows through Myakka River State Park, about 20 miles east of downtown Sarasota. On-site canoe and kayak rentals provide river access through the marshy feeding grounds of eagles, cranes, ospreys, and a seriously hefty alligator population (don't worry, it's safe – gators, which aren't typically aggressive, tend to ignore people altogether). The family-friendly park also contains a smorgasbord of other outdoor activities, from camping, biking, and fishing to scenic boat cruises and hiking trails. An 85-foot long canopy walkway, which can be reached via a spur trail off of the Boylston Nature Trail, runs through the treetops of oaks and palms.

13208 State Rd. 72, FL, 941-361-6511, www.myakkariver.org
Tags: family | kayaking | great value | family attraction

SeaWorld

Close-up views of orcas, dolphins, penguins, and manatees await at this theme park devoted to the life aquatic. In 2009, the Manta roller coaster – ridden horizontally, face down – upped the adrenaline factor. SeaWorld opened the separate 59-acre Aquatica water park in spring 2008, with a signature waterslide that speeds through a dolphin habitat. For the ultimate interactive adventure, splurge on conservation-minded Discovery Cove, the reservations-required, all-inclusive tropical park where you can swim with dolphins, snorkel on an artificial coral reef, and wade into a stingray-filled lagoon; attendance is limited to 1,000 people per day, so book at least two months in advance to guarantee entrance, especially during summer trips or holidays (www.discoverycove.com).

7007 SeaWorld Dr., FL, 407-351-3600, www.seaworld.com
Tags: family | smart splurge | family attraction | wildlife | amusement park

Spring Training

Fifteen major-league baseball teams hit the fields in March to prep for their upcoming season with exhibition games that are open to the public, with price ranges varying by stadium from about $10 to $40. Venues are scattered along both coasts, between the Orlando area (the Atlanta Braves) and Fort Myers (the Boston Red Sox). Six teams are clustered in the Tampa Bay area alone, from Lakeland to Sarasota, and its sites boast the most years as spring training destinations – nearly 100 years in the case of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

FL, www.floridagrapefruitleague.com
Tags: family | great value | family attraction | spectator sport

Universal Studios

Although it lives in Disney's shadow, Universal Studios is worth a twirl, especially for visitors with older kids – or none at all – in tow. Hit the coasters at Islands of Adventure for adult-sized thrills; visit Universal Studios for movie-themed rides like Revenge of the Mummy and a behind-the-scenes look at a working studio. The park's profile got a major boost in June 2010 when it unveiled The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a theme park within a theme park at Islands of Adventure.

6000 Universal Blvd., FL, 407-363-8000, www.universalorlando.com
Tags: family | family attraction | amusement park

Walt Disney World

Experience the fantasy of the Magic Kingdom, the international flair of Epcot Center, the safari style of Animal Kingdom, or the movie-making magic of Disney-MGM Studios. Two Disney-run water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, provide respite from Central Florida's humidity. It's worth splurging to stay on-site to avoid the crunch of Orlando traffic; complimentary airport pickup and extended park hours are added bonuses. See our Walt Disney World Travel Guide.

Lake Buena Vista, FL, 407-939-6244, www.disneyworld.com
Tags: family | smart splurge | family attraction | amusement park

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