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Florida may be known for its over-the-top luxurious resorts, but money is not an obstacle when booking an enjoyable holiday along the Sunshine State. From water parks to camping sites, explore these family-made vacations on the cheap.
Prop a few Adirondack chairs along the pristine beaches and enjoy an unforgettable vacation. Amelia Island on the northeastern Florida coast (near the Georgia state line) boasts miles of Atlantic beaches decked with beautiful giant oak trees and abundant wildlife. Certain secluded spaces are fit for fishing and birdwatching, while others boast picturesque sand dunes. Stroll over to Fort Clinch State Park for shark tooth hunting. The main Beach Park offers picnic areas for a quick afternoon lunch, and playgrounds as well as a skate park for the kids.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
An adventure for the whole family, the park exhibits hundreds of animal species like the native alligators and Komodo dragons. Kids will love the zip lining adventures where they can get an eye-level view of exotic birds and hang above crocodiles. Shows like ‘Scales and Trails’ and ‘Florida’s Forest Friends’ are an educational experience to learn more about the behavior and habitats of Florida’s most dangerous animals. Exhibits also include lemurs and toucans as well as snakes and other reptiles. Admission for adults (12 & older) is $24.99 and for children (3-11) is $13.99.
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park
The Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park offers cultural activities and natural wildlife. Home to exhibits from American composer Stephen Foster, the museum offers unique demonstrations of quilting and blacksmithing, as well as stained glass making that is interesting for all ages. Explore the grounds with miles of trails for hiking, bicycling and even canoeing. The park also offers a campground near the Suwannee River under the shade of oak trees with electricity, water, and restrooms. Cabins are also available for $100 per night plus a $6.70 reservation fee.
Liki Tiki Village
Go mini-golfing with the kids and stay the night at Liki Tiki Village for $59 a night. The vacation resort near Orlando is a Polynesian-themed complex with an onsite mini-golf area, water slide, and wave pool. Children are sure to approve of the extravagant lagoon with five waterslides, an erupting volcano and a waterfall. Comfortable for the whole family, the condominium-style rental features a living room, dining area, fully-equipped kitchen, and laundry facilities. It’s just a short drive from Orlando’s theme parks, shopping centers and dining—although if you’re looking to stay in, the resort’s restaurant, Shipwreck Sally’s Bar & Grill, has enough savory dishes to satisfy.
Smyrna Dunes Park
Perched on the tip of the New Smyrna Beach peninsula, the park is surrounded by water on three sides providing opportunities for fishing, boating, and even swimming. Vast sand dunes are protected from foot traffic by two miles of elevated walkways, picnic areas, and an observation tower. Conveniently pet-friendly, visitors can enjoy bringing along their dogs on this holiday retreat. Enjoy the park’s diverse landscapes from ocean, river, dunes scrub zone and saltwater marshes. Nature trails and a riverside fishing pier promote an overall relaxing experience to get in touch with the environment.
Let your kids squeeze into a clown car or snap photos with a ferocious tiger—a faux one that is. The Ringling Museum in Sarasota features a circus exhibit with parade wagons, posters, and costumes that were once part of the famous circus run by the Ringling Brothers. Explore the newly restored Wisconsin, the railroad car in which John and Mable Ringling rode across the states to search for future talents. The museum also features a must-see 44,000-piece recreation of the Ringling Bros., and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919–1938. Located at the sprawling villa that was once home to John Ringling, the waterfront property also features a museum of art, the historic Asolo Theater, and gardens with the largest collection of oak trees in the state. Admission is free for children five and under, $5 for children 6–17, and $25 for adults.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
See the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs for only $13 for adults, $8 for ages 6–12, and free for five and under. A spring nestled on the Natural Coast of Florida, it features a 400-seat auditorium where families can watch the Mermaids of Weeki Wachee perform several musical numbers and underwater feats like eating. Admission also includes a boat ride down the crystal-clear waters of the Weeki Wachee River where families can enjoy spotting bald eagles, blue herons, and endangered West Indian manatees. Explore the river on your own with kayak rentals, or swim and slide at the Buccaneer Bay Waterpark. The wildlife shows give a tantalizing up-close and personal encounter with Florida’s native wildlife like alligators and snakes.
Oleta Park Biking
Bring a kayak and paddle through the lush mangrove forests at Oleta River State Park. Located near Biscayne Bay and the city of Miami, canoeists and kayakers will admire the long river with plenty of natural wildlife to explore. There are over four miles of cycling trails for beginners and over 10 miles of challenging mountain bike trails for specialists. Plus, the park also boasts miles of saltwater fishing and swimming along the sandy beach. Looking to stay the night? Rent an air-conditioned cabin equipped with a double bed or bunk bed for only $55 a night plus a $6.70 reservation fee. Admission into the park is $6 per vehicle.
Camping in the Everglades National Park
Pitch a tent on any of the two campgrounds accessible—Long Pine Key Campground and Flamingo Campground—and wander through the sawgrass marshes and forested areas to spot alligators, crocodiles and hundreds of species of birds. Amenities like restrooms, showers, water and a sewer dump station are provided. There are also hiking trails and ponds for fishing. It’s highly recommended to visit during winter months as summers (June–November) are muggy, humid, and mosquitoes abound making it extra uncomfortable. The park also has backcountry camping sites, and visitors can choose between beach sites and elevated camping grounds known as chickees. Pitch a tent in front of the beach and bring a canoe! Campsites can be reserved for $20 a night.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Gather the family and take a trip on a big farm wagon pulled by two Percheron draft horses. The state park offers a picturesque 45-minute trail ride along the park’s backcountry routes for $10 per person, and even hand-led pony rides for children under six (for $12). Located on the southeastern coast of Florida, the park also allows swimming on the shores of the Loxahatchee River, the state’s first official ‘Wild & Scenic River’ whose bountiful wildlife like snook, snapper, and largemouth bass can be found during freshwater and saltwater fishing. There are 11 cabins that line the park, each furnished with a queen or full-size bed, a bathroom, and dining and kitchen area for those who wish to stay a few nights (no pets allowed, however).