There are so many places in Florida, USA to have fun. Some are all about fairytales, fantasy and rockets flying to the moon. Much is high-energy, high-tech and highly sophisticated. But you don’t have to look far to discover the more natural yet equally spellbinding side of the Sunshine State.
Gentle giants – Homosassa Springs
At first glance the manatees at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park look clumsy. Big and beautiful, they appear to move in slow motion. Yet there is a grace to these peaceful creatures – watching them is a calming experience.
The park takes care of orphaned manatees and those who have been injured, mostly in boating accidents, and would be unable to survive in the wild.
It’s a wonderful place to visit. A boat takes you from the car park to the visitor centre and you’ll see lots of wildlife along the way. Watch the manatees from an underwater observatory; there’s a programme of talks several times a day. The park is a great place for bird-watching and is also home to alligators and a hippo called Lu, a retired animal actor.
Meet the dolphins – Florida Keys
The Dolphin Research Centre, situated in the Florida Keys, provides sanctuary and a home to rescued, injured and rehabilitated dolphins who are unable to be released back into the wild.
There’s more to the centre than simply watching dolphins and sea-lions perform acrobatic routines – although that would be delightful enough. As it’s a research centre you get to watch the training sessions, chat to the trainers and find out more about these wonderful creatures who all seem to have their own personalities.
Take advantage of the opportunities to interact with the dolphins; you can swim with them, play with them as a family, be a keeper for a day or work with the team as a researcher for the day.
In the moonlight – Fort Lauderdale
Head for Fort Lauderdale to join a nighttime Summer Sea Turtle Walk. Each year adult sea turtles return to the beaches where they’d hatched to lay their own eggs. Under cover of darkness, females lumber out of the sea, seek out moist sand above the water line and scoop out a pit to lay their eggs.
These ranger-led walks are run by the Museum of Discovery and Science during June and July. The evening begins at the museum with a presentation before heading to the beach. Rangers will scout out the sands; once a turtle has been spotted they will let you when it’s safe to gather round and silently observe.
While there’s no guarantee of sightings, it’s a very special evening. It feels such a privilege to witness this remarkable event which has been taking place long before the beach, even the country, had a name.
Experience a light bulb moment – Fort Myers
From the giant banyan tree to a Ford Model T, there’s a lot to see and do at the winter homes of two American icons; inventor Thomas Edison and his friend, industrialist Henry Ford.
Edison is famous for the invention of light bulbs, recorded music and movies while Ford developed the manufacture of motor cars and the assembly line that made vehicles more affordable.
The Edison and Ford Winter Estates can be found at the Caloosahatchee River near Ford Myers. Edison was looking for somewhere warm to escape winter and moved here in 1886; Henry Ford purchased the neighbouring estate in 1916.
Visitors can tour both homes, the outbuildings, swimming pool complex, gardens, museum and the Edison Botanical Research Lab.
See sea shells on the sea shore – Sanibel Island
There’s a condition in Sanibel known as the Sanibel Stoop. It’s nothing to worry about. It’s simply the position most visitors, young and old, find themselves in while strolling on the white sands searching for the shells the island is well known for.
Join an expert from the island’s Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum for a one-hour guided walk, which also included half-price admission to the museum. There you’ll learn all about the shells. It’s amazing how many different ones there are – molluscs, and other native marine life.
Reached by a toll bridge, this Gulf Coast barrier island has some of the best beaches in Florida; it’s also popular for fishing and biking. If you enjoy bird-watching, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a popular place to see the wading birds, shorebirds and waterfowl that come to feed.