Florida is more than Disney World and the bikini-ready coastline (although those are on the list, too!) -- it’s also full of art, wildlife, national parks, space technology, and architectural marvels. If you can put up with warm weather and humidity (and the occasional long line), Florida is easily an all-seasons destination. Ready to book your trip the Sunshine State? Here are the best times to visit the most popular Florida attractions.
Check out our guide on Rookie Mistakes to Avoid in Florida.
Ah, Walt Disney World: every child’s (and many adults!) dream, but also a waiting-in-line patience test. If avoiding crowds is your goal, the strategy is broad but pretty simple: go mid-week during the fall and spring, as long it’s not close to school holidays (like spring break) or a major event. The weekdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be especially quiet. Be aware that the parks close earlier in January and more attractions are likely to be undergoing maintenance. The weather is also cooler, which may be a benefit (if you prefer your humid days to be in the 70s), or a downside if you were hoping for a midnight swim.
If you can’t travel while the kids are in school, late August typically offers lower prices. It’ll be hot, the crowds will still be around, and you might see an afternoon rainstorm or two, but you’ll save a little cash along the way. Also, if you’re a foodie, plan for the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, which typically runs late summer through fall.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge’s is a truly unforgettable resort. Where else in Florida can you see giraffes and zebras from your room? The guest rooms and restaurants both cater to families, thanks to additional beds (bunk beds available), kids’ menus, and Disney fun. Besides a large swimming pool (with a waterslide) and cool safari features, the hotel has a kids’ club, an arcade, and regularly scheduled kid-centric activities, like campfire s’mores making or African instrument lessons.
Much like Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida is a crowd magnet, and you’re unlikely to ever have the place to yourself. The timeline for the best crowd-free visit is similar to Disney: mid-week from January to May, and mid-week after Labor Day until mid-December (excluding school breaks.) You’ll still want to check the calendar to make sure the park isn’t closing earlier than you were hoping during your visit.
One nice thing about Universal Orlando: many of the attractions are inside, so on rainy days, there’s still plenty to do, and fewer crowds to contend with.
Loews Portofino Bay Hotel has stellar Italian restaurants and a free, five-minute water taxi to Universal Orlando. The hotel is modeled after the real Portofino Bay on the Italian Riviera, and it has nightly singers in the piazza, authentic Italian restaurants (plus a gelato place and 24-hour room service), and a waterslide that resembles a Roman aqueduct. It’s the most expensive of Universal’s four resorts, but that’s because of its bigger, more beautiful rooms, gorgeous spa, and three pools, including two quieter ones for couples. For restaurants, pizzas, pastas, risottos, and antipasti cover all the Italian bases.
Tampa’s Busch Gardens has similar weather and crowd peaks as Universal and Disney: school holidays like summer and spring break are manic, but April through May and September through mid-December are both quieter (though still never truly quiet) and more temperate weather-wise.
And temperate weather is something you’ll be grateful for. At Busch Gardens, in addition to some intense roller coasters, there are sloth, rhino, cheetah, tiger, lion, gorilla, giraffe and elephant enclosures that will require you to be in the sun… and that’s only a few of them. Importantly, the park has been Humane Certified by the American Humane Conservation Program, the only independently-verified certification of its kind, so you can feel good about visiting these wild animals.
Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay’s lovely location on a 35-acre nature preserve makes it feel like a resort. Highlights include two pools with bar service, three restaurants, two tennis courts, a 24-hour fitness center, and an artificial beach with ping-pong tables, lounge chairs, and a fire pit. About 10 percent of the hotel’s 442 guest rooms are private casitas, clustered in a mini-community that’s accessible through a mangrove forest. The hotel is located 16 miles from Busch Gardens.
Wetlands don’t get enough credit for their biodiversity and unique flora and fauna, but thankfully, 1.5 million acres of them have been set aside at Everglades National Park, including Flamingo, the southernmost point in mainland Florida. Hiking, cycling, and boating are all popular activities in the park, but it does require, you know, being outside. With that in mind, you should know that wet season at the Everglades lasts from April to November. The wet season is rainy and buggy — so buggy that even the rangers stop offering activities, and your chances of seeing birds and predators drops. AKA, Deet isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, plan your Everglades trip in the dry season between November and March. As a bonus, you’ll also get (relatively) cooler weather, though it’s still in the 70s and 80s (it is Florida, after all.) If you plan to camp at Lone Pine Key Campground or Flamingo Campground, make your reservations in advance to make sure you’ll get a spot.
Within a 15-minute drive of the Everglades National Park, the Wyndham is a good pit stop for those who don’t want to camp. Rooms are clean and comfortable with basic decor and new appliances. You’ll get lots of freebies (Wi-Fi, parking, and breakfast buffet) and a heated outdoor pool. There are also laundry facilities — a major plus for families and road trippers.
For anyone who loves a road trip, the 110-mile overseas highway through the Florida Keys is a must-try getaway. After leaving mainland Florida, the road crosses 44 islands and 42 bridges, including the famous Seven Mile Bridge, which stretches from Knight’s Key to Little Duck Key. Fair warning: the drive takes about four hours from beginning to end, thanks to it being narrow (it’s an old train track) and popular. But if you think that driving takes a while, you should know that the extra-adventurous cycle the road regularly.
Beyond avoiding holidays and weekends, super-early mornings or later evenings will help you avoid the bulk of the traffic. Winters are busier than other seasons, but you should still be able to make good time as long as you’re not leaving at a peak hour. Summertime early morning sunrises and late-evening sunsets mean you don’t have to miss the views when avoiding traffic. Lastly, dine on fresh seafood in Key West to celebrate the end of the journey. At least until you have to drive back. Speaking of Key West…
Hawks Cay Resort was almost completely renovated in 2018, after it was impacted by Hurricane Irma. The facelift brought an approachable upscale vibe and there’s a seemingly never-ending list of vacation amenities and activities, from a dolphin experience to a full spa to five swimming pools to paddleboarding on the manmade lagoon. Hawks Cay Resort’s seven restaurants are varied and high quality, plus most are very kid-friendly and some have gorgeous water views. For families and groups, Hawks Cay has 250 villas with full kitchens, laundry facilities, and multiple bedrooms.
The southernmost point of the US has a bit of a party reputation, so if a lively nightlife is your scene, you’ll feel right at home. But if it’s not, there’s still plenty to do! Kayaking, diving, snorkeling, fishing, museums, beaches… and you can still be in bed by 9 p.m. Ernest Hemingway’s home is a memorable stop for literature lovers and history buffs, or get up close and personal with colorful insects at The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.
June is the best time to visit Key West, when the water is warm but the daily temperatures aren’t yet sweltering. If you’re looking for budget hotel options, September is hot but more affordable. Partiers will appreciate March, which brings out the Spring Breakers, and October during the Fantasy Fest.
The Reach is located on Key West’s Atlantic coast, and it’s a quiet respite from the party on Duval Street, the main artery of Old Town Key West that’s lined with restaurants, bars, and tacky souvenir shops. However, it’s still a quick walk to get to the Key West scene when you’re ready for it. The Reach also has a gorgeous pool area, private pier for fishing or lounging, and a steakhouse.
Despite its name, most of the Dry Tortugas National Park is actually water—and that goes for how you get there, too. Located 70 miles west of Key West, visitors can only reach one of the park’s seven islands by boat, ferry or seaplane. Luckily, tour providers for activities like snorkeling and diving will often handle this aspect of trip planning.
The park is open year-round, but tropical storms are more common from June through November. That said, if you’re planning to do water-based activities, know that December through March can have rough seas. If you’re aiming for perfect conditions, April and May are your best bet.
Pier House Resort & Spa really has it all. It’s a full-service hotel with an on-site spa, pool, restaurant/bar, and beach access — in a convenient downtown location right around the corner from the ferry to Dry Tortugas. Rooms are simple and comfy with rain-style showers, flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, and free Wi-Fi; some have balconies and ocean views. The oldest bar in Key West is also here and the proximity to Sunset Pier means guests can watch the sun go down with ease.
This neighborhood of Miami Beach is as popular with famous folks as it is with art lovers. Lay in the sun and rest or bicycle by the nearly century-old Art Deco buildings that draw visitors from around the country, plus feast on fresh seafood and shop on Española Way and Washington Ave.
Winter is crowded at South Beach thanks to snowbirds escaping the northern cold, but December’s Art Basel festival may be worth the higher prices and packed attractions. March through May provides perfect sunbathing weather, with moderate temperatures and reliable weather. Summertime brings heat, humidity, and regular rainstorms, so plan accordingly.
This beautifully restored beachfront property is a modern reincarnation of Miami’s first luxury hotel — The Royal Palm. Highlights include two swimming pools, two restaurants, three bars, a full-service spa, stylish rooms, and a swank Collins Avenue address in the center of Miami’s Art Deco Historic District. The rooms are modern and sophisticated, with original paintings by local artists. Guests pay a daily “beach fee,” but it covers the cost of bikes, beach chairs, and a bottle of water and fresh fruit.
Another mostly-water National Park, Biscayne doesn’t require a boat to access and is within driving distance of Miami. Above-the-water, fishing, kayaking, camping, and hiking are all popular activities, and below the water, you can snorkel or dive to multiple shipwrecks on the Maritime Heritage Trail.
You can visit the park year-round and enjoy the water anytime as long as the weather allows. For your best bet at good conditions, avoid hurricane season from June to November.
The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne offers beach access and a glamorous pool. It’s the only major hotel on Key Biscayne, and it covers all the bases with a spa, kids’ camp, and contemporary rooms (some with glorious ocean views).
After a list of primarily outdoor activities, how about a primarily indoor one? Kennedy Space Center is open every day at 9 a.m. (closing times vary by season) and for the price of a ticket, you can see 3D or IMAX films, a shuttle launch experience, the Astronaut Hall of Fame and a bus tour of the facility. You can easily spend a full day — or several days — here, as there are tons of hands-on exhibits that give you (or your kids) an idea of what it’s like to be an astronaut.
As far as when to visit the Kennedy Space Center? Arrive before daily opening hours for the shortest lines and the best photo-ops, and avoid school holidays. Oh, and buy your tickets in advance. They cost the same, are good for 120 days from purchase, and you’ll save yourself serious time.
If you want to combine a visit to the Kennedy Space Center with long days on the beach and by the pool, the Holiday Inn Club Vacations Cape Canaveral Beach Resort is your spot. There’s an expansive outdoor pool area that includes a lazy river, waterslide, kids’ pool, and splash pad, plus beach access to a lovely stretch of white-sanded
More than 200 species live at McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary, which is run by a husband and wife team. Unlike a zoo, where you wander on your own, this sanctuary operates on a registration-required tour basis. Each tour lasts about two hours, and as part of the visit, you’ll be able to meet a tortoise, alligator, parrot or another animal close enough to touch.
The Sanctuary only offers tours on Tuesday through Saturday and has limited time slots, so plan ahead and book your tour in advance. The tour takes place primarily outside, so seasons with mild, reliable weather — like winter or spring — means you have less of a chance of standing in the rain.
The upscale Hilton West Palm Beach is a modern property attached to the Palm Beach County Convention Center and a quick walk from Rosemary Square shopping center. It’s about a 30-minute drive to the wildlife sanctuary, but we like it as a hotel pick for all the extra trimmings (you won’t find anything closer). It has an extensive list of tourist-friendly amenities: a resort-style pool with an adjacent bar, three well-regarded restaurants, and a free airport shuttle. All 400 rooms feature 55-inch flat-screen TVs, mini-fridges, and free Wi-Fi. Suites upgrade to roomy floor plans with dining rooms and wet bars.
Our Top Outfit Picks for Your Florida Vacation:
Caribbean Rookie Mistakes Outfit
Best-Selling Women’s Beach Look
Men’s Summertime Daywear
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