Instant expert: Florida

28 Feb 2017

Spanish roots, Mickey Mouse, alligators and key lime pie. There’s something for everyone in the Sunshine State. 

Florida at a Glance

Population: 19.89 million
Official language: English
Currency: US dollars
Flying time from the UK: 9 hours, 35 minutes from London to Orlando, and just under 10 hours to Miami 
Timezone: There are two. The central time zone (six hours behind the UK) is observed by the north west, and the eastern standard time zone (five hours behind) covers the southern and eastern parts of the state
Visas: British citizens, visiting for 90 days or less, need to apply online for an ESTA visa. This costs $14 and is usually valid for multiple trips over two years
Tipping: Tipping is expected everywhere in the US - 15-20% of the bill is normal
Tax: The sales tax in Florida is 6%, which will be added at the time of purchase. A hotel tax of 13% applies in Miami

10 Things You Need to Know

1. Approximately 90 million people visit Florida every year, the majority of whom head to Orlando and its theme parks.

2. Florida’s first tourist was the Spanish adventurer Juan Ponce de León, who landed in 1513 on his way to the Bahamas.

3. The Sunshine State experiences up to 266 sunny days per year and temperatures as high as 35°C. However it’s also prone to hurricanes and thunderstorms are common in the summer.

4. Naples is the winter home of northern “snowbirds” (retirees who move south to seek warmer climes). A 2012 census found that Florida has one of the country’s oldest populations.

5. Cuba is only 90 miles away. Trade in beef and cigars thrived until an embargo in 1960, after Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution, when a large number of refugees fled to Florida. Today, 70% of Miami’s residents speak Spanish.

6. Florida is home to more than one million alligators and feeding them is against the law. The Everglades National Park is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles co-exist.

7. Miami is the only major American city founded by a woman. Julia Tuttle saw its potential in 1874.

8. Florida produces 67% of the US’s oranges and 40% of the world’s orange juice supply.

9. Florida has more golf courses than any other US state, with more than 1,250 at the last count.

10. The key lime pie originates in Key West, although nearly every restaurant in Florida will claim to make the best one.

When to visit Florida

The weather can vary wildly throughout the state, but for largely pleasant temperatures with the fewest crowds, travel between April and May, and September to October. Hurricanes are most likely from June to November.

Florida is Best For…

Spotting wildlife. The state may be known for its alligators, but Florida’s official animal is the placid manatee, which visitors can swim with at the Manatee Springs State Park. There are also nesting loggerhead sea turtles on the east coast, and 15 endangered species at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Rockets. The Kennedy Space Center dates back to 1962 and was the launch site for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon seven years later. The most recent rocket launch was in January, 2017. Admission to the visitor’s centre includes a ride on the shuttle launch simulator.

Celeb spotting. Stars such as Pharrell Williams, Rod Stewart, Serena Williams, Shakira and Enrique Iglesias all have homes in Florida and Miami in particular is known for its glitz and glamour. Head to Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant - not only is it famous for its crab claws, but celebs including Sean Connery, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez have been seen here.

Theme parks. Orlando is the theme park capital of the world. There are nine parks including Seaworld, Universal Studios, Legoland, Epcot, and of course, Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort. Purchase Ultimate Tickets from the UK before travelling for the best value.

Beaches. The state has 1,350 miles of coastline - the most of any in the mainland US. Unsurprisingly, it’s also home to some of the country’s best beaches. Clearwater Beach (below) tops many people's list for its Caribbean-style white sand and turquoise water.


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