12 Major Mistakes to Avoid on a Florida Vacation, According to a Lifelong Resident
The biggest and most common mistakes travelers make in Florida — and how to avoid them.
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
You don’t have to be a travel expert to plan a trip to Florida, but there are some insider tips to know before embarking on a vacation to the Sunshine State. For starters, Florida isn’t all beaches and theme parks, though there’s nothing wrong with hitting both of those spots during your getaway. As a lifelong resident, I've picked up a few tricks along the way. Read on for 12 mistakes to avoid on your next Florida vacation.
1. Only Spending Time at the Beach
There’s no doubt that Florida’s beaches are world-class. However, failing to venture beyond the coast and deeper into Florida’s vast array of offerings is one of the biggest mistakes visitors can make.
Inland Florida will impress even the most outdoorsy and adventurous of nature lovers — there’s abundant wildlife in the Everglades, state parks, even an underwater national park — and the state is peppered from coast to coast with museums, festivals, and other unique experiences.
Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales boasts 250 acres of lush gardens plus a bell tower, the historic streets of St. Augustine transport visitors back in time, Lion Country Safari in the Palm Beaches is akin to embarking on a self-driven African safari, and quaint towns like Mount Dora beckon with hometown charm. You can even watch a NASA rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center.
The beach is a highlight of any Florida vacation, but don’t miss out on all the offshore adventures that await, too.
2. Or, Conversely, Not Spending Any Time at the Beach
If you plan a trip to Florida with no beach day on the itinerary, you’re doing it wrong. There’s a lot to love about the state beyond its sandy stretches, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the beach out of your vacation altogether. The beach is one of Florida’s main attractions and skipping it will leave your trip will incomplete. Plus, with over 600 miles of beaches in Florida, you’re guaranteed to find one that’s perfect for you.
3. Assuming It’s Always Warm and Sunny
Yes, Florida is the Sunshine State, but the weather isn’t always perfect. Winters can get chilly, especially in northern Florida, and in the summer months, expect a thunderstorm every afternoon like clockwork. It’s a fact of life during Florida summers, and it doesn’t have to dampen your plans — these squalls form, storm, and pass, usually departing as quickly and unexpectedly as they arrive. Just don’t forget to factor them in, and be prepared to adjust your plans accordingly.
4. Forgetting Sunscreen
It’s not always sunny in Florida, but due to the state’s location near the equator, the sun’s rays are powerful, even on overcast and cloudy days. Getting a sunburn is a quick, painful, and entirely avoidable way to ruin your trip, so apply (and reapply) protection during your visit. Make sure to use reef-safe sunscreens, especially if you’re going to be at the beach. And while you’re at it, pack some bug spray, too — mosquitoes and other bugs are another fact of life in Florida.
5. Assuming All Theme Parks Are in Orlando
This may blow a non-Floridian’s mind, but not all Florida theme parks are located in Orlando. The roller coaster-filled Busch Gardens, for example, is situated in Tampa, while Legoland is found in Winter Haven. It’s also worth noting that many “Orlando” theme parks are actually located in surrounding cities, like Kissimmee. Even Disney classics such as Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom have addresses in Lake Buena Vista, not Orlando proper.
6. Or, Thinking Orlando Is Only Good for Theme Parks
Orlando is best known for its plethora of theme parks and attractions, but there’s a lot more to the city than park-hopping. You can book airboat rides, comedy shows, or bike tours; learn about the environment at Gatorland; or meet artisanal vendors at East End Market. Ride the Orlando Eye for new perspective on the destination, or venture out to nearby cities like Winter Park or Winter Garden for a break from the touristy commotion.
7. Missing Out on Florida’s Wilderness
Florida’s beaches and theme parks are spectacular, but its natural environment is unlike anything else on Earth. Adventurous travelers who crave wild flora and fauna should check out Silver Springs, home of the world-famous glass-bottom boat tours; tube down Rainbow River, dive or snorkel Devil’s Den, a prehistoric spring; take a clear kayak tour on Crystal River and paddle alongside manatees; go shelling on Sanibel Island; enjoy boating in the Florida Keys; or swim at Rock Springs. Get off the beaten path in Florida and you’ll reap rich rewards.
8. Interfering With Wildlife
Florida’s many alligators are cool — when left undisturbed in their natural habitats. Don’t interfere with Florida’s wildlife in any way — even seemingly innocent activities, like feeding seagulls at the beach, can have a drastic negative impact on the state’s delicate ecosystem. Instead, opt for educational activities that let you to experience Florida’s wildlife in a conservational context. At Juno Beach’s Loggerhead Marinelife Center, for example, you can book a nighttime beach walk to watch sea turtles come ashore and lay eggs, all while learning about why the animals are so vital to the planet at large and what you can do to save them.
9. Forgetting to Account for Hurricane Season
While hurricanes can have a devastating impact, they usually provide some time to prepare, and many Floridians are equipped with a hurricane kit, shutters, and an evacuation plan for worst-case scenarios. For most people, however, facing a hurricane isn’t on the vacation agenda. Don’t neglect to take Florida’s hurricane season into account when planning a trip. Hurricane season stretches from June through November, though peak season occurs from mid-August to late October. There’s no guarantee a hurricane will form, but don’t be blindsided if one does pop up on the radar.
10. Skipping the Florida Keys
Need a tropical island getaway, but don’t want to leave the country? Head to the Florida Keys. The archipelago stretches about 120 miles off the state’s southern tip, from Key Largo all the way to Key West, home of the southernmost point of the continental United States. Each of Keys is breathtakingly beautiful, offering some of the best of Florida in one laid-back, scenic package.
11. Not Asking If the Fish Is Fresh
Florida has plenty of culinary highlights, and fresh fish tops the list — grouper and mahi-mahi are crowd pleasers if you’re new to seafood. However, don’t assume that every time you see fish on a menu in Florida, it’s locally sourced and fresh. If it’s not the catch of the day or confirmed to be sourced from the nearby Gulf or Atlantic Ocean, don’t order it. It’s an unspoken rule in Florida: You’re asking for disappointment if you eat anything other than fresh, locally caught fish.
While we’re on the topic, fresh-squeezed local citrus is another non-negotiable. Florida orange juice is exported around the world for a reason — it’s like liquid sunshine. Oh, and denying yourself a thick slice of Florida Key lime pie during your visit would be a sin.
12. Not Slowing Down for Sunset
There’s nothing like golden hour in Florida, but sunset itself might just beat it. Locals across the state love to quote famous Floridian Jimmy Buffett when it comes to quitting time (or longing for it): “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” Do as the locals do: At the end of the day, slow down to enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures. Five o’clock is Florida’s unofficially official time to kick back with a cold one and await the splendor of a setting sun, so make sure you leave room in your itinerary to soak in this simple yet exquisite Florida treasure.