Glass-bottom boats are the big draw at Silver Springs, where more than 500 million gallons of spring-fed water converge to form the Silver River. The park is also a popular gathering spot for community festivals and concerts. Admission is $8 per carload. There are additional fees for glass-bottom boat rides, camping facilities and pavilion rentals.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Explore the history of manned spaceflight at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Tours of launch facilities are available, families can have lunch with a real astronaut, but the highlight is an up-close visit with the mammoth Space Shuttle Atlantis, housed at the Visitor Complex. Ticket prices vary depending on what tours are purchased.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
For 60 years, tourists have come to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park for one thing: mermaids! Roughly 15 “mermaids” entertain in the cool 74-degree water fed by an underwater spring. Once the show is over, there’s more to do here, including river boat rides, animal shows, camping and scuba diving (for PADI-certified divers.) Adult tickets are $13; children 6 to 12 are $8; children under 5 are free.
Legoland Florida is the newest of the bunch, debuting in 2011, and it’s been a hit ever since with families with children (and families with kids at heart). In addition to jaw-dropping Lego replicas of Washington, D.C., New York City and Las Vegas, there are dozens of rides and shows. And if you’re wondering what’s happened to Winter Haven’s “other” theme park, Cypress Gardens, Legoland was built on top of that attraction, though a section of the gardens have been preserved within Legoland, along with their hoop-skirted “southern belle” mascots.
One of the state’s oldest “theme parks,” Sunken Gardens opened in 1903. The four-acre botanical garden is now operated by the city of St. Petersburg. The park often hosts horticulture workshops, community events and even daily yoga classes. Adult admission is $10; seniors (62+) are $8; children (2-11) are $4.
Holy Land Experience
The Holy Land Experience is located right on Interstate 4, prompting curious glances from drivers traveling to or from Orlando’s better-known parks. It’s owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network and is a non-profit organization, and once a year, admission is free (check the website for next year’s date). The big attraction: a miniature re-creation of the city of Jerusalem in the first century AD.
This 250,000-square-foot aquarium houses more than 20,000 sea animals and plants. The Florida Aquarium is laid out to show the journey of water from deep underground the state all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. There’s also a small waterpark outside to keep kids entertained once they’ve experienced the educational exhibits.
Want to become a certified alligator wrestler? This is the place to do it. Open since the late 1940s, Gatorland features thousands of alligators and other native Florida wildlife. For the truly adventurous, the zip-line lets you soar more than 60 feet above the snapping critters at speeds up to 30 mph. Check Gatorland’s website for frequent promotions and coupons.
Opening in 1955, the Miami Seaquarium is the oldest oceanarium in the United States. It houses a variety of sea life along with birds and reptiles. The Seaquarium features daily dolphin and killer whale shows, but also serves a center for sea creature rescue and rehabilitation.
One of three in the U.S. (the others are in Kentucky and Texas), Plant City’s Dinosaur World, a less-dangerous iteration of Jurassic Park, is situated on 20 acres and contains more than 200 life-size dinosaur sculptures. There’s also a “boneyard playground” for kids and educational programs with paleontological experts. Food isn’t served at the park, but the grounds are prime for picnicking.