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Ask the experts: Family trips near Orlando

Our panel gives advice on unique Florida family trips outside Orlando, including visiting flamingos and guided canoe adventures

Ask the experts: Family trips near Orlando
Visiting flamingos, Florida. Image: SuperStock

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QI’m taking my family for a week to the Florida theme parks, flying into Orlando. We want to spend another week doing something completely different. Where do you suggest?

Maggi Smit, managing director, America as You Like It: Give Sarasota and Bradenton a go, only 90 minutes’ drive from Orlando. Both cities are packed with unconventional activities, from acrobat-training courses in Sarasota to football and tennis camps at Bradenton’s IMG Academy. Located on the calmer west coast of the state, both offer nature-based activities and award-winning beaches.

Day trips include visiting flamingos at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, hands-on fun at Mote Marin Aquarium’s touch tanks, or exploring the Children’s Rainforest at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Sarasota’s Siesta Key Beach, with its placid waters and soft sands, was recently named #1 Beach by Dr Beach. Bradenton is equally brimming with friendly adventures, from horse surfing (riding horses into the ocean) to traditional surfing at Anna Maria Island.

Anna Melville-James, travel writer: Head to Tampa, 90 minutes from Orlando, where the big attraction is Busch Gardens, home to wild animals and even wilder rides, such as the new drop-tower, Falcon’s Fury. For other local attractions, buy the Tampa Trio pass (£33 adult/£26 child) from dosomethingdifferent.com. This covers admission to Lowry Park Zoo, home to all sorts of native Floridian wildlife, the Florida Aquarium and Museum of Science & Industry.

If you really want to get a taste of wild Florida, take a guided canoe adventure with Canoe Escape to spot river turtles, birdlife and that Florida speciality — alligators — all in their natural environment. Younger kids can play at being grown-ups for a day at the Glazer Children’s Museum in downtown Tampa, followed by lunch at Ulele, a new restaurant featuring native American flavours, a short stroll along the Riverwalk. Then, relocate to Clearwater Beach, a 40-minute drive away for a few days R&R among the white sands and warm Gulf waters, before returning to Orlando to fly home. visitflorida.com

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Published in the Spring 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller – Family