Florida residents, in case you haven’t noticed: The snowbirds are gone, the kids are back in school and we have Florida attractions pretty much to ourselves.
Fall is the perfect time to ride a roller coaster, take in a show, attend a food festival or explore those places that usually are too crowded (and hot) to enjoy during the busy summer vacation season or the late winter snowbird season.
The deals are abundant for Florida residents through mid-November and also in that sweet spot between Thanksgiving and mid-December, said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, the family vacation expert at About.com.
This is especially true for families with preschoolers who don’t have to live by the school schedule. “Instead of shopping for No. 2 pencils, you should be shopping for a fall vacation,” Kelleher said.
Nickelodeon Suites in Orlando and Club Med in Port St. Lucie on the east coast of Florida, she noted, offer loads of price breaks in the fall, with lots of freebies for toddlers.
Retirees can also take note: This time of year you can go midweek without battling crowds, and many of the resorts and attractions offer Florida resident discounts.
That’s the beauty of living in Florida. This is the secret season that people take advantage of.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family vacation expert
Discovery Cove in Orlando, a theme park that features swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with thousands of tropical fish and hand-feeding exotic birds, has an all-inclusive package for Florida residents through December for $149, or $219 to add the dolphin swim experience. That ticket gets you food and drinks plus unlimited admission to SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld’s water park Aquatica through Jan. 31. For a $25 upgrade you can also add unlimited admission to Busch Gardens through Jan. 31. Keep in mind that this would also get you access to Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town nights and the Halloween and Christmas events at SeaWorld. (See DiscoveryCove.com or call 877-434-7268.)
Even if you do have kids in school, a weekend getaway is much easier in the off-season.
“That’s the beauty of living in Florida,” Kelleher said. “This is the secret season that people take advantage of.”
The weeks to target are the “dead weeks” immediately after a big event, Kelleher said.
The week after Halloween, prices plummet. And while Thanksgiving week brings some of the busiest days of the year at Florida’s theme parks, the weeks right after Thanksgiving through about mid-December tend to be much quieter, as is the week right after New Year’s Day and much of January before spring break traffic starts to pick up.
So if you sat out the hot summer while the Sunshine State experienced record tourism, here’s a look at a few of the new attractions you might have missed:
▪ Orlando’s Crayola Experience, a fascinating wonderland of color, technology and nostalgia, opened in July in the Florida Mall. (www.crayolaexperience.com/orlando)
▪ The new Harambe marketplace, an African-themed dining and drink stop that opened at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in late May, features several open air shops that will offer a variety of rotating merchandise, all made to look like an authentic African village.
▪ Busch Gardens opened Dragon Fire Grill in June. The market-style restaurant features cuisines from around the world and some new entertainment in the Tampa theme park’s recently added Pantopia section.
▪ Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto has opened at Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Resort, and you don’t have to be a theme park or resort guest to take in this unusual watering hole. It’s a bar loaded with tiki-tacky Hawaiian kitsch, special effects that go off on the ceiling and walls, and a patio offering a nice view of the theme park’s nightly fireworks show.
▪ Although the Adventure Island water park in Tampa is open only on weekends through Oct. 11, the park has a screamer of a new water slide on board this summer called Colossal Curl, a 622-foot-long thrill slide with a “weightless wave wall” that leaves riders a little breathless in the finale.
▪ SeaWorld’s comic sea lion show has been retooled as Clyde and Seamore’s Sea Lion High, in which the beloved sea lions are joined by a cast of characters, including otters and a 2,300-pound walrus.
▪ The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival runs through Nov. 16, with seven weeks of special food offerings. With more than 30 Marketplace Booths you can find mashed yucca at the Brazil booth, traditional haggis at Scotland or the festival favorite, Canadian cheddar cheese soup. Plus there’s a lineup of concerts included with admission, ranging from Wilson Phillips to Smash Mouth, Everclear, Boyz II Men and Chaka Khan. (https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/)
▪ Disney Springs — formerly Downtown Disney — has opened two new restaurants in the last two weeks. The Indiana Jones-themed restaurant called Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, named after the adventurous pilot with the pet snake in Raiders of the Lost Ark, has vintage aviation decor, lots of Indiana Jones movie references and themed drinks and menu items. Morimoto Asia, a fine-dining establishment, offers Japanese and other Asian cuisine, sushi and seafood.
▪ Coming soon: NBC will open its first sports bar at Orlando’s Universal CityWalk this fall, called NBC Sports Grill & Brew, with a massive HD stadium screen more than 100 feet wide at the entrance, more than 100 beers and food prepared on open kettle grills.