Travel logistics

Although we have mentioned elsewhere on this website many general suggestions for foreign travelers visiting the US, Florida deserves special comment.   Florida receives large numbers of both foreign and national tourists – far in excess to most other states.  And Florida’s relatively unique geography and climate deserve a separate discussion.

Most foreign visitors will arrive in Miami or Ft Lauderdale (“Gold Coast” beaches, city life etc) or Orlando (Disney World and other theme parks).  However there are many other locations with smaller airports where it is feasible to rent a vehicle and avoid possibly bewildering large city traffic at the outset of your travels.  For example, if we are traveling to South Florida, we like to fly into the Southwest Florida International Airport (SFIA, near Ft Myers) as it has only 20% of the traffic of Miami.   And even smaller airports, like Gainesville, Tallahassee, or Melbourne, have only 10% (or less) of the airline traffic that the SFIA airport has.  All of these smaller airports can be reached by a connecting flight from Miami or Atlanta.  This will reduce stress both when getting and returning your rental vehicle.

As with almost every other US travel destination, a rental vehicle is an essential first step after arriving on your flight (assuming you don’t drive from somewhere else in the US).  Most of Florida has good paved roads, with very few locations requiring high clearance or 4×4 vehicles.  IF you know you will be exploring the National Forests of central or Northern Florida and you know lots of your time will be spent on forest roads (such can be very sandy in central Florida) then you might consider a non-standrad vehicle.  However, most standard vehicles will be fine under most conditions.

Climate

The climate varies considerably between north and south Florida, though in the summer months it is uniformly hot and humid.  Why?  Because Florida is surrounded by a warm ocean.  For monthly mean sea surface temperatures over the western Atlantic see here. Although the ocean on the Gulf of Mexico side is relatively shallow (and cools considerably near he shore in winter) it is deep enough to maintain its temperature day-and-night in the summer months.  Steady evaporation off this water, and importation of high humidity air from the south and southeast on most summer days, produces the continuous high dewpoint temperatures that makes most days uncomfortable outdoors.

Away from summer, there is a noticeable seasonal variation in temperature , mostly north to south.  A few climate histograms demonstrate this.

 

The rainfall over florida does have an interesting geographical and diurnal pattern that has been known, and mostly understood, for many years.  During the summer, the land heats up and generates a sea-breeze.  This produces sufficient rising motion to initiate thunderstorms inland from both coasts.  Although these storms can them move in different directions depending on the conditions of the day, the net result is a c rainfall climatology that has the maximum rainfall inland in bands parallel to both coasts.  The actual coastal regions are relatively cloud-free on many summer days, while storms are occurring inland 10-20 miles or more.

Although Florida is surrounded by relatively warm water even in the winter, it is possible to have freezing temperatures in central florida, when winds are from the north and are not moderated by flowing over the warm water.  In northern Florida freezing occurs every winter, but near Miami (inland) 32F temperatures might occur once every few decades.  It has never frozen in Key West (lowest recorded temperature was near 41˚F) or the lower Keys, due to the warm water surrounding the islands.

Accommodations

Hotels and motels can be fully booked in high season, especially…

Entrance Fees to Parks and Nature-oriented facilities

Florida National Parks and many National Wildlife Refuges have entrance fees.  As mentioned elsewhere, if you plan to visit multiple parks you should get an annual pass or something appropriate for your status.  But many of the nature attractions in Florida are in State Parks, which do not accept the national passes – Florida has its own annual pass.  Consider this, depending on your length of stay.  We often pay by-the-park, but in either case your contribution helps maintain one of the best State Park systems in the US.  And, without a doubt, what you spend entering natural attractions in Florida would be a small fraction of what the main theme parks charge for their admission (can be approximately $100 per day!).  And state park entrance charges are usually per vehicle (as with National Park facilities) compared with fees per person at commercial attractions.