Florida is a very large state. From Pensacola Beach (in the upper left hand corner of the state) to Key West (the teeny tiny dot waaay at the bottom of the state) it would take about 12.5 hours to drive. To say that Florida isn’t monolithic is an understatement. In fact it’s so diverse in different areas, there aren’t many rules to how to visit the state. But there are some things that you don’t do when in Florida:
- Don’t swim in lakes or canals or sit on their edges – A lot of visitors from the north think that a lake is a great place to cool off in or walk the dog in. Don’t. Because alligators. Alligators live in many body of waters in Florida. Some like springs where people can and do swim are monitored, usually by the state. And springs are crystal clear so you can see around you. Florida lakes are shallow and murky which is exactly the hunting ground that alligators enjoy and they’re not monitored on a regular basis. So you don’t know what’s out there. There has been a slight uptick in alligator attacks recently but that’s because more people are moving to the state which means more interaction with the reptiles and people, not because alligators love attacking humans. Also do not let your pets play near lakes because alligators do like to feed on small animals. All that said it’s not uncommon to see locals water skiing and doing standup paddle board on lakes. It’s being aware that’s the key (and probably not falling off!) Oh and you should also never swim in any body of water in Florida at dawn or dusk. That’s when alligators and sharks tend to feed.
- Since we’re talking about reptiles – don’t be afraid of lizards! Lizards are a big part of the Florida lifestyle. They’re really all over the place and while they can seem creepy most of them are an important part of the Florida eco-system (some, like iguanas, are an invasive species). We recently visited New York and there were house flies both indoors and outdoors. We couldn’t figure out why we don’t see a lot of house flies where we live in Florida and then we thought “lizards!”. So thanks to all the lizards not only for entertaining our cat but also for eating all those flies and other pesky bugs.
- Don’t forget to drink a LOT of water. It’s hot here. And humid. That heat and humidity can be very surprising to people who are visiting and it can hit them in dangerous ways. So drink more than your normal amounts of water while you’re here. The easiest thing to do is bring a reusable water bottle for each family member when you come down. All the amusement parks and state parks have water fountains for you to fill up.
- Don’t be vain. Wear a hat! Sure it might mess up your hair. But Ft. Myers on average has 114 days of temperatures over 85 and Orlando has 106. Some parts of the state don’t have a lot of trees which makes it even harder to find a little shade. So bring along a hat to help you avoid a bad sunburn on your face or heat stroke. For women who need to be stylish there are lots of options out there for great travel hats. For guys, lucky you – they sell baseball caps at every beach store in the state.
- And speaking of sunburn – don’t forget to wear sunscreen. No matter what your skin type or color, you need to wear sunscreen and reapply it on a regular basis all over your face and body. As an African-American woman I wear sunscreen to help not only prevent skin cancer but also to help minimize damage to my skin that can cause wrinkles. Even people with a lot of melanin can get a sunburn and even get skin cancer. Did you know that skin cancer is what killed Bob Marley? No one should take a chance so put on that sunscreen. A bad sunscreen can lead to sun poisoning so a combo of the hat, lots of water and sunscreen will help minimize your chances of spending your Florida vacation stuck inside due to sunburn or even worse in the hospital.
- Don’t miss the local breweries in the area you’re visiting. As of late 2017, there were 195 breweries throughout the state. That’s a lot of local beer businesses giving you, literally, the local flavor of where you are. One thing we love to do when we go to a new city is find a craft brewery. Why? Because not only will you meet local people who can give you great hints of things to do in the area but also because craft breweries are generally family and pet friendly. They’ve become a bit like the corner store was 100 years ago. Even if you don’t like beer more craft breweries have wine choices and sodas. And if they don’t the majority don’t mind if you bring a can of soda in with you so you can sit with your friends and family while they’re sipping on their brew.
- If you see a manatee out in the wild, don’t play with it, tease it with a water hose (they seem to like spinning in them), touch it or try to ride it. You will go to jail. If you just have to swim with a manatee you’ll need to visit Citrus County on the state’s west coast. It’s the only place in the US where it’s legal to swim with them. But you still can’t touch them. We know – they’re adorable and slow and you could really catch up to one if you tried. However manatees, being slow, get injured and sometimes killed by boats which makes them a threatened species. There are lots of opportunities to observe them in the wild or while being rehabilitated so you can enjoy them without putting them in danger.
- Don’t think that Florida is only about mouse ears and wizard wands. As I said earlier Florida is extremely diverse. If you’re a book lover, visit the homes of Zora Neele Hurston, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings or Ernest Hemingway. If you’re a lover of camping and the outdoors visit one of the 175 Florida State Parks. Enjoy shopping or eating – there are local restaurants and stores in every corner of the state. Music? Theater? Art? Sports? Historical sites? Whatever you want to do Florida has it. So even though we love our amusement parks there’s more to Florida than Mickey.
If you remember these don’ts when you visit the Sunshine State you’re sure to have a great experience and hopefully remember your visit with a smile!