Each year, millions of tourists visit Florida to savour its spectacular beaches, fabulous state parks, natural and cultural wonders, golfing and fishing opportunities and shopping, dining and entertainment venues. A sampling of things to do in the Sunshine State.
Tampa, which played host to the IIFA (International Indian Film Academy) Awards 2014 event, has a rich history and culture, and offers plentiful dining and nightlife options along with world-class convention hotels and the state-of-the-art Tampa Convention Center. Step back in time and explore the historic Latin Quarter saunter through Ybor City with its brick-lined streets and take in the rich scent of Cuban coffee and Latin music rhythms. YborCityOnline.com
The International Plaza at Westshore district is a great shopping experience. A long sidewalk along the waterfront leads to the quaint neighbourhood of Hyde Park. The beautiful waterfront offers glimpses of dolphins or manatees. Drop into the Oxford Exchange, a restaurant, coffee and tea bar, shop and bookstore.
The Florida Aquarium boasts over 20,000 aquatic animals and plants, including stingrays and sharks. You can &lsquoDive with the Sharks&rsquo if you have the nerve or simply &lsquoSwim with the Fishes&rsquo. (Adult tickets $23.95 children $18.95. flaquarium.org).
Then there&rsquos Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary that&rsquos home to more than 100 lions, tigers, cougars and other big cats. Reservation and prepayment via Zerve.com $36 per adult for a day tour children below 10 not allowed on day tours, but there are special kids&rsquo tours on weekends ($19 per child).
At the Museum of Science and Industry, you can enjoy over 450 hands-on adventure activities. Check for detailed programmes at mosi.org. Make time for the Lowry Park Zoo, considered (with good reason) the best zoo in the US here, you can get up, close and personal with animals from Africa, Australia and Asia. Open 9.30am-5pm $24.95 for an adult day pass check for discounts at lowrypark.zoo.com.
Culture lovers can choose from the Tampa Museum of Art, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Tampa Bay History Center, and the Glazer Children&rsquos Museum or watch Broadway performances at the David A. Straz, Jr Center for the Performing Arts.
Tampa is a sports city you can perhaps catch Major League Baseball stars practise their swing at the George M. Steinbrenner Field or the Tropicana Field.
If all you want to do is stroll around, enjoy the beautiful outdoors and the great Tampa weather at the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park or take one of the leisurely cruises from port Tampa Bay.
Orlando is the theme park and amusement capital of the world. From Shamu to the Mouse to the world&rsquos most famous boy wizard, visitors to central Florida can choose from a range of amusement options. Disney World is a must-see, especially if you&rsquore travelling with children. The king of theme park resorts, it&rsquos a massive complex that requires planning to navigate smoothly. There are four theme parks the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney&rsquos Hollywood Studios and Disney&rsquos Animal Kingdom. If you have just a day and want to experience vintage Disney, visit the Magic Kingdom with its classics Cinderella Castle, It&rsquos a Small World and the Haunted Mansion.
For thrill rides, hit the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and The Rock&rsquon&rsquoRoller Coaster starring Aerosmith at Disney&rsquos Hollywood Studios. Don&rsquot try to see everything that&rsquos impossible. Pick and choose what you like the most and take it slowly. This wonderworld has to be absorbed at an easy pace. Check out the ticketing options at disneyworld.com.
At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, teleport yourself to Hogwarts, sip some Butterbeer or browse the shops at Hogsmeade and grab some pumpkin juice at the adjacent Hog&rsquos Head Pub. Islands of Adventure is also home to some of the most thrilling rides in Orlando. The Wizarding World is made up of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley (the second of which opens this summer).
Best known for its live show featuring the mascot Shamu, Sea World, the renowned aquatic park, is also a high-tech marine playground. For deals on tickets, visit SeaWorldOrlando.com. A new addition, Turtle Trek, is a 360-degree, 3D movie that takes guests through an amazingly realistic recreation of the hidden world of Nyah, a deep sea turtle hatchling. At the Discovery Cove park (discoverycove.com), you&rsquoll have the chance to swim, touch and play with bottlenose dolphins, and snorkel with tropical fish and stingrays.
Central Florida&rsquos newest major theme park, Legoland (legoland.com) is a playground for the creative at heart. Spread over 150 acres, it is packed with 50 rides and several shows and attractions. Gatorland, which opened in 1949 as a roadside attraction, has expanded to a 110-acre habitat for alligators, crocodiles, snakes and other exotic wildlife. Live shows can fill a day with plenty of thrills. Gatorland also has the world&rsquos largest collection of white alligators (Tickets $69.99 plus taxes per person).
One of the most &lsquohappening&rsquo beaches on the planet, the beautiful south waterfront has all the usual array of watersports &mdash jet ski, diving, motorboats &mdash and dining options and cultural attractions. But what makes it a hotspot is that it sizzles with spot-a-star excitement, glamorous people and action at hip nightspots. Wear a designer bikini or trunks and play the surf with a celebrity only a beach towel away Visit Florida&rsquos newly launched online tool, Florida Beach Finder (visitflorida.com/beachfinder) helps you choose just your kind of beach &mdash from &lsquoaction-packed&rsquo to &lsquosecluded&rsquo &mdash and anything in between.
Also explore the seven-block pedestrian mall, go people-watching at the outdoor beach cafes and the bustling shops. As the sun goes down, the fun is just beginning spot a rockstar or a famous actor at any one of the nightclubs such as the Cameo, one of South Beach&rsquos marquee clubs. Originally designed as a theatre, Cameo now anchors Washington Avenue&rsquos entertainment district and is open every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 11pm till 5am.
You can also spend a couple of hours at Little Havana, the spirited Cuban neighbourhood of Miami where the sights, sounds and smells are intoxicating. Sample a traditional Cuban meal or grab a quick sandwich cubano and some empanadas. There is no fee to visit.
Just an hour&rsquos drive from Miami, the Everglades National Park in southern Florida is a large expanse of wetland that spans 1.5 million acres. The largest subtropical wilderness in the US, the park serves as a habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the elusive Florida panther. It is an international treasure as well a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.
To have a safe and enjoyable visit to the Everglades, it&rsquos best to plan ahead. A variety of park publications available online can help you plan your trip to one or all four South Florida National Park sites. Visitors can enjoy hiking, canoeing and biking, as well as camping, ranger-led programmes, tram tours and boat tours. Since Florida Bay occupies a third of the Everglades National Park, you can go out on the water. The park encourages you to take the free local boating course. See nationalparks.org/explore-parks. For tours and activities evergladestours.org.
For an overview of the state, check out visitflorida.com.