VERO BEACH
Less than two hours southeast of Orlando lies the resort town of Vero Beach. The area is known for its posh downtown, gorgeous nature preserve on the Indian River Lagoon, and of course, the Atlantic Ocean. Disney even opened its own beach resort here on Florida's Treasure Coast, so if you're not ready to part ways with Mickey Mouse, you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Disney's Vero Beach Resort offers sing-alongs, campfires, kayaking adventures and even a surf school.

COCOA BEACH
Orlando's closest beach is also known for its surfing culture. Cocoa is the international headquarters for Ron Jon Surf Shop, and its flagship store is the world's largest surf shop at 52,000 square feet. Open 24 hours a day, the store features everything under the sun, from T-shirts and seashells to beach bikes, paddleboards, and of course, surfboards. Try riding the waves with a lesson with the Ron Jon Surf School.

While spring breakers congregate around the Cocoa Beach Pier for beach volleyball and partying, many families like the quiet of Lori Wilson Park, where you'll find free parking, restrooms, and outdoor showers.

PORT CANAVERAL
Ahoy! Port Canaveral is your gateway to the Caribbean on Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Whether you have a free morning before your cruise or are coming over for a day trip, there is lots to discover on the Space Coast. The Kennedy Space Center is the birthplace of the U.S. space industry, with amazing exhibits like the Saturn V rocket that sent man to the moon, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and even thrilling rocket launches you can experience in person.

The Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge are ideal for spotting bald eagles, sea turtles, dolphins and manatees.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH
Just to the north of Port Canaveral is "the locals beach" for many Orlandoans. Before hitting the sand, stroll the five blocks of Flagler Avenue from the river to the ocean for Old Florida shops, local boutiques and casual eateries. Third Wave Cafe and Outriggers Tiki Bar & Grille are a few favorites. The wide, smooth sands allow for fun beach activities like riding bikes straight into the surf.

DAYTONA BEACH
The "World's Most Famous Beach" is just an hour from downtown Orlando. Daytona Beach is all about the cars—a place to catch a world-famous NASCAR race and even drive your own car right on the beach. Free summer concerts with movies and fireworks are offered May through October at the Bandshell, and there's plenty of entertainment at the nearby boardwalk and fishing pier.

For a quieter corner, head to Ponce Inlet and climb to the top of Florida's tallest lighthouse which stands at 175 feet, built in 1835. For local shopping and dining, Beach Street in downtown Daytona is popular, and nearby Ormond Beach is home to John D. Rockefeller's former beach house in addition to local dining hotspots on Granada Boulevard.

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH
Just up Interstate 95 from Daytona Beach, the charming coastal town of St. Augustine awaits. Of course, this historic European-style city is known for its Fountain of Youth and the first permanent settlement in the United States, established back to 1565. After a robust history lesson downtown, head to the beach. Popular attractions along the coast include the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Marineland, where you can swim with dolphins.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH
Take a short, scenic drive up the ocean on the famous state Road A1A, and you'll find the upscale beach community of Ponte Vedra Beach. In 1928, the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club opened here, and today it boasts a AAA five-diamond rating with an amazing spa, golf course and oceanfront fitness facility. Or, stay at the Sawgrass by Marriott for lots of family-friendly amenities as well as exclusive golf access. Nearby is TPC Sawgrass, home to THE PLAYERS Championship every May. The clubhouse and course are open to the public. The area is also home to the GTM Research Reserve, one of the largest estuaries in the world with kayaking, bird-watching and hiking.

CLEARWATER
If you long for the calm and clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico, then appropriately named Clearwater is your paradise. Just 20 minutes from Tampa, Clearwater is popular for its family-friendly beaches and attractions. Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a must-see, with the famous movie star Winter from "Dolphin Tale," who swims with a prosthetic tail. Indian Rocks Beach is another relaxing spot for couples and families, free from high rises and crowds.

MADEIRA BEACH
Travel south from Clearwater to arrive at the ever-popular John's Pass Village, where the calm waters of the bay meet the Gulf of Mexico. From here, set sail on a sunset cruise or a daylong fishing excursion or just stroll the wooden boardwalk and check out the waterfront shops and dining options.

ST. PETE BEACH
At the heart of St. Pete Beach is the historic pink palace, the Loews Don Ce Sar Hotel—built in 1928 at the heart of America's Jazz Age. It's worth a visit for dinner or cocktails to soak up the nostalgic, Gatsby-like atmosphere.

For a more natural experience, Fort De Soto is ideal. Plus, it's home to one of the only dog beaches in the area. Make time to see the Salvador Dali museum in downtown St. Petersburg on your way out of town. The building itself is a work of art, and it houses the largest collection of the legendary surrealist outside of Spain.

Remember VIP Express Tours Transportation for your transportations need to any of the beaches. We provide taxi and car services to and from Florida beaches

When to Visit

There is no sure way to avoid crowds in Orlando, but certain times of the year are less crowded than others. After late August and the start of school in most places, Disney World has a history of offering discount packages to keep the trams full of visitors. Summer is the most popular and therefore worst time to visit the theme parks. Pack sunscreen and patience in equal doses. If you can avoid times when school is out, you'll see shorter lines. Find a flight to Orlando.
Where to Eat

Most major U.S. restaurant chains have at least a few locations in the Orlando area. Most food budgets go haywire at the theme parks, where captive audiences will pay very high prices for generally ordinary food. Some of these purchases can't be avoided, but plan larger meals away from the parks. For example, eat a large breakfast and a large dinner, but make lunch a snack. It can do wonders for your budget.
Where to Stay

On-site resorts save time, but not necessarily money. And it's possible to stay at a budget-friendly hotel even during peak season. Disney even recognizes the need for lower room rates and offers on-site rooms at discounted prices after school starts each August. Four-star hotel for under $100/night: Monumental Hotel on International Drive. Key question: How far is your "bargain" room from the attractions you will visit? Don't stay in Apopka if you're planning to visit Universal or WDW each day.

Find hotels in greater Orlando if you don't mind being a bit farther out.
Getting Around

Remember that the region has three fairly busy airports: Orlando, Daytona Beach, and Sanford. Some travelers find it easier or cheaper to use Tampa's airport, too. You'll need an Orlando car rental to visit major attractions, and it definitely pays to shop for a rental. Competition here is fierce. Beware of the booth: Greater Orlando is Florida's toll road capital.
Orlando Attractions

Walt Disney World is 30 minutes southwest of downtown Orlando. Planners envisioned it as a place where construction would never "finish," a destination where people would have to come back to see the latest and greatest. Universal Studios Orlando is part of a massive entertainment complex where you can see working film sets, sample the work of world famous chefs, and ride attractions that put you in the movies. Take a look at a step by step approach to saving money at Disney World.
Beyond the Theme Parks

One reason for Orlando's phenomenal growth is its central Florida location. Gulf and Atlantic beaches are within 60 miles, as is the Kennedy Space Center, Ocala's horse farm country and some wonderful bass fishing.
More Orlando Tips

Get a GO Orlando Card

This is a card you buy prior to your trip and then activate on first use. You can buy from one- to seven-day cards good for free admission at dozens of local attractions. Design your itinerary before you consider a Go Orlando purchase, to determine if the investment will save you money on admissions.

Prepare Yourself for Admission Prices

People who don't do their homework experience "sticker shock" when they find out how much admission will cost. Check Web sites and find discounts before you go.

Be Skeptical of the word "Discount"

There is no shortage of offers for "deep discounts" and "cheap rooms." Sometimes the offers will save you money, but many have strings attached. Don't be duped.

Save Time for Central Florida

Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center is unique and should not be missed. Budget a day to see it. Orlando's trendy, upscale Winter Park area is a nice alternative to a day at the theme parks, too.

Sunburn can ruin your trip

It might be obvious advice, but scores of people plan and save for a Florida vacation and then lose most of the enjoyment to sunburn. Buy a good sunblock and use it. Consider it cheap travel insurance.

Try to Blend In

Criminals target people who advertise their status as tourists. Don't stack luggage in your car so it can be seen through the windows. Keep big bills tucked away safely in a money belt.

Watch Your Speed on Interstate 4

This main highway that connects Tampa, Disney, Orlando, and Daytona is well-patrolled, especially in the area near Disney. Warnings are few and tickets are expensive. You'll find other areas where radar-enforced tickets are common, but I-4 is probably the place where speeders get ticketed most frequently.

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