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If you’re thinking of heading to the sunshine state of Florida for your vacation then you may be left deciding between two of the state’s most popular cities Miami and Orlando.
Orlando is the theme park capital of the world and therefore the best destination for families looking for an action-packed vacation. Miami meanwhile, is situated on the coast and offers a more laid-back vibe which is better suited to those looking to relax.
Both destinations are similar in terms of the variety of accommodation options and pricing, although your vacation in Orlando will be more expensive if you’re looking to visit some of the theme parks given the high cost of admission.
Situated on the southeastern coast of Florida you’ll find the city of Miami boasting sophistication, history and culture. This city has a lot to offer, from the relaxation opportunities of South Beach to the incredible Art Deco District which is home to 800 protected buildings.
Miami blends city break and beach break perfectly, which makes it the ideal destination for a long weekend. We recently spent just three nights in the city, but would ideally recommend between five and seven nights for first-time visitors looking to experience everything this region has to offer.
Miami is located on the southeastern coast of Florida. The nearest major airport is Miami International (MIA) which is located roughly a 15-minute drive from Downtown Miami or a 30-minute drive from South Beach.
However, visitors could also fly into the nearby, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), which is located approximately a 40-minute drive north of Miami.
In terms of getting around the city, Miami offers a host of transportation options. From the efficient Metrorail and Metrobus services that connect key districts. Car hire in Miami is relatively cheap (circa $50 per day for an SUV).
However, parking, especially in popular areas such as Downtown and South Beach is limited – and the price often reflects this!
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Personally, during our trip to Miami, we chose to stick to Uber and Lyft services for exploring the city. Both Uber and Lyft are readily available in Miami, however, if like us you’re travelling with a little one, then you’ll need to ensure you have a travel-friendly car seat as drivers are not required to have their own.
We did hire a car to drive one-way from Miami to Orlando given both the distance and convenience.
Miami offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets and preferences. We spent our three most recent nights in Miami at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel situated footsteps from the iconic South Beach.
The city of Miami has a lot to offer tourists. Some of our favourite things to do in the city include;
Steeped in Cuban culture and tradition, Little Havana is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Miami. Famed for its cafés, restaurants, and Cuban cigar shops this region of the city has a lot of stories to tell.
We chose to explore Little Havana independently. However, I don’t feel as though we got the ‘true’ experience and were really able to understand and appreciate the history and the culture here. I’d therefore highly recommend booking a guided tour of this area instead. Both group tours and private tours run multiple times a day, 7 days a week and are best pre-booked online.
Art Deco Historic District
Nestled in the heart of South Beach is Miami’s Art Deco District. Now, I’m no architectural buff, but even still, it’s impossible not to appreciate the 800 preserved buildings here which make up the largest concentration of Art Deco architecture in the world.
Pastel-hued facades, porthole windows, and sleek, geometric designs will transport you to an era of cinematic grandeur. Better still, these buildings are more than just beautiful relics of a bygone era, instead most interiors have been gracefully transformed into; hotels, cafes, shops, and galleries.
Miami Children’s Museum
If you’re travelling with children between the ages of 1.5 and 7 years old then I’d highly recommend visiting the Miami Children’s Museum. This highly engaging and educational facility is one of the best places we have visited with our son Oliver and boasts a wide range of interactive exhibits designed to stimulate curiosity and learning.
From a colourful art studio to a ‘construction zone’, a music studio, and even a kid-sized supermarket, there are endless opportunities for fun and imaginative play. Whether your child dreams of being a firefighter, a television presenter, or a sailor, the Miami Children’s Museum allows them to delve into a world of role-play, exploration, and most importantly, fun.
If you’re looking to relax while in Miami then look no further than the famous South Beach. Stretching along the coast, this beach is the ultimate relaxation destination. With its soft sand and turquoise waters, it offers a serene escape from the bustling city.
Depending on how long you plan to spend on South Beach, and your budget, you can either lay your towel down on the sand or rent a beach chair or sun lounger (roughly $20 a piece depending on the facility). If you opt for the latter then you’ll also benefit from bar service – which depending on the facility may also include food too!
Situated in Miami’s vibrant Wynwood neighbourhood you’ll find the renowned outdoor art museum, Wynwood Walls. When I first mentioned on Instagram that we were travelling to Miami, this was the number one place people suggested we visit, and it did not disappoint.
The venue was established in 2009, by developer Tony Goldman and aimed to rejuvenate the warehouse district by transforming it into a hub of street art and creativity. Here you’ll find an extensive range of large-scale murals created by internationally acclaimed street artists which rotate each subsequent year, with a new selection of both national and international artists ranging from old-school graffiti artists to up-and-coming talent.
Orlando is known as the theme park capital of the world. Home to Walt Disney World and the Universal Studios Resort, millions of tourists flock to the city from far and wide to experience everything this region of Florida has to offer.
We have had the pleasure of visiting Orlando more than ten times in the past eight years. It’s where we got engaged, and where we got married the following year. We’ve travelled here as a couple, with my elderly parents, with my wife Helen’s extended family and now, we travel here with our son.
Travelling from the UK most trips to Orlando are around the two-week mark (although we have visited for as little as five days). However, most domestic travellers coming to Orlando from within the US visit Orlando for between three and seven days.
Sadly, three or seven days is only enough time to scratch the surface here. Heck, even two weeks isn’t enough time to see everything, which is why you’ll find that most people who visit Orlando go back time and time again. However, a limited time scale shouldn’t put you off visiting this incredible region of Florida, instead, you’ll just have to be intentional with what you want to do during your trip.
The city of Orlando is nestled in Central Florida, with the nearest major airport being Orlando International (MCO), which is located approximately a 20-minute drive from Downtown Orlando and around a 25-minute drive from the Walt Disney World Resort With other nearby airports including Sanford (SFB) and Melbourne (MLB).
Sadly, unlike Miami, the city of Orlando has limited walkability and a heavily restricted public transport system which includes Lynx buses and Orlando’s commuter train service, SunRail. For this reason, most tourists end up having to make the decision between rental cars and rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft.
Being that we’re from the UK (and therefore drive on the left-hand side of the road, among many other differences) we ruled out the idea of renting a car and instead stuck to Uber and Lyft which although had limited flexibility often worked out cheaper once you added in the cost of parking at a hotel and again at the theme parks.
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However, during a recent trip to Hawaii, I had to learn to get over this fear in order to explore outside of Honolulu. So, now when we visit Orlando we chose to rent a car (driving in the US isn’t as scary as it seems).
While renting a car can be more expensive (especially when you add on the cost of parking) it provides you with a lot of flexibility to move between different attractions both inside and outside of Orlando.
The accommodation options in Orlando are endless. Whether you’re looking for a budget motel or a luxury villa. Orlando has it all. However, in most cases, visitors to Orlando struggle not with the type of accommodation options available, but instead with where to stay.
Both Universal Studios and Walt Disney World offer a range of on-site accommodation options which provide additional bonuses and can be incredibly convenient – if you’re only visiting those theme parks.
However, if you’re looking to get outside and explore more of Orlando outside of the theme parks, then staying in a hotel or villa outside of the theme parks may be the better option.
It’s safe to say that the list of attractions the city of Orlando and Orange County has to offer is extensive. So, in an attempt to limit the length of this post, I’ve only included the top five most popular (based on annual visitor numbers).
Walt Disney World
The Walt Disney World Resort is an area just outside of Orlando (although it’s often spoken about as one and the same) and is comprised of;
- 4 theme parks
- 2 water parks
- 1 entertainment district
- 25+ hotels
- 3 18-hole championship golf courses
Depending on your love for Disney, you may want to spend as little as one day at Walt Disney World or as long as two weeks. For first-time visitors, we recommend budgeting at least one day at each of the theme parks and the water parks.
As such, if you only have three days in Orlando you’ll likely want to select the theme park that you think suits you and your family best, leaving some time to explore other theme parks (such as Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens) instead.
If you’re based in the UK I recommend AttractionTix for Walt Disney World tickets. They have the most competitive prices and incredible customer service.
If you’re based in the US or Canada I recommend Klook for your Walt Disney World tickets. They have the most competitive prices and a range of different ticket options to suit all budgets and requirements.
However, if you’ve been to Walt Disney World previously then you may want to combine EPCOT and Animal Kingdom which are typically smaller theme parks with fewer rides and attractions.
Full days at the theme parks really are full days. For Magic Kingdom especially expect to arrive within an hour of “rope drop” (the park opening) and stay as late as 10pm. This combined with the heat and humidity that Florida brings can be a lot for younger children, which is where staying on-site or splitting one day across two days can make things more manageable.
Universal Orlando Resort
The Universal Orlando Resort is much like Walt Disney World in the sense that it’s not just a single theme park and instead is made up of;
- 2 theme parks
- 1 water park
- 1 entertainment district
- 8+ hotels
While the Universal Orlando Resort is smaller than Walt Disney World it’s expanding at a significant pace, with the third theme park (larger than the other two combined) Epic Universe due to open in 2025.
If you’re based in the UK I recommend buying your Universal Studios Orlando park tickets from AttractionTix. They have the most competitive prices and incredible customer service.
If you’re based in the US or Canada I recommend Klook for your Universal Studios Orlando tickets. They have the most competitive prices and a range of different ticket options to suit all budgets and requirements.
The Universal Orlando Resort is home to some of the company’s most successful films and franchises, most notably;
- Harry Potter
- The Minions
- Jurassic World
The rides and attractions here are, at least in our opinion, designed for tweens and teens with more mature themes and more thrilling rides, which subsequently lead to taller height requirements.
Much like Walt Disney World, we recommend budgeting at least one day per park here (including the resort’s water park, Volcano Bay). Although if you’re stretched for time, you could opt to visit both theme parks (Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure) in one day given that they are significantly closer together when compared to the theme parks in Walt Disney World.
With a park-to-park ticket, you can walk across Universal Studio’s entertainment district, CityWalk or take the Hogwarts Express between the two theme parks at any time.
SeaWorld is another popular theme park in Orlando offering a unique blend of thrilling rides, captivating shows, and up-close encounters with a variety of marine creatures. Often overlooked in favour of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, visitors to SeaWorld can experience everything from heart-pounding roller coasters to serene aquarium exhibits.
Tickets to SeaWorld are slightly cheaper when compared to other popular theme parks in Orlando, which combined with the lower visitor numbers make this a popular choice for families travelling on a budget or those looking to experience a theme park with fewer crowds.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Situated out on the Space Coast, roughly a one hours drive from Orlando is Kennedy Space Center which has been NASA’s primary launch centre since the 1960s.
Despite having visited Orlando more than ten times in the past eight years, it was only on our most recent trip that we took the drive out to Kennedy Space Center – and having now experienced everything this incredible visitor complex has to offer, I’m sad it took us this long!
None of us is ‘that into’ space travel, therefore visiting Kennedy Space Center didn’t seem like much of a big deal. However, we were blown away (get the pun, anyone?) by the modern interactive exhibits and films available.
While most people only visit Kennedy Space Center for one day, ourselves included. Two days is definitely possible here, especially for space enthusiasts. As during our visit, we failed to see everything, despite it being relatively quiet.
Situated in the heart of Orlando on the world-famous International Drive is ICON Park. This entertainment district is free to enter and home to a number of attractions, restaurants and bars which make for the perfect day outside of the theme parks.
The crowning jewel of ICON Park is The Wheel, a staggering 400-foot tall observation wheel that provides visitors with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding cityscape and Floridian landscape.
However, if you’re travelling with young kids I also recommend visiting the SeaLife Center and Madame Tussauds wax museum. Tickets for which can either be purchased separately or as a combo at a discounted rate.