The grown-up’s guide to Florida (that kids will love, too)
Think the sunshine state is all theme parks, water rides and child-oriented beaches? It has all that, but much more besides for a sophisticated stay that happens to be family-friendly, too. We sent three writers to Miami, Orlando and Boca Raton to put together the ultimate guide to Florida for kids and parents alike
Wagyu steak and water parks in Miami
This South Florida city is celebrated for its glittering nightlife, palm-strewn strands and culture-rich neighbourhoods – but the city packs in plenty of attractions for families, too.
Make your base at JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa
You’ll find this elegant Marriott resort in the well-heeled Miami suburb of Aventura, which is moments from the city proper, but far enough out to allow space for two 18-hole golf courses. The entire complex is a lesson in luxury, from the spa and swish restaurant serving butter-poached steaks to the adults-only Cascata Pool deck, modelled on a Mediterranean courtyard. Meanwhile, the neutral-toned rooms have private balconies or terraces, granting classic South Florida views of the ocean or palm-scattered grounds.
For the kids: Stay at this upscale resort and you’ll get free access to the Tidal Cove Water Park next door: there’s a lagoon-style swimming pool, a lazy river, giant near-vertical slides and a surf simulator.
Find upscale eats in the Miami Design District
The Michelin Guide entered Florida for the first time in 2022, seeing 11 Miami restaurants decorated with a Michelin star. Among them was the sleek Korean steakhouse Cote Miami (which also has a sister restaurant in New York City). Fine cuts of Black Angus and Wagyu beef – all sizzled to perfection at the little grill at the centre of your table – are ordered alongside oysters, caviar and tuna tartare. The futuristic building – all curved white lines and colour-splashed murals – fits right into the Miami Design District, known for its bold architecture and contemporary art spaces.
For the kids: If you’re trying to please a range of palates, cheerful food hall St Roch Market has everything from fried chicken to gyros, with plenty of plant-based choices, too.
Have an art-filled day in South Beach
South Beach is known for its sugar-white sand and buzzing nightlife, but the Art Deco district is also a treat for creative types. Make a beeline for The Bass, which has one of South Florida’s finest contemporary art collections. Expect kaleidoscopic sculptures – such as Ugo Rondinone’s Miami Mountain, a tower of crayon-coloured blocks that rises 42 feet – plus abstract prints and installations wrapped from found materials. The last Sunday of each month is Family Day, meaning free entry and kid-friendly workshops.
For the kids: Playful and pretension-free, South Beach’s Artechouse encourages interaction with its tech-driven exhibitions, from immersive video installations to neon-lit sculptures.
Sip sky-high cocktails in Brickell
Skyscraper-stitched Brickell is Miami’s business hub, and it’s also home to some of the city’s finest rooftop bars. Highlights include Rosa Sky, which sits pretty atop AC & Element Hotel in Downtown. Drink in twinkling views of the skyline as you sample well-executed cocktails: the ‘Rosa Sky’ is a zingy swirl of strawberry-lemongrass vodka and citrus fruits. Sugar, part of the super-chic East Miami hotel, is another hot spot. The soaring plant-and-tree-filled patio pulls in a trendy crowd with its cocktails, pan-Asian menu and glittering vistas.
For the kids: Puttshack – a neon, indoor crazy golf course – is taking the US by storm. The whole crew can tee off at the Brickell location.
Enjoy a sunset boat ride with Miami Tours and Water Adventures
There are few more romantic activities than setting sail as the sky turns orange and Miami’s Downtown skyline begins to glitter. Sunset excursions with Miami Tours & Water Adventures glide out from the Miami Beach Marina as dusk falls and spend two hours ploughing the water. You’ll get the boat all to yourself, save the captain, who will bring water and a cooler with ice. Up the romance by bringing your own bottle of bubbly on board.
For the kids: Miami Tours & Water Adventures also offer jet ski and snorkelling tours. Or nearby South Pointe Park has a promenade, picnic spots and a splash zone.
Disney and date nights in Orlando
Disney parades, dazzling light shows and twirling teacup rides – why should kids have all the fun when there’s plenty to keep parents entertained in the theme-park capital?
Have a fancy dinner at AVA MediterrAegean
Newly opened AVA MediterrAegean has a Mediterranean menu and a ‘progressive cocktail program’ in swish surroundings. Located in affluent Winter Park, it’s the latest upscale spot for scenesters and foodies to indulge in a spot of fine dining while posing for pictures. Feast on beautifully presented Cycladic Islands cuisine, created by chef Remy Lefebvre, with a touch of tableside theatre: flambéed salt-crusted fish, grilled halloumi cheese, smoke dome-served lamb and colourful salads tossed at your table.
For the kids: A short walk down the tree-lined avenue is casual chain BurgerFi, serving burgers, hot dogs and fresh-cut fries if the kids don’t dig dinner theatre and dress codes.
Sleep swish at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando
A stay at the five-star Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World comes with luxurious, landscaped surroundings and hard-to-beat service. Wander the palm-lined paths and oscillate between the resort’s leisure activities, fine dining and five-acre water park – complete with slides, a lazy river and family pools. A resort highlight is its Michelin-starred, rooftop Capa restaurant, which offers Spanish-influenced cuisine and panoramic views of Magic Kingdom’s nightly fireworks. Mornings are also magical, with a twice-weekly Disney character breakfast at the Ravello Restaurant, where you can get your portrait taken with Mickey and pals over pancakes.
For the kids: Drop the little ones off at the complimentary kids’ camp and spoil yourself with holistic and healing treatments at the resort’s sensuous spa.
Indulge in Disney nostalgia at Cirque du Soleil
The newest circus-in-residency show at Disney Springs is a love letter to the art of Disney animation that seamlessly blends magical storytelling with Cirque du Soleil’s acrobatic mastery. Drawn to Life invites the whole family to follow a young girl as she adventures into an inner, whimsical world of animation, filled with childhood Disney memories, dancing, daring live acrobatics and an enchanting, nostalgic score.
For the kids: Looking for a post-show activity to occupy overexcited kids? Ride around Lake Buena Vista in a vintage Amphicar, a retro amphibious vehicle that can drive on roads and float on water.
Bike to a micro-brewery
Experience a quieter side of Orlando when you cycle the West Orange Trail: a multi-use rail trail through Orange County suburbia and manicured parklands. Rent bikes from West Orange Trail Bikes & Blades and follow Orlando’s longest paved trail to Plant Street Market – an artisan food hub in Winter Garden that houses Crooked Can micro-brewery and hip local food vendors. Try speciality beer batches in the tap room, sample sushi poke, buy fresh doughnuts and devour brisket and pulled pork BBQ.
For the kids: Pick up handcrafted popsicles from the Paleteria stall and walk the kids to the Winter Garden’s interactive splash park – ideal for cooling down from the Florida heat.
Rock out at Universal City Walk
Ask your hotel concierge for their evening childcare options and have a grown-up date at City Walk – an open-air dining, shopping and entertainment hub at Universal. From vintage science fiction, golf and outdoor music performances to overflowing cocktails at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, there’s plenty to choose from. For a memorable night, go for a Sing-Along Experience at CityWalk’s Rising Star, where you’ll belt out classic karaoke tunes with a full backing band.
For the kids: Pick up steam-punk candied creations at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and enjoy family movie night at City Walk’s deluxe AMC cinema.
Experience EPCOT’s thrilling new rides
Previously the tamest of Disney’s theme parks, EPCOT has upped its game in recent years with thrilling rides added, along with extensive refurbishments and new park ‘neighbourhoods’. The most impressive addition is Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, which debuted in May 2022. It’s a smooth, storytelling coaster that takes adventurous riders on a Guardians mission with a classic 1980s playlist.
For the kids: Not tall enough to ride? Hop on Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and shrink to the size of the adorable rodent chef as you race through Gusteau’s hectic restaurant on a culinary escapade.
Museums and Merlot in Boca Raton
Pastel-hued properties, era-defining architecture and ocean views for days: ‘Boca’ is a Mediterranean-infused delight on South Florida’s east coast. Discerning visitors will find plenty of high-end experiences to enjoy here – without leaving the kids bored stiff.
Dine at Six Tables, Mizner Park
Seating just 20 guests between Wednesday and Saturday, this husband-and-wife restaurant offers a six-course seasonal menu, set beneath chandeliers and backed by velvet textiles. Depending on the season, dishes could include roast lamb with black cherry reduction, Korean chicken dumplings or grouper in caper beurre blanc. The real gem? Co-owner Jenny’s fresh, fluffy bread, made from a secret family recipe, served with Provence honey butter.
For the kids: Cielito Artisan Pops. Put a smile on your child’s face by letting them choose from more than 46 sweet – but healthy – flavours of ice cream at this artisanal dessert shop, just a five-minute walk away.
Go on a shopping spree in Town Centre at Boca Raton
Tiffany, Cartier, Gucci… Town Centre at Boca Raton promises only the highest of high-end brands and a decadent afternoon of shopping. Sporting a fresh, multi-million-dollar facelift, this modern mall tempts patrons with 200 upscale outlets, multiple eateries and a valet. For those watching their spending, window shopping is just as pleasing. Not only are the products pristine but, inside, sky-high palms line the avenues and glass ceilings flood the interior with sunlight, creating an ethereal atmosphere.
For the kids: Give your little ones a fresh look by kitting them out in ‘sweet-chic, affordable, luxury children’s clothing’ at Egg New York, in Boca’s other shopping centre, Mizner Park.
Go wine tasting at Sixty Vines
Few things say ‘sophistication’ like a rich, dark glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or a gently bubbling Cristal Brut. South Florida might not be known for its viticulture, but that hasn’t stopped this sustainably focused winemaker’s restaurant from bringing its ‘from the barrel’ experience to Boca. Taps pour out 40 different wines, recreating the vineyard experience in the heart of the city. Try a Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast, a Merlot from Napa and a Lhuillier Champagne from France by flight, glass or reusable bottle, knowing that each emptied keg has prevented more than 1,000 bottles, corks and labels ending up in landfill.
For the kids: Add an educational twist to the holiday fun at the free-to-enter Children’s Science Explorium in Sugar Sand Park, filled with interactive exhibits and mind-blowing science-based activities for children between five and 12.
Book a stay at the Tower at The Boca Raton
Famous for its ‘tallest building in Boca’ status, the Tower at The Boca Raton had the clout to begin with, but has acquired even more following a sleek $200m transformation. Outside, the salmon-hued building reflects a Floridian sunset, while inside the rooms are all cool tones and wrap-around sofas hugging expansive bay windows. New family-friendly touches include two ‘Robot Butlers’, who deliver popcorn for in-room movie nights and tell jokes on demand. Guests never tire of gastronomic and entertainment options, including four pickleball courts, the 50,000sqft Spa Palmera and the 1930s-themed MB Supper Club, which features live music.
For the kids: Right on the lakefront and bursting with water sports is The Harborside Pool Club at the base of the Tower – including three pools, a 450ft lazy river, multiple water slides and a Banyan Bunch kids’ club.
Explore the Museum Club at The Wick
Boca is chock full of museums, but the most memorable is The Wick Costume Museum. Bringing to life some of Broadway’s most iconic outfits, the theatre-cum-museum has recently evolved into an immersive exhibition space dedicated to taking travellers on a tour of musical theatre’s most memorable characters (the first exhibit highlighted all the actresses who have played Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion). With a three-course meal, live entertainment and a ‘Hat Room Experience’ available, a day out here is a winner for adults and children alike.
For the kids: Let the kids run free in the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, a 20-acre coastal reserve with marine aquariums, a butterfly garden and fantastic nature trails.
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