Florida is a large state. From Pensacola Beach (in the upper left-hand corner of the state) to Key West (the little tiny dot at the bottom of the peninsula), it would take about 12.5 hours to drive. To say that Florida isn’t monolithic is an understatement. It’s so diverse that there aren’t many rules on how to visit the state. But there are some things that you don’t do when visiting Florida:
Don’t Swim In Lakes Or Canals
Many visitors from the north think that a lake is a great place to cool off or let their dogs. Don’t. Because alligators. Alligators live in many bodies 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 precisely the hunting ground that alligators enjoy. The lakes, natural and manmade, are not monitored unless there’s an issue. 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 like to feed on small animals. All that said, it’s not uncommon to see locals water skiing and doing standup paddleboard on lakes. Being aware of your surroundings is critical (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.
Don’t Kill The Lizards
Since we’re talking about reptiles – don’t be afraid of lizards! Sometimes visitors to Florida freak out when they see one on the patio. Lizards are a big part of the Florida lifestyle. They’re all over the place, and while they can seem creepy most of them are a vital 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 house flies where we live in Florida. Then we remembered – “lizards!”. So thanks to the lizards for entertaining our cat and eating all those flies and other pesky bugs.
Don’t Forget the H2O
Don’t forget to drink a LOT of water. It’s hot here. And humid. That heat and humidity can be shocking to people who are visiting. It can also hit people visiting Florida in dangerous ways. So drink more than your usual amounts of water while you’re here. The easiest thing to do is to 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 many trees, making 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 many options out there for great travel hats. For guys, lucky you – they sell baseball caps at every beach store in the state.
Don’t Forget Sunscreen
And speaking of sunburn – don’t forget to wear sunscreen. No matter your skin type or color, you need to wear sunscreen and reapply it regularly all over your face and body. I wear Black Girl Sunscreen to help prevent skin cancer and minimize damage to my skin, causing 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.
Not protecting your body and skin 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 Skip The Breweries
Don’t miss the local breweries when you’re visiting Florida. There are more than 200 micro-breweries throughout the state. That’s a lot of local beer businesses giving you, literally, the local flavor of where you are -something we love to do when we go to a new city to 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.
Don’t Bother or Touch The Manatees
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 must 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 catch up to one if you tried. However, manatees, being slow swimmers, get injured and sometimes killed by boats, making them a threatened species. There are plenty 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 Florida Is Just Amusement Parks
Florida is not 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 camping and outdoor lover, 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. Except for snow skiing. So even though we love our amusement parks, there’s more to Florida than Mickey.
If you remember these don’ts when visiting Florida, you’re sure to have a great experience and hopefully remember your visit with a smile!