Even the best beach aficionado needs a day in the shade. Off the beach, there's a Florida for families featuring baroque museums, lunar modules, rodeos, alligators, vibrant modern art and kid-pleasing science centers. Whether you need a break from the sun, a rainy-day lift or just a follow-your-fancy day trip, here are some suggestions:
Somehow, it seems that nearly every visitor to Florida, with or without a family, ends up at Walt Disney World, which consists of the Magic Kingdom, the Epcot Center and now the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, which opened last year. Although a visit to Walt Disney World grows increasingly expensive -- a one-day ticket costs $32.75 for an adult and $26.40 for a child -- there's so much available that for most families a trip to Florida's No. 1 attraction is inevitable.
The Disney-MGM Studios' behind-the-scenes tour includes the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" Movie Adventure, which gives a sample of how the child stars of the hit movie became "little." This portion of the tour opened in December and already is a favorite.
Cooling off from strenuous sightseeing can be done at Typhoon Lagoon, a water theme park with slides and wave pools. At Pleasure Island, a complex of restaurants, boutiques and six nightclubs, parents dance at clubs such as Mannequins, or roller-skate and dance at the XZFR Rockin' Rollerdome. Teens under 18 can boogie at Videopolis East, a club of pulsating lights and music.
Universal Studios Florida, about 10 miles from Orlando, is the largest motion picture and television studio outside of Hollywood. Grab some thrills at rides based on "King Kong," and root for your child's network debut as a star contestant on such popular Nickelodeon cable network shows as "Super Sloppy Double Dare" and "Think Fast." For the behind-the-scenes lessons, pick the takes, music and sound effects for your own "production" of "Murder, She Wrote," and learn how to fashion such special effects as gorillas and brains at "The Horror Make-up Show."
But there's much more to Orlando than the Disney and studio attractions. For high-tech stellar happenings, tour the Kennedy Space Center's Spaceport USA. The real stuff of America's space adventures fires the imagination here, from space suits to the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft to moon rocks. Walk past clusters of rocket engines, peer into a space station, look at a mock-up of a flight deck and drive by the looming launch pads.
For behemoths of the deep, visit Sea World of Florida. Here Shamu and his killer whale family, including Baby Namu, hurtle out of their water stadium. In the Shark Encounter, bull, brown and nurse sharks toothily glide all around you, and at the Penguin Encounter penguins waddle and stare at visitors.
St. Petersburg, Tampa, Sarasota
Along the Pinellas seacoast, the sights mix the nature of art and the art of nature.
Whimsy and fine art meet at St. Petersburg's Salvador Dali Museum, which features a comprehensive collection of the Spanish painter's work -- oils, watercolors and sculptures.
See what the children make of Dali's bold lines and juxtapositions before you take them across the street for more sensory adventures at Great Explorations, a not-just-for-kids science and art museum where "hands-on" rules. Best bets include the 100-foot-long touch tunnel, a dark maze of curves and slopes; sound sculptures; and the Body Shop, an interactive group of computers focused on health education that provides users such data as a nutritional analysis of their lunch.
Then look to the healing handshake of nature and man at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. This refuge rehabilitates, then releases injured and crippled screech owls, bald eagles, pelicans, cormorants and herons.
Continue the artful match of man and nature at Sarasota's Ringling Museum of Art. Circus posters, costumes, clown props, gilded wagons and calliopes fill the Circus Gallery. But there's more than the Big Top hoopla: The museum is renowned for its fine collection of baroque art, including Rubens masterworks. It's all housed in the Ringling mansion, Ca'd'Zan, a 30-room Venetian Renaissance palace of marble arches, ballrooms and balconies built with 1920s flair.
Wildlife fanciers looking for big game might try Busch Gardens' the Dark Continent, a 300-acre Tampa family theme park. Watch snake charmers cast a spell in the sultan's tent, and children can observe the raising of baby animals at the nursery. Get wild on the Python roller coaster, and wet on the Congo River Rapids and the Tanganyika Tidal Wave. If that's not enough to cool your dusty African safari days, take the plunge at Adventure Island, the adjacent 19-acre water park.
Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Key Biscayne
These cities' attractions weave a tale of history, art and natural beauty that is as colorful as its myriad cultures.