Florida-bound for around pounds 200: How to get the best out of Orlando

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The Independent Travel
WHEN sales of holidays to Florida showed signs of buoyancy a few years ago at a time when the rest of the business was practically moribund, tour operators responded with their usual absence of caution. Extra flights to Orlando were laid on with reckless enthusiasm. As a result there is now far too much capacity: unsold holidays and aircraft seats are having to be sold at absurdly low prices. Seat-only bargains to Orlando are available this week from around pounds 200: scarcely more expensive than a round trip Shuttle flight between London and Glasgow.

But who apart from Disney addicts wants to go to Orlando? There is more to Orlando than Disney - and there is more to central Florida than Orlando.

WHAT TO DO

Don't dismiss Disney World. Only a real sociopath will find nothing to enjoy in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios or Typhoon Lagoon (a five-day passport costs pounds 114: children pounds 90). The other theme parks are also well organised and entertaining, particularly Universal Studios and Sea World (day-tickets to both cost around pounds 25 (children pounds 17).

But if the whole idea of Orlando gives you the horrors, then it's just a two-hour drive to the west coast (apart from the Kennedy Space Centre, the west coast has much more to offer than the east). From Tampa/St Petersburg down to Naples is a string of fine resorts, all with a good choice of accommodation and excellent beaches with safe bathing. I recommend Sanibel Island, across the bay from Fort Myers, where the council has forbidden high-rise developments and excluded the fast-food joints. It has an excellent wildlife reserve.

BEST DEALS

Orlando is a competitive market - phone around and compare prices. This week, Travel Bug (061- 740 4000) offers return flights from Manchester for pounds 229 for two weeks. Flight Bookers (071-757 2000) has accommodation-inclusive packages from pounds 369 for 14 nights with flights from Manchester and Glasgow as well as Gatwick. Check details of fly-drive packages with free car hire - you may have to pay up to pounds 100 per week for insurance and other hidden extras.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotels and motels abound: expect to pay from pounds 30 per room per night (sleeping four) for reasonable accommodation. I'd suggest renting: a three-room detached house with pool can be had from around pounds 450 per week - specialist agencies include Something Special (0992 586999).

CAR HIRE Book before you go: big companys such as Hertz (081-679 1799) it offer all-inclusive rates per week.

MONEY

Take dollar traveller cheques - or take some dollars and a credit card (be sure you know your PIN) and withdraw cash from machines as you need it. Even though the pound has dropped against the dollar since last summer, Florida is still excellent value: you can fill up with 12 gallons of petrol for pounds 9.

SAFETY

Miami is the main danger area but tourists have also been attacked in the Orlando area. Be cautious - if attacked, hand over money promptly, without argument.

FURTHER INFORMATION

The Florida Division of Tourism, 18/24 Westbourne Grove, London W2 5RH: written requests only - an information pack costs pounds 2.

(Photograph and map omitted)

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