The Better Florida Family Vacation: Beach or Theme Park?

Florida is not only known for its sunshine and warm weather but also its white sandy beaches as well as its world renowned theme parks like Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld.  With all there is to see and do in Florida, it’s no wonder that the state attracts more than 100 million visitors each and every year.

Family Vacation Considerations

When planning a family vacation to Florida, there are a number of things you will want to consider when trying to determine where you go and what you will do.  These considerations could include:

  • Your family budget
  • The length of the stay
  • The age of your children 
  • Your family interests
  • Will you be visiting friends or other family while in Florida
  • Do you want to stay in one place or try different locations
  • Will you want to rent a car

By answering some of these things to consider it will give you some sense of where your family should go.  Following are some of the pros and cons for both a beach and a theme park vacation.

The Pros and Cons of a Beach Vacation

There are a number of pros and cons with a beach vacation but some will vary based on the location which your chose as well actual place you stay.

The Pros of a Beach Vacation

  • Affordability:  Most beaches in Florida are free so there is no admission charge to sit on the beach and swim in the water.  And unless you choose to stay at a luxury beach resort, there are a number of quality hotels and fair prices throughout the state.

Click here to learn more about Florida hotels

  • Availability:  Florida has over 1,000 miles of coastline so there are plenty of beaches from which to choose from.   Just figure out what would work best for your family and there will be a beach that fits your needs.
  • Location Variety:  Beaches in Destin & the Panhandle are much different than beaches in Naples, or even beaches in Jacksonville or Miami.  Each offers their own individual feel from quaint seaside town of major urban resorts.
  • Relaxation:  Outside of sitting on the beach or going in the water, there is not much else to do.  Of course you should bring a book, iPad or other device but the beach is more of a relaxing setting.

The Cons of a Beach Vacation

  • Weather Sensitive: Summertime in Florida brings wind, rain and strong storms.  If it’s not sunny and warm outside, your family probably won’t want to sit on the beach.
  • Repetitive in Nature:  If you are taking a week’s vacation, sitting on the beach for a number of days in a row could get repetitive for both children and adults alike.
  • Sand and Sunburn:  Sand can get everywhere – in your clothes and in your hair, and its no fun to get out.  And if your family is light skinned, chances are that they could get burned in the Florida sun (lots of sunscreen and shade is recommended).
  • Crowds:  Unless you are in a small village or beachside town, chances are that the beaches will be crowded, especially during peak vacation times.  Finding a place to put down your chairs and towels could be difficult (unless of course you stay at a resort with those amenities).

The Pros and Cons of a Theme Park Vacation

There are a number of pros and cons with a theme park vacation but some will vary based on which specific theme park (or parks) your chose as well the hotels you stay.

The Pros of a Theme Park Vacation

  • Numerous Things to Do: No matter what theme park your visit there are dozens of things to do.  Theme parks have everything from all types of rides to amazing live shows, fireworks, character meet-and-greets and more.  Unless you visit a theme park every day for a month, it is highly unlikely you will get board.
  • Availability:  Florida is home to a number of theme parks which have features and benefits for all ages and lifestyles.  If you have younger children then Walt Disney World or Legoland may be a consideration.  For teenagers and thrill seekers, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld or Busch Gardens (Tampa) may be a good fit.  And if water parks are your thing, there are a number of great water parks throughout the entire state of Florida.  Click here to learn more about Florida water parks.
  • Central Location: The majority of Florida’s theme parks are in the greater Orlando area or just a short drive away.  If your family wants to visit more than one park, it is very easily accomplished. 
  • Ease of Travel:  If you are flying into Florida, there are a number of options to get from the airport and to your hotel.  You can also stay right on site at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios and utilize their transportation systems, avoiding the need for a vehicle.  There are added benefits of staying on site (or at partner hotels) when visiting the theme parks.  These include early park entry / additional time, front of the line access (Univeral Express at Permier hotels and Quick Queue at select SeaWorld partner/official hotels), food / merchandise discounts and early ride reservations (Disney’s FastPass+). 

Click here to learn more about theme park on-site and affiliate hotels.

The Cons of a Theme Park Vacation

  • Price / Budget: Theme parks have become very expensive.  It usually costs more than $100 per person per day for the typical Florida theme park.  There are multi-day packages offered as well as annual passes which will save you money but overall, it costs a fair amount of money just to walk through the gate. 

Click here to learn more about theme park tickets and prices

  • Crowds: If you or your family hates crowds, then a theme park just might now be the way to go.  Even in “slow periods” theme park operators hold festivals or special events to bring in traffic.  And during holiday periods and summers vacations, it seems like everyone wants to visit a theme park.
  • The Heat: As you know, Florida is warm and it can get uncomfortably hot during the summer months.  If you are planning to travel during that timeframe and the heat will be a bother to your family, then a theme park vacation may not be the best fit.



Can we do a combined beach and theme park vacation?

The short answer is yes, or course you can if you have the time and the budget to do so.  There are a number of wonderful beaches in about an hours drive to the greater Orlando area so it will not feel like a long trip to get to the coast.  

Following are some of the suggested areas to consider if you are going to combine a theme park vacation with a few days at the beach.

Cocoa Beach

According to Google Maps Cocoa Beach is just 51.3 miles from the Orlando International Airport so it’s one of the closest beaches to the theme parks. It is a straight shot on SR 528 (Beachline Expressway) right into town.

There are six miles of beaches with three oceanfront parks featuring restrooms, picnic areas and showers.  The Cocoa Beach Pier is one of the areas main attractions which features a number of restaurants and bars with live entertainment as well as a popular fishing area.

Unlike a number of other Florida beach communities, Cocoa Beach has more of a local feel and does not have any of the massive beachfront resorts.  However, there are a number of smaller hotels as well as private rental homes / Airbnb’s.   Our favorite hotel in Cocoa Beach is Four Points by Sheraton Cocoa Beach which shares a building with the Cocoa Beach Surf Company and is just a short walk to the beach.  It is also right next door to the world famous Ron Jon Surf Shop.

Clearwater Beach / St. Pete Beach

Located on the west coast of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico, Clearwater Beach is always ranked among the top beaches in America.  Clearwater Beach and its neighbor St. Pete Beach is just a two-hour drive from Orlando along Interstate 4.  Just don’t try to make the trip during rush hour or you will be sitting in traffic most of the way.

The white sandy beaches at Clearwater Beach feature a pedestrian friendly Beachfront Promenade with a number of shops and restaurants as well as “Pier 60”.  Pier 60 is a fishing pier and entertainment complex that features water slides and street vendors.  

There are a number of Clearwater Beach / St. Pete Beach but our majority is the Tradewinds Island Resort on St. Pete Beach which has two resorts on more than 30-acres and is chocked full of amenities.   We talk about this hotel in detail in our article, Spring Break in Florida – Great Family Friendly Vacation Ideas for 2020 (click to learn more about the Tradewinds Island Resort).

Daytona Beach

The world famous Daytona Beach is mostly known for the Daytona 500 race, spring break and “Bike Week” but during all the other times of the year, it is one of the best family-friendly beaches to visit.   Less than 90 minutes from the Orlando International Airport along Interstate 4, it’s any easy drive to Daytona.  Again, just don’t travel during rush hour as you have to pass through the downtown Orlando area and all the construction projects.

There are a number of things to do besides the 23-miles of beaches beaches including the Daytona Beach Pier, the Daytona Lagoon Water Park and an amusement area along the boardwalk.

Our favorite hotel in Daytona Beach is the Hilton Daytona Beach Resort which is a 4-star hotel right on the beach in the heart of all the action.  There area 744 rooms and suites (many with ocean views), four-restaurants and two bars, two pools and a kids club.

Click here for rates and availability at the Hilton Daytona Beach Resort


Jerry Joyce

Jerry Joyce has been a Florida resident since 1988 and has lived in a variety of places in the South Florida area. Jerry is an avid boater & water sports enthusiast, beach aficionado, a lover of great food, muscle car fan and a theme park annual passholder for many years. Some of his favorite places in Florida include the Florida Keys, Walt Disney World, Cedar Key, the Loxahatchee River, St. Augustine and Ten Thousand islands.

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