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Finding Fun in Florida

Few things get young travelers more excited than a trip to Florida.

Across the eastern half of the United States, many church youth groups make annual trips to the Sunshine State for retreats, church camps, vacations and other activities. And although the beach can make a great setting for these kinds of activities, Florida has much more to offer, from world-class amusement parks to the home of America’s space program and abundant wildlife.

To freshen up your youth group’s trip to Florida next year, consider using the following itinerary, which stops in five of the most popular destinations in the central part of the state. This tour begins on the Gulf Coast in Tampa and then proceeds east to Orlando and Kissimmee, before continuing to Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Coast and finally ending in Daytona Beach. Young travelers with lots of stamina could hit the highlights of these destinations in as little as four days, although a five-day trip would allow more time to properly take in the best experiences in each area.



In downtown Tampa, the Florida Aquarium gives visitors a look at some of the most fascinating sea animals from both central Florida and more exotic locales such as Madagascar. And a visit to this aquarium entails much more than looking at fish tanks: Immersive, interactive environments take you “from sea level to tree level” in habitats full of creatures as diverse as lemurs, African penguins, pythons and chameleons.

The aquarium staff offers a variety of specialized experiences for groups, including overview tours and customized behind-the-scenes journeys through the facility.

For serious bragging rights, make arrangements for some of your sea-life-loving travelers to swim with the animals at the aquarium. The staff offers this opportunity in two different large tanks. One employs special diving technology that does not require scuba certification and that allows participants to come face to face with thousands of fish that live in a coral reef habitat.

While you’re there: The Tampa Bay History Center tells the story of the city’s development and highlights the role — and the roll — of the Cuban culture and cigar industry in the area’s growth. And an evening out in Ybor City, the area’s former cigar factory district, gives groups entertainment with a distinctly Spanish flair.



Orlando has been America’s theme park capital for generations. And while young children often find the happiest place on earth at the area’s Disney attractions, Universal’s two movie-inspired parks are aimed squarely at the youth and teenage demographic.

Universal’s two parks — Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure — have roller coasters and 3-D multimedia rides that push the limits of conventional amusement park experiences. But what has made a splash in recent years is Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which invites guests to step into the world of the books and films that dominated pop culture during the past decade.

Beyond the Harry Potter areas, Universal offers a number of special options for youth groups. Planners can arrange for VIP guided tours around the park as well as tours of the production studios at the property that are used to create films and TV shows. Universal Orlando also hosts an annual Christian music festival, Rock the Universe.

While you’re there: The Exotic Driving Experience and the Richard Petty Driving Experience in Orlando offers one of the most high-end and high-intensity travel experiences available for groups traveling in central Florida. Participants can drive NASCAR vehicles or high-end sports cars, such as Lamborghinis and Ferraris, on the Walt Disney World Speedway, with professional race car drivers in the shotgun seat.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.