One comment from me on France - blitzing the GB is too sci-fi for me - I prefer to play with some historial accuracy if I can.
Anway, I have found that your alliance with Spain can be a very sold & dependable thing if you manage it correctly. I've never had such a solid ally & on the map, it really secures your flank.
I have followed a continental policy first of building a Napoleonesque land empire. Let the salt-soaked Brits have the sea. Saying that, I have built up trade & a few islands, just ignored North America...
The French have some good horsies but I'm not a big user of these. Line units are much like everyone elses.
One thing when moving into Europe is to watch for those sneaky protestants - ensure that you have plenty of priests ready to bring the heretics back to the field - order can be a real problem when they start rumbling about the pope.
The key is to focus & not try to do everything at once which is why my main focus is on Europe. The elite regiments are good but with just one of each, they don't really matter that much!
You will soon learn to love the flag when you play them enough.