Miami’s Latest Attraction Is An Engineering Landmark

floridatraveler Port_Miami_Tunnel

Open for just over a month, Florida State Road 887, better known as the Port Miami Tunnel, has become a tourist attraction.  While undersea tunnels of 4,200 feet are not unusual in other parts of the USA, this is the longest, most costly tunnel in Florida history.

In fact, if not for a short tunnel in downtown Fort Lauderdale, the most noticed tunnel in Florida allows drivers to go under Seven Seas Lagoon at Walt Disney World to arrive at the Contemporary Resort.  Florida is not designed for land-based tunnels.

This one billion dollar plus project is a unique public-private partnership (a P3) in which ten international banks joined to provide senior debt financing.   This is really a global project: 90% of the equity came from Luxembourg’s Meridiam Infrastructure Finance and 10% from France’s Bouygues Travaux Publics SA.

The project reveals how important the tunnel system is to not only the growth of the Port of Miami, but also reducing the congestion in downtown Miami.  The Port will now be directly connected to the east/west Interstate 395 and Interstate 95, a big boost to the thousands of trucks using the Port of Miami.

For Floridians, spending an entire sixty seconds driving through the fifteen foot high tunnels – “Trucks on the Right.” – is a thrill ride.  Four million cruise passengers will be using the tunnel this year to get to “the World’s Greatest Cruise Ship Port.”

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Pigeon Key Is A Unique Florida Keys Vacation

floridatraveler PIGEON KEY

Three million visitors vacation in the Florida Keys each year, most of them looking for a secluded island with a private beach and unique experiences.  Most of them drive right past or even bike right over Pigeon Key.

Four acre Pigeon Key was the work camp for 400 employees of Flagler’s incredible railroad to Key West and there are eight original buildings still on the island.  The Old Seven Mile Bridge, now used by bikers and hikers, does not connect to Pigeon Key.  You have to take a ferry from Knights Key to visit the island now administered by the Pigeon Key Foundation and Marine Center.

You can rent a guesthouse in a newly restored cottage or even rent the entire island for a wedding or a campground for 70 people.  But don’t expect privacy – there are historic tours everyday, a summer camp for kids,  and marine biologists doing their thing.

And don’t forget the thousands of people photographing the island as they speed down the Overseas Highway.

Still, staying at Pidgeon Key gives you your own private beach, small dock, snorkeling lagoon, and four acres to explore.  How many tourists can say they vacationed on their own island?

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Jai Alai in Florida: Going, Going, But Not Gone

Jai Alai in Florida: Going, Going, But Not Gone.

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Jai Alai in Florida: Going, Going, But Not Gone

 

floridatraveler amateur jai alai

When I was a student at the University of Miami, it was a thrill to take a date to the Miami Jai Alai Fronton.  To us Northerners, it was like visiting another country – one with a loud, energetic crowd and comfy seats and lots of food.  I didn’t even mention the gambling aspect.

It was an easy game to understand but not an easy one to learn.

Today, jai alai frontons still operate in Orlando, Ocala, Dania, and Miami, but the crowds and excitement have dwindled.  There were as many people playing poker and staring at 1,000 slots machines in the other side of the historic Miami Jai Alai.

I can’t judge the quality of play but the reality there was just one American born player that night tells you that American audiences have left an exciting and dangerous sport.  Try catching a 100 mph hard ball with a curved basket attached to your arm.  Even experienced Basque players suffer serious facial injuries. 

But there is one place where the attraction of the sport is still operating – the Miami Amateur Jai Alai center where people of all ages and sexes can learn the sport.  There are other courts in Florida , but this facility just off Biscayne Bay at NE 150th Street in North Miami is the best court.

 It may long like a big warehouse on the outside, but to people paying $10 per hour to throw a ball against a wall it is great recreation.   (Photo by Aaron Davidson)

 

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Battle of Marianna Starts Last Stages of Florida Civil War

 

floridatraveler battle of marianna

The Battle of Marianna took place 150 years ago and marked the start of the last stage of the American Civil War in Florida.  Union Brigadier General Alexander Asboth in Pensacola as commander of the Union’s District of West Florida decided to raid the small town of Marianna, home of Florida Governor John Milton and rumored location of Union prisoners and great munitions..

 Asboth took 700 mounted soldiers into the hills of Panhandle Florida.  The only Confederate forces in the area was 350 men, some from Alabama and the remnants of the local militia, but this small band barricaded the main street entrance.  It took two full charges for the Union army to crash into the local defenses and fighting continued on a block by block basis across the town. 

 Union troops burnt down the local Episcopal Church where defenders were housed.  Some forty Confederates finally surrendered when their ammunition ran out.  Rebel losses included 10 dead and 16 wounded; Union forces lost 8 dead and 10 missing and 19 wounded, including General Asboth who received severe arm and facial wounds.

 Finding no weapons or Union prisoners, the Union army withdrew to Pensacola.   The Battle of Marianna was unique for it was an urban clash in Florida’s Civil War.

 

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Schools Open At Tallahassee’s Leon High for the 183th Year

School has started in Florida this week floridatraveler old Leon Academy

 

Public schools started this week across Florida and it is unlikely few people knew that this is the 183rd year of Florida’s oldest continuous school.  Leon High school is the 21st oldest K-12 educational institution in the United States.

Leon started as Leon Academy (see drawing above) in 1831, some 14 years before Florida obtained statehood. Growth for education was so slow that it was not until 1913 when newly named Leon High got a new structure.  The present building  at 550 West Tennessee Street was built in the 1930’s by the Works Project ADministration (WPA) for a whopping $500,000.

Critics at the time contended the school with its three stories of brick in a Mission Revival style was too expensive and too large, and the building was too far outside the center of town to grow.  They were wrong on both counts.

While Tallahassee now has seven public high schools, Leon is the old symbol, with a huge alumni list that includes Governors (LeRoy Collins) to entertainers (Faye Dunaway) to authors (Jeff Shaara).   . Leon was rated the 110th best high school in the nation by Newsweek several years ago.  

 

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Despite Moving the Lion King Still Roars Loud and Clear

floridatraveler lion king the chief

While vacationing in Orlando last week, I dropped by to see the status of my favorite live Walt Disney World show – the Lion King.  The popular show was moved to make room for the construction of Avatar, WDW’s gigantic attraction which will make Animal Kingdom a night park in 2016..

I am happy to report that that Lion King’s new habitat, just across the river from the new project, is a larger square structure with the performances still encircled by audience.  There isn’t a bad seat in the house and Disney was able to maintain the tremendous singing professional cast, the Olympic caliber acrobats, and skilled dancers and stunt performers.

Lion King is the best live show at WDW, but the amazing Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review at the Pioneer Hall at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground just celebrated its 40th year (1974) of production.  The show has the same corny script all these years and won’t change.  

Why should they? With 35,000 performances to ten million guests, Hoop Dee Doo is perhaps the longest major professional show in the history of American musicals.  Despite, shows three times a night seven days a week, WDW visitors must reserve seats weeks in advance.

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