Extreme Florida Vacations Are Just A Click Away

Most Florida tourists and snow-birds are satisfied with a trip to Disney World and a good beach, but thousands of others take advantage of Florida’s climate and terrain to engage in extreme sports and unusual adventures.  Floridians, of course, get these opportunities every month of the year.

Just minutes from Walt Disney World you and your family can take a lesson in the flying trapeze, German wheel, or trampoline at Orlando circus schools like Circus Arts or the Orlando Circus School.

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Orlando Circus School Performance

If that is too tame for you, may I suggest the Covert  Ops School in the Miami area where you will learn from top instructors counter-terror warfare tactics.  These include using an assault rifle and mastering Israeli Krav Maga martial  arts.

If you want to spend some time on the water (or over it), you can take lessons in flyboarding, a popular sport where you stand on a board with a long hose connected to a watercraft and are jet packed 15 meters into the air.

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Its You Flying On Your Vacation

You can take lessons on flyboarding all over Florida: Sofloboarding

in West Palm Beach or Flyboards Orlando or Flyboarding Sarasota.

If water is not your thing – you can take to the air flying a combat plane at Warbird Adventure at Kissimmee Gateway Airport or learn to do some recreational aerobatics at Wing over Aerobatics in Leesburg to the Wrong Brothers Flight Training in Pensacola.

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Orlando is Down – War Birds Are Up

You might wish to get your urge for speed closer to earth so a good choice might be learning to drive an offshore speedboat going across Sarasota Bay at speeds that will impress your friends.  Visit International Performance

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Offshore Speedboating

I haven’t even mentioned learning to drive an airboat in the Everglades or  that Spy Camp outside Gainesville with the Lamborghini, or space flight training over at the Clearwater-St Pete Airport.  I guess I will have to do another extreme sports list in the near future.

Just

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Florida’s Most Walk-able Tourist Towns

It’s Spring Break time in Florida and the streets are packed with automobiles and tired, disgusted tourists.  Last weekend cars lined up for ten miles trying to get onto Clearwater Beach.  After two hours in a traffic jam, they found that the island’s 2,000 parking spaces can’t handle 10,000 automobiles.

The solution?  Book a hotel or motel or historic inn next to one of Florida’s best, walk-able tourist destinations and spend your time enjoying the sights and people at street level.

Here are my favorite destinations:

SAINT AUGUSTINE: Stay at one of the bed and breakfast inns just south of the downtown Plaza and walk into the Historic District.  When the tourists drive out to motel row of US1, you will be amazed how delightful the restaurants and bars of Saint Augustine can be.

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Take a Ghost Tour at Night in Saint Augustine

FORT LAUDERDALE’s Las Olas Boulevard: You can even get here by Beach Taxi. It’s a great strip of downtown shops, cafes, nightclubs, and galleries in the daytime, but at night Las Olas is magical.

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Fort Lauderdale’s Favorite Street

FERNANDINA BEACH: Small towns can be fun if you have sixty blocks of amazing Victorian mansions and homes, topped with two dozen excellent bed and breakfast spots.  Downtown is compact, but full of interesting food stops including the Palace Saloon, oldest drinking place in Florida.

KEY WEST: Stay as close to Mallory Square as you can afford and avoid hotel row on the north side of the island.  There’s so much action and noise along Key West’s main streets that it would make the people jealous over in Havana, Cuba.

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This Is A Fun Spot But Hemingway Drank Next Door

ORLANDO Lake Eola Downtown:  WDW is great for kids but adult tourists are finding the classic hotels and restaurants of downtown Orlando’s lakeside area a great weekend getaway.  And there are no character breakfasts!

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The Hotels and Restaurants Of Lake Eola

MIAMI BEACH South Beach:  People who cruise crowded Ocean Drive are not really experiencing Florida’s Riviera.  Rent an Art Deco room and cafe sit and travel the streets of Sobe when they are full of people.  This is nightlife tropical.

SARASOTA: Palm Avenue:  Downtown Sarasota is noted for the arts, its galleries, and upscale dining.  You can even walk there from a Ritz Carlton on the waterfront.  Go to a play or an opera and dine before or after the show all within a block of each other.

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Palm Avenue in Sarasota is For Lovers

There are other walkable towns which we will cover with later blogs.  My advice is simple: get where you want to be early and get out of that automobile.

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Disney’s Flower Power Even Surpasses The Gardens of Versailles

The 2015 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival just opened at Walt Disney World and thousands of flower lovers are arriving to see the new Disney character topiaries and blooms.

A few years ago Alain Baraton, head gardener of the famous Gardens of the Palace of Versailles, wrote a best seller about the activities of the 48 permanent gardeners who maintain the French attraction.  Versailles with its 800 hectares almost seems like a backyard garden when compared to Walt Disney’s gardens.

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Mickey and Minnie Greet Epcot Visitors In Their Greens

Disney has 750 full-time horticultural staffers, 400 of whom spend time in planting 30 million new blooms and servicing the 700 gardens each year for the Epcot show.  This year the cast of Frozen joins 100 other Disney character topiaries on display.

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An Interactive Character Topiary

If  you have ever visited Walt Disney World, you’ll realize that all the Disney parks, resorts, and byways are always manned by gardeners and workmen.  The 47 square mile amusement giant has 175,000 planted trees, four million shrubs, 13,000 rose bushes, and three million annual plants.

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Beauty and the Beast Stroll Paris

The yearly purchase of maintenance equipment for all this gardening and landscaping goes into the millions.  Unlike Versailles, Disney has not cut back on any of its daily watering, not with 2,000 miles of water pipe and 65,000 sprinkle heads ready for usage.

Even if you are going to Walt Disney World to see the shows and rides, you should spend a moment and look around at the spectacular details of Disney’s gardening empire.

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Florida’s Baseball Icons Are Open For Spring Visitors

This week opens another season of Florida’s Grapefruit League and there are still baseball sites that true fans should visit if they are in the state.

MCKECHNIE FIELD in Bradenton has been a spring baseball facility since 1923.  For years the Spanish mission building had no lights, no official parking lot, and only local vendors.  Recent upgrades and enlargements for the Pittsburgh Pirates have not changed the neat old-time atmosphere of Florida’s oldest spring training park.  It is a must visit for its preservation of baseball atmosphere.

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McKechnie Field Is Still A Classic

Florida’s oldest spring facility is the JACKIE ROBINSON BALLPARK in Daytona Beach.  Built in 1914, the same year as Wrigley Field, today it only hosts minor league and college teams.  On March 17, 1946, Jackie Robinson made his professional major league debut and a wonderful statue of the Dodger great is outside the field.

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Jackie Robinson Statue in Daytona Beach

GEORGE STEINBRENNER FIELD in Tampa is relatively new but the $30 million dollar 11,000 seat facility not only has a duplicate of the Yankee Stadium field inside, it has a Monument Park filled with the famous placards and quotations of Yankee history.

Historic DODGERTOWN was deserted by the Dodgers in 2009, but the 110 acre complex, the brainchild of Branch Rickey, is now filled with college and high school players and even football teams (Gads) in training.  It is worth a stop if you are driving past Vero Beach.

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Dodgertown Plaque

AL LANG FIELD, the birthplace of Florida spring baseball competition, has been converted into the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer field, but baseball fans visiting St. Petersburg should take a ten block walk from Al Lang along Central Avenue to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

This “Baseball Boulevard” contains some 85 brass home plaque plaques describing the history of professional baseball in the area from the 1913 St Louis Browns to the arrival of the Rays.  Plaques describe key events such as the 1939 collapse of Lou Gehrig in a spring game.

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Lou Gehrig on Baseball Boulevard, St Pete

Some Florida baseball landmarks are hidden away from visitors.  My favorite spot in Tampa is on the University of Tampa campus where Plant Field once housed spring training.  On April 4, 1919, Babe Ruth of the Red Sox hit a 587 foot homer against the New York Giants.  Evangelist Billy Sunday was given the ball so this plaque is the only sign of that event.

floridatraveler BABES HOMER

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Florida: Home of Sports Hall of Fames

Florida is not only a state where 95 million vacationers visit to get some sunshine on the beaches, play some golf or tennis, or even go fishing; Florida is a state that hosts a number of great sports Hall of Fame.  They are tourist attractions in themselves.

The most spectacular is the World Golf Hall of Fame, 8 miles north of Saint Agustine, just off exit 323 of I-95. Surrounded by a golf course, this palace of golf’s immortals has eye-popping exhibits and just beautiful artwork.  There is even an amazing simulator that lets you play the most famous golf holes at the most famous golf courses on this planet.

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The Beautiful Golf Hall of Fame

The International Swimming Hall of Fame on Fort Lauderdale Beach is not just an amazing archive of books, medals, and artifacts of the sport of swimming; there is an Olympic pool and a research center for sport historians.  Visitors will be shocked to see the role of swimming in the careers of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

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Water Is A Major Factor at the International Swimming Hall of Fame

The IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum at 300 Gulf Stream Way in Dania will excite the average fisherman with its exhibits and paintings.  Kids will love the replicas of famous sport fish from around the world.  The fishing library is probably the largest in the world.

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The IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame

Not all Florida Halls are big time sports. Just off I-75 outside Ocala is the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame (also known as the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing). Not only are the drag racing greats honored in photographs and artifacts, some 60 incredible racing cars cover the entire history of the sport.  There are another 50 antique automobiles in the Garlits collection.

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Big Daddy Garlits’ Dragster

The one Sports Hall of Fame that lacks visitors and identity is the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.  The Hall was once a feature at Cypress Gardens, then moved to Lake City in 1990, and finally rescued in 2008 by the City of Auburndale.  The Hall is located at the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex and despite its many exhibits and artifacts, few Floridians even know of its existence.

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Florida’s Best Tropical Gardens – It’s Azalea Season

While people in my native Boston are digging out from six feet of snow, visitors to my new home in Florida are touring the state’s  spectacular tropical gardens.  February to April is azalea time and even North Florida’s gardens seem to be blooming.

Bok Tower Gardens off US27 is still the most distinctive gardens to visit. With its unique singing tower atop 300 foot Iron Mountain, the gardens offer wonderful trails past a mountain lake and lush gardens.

floridatraveler BOK TOWER

Florida’s best tourist-oriented gardens are the huge Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables.  To properly experience the 83 acre complex of 10 ponds and two miles of walkway, visitors need to take a tram tour and later select their favorite places to visit.  Fairchild is always adding exhibits of note.

floridatraveler FAIRCHILD GARDENS

If you like roses, you will love the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando.  Besides Florida’s largest rose gardens, Leu Gardens has dozens of inspirational garden designs and clever ideas for gardeners.

On the Gulf Coast is the 10-acre waterfront Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.  It is one of the world’s top research centers for bromeliads and orchids, but I love the huge banyan trees, forest of ferns, and the mangrove trails.

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The huge banyan trees in Selby

If you like formal gardens surrounding a historic house then you will like Alfred B. Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee. This is a great place for azaleas and camelilias when in season.  Since this is a State Park, there are nature trails, kayaking, and fishing.

For a change of pace, visit the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach.  This is one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens in the nation and the site of many cultural events in the winter months.

floridatraveler MORIKANA MUSEUM

Here is my choice for forgotten gardens attraction: Ravine State Gardens in Palatka. This 1930’s WPA project contains a 1.8 paved road that weaves around a ravine filled with azaleas and exotic plants.  There are bike routes and nature trails in this unusual spot near the St. Johns River.

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Old postcard of the bridge across the ravine.

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Florida Spring Baseball 100 Years Ago: Black and White

Florida newspapers are starting to run articles about the upcoming Florida Grapefruit League. Professional baseball has a long history in the state. The first exhibition game took place in Jacksonville in 1888 between the Washington Nationals and New York Giants.

Connie Mack, who was a player on the first visit, was manager in 1900 when the Nationals returned to spring train in Jacksonville.  Mack felt the lack of good competition and distance from major cities made Florida a poor choice to play baseball.  He could hardly imagine his grandson Connie Mack III would one day be a U.S. Senator from Florida.

It was not until 1913 when the Chicago Cubs  and the St Louis Browns came to Tampa that Florida spring training was reborn. The next year the St. Louis Cardinals arrived in Saint Augustine and the Philadelphia Athletics selected Jacksonville.

One hundred years ago a real spring baseball league was scheduled for these four teams, but they weren’t the only professional league in Florida.  For ten years the Palm Beach resort hotels – the Breakers and the Royal Poinciana – had operated baseball games with their African-American employees to entertain the winter guests.

In 1915 the Breakers hired players from the Lincoln Giants of the Negro League while the Royal Poinciana recruited players from the Indianapolis ABCs.  Although outscored 61 to 49 in the contests, the Breakers Hotel team won the series 9 games to 6 games.

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The 1915 Breakers team: 4 Hall of Fame Players

Led by pitcher Joe “Smokey” Williams, the Breakers team had four players (Williams, Pete Hill, Louis Santop, John Henry Lloyd) now in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  The top hitter for the Poinciana team was Ben Taylor, another Hall of Famer.

One hundred years ago, spring professional baseball exhibition games were both black and white.  Interestingly, the tourist elite of Vanderbilts, Astors, and Morgans were watching the black teams.

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