Florida Houseboat Vacations: Rustic or Urban

A century ago Florida tourists took slow-moving steamboats down the St. Johns and Suwannee Rivers to get a close-up view of Florida wildlife and foliage.

 Today, visitors to Florida can do the same thing by renting a personal houseboat and choosing their own destinations. 

 Or if you prefer a more developed destination, you can rent a houseboat in Key West or Sanibel Island and travel around the Florida Keys and vast Charlotte Harbor and its islands.

 floridatraveler HOUSEBOAT ROW roosvelt key west

Wonderful Houseboat Row in Key West was destroyed by 1998 hurricane but the Keys are still loaded with houseboats and “floating motels.”

Websites like Homeaway Go Florida.com, and Houseboating.org cover Florida houseboats from Jacksonville to Key West, but you may get more information from specific dealers.

 In Key West you can cruise in such luxury as a 38-foot houseboat from Houseboat.com, complete with a stateroom with queen size bed, four other beds, a full-size bathroom, and solar panels on the roof for the full-size frige and Wi-Fi.  The mattresses are even Tempurpedic.floridatraveler key west 38-Foot-Houseboat-wIsland-Media-27

The major houseboat websites feature rentals on Sanibel and Capitiva Islands where people can cruise into vast Charlotte Harbor or go up the Caloosahatchee River.  Go Play Outdoors usually lists Southwest Florida houseboats.


Going up river from Sanibel Island

The St. John’s River is unique among rivers, not just Florida rivers. Because it flows flow north , but its three hundred miles length is houseboat-friendly. The elevation change is just a 30-foot difference, meaning the St. John’s River flows very, very slow.

You’ll have plenty to see while cruising at this leisurely pace which passes numerous state parks and small riverfront towns with marinas.   The largest St. Johns houseboat dealer is the HOLLY BLUFF MARINA, just north of Hontoon State Park in DeLand.  They have a new 55-footer.

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Another major renter is Houseman Houseboat Rentals located in Georgetown on Lake George, Florida’s second largest lake and part of the St. Johns passage.

Stephen Foster never came to Florida to cruise the Suwannee River, but you can rent a houseboat “way down the Suwannee all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.”  

Miller’s Marina off County Road 349 in Suwannee is a longtime houseboat rental place and they know every bend in Florida’s most rural river.

FLORIDATRAVELER millers on suwannee

Millers Marina

So whether you want to cruise like Daniel Boone down a deserted river or island-hop along the resorts of the Florida Keys, there is a houseboat vacation waiting for you in Florida.


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Florida Is A Wild Animal Retirement Paradise

Ringling Brothers opened their 2016 circus season in Tampa, the company’s winter headquarters, and I noticed that each year the elephant performers are less and less. In two years all the Ringling elephants will be retired to the Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City.

People will be limited in visiting the Center for it is an elephant rest home, not a tourist attraction.  The elephants will mainly eat, sleep, and look at you. It does cost $70,000 per year to feed and house each elephant so your donations will be gladly accepted.

floridatraveler Ringling polk city second oldest elephant

The USA’s second oldest elephant in retirement

This event reminded me that while Florida has many popular commercial animal attractions like Busch Gardens, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Palm Beach’s Lion Country Safari, plus many top notch city zoos, Florida has become the home of many wild animal retirement sanctuaries.  Unfortunately, domesticated performing animals like lions and tigers can not be released into the wilds of Africa and Asia and expect top survive.

Big Cat Rescue located in the Citrus Park section of Tampa rescues exotic felines and rehabilitating injured or orphaned native wild cats. It is the largest accredited sanctuary in the USA entirely housing abused and abandoned big cats.

flroidatravelerBIG CAT tigers

Tours, field trips and even night tours are expensive and restricted, for this is not a place where the priority goes to the tourists, but your participation directly or indirectly finances the efforts to rescue the big cats.  You Tube usually has a series of interesting videos to show the center.

floridatyraveler BIGCATlion&tiger

In Citra, Florida, is the Endangered Animal Rescue Sanctuary which protects lions, leopards, tigers, and circus bears.  Over in Auburndale there is the Genesis Zoological Center, a non-profit rehabilitation center for Florida native wildlife, but host for some Siberian tigers.

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Some relaxing leopards at EARS in Citra

The Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary in Punta Gorda is the home to many injured Florida wildlike like black bears and panthers, but they also have Bengal tigers, Amur Leopards, and Asian bears.  Like most of these centers, tours are restricted and limited.

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More and more people in Florida are realizing that Florida wildlife is a major economic and social resource.  With Florida’s climate, Florida is a logical retirement place for the many carnival, circus, and exotic animals that wintered in Florida.

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Florida Tree House Vacations: A New Way To Look

My wife loves to watch all those vacation house TV shows with people going to exotic places and buying or renting homes.  Recently she likes to look at people buying “little houses” and “tree houses.”

I don’t care to live in a 300 square foot home, but I started to wonder if “you can vacation in Florida in a tree-house.”   The answer is very much YES and there is even a firm called Airbnb that rents Florida treetop vacation spots.  You can vacation in a simple elevated cabin in the Florida North woods or rent a luxurious place overlooking a private island beach.

If you have a mere $1,500 per day to spend, you can vacation in a seven bedroom, 5.5 bathroom Polynesian Treehouse located at the north end of Gulf of Mexico Drive off Russell Street, Longboat Key.  The elevated complex of structures are connected by walkways. It would be a great retreat for a company meeting-place.

floridatraveler polynesian longboat key


Not all treehouse vacations are in rural areas.  Airbub was featuring last week a tree-trunk room on the second floor of a three-story Miami urban treehouse for $55 and a nice one bedroom Fort Lauderdale treehouse complete with Internet, TV, A/C, washer, and even a carbon monoxide detector for just $70 per night.

The lush forests and lovely rivers around North Central Florida is ideal outdoor vacation country and you might like the Yurt Tree House (clubfla.org) in Gilchrist County with its cool transparent dome.  Yurt houses view the Santa Fe and Itchatuckee Rivers.

floridatraveler yurt treehouse itchetucknee river

In nearby High Springs you might want to look up the Horsepower Farms treehouse facilities located on ten acres of the Santa Fe River.  For a real primitive but urban place to stay, there is the unique Zen Hostel near the University of Florida in Gainesville.

floridatraveler zen treehouse gainesville

And if you are cowardly about sleeping high into the Florida trees or you are being forced by the kids to visit the major theme parks on a vacation, there is always Walt Disney World’s Saratoga Springs Treetop Villas.    These three bedroom apartments on stilts will put you minutes from the Disney action during the daytime, but into the dark wilderness at night, where you can use the outdoor grill and pretend you are living with nature in Florida.

floridatraveler saratoga treehouse-villas


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Universal’s Amazing Money Making Harry Potter Railroad

UNIVERSAL Hogswart ExpressUniversal decided to connect the two Harry Potter attractions located in their two adjacent parks with the Hogwart’s Express train ride, they anticipated it would increase the percentage of “Park to Park” admission tickets since you can’t visit both parks in the same day without the two park admission. Universal got more than a 45% boost in ticket money.

Universal incredulously didn’t anticipate that the Hogswart Express would become such a major attraction unto itself. I find this makes little sense since the train ride is not just the only fast way to reach both Harry Potter worlds, it is a wonderful four minute excursion which the entire family can experience, unlike most of the other Harry Potter rides.

Universal realizes if the ride bogs down with traffic it will impose a large problem (which fortunately I am never faced). The two trains with their three passenger cars and seven compartments means just 336 people can be riding the rails every four minutes.

The Universal people to a great job of boarding and debarking passengers at Platform 9 ¾ at both the urban King’s Cross Station in London and the rustic rural station at Hogsmeade where the village is covered in snow.

UNIVERSAL hogsmeade

The technical staff spared no expense to establish authentic British railroad depots (sans the garbage when there is a strike) and there is even the infamous brick wall where you and all the other guests seem to dematarialize through it. Unfortunately for you can’t duplicate the view with your selfie.

UNIVERSAL white owl

As the two trains slowly move a few hundred yards through suburban Orlando, you are treated to a projected movie on the windows which is incredibly realistic and packed with Harry Potter characters and creatures. It is a low key almost relaxing ride and change of pace from much of Universal.

Even more impressive is the second show going on the frosted windows of the cabin door as secondary Harry Potter characters in shadow pile down the corridor. They are rather sloppy with their handling of spiders and frogs. And you will recognize the voices of the people.

UNIVERSAL dragon alley in london

It is absolutely essential now to arrive at Universal early and with map in hand head to the back of either of the two parks to reach the two Harry Potter centers. The Harry Potter rides are not part of the Universal Express plan so it means that many of the front of the park rides seem deserted until noon time.




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Florida Remains The Global Cruise Ship Capital


Despite the Great Recession, Florida has continued its glowing image as the “Cruise Capital of the World.” In fact, Florida not only has the three largest ports in the world, they have increased passengers: Port of Miami (4.8 million travelers), Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale (3.88 million), and Port Canaveral (3.86 million).

fhic port canaveral from air

Port Carnival in Brevard County

In recent years the Port of Tampa and JAXPort have been increasing their cruises.  Key West has become a major Port of Call.

Port Canaveral, home of the Disney fleet, had jumped into second place in 2013.  Florida is also home to the largest cruise ship companies.

Carnival, based in Doral, Florida, is the largest cruise ship line in the world with 91,300 employees and 24 vessels using nine ship brands, holding 21% of the global market.  It is even Florida’s sixth largest public corporation.

Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale

fhic port everglades cruiselines

Carnival had revenues of 15.9 billion dollars and its founder Ted Arison is believed to be the richest man in the Sunshine State.

Carnival’s Huge Headquarters

unflorida no 6 Carniva lcruise lines  headquarters

Royal Caribbean, based in Miami, is the 12th largest public corporation in Florida, second largest global cruise line, and employer of 69,000 people. RC can proudly note they have the five largest cruise ships in the world.

Royal Caribbean Headquarters

unflorida -Royal_Caribbean_headquarters

Norwegian Cruise Line headquartered in unincorporated Miami-Dade is Florida’s 30th largest public company with 24,9000 employees. It had a booming increase in business of 21.6% in 2014.

If you plan to do some cruising in the next few months, the odds are very good that some of your money will be coming to Florida even if you leave from a port somewhere else in the world.








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floridatraveler crosscreek-intro

If Florida writers were to select a place in the state that represents Florida’s literary image, most would select Cross Creek, the legendary farm and home of beloved Florida author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  Rawling’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Yearling takes place in this area and her later masterpiece Cross Creek is almost autobiographical.

floridatraveler crossreek-front

Located south of Gainesville a few miles east of I-75, Cross Creek captures the rural Florida of the Rawlings novels and cookbook.

At a time when the category of young adult fiction did not exist, Ms. Rawlings wrote a book that inspired Depression worn families and provided insights in how people survived those years in rural America.  Although born in the District of Columbia to a white collar bureaucratic household and educated in Wisconsin and several newspaper jobs, Rawlings life was totally changed when in 1928 he took her family inheritance and purchased 72 acres of orange oranges in isolated Central Florida’s Lake Country.

floridatraveler crosscreek annex

It was here she decided to capture the fascinating people and places and wildlife of rural Florida, but not without angering some of her bewildered neighbors and losing her first husband who decided Cross Creek was not for him.   Eventually, she and her notebook was accepted into the daily realities of Florida Cracker life by most of the area residents.

floridatraveler crosscrek bathroom

floridatraveler crosscreek-her-library

floridatraveler crosscreek-map

While her second husband, an Ocala hotelier, bought a mansion in Saint Augustine and converted the penthouse into Rawlings’ private escape, the author avoided the tourists and visitors by buying a beach cottage at Saint Augustine beach.


Rawlings loved her rural farm and it remained the focal point of her books.  The beauty of the location is that people can tour the house, the barn, and fields, and then go down to the dock and quietly admire the rustic scenery.  Maybe you could bring a Rawlings book to read.



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Santa Claus Has A Great Time in Florida

Growing up in Framingham, Massachusetts meant it was a great shock when I was a small boy to learn that my parents decided to spend Christmas each winter in Florida.

It wasn’t just that I was going to be separated from by school friends during the holidays.  When you’re a kid you wonder if Santa Claus is going to be able to locate you in a distant zip code.  Can Santa’s sled land where there is no snow?  Will the old man collapse in the Florida heat with that heavy red suit on?

Santa Claus sunbathing lying on the beach

Santa Claus sunbathing lying on the beach

I soon learnt that Santa not only visits Florida, but seems to have a great time when he’s here.  In fact, I suspect for a guy who works one day a year   and then vacations the rest, he probably comes to Florida all the time.  With all the old men with white beards in this state, he could easily get lost on a beach or at a tourist destination.

floridatraveler santa stroll on beach

Santa has found different ways to get around without snow.

floridatraveler santa and dolphin sled

Santa must eat a lot because he certainly burns a lot of calories while here in Florida.

Spencer Slate

(Bob CareFlorida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Yes, Santa is a guest at all the big amusement parks.  Lucky guy, considering the rising costs of theme park tickets.

floridatraveler santa at wdw

As I get older I am identifying with Santa more and more.  We are getting older and older.   My hair is starting to turn white all over.  We’re both overweight despite running around all day like crazy.

floridatraveler santa on water skis

And at the end of the holiday season, we’re both in the red.  MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

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