Vacationing and Taking Trips In The Era of the Virus

Enjoying Florida in the New Normal

The rapid spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had an enormous impact on the vacation plans and travel activities of Americans and people all over the globe.  With concerns about future outbreaks, the effectiveness of vaccines, and the reality that some virus strains can find ways to mutate, it is unlikely that people will quickly revert to their old habits.

I live in Florida, the only state that gets over 100 million visitors per year and is the home of the world’s greatest family entertainment complex of amusement parks and attractions.  Walt Disney World and Universal may be opening slowly but with so many restrictions and limitations one may wonder if a visit is essential.  And besides, visitors coming and going face the possibility of 14-day isolations.

As a person who writes about travel and history, I question what I recommend in selecting vacation and trip activities.  What skills and options should I include? As a college history professor for fifty years, I tend to look at what might be long term trends and changes in our society and culture.

Let me state then the approach I will take in more and more of what I write and why I will orient my present and future writing.  These may reflect some of the trends which I think may be more part of “the New Normal” in vacations and trips:

DRIVING TOURS and EXPERIENCES:  I have always been impressed how European cities provide maps, guidance, and options for all types of people. My mother-in-law had health issues and little money while raising five kids so on the weekends she would pack a picnic lunch, take a full-day trip in the old automobile, sight-see and only stop if something met her criteria, and dine in a park.

Kayaking and Snorkeling Provide Independent Social Distancing

I think many people will be leery about going to a restaurant or any attraction without observing the present options.  Indoor activities such as museums, galleries, and even sporting events will  be looked at in a different way than in 2019.  Safety will join cost and value when I write about any spot in Florida.

The OUTDOORS and ECO-TOURISM, I believe, will become more popular and more important as an option to visitors and residents.  A kayak or snorkel trip is a pretty safe choice for exercise and learning about your destination.  Soft adventures like boardwalk tours and zip lines allow for social distance control in a safer setting.

Florida has one of the most diverse and best State Park Systems and it has been underused by a large segment of our tourist population.  For every famous park destination, there are two or three park options that will be practically deserted on the weekdays.

INSIDER ADVICE in articles usually emphasizes the best food or the most popular attraction, but it should now include options and ideas that relate to health concerns.  Long before the virus I told people that instead of standing in a luncheon crowd to get into a Walt Disney Magic Kingdom restaurant, take the monorail to one of the hotels or the boat to Wilderness Lodge for the lakeside patio restaurant by the Villas.  Better meal, same price, and less crowded and rushed environment.

This summer I will inform you of several new e-books and PODs about Florida travel options, including the dates when these publications will be part of free downloads or reduced prices.

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New Things For Florida Tourists and Vacationeers To See In 2019

This is the time of the year when individuals around the nation make New Year’s Resolutions and also the time Florida Chamber of Commerces start promoting what new things are coming up in the New Year.

For Florida’s all-important tourist industry that means new attractions, new resorts, and even new cruise ships.  Actually the largest cruise ship, the Symphony of the Seas by Royal Caribbean, sailed into the Port of Miami in November.  The ship is (gads) five times larger than the Titanic.

In the theme park industry which heavily impacts the 100 million annual Florida visitors, here are some of the 2019 highlights to come:

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (Disney Hollywood Studios) appears to open minus its ultra-fantastic resort hotel around November of 2019.   The Millennium Falcon ride will probably open sooner at Disneyland, but the Orlando site will include the entire Black Spire village on Batin complete with shops, a restaurant, bars, and performers.

floridatraveler STAR WARS HOTEL entrance way

The first floor of new Star Wars hotel won’t open until 2020

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (Disney Hollywood Studios) will open in late summer in the huge Chinese Theater complex.  This is the first interactive ride where riders will enter a wild film short featuring Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy.

Harry Potter Themed Roller Coaster (Universal Islands of Adventure) may be solidly located away from the other Potter attractions, but will feature the flying creatures of Wizarding World and be a “family” coaster.  A summer opening is hoped.

FLORIDATRAVELER -busch-gardens-new-roller-coasters

Tigris Roller Coaster (Busch Gardens) will fly this Spring next to Jungala, the tiger compound, and display a very scary l,800 foot layout with speeds of 60 mph.  Most terrifying will be the fact riders will fall backwards at one point.


Lego Movie World  (Legoland) is a new section with a giant play area relating to the Lego film.  There will also be two new rides: an interactive boat ride, the Quest for Chi, an a new adventure in Emmett’s Bricksburg.

Next to theme parks, most Florida towns advertise new resorts and large hotels:

 Last year Miami had a hotel boom with some twelve new resorts and complete makeovers, but more are on the way. Most interesting to be is the arrival in South Florida of Paligroup from Los Angeles.

FLORIDATRAVELER Palimous Miami Beach

The Palihouse Miami Beach

They are opening this Spring Palihouse Miami Beach, a 70-room boutique hotel on Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach.  The Intracoastal resort is certainly going to be shabby chic eclectic.


A bedroom at Isla Bella is like staying on a ship

Perhaps more exciting will be the debut of the 24 acre Isla Bella Beach Resort on Knight Key in Marathon, almost next to the famous Seven Mile Bridge.  This is the first big resort in the Keys since the destruction of Hurricane Irma and this 199 room, 4 restaurant, 5 pool place will become an instant landmark in the Middle Keys.

In Orlando, Universal is opening two new resorts.  I thought since the theme park filled up its property, they couldn’t continue its hotel boom, but I was wrong.

FLORIDATRAVELER Universals-Endless-Summer-Resort-Surfside-Inn-

The Endless Resort

Universal’s Endless Resort is being built on the location of the old Wet and Wild park at International Drive and Universal Boulevard.  The first stage will have 750 guest rooms with 390 two-bedroom suites.  Additional sections are in the works.

It will be interesting to see how Universal will operate a transportation system on major highways outside their property.

Have a happy holiday and a Merry Christmas.

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, disney, florida history, florida vacations, mcbobleonard, travel, Universal Studios, Walt Disney World | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


One of the first things people learn about Florida is that it was discover in 1513 by Ponce de Leon in his search for the Fountain of Youth.  As a historian, I can tell you these are both myths.

Ponce de Leon’s story is often incorrectly present by textbooks despite the reality that there are more records about his career than Christopher Columbus.  Way back in October of 2013, I elaborated on this material in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the 1513 Ponce landing in Florida. This is an added visual look at the most off-base generalizations that people have formed about the great Spanish explorer.

Let’s look at where myths have replaced reality in the story of Ponce de Leon:

Ponce de Leon was not an old man when he went to Florida.

Ponce de Leon discovered Florida. As Governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce was aware of most activities in the Spanish New World, including Cuban slavers going to the Bahamas (Bimini) and “big” island to the North.  He knew about the currents north of Cuba.

Most importantly he knew of the existence of maps even if he never saw them. A 1502 map smuggled out of Portugal by an Italian Duke Alberto Cantino included the Caribbean and Cuba and South America while alluding to places further north.

1507 and in the NW corner is Cuba and Florida.

In 1507 the incredible map of German cartographer Martin Waldserrmuller included not just the Caribbean and South America, but clearly shows Florida and the North American coast. It was Waldseemuller and his staff which named the “two” continents America, after explorer Amerigo Vespucci. (The $10 million dollar map is housed at the Library of Congress.)

In 1507 northwest of Cuba is clearly mainland on this map.

In 1511 Spanish Andres Morales made a simple map of Bimini and clearly showed the Florida coastline as a huge unit.

Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Bahamas island, and a big block of land.

Ponce de Leon was looking for the Fountain of Youth.   Ponce was aware of the legends for his boss (King Ferdinand) requested all colonists to search for it.  My old geography professor Robert Fuson studied the ship logs and notes of Ponce de Leon and discovered that it was not until the 208th day of his first voyage he mentioned the legend.  He sent a handful of sailors to Bimini to check all the rumors. Ponce de Leon was just thirty-eight years old and there is no record he ever had poor health issues. Ponce never indicated he believed in the Fountain story.

Ponce de Leon was a rich nobleman who sought Glory for his family by going to the New World. Although he came from a noble family and had some prominent relatives in the long war against the Moors, he was a penniless teenager when he decided to join the military, a logical choice considering his background.  Unfortunately for him the war with the Moors was on the verge of ending.

Ponce de Leon was a key crew member on Christopher Columbus’ second voyage.  There is no evidence that Columbus found the nineteen-year old landlubber a skillful sailor.  In fact, Columbus might have had great apprehension over Ponce, for he was probably added to the ship roll by the Bishop of Burgos Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca, who intentionally tried to undermine the Columbus mission by filling the ship with unqualified ex-soldiers.

Many in Spain believed that the King’s financed missions westward across the Atlantic was a violation of Spain’s 1479 Treaty of Alcacovas with Portugal.   It should be noted that Ponce returned to Spain prior to Columbus’ visit to Jamaica.

Ponce de Leon gained great wealth in his conquests.  Ponce de Leon did not die broke, but he never got rich from gold or silver or government contracts.  He did become prosperous when serving as Governor of Eastern Hispaniola (in the Dominican Republic).  His 225-acre plantation grew cassava, made into long-lasting bread for long voyages by Royal and private ships.  This success helped Ponce de Leon land future political appointments.

The remains of Ponce de Leon’s Dominican farm are still standing.

Ponce de Leon and Christopher Columbus were good friends (bitter enemies). Neither view is correct. Despite bad management by Columbus and his family in Hispaniola, Columbus did not view Ponce as a person conspiring to oust his family from power. The two met again on Columbus’ fourth voyage.  Columbus would return to Spain due to illness and get into a legal battle over all the powers given his family in the 1492 Capitations of Santa Fe.  In his old age (he died in Valladolid, Spain, in 1506), Columbus ran a rare book shop, raised money for the Crusades to retake Jerusalem, and always believed he had reached islands off Asia.

Ponce de Leon sought to develop Florida for financial reasons. King Ferdinand gave Ponce the funds to conquer Puerto Rico and he did just that, utilizing the Indian fear of trained greyhounds, cannons, and firearms, to control the island.  But when the High Court of Spain ruled that the Columbus family controlled places like Puerto Rico, Ponce was removed as Governor by Diego Columbus.  This was an insult to his pride and service, but Ponce was hardly a street beggar with his position as Chief Justice, military captain and successful landholder in Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. He started the house shown in photo.

Pomce called his Puerto Rican place “the White House.”

Columbus had never reached the mainland of North America, and if “Florida” was part of that continent than Ponce could develop a colony there and return to the prestige of being the first Governor as he was in Puerto Rico.

Ponce de Leon’s voyage to Florida was a popularized eventThe exploration was more like a silent conspiracy.  His secret backer in Spain was Treasurer Miguel de Pasamonte, who influenced Ferdinand to finance the mission.  Pasamonte pledged Ponce to secrecy, for Columbus’ brother Bartholomew had already obtained financing to head a settlement to the island of Bimini.

Ponce de Leon was a vicious Indian hater. Despite the brute force used to defeat the Indians of Puerto Rico, Ponce was an open supporter of King Ferdinand’s policy of ending the Indian slave trade and establishing peace treaties related to land ownership.   He delayed his second trip to start a colony in Florida to go to Spain for Ferdinand had died and the new King backed the Indian slave trade and was not a person Ponce knew.

Calusa Territory was a poor choice for a town.

Ponce de Leon established Florida’s first town.   He not only never got the development of a town started, his ill-planned visit to Calusa territory in 1521 resulted in his death when he was hit in the heel with a poison-tipped arrow. Since he brought within over 200 people and 50 horses, it was clear he planned to start a town or fortification.  Ponce has nothing to do with the story of Saint Augustine – in fact many historians believed he landed in Florida further south perhaps near Daytona Beach or Cape Caneveral.

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The history of Florida Is much longer than its attraction as a major winter destination. Prior to the post-Civil War Era, visitors had to enter Florida by coastal steamboat and outside of some mid-size hotels in Saint Augustine, there were no large resorts.

The coming of the railroads in the Victorian/Gilded Era (1870-1900) allowed Northerners to reach Florida in a few days.  Railroad barons like Henry Flagler on the East Coast and Henry Plant on the Gulf Coast bolstered their transportation empires with monstrous hotel  masterpieces  that would make the Sunshine State the winter vacation spot for the wealthy.

Some of these hotels are available for booking today while others have been reborn as colleges and offices, but you can still appreciate most on an extensive architectural excursion.

Mount Dora has a lighthouse on a lake 50 miles from any ocean. That is unique.

The oldest continuous hotel was not part of the railroad connection. The LAKESIDE INN, built in Mount Dora in 1883, is the pride and joy of the arty Central Florida town, a great weekend getaway with its fine restaurant, huge antique offerings, and boating excursions along the area’s many waterways. The Lakeside is at 100 North Alexander Street, (352) 383-4101.

Rooms and suites at the Lakeside Inn.

The five yellow and white buildings house 90 guest rooms and suites, the Beauclaire Dining Room, Tremain’s Tavern, and Gatehouse Gift Gallery.  The massive 200-foot Victorian porch looks out onto the lake, a huge pool, guided boat tours, carriage rides, and nature trips. Lakeside is a laidback vacation ideal for both shoppers, diners, and adventurers.

Saint Augustine has three Victorian gems once part of Henry Plant’s East Coast railroad empire. The largest, the incredible Hotel Ponce de Leon, a Carrere & Hastings masterpiece, is now part of Flagler College, but tours are available to view the structure.  The nearby Alcazar Hotel became the Lighter Museum, open to the public, its indoor pool a gift shop.

The Casa Monica has a Moroccan castle feel.

But the next-door CASA MONICA HOTEL (1888) is operating as a hotel, a great choice to stay in the Saint Augustine Historic District and to feel the atmosphere of the city’s glamourous Victorian Era when famous writers, artists, and celebrities filled the rooms.

The Wine Bar at the Casa Monica

The Moroccan style resort has access to a beach on Saint Augustine Beach as well as the restaurants, bars, shops, and pool expected of a fine resort.  The Casa Marina is at 95 Cordova Street, (844) 631-0595.

Over in Tampa, Henry Plant’s equivalent of the Flagler Ponce de Leon is the massive riverfront Tampa Bay Hotel, the first Florida hotel with an elevator (and it still works). Now, part of the University of Tampa, the building houses the Plant Museum with original resort furniture and art.

The Belleview Inn: While only a part of the original Victorian building, it still has style.

The oldest wooden hotel in Florida was almost sacrificed to the condo builders, but a section of the 1896 Hotel Belleview remains as the 45 room BELLEVIEW INN (25 Belleview Blvd., (877) 905-4496.  Sitting on a hill overlooking Clearwater Bay and a golf course, the inn still has the original large pool and grounds, but it lacks full=service restaurants and bars.

Just a few blocks from the ocean at New Smyrna Beach is the RIVERVIEW HOTEL (1885), a wooden 18-room boutique inn, which offers some unusual features for a small place – a spa and a marina.  You are within a short walk of restaurants, gift shops, and beachside activities.

The Rivervew is on the river, but just a few blocks from the Atlantic.

New Smyrna Beach has the same sand as nearby Daytona Beach without the crowds and noise.

The docks at the Riverside.

The Riverview is at 103 Flagler Avenue, (386) 261-1588.

If rustic fishing and boating, as well as eating lots of fresh seafood is your type of weekend getaway than the ISLAND HOTEL and RESTAURANT, the landmark of Cedar Key may be your choice. Some say it opened as early as 1859, others note 1870s.  Free breakfast and lots of advice where to rent a boat or canoe and explore the backwaters of the Gulf Nature Coast.

The Island Inn is the heart of Cedar Key.

The laid-back two-story inn is located at 373 Second Street, (352) 543-5111.  HAPPY TRAVELS!

Posted in bed&breakfast, florida history, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, Historic Hotels & Inns, mcbobleonard, small towns | Leave a comment


Nothing tells you more about the history and the people of a state than its names, but Florida, the third most populated American state is a mystery to so many of its residents.  Half of our population came from elsewhere, one in four were born in another country.

Some Florida names seem appropriate: we like being near water so many towns have the word “lake” or “bay” in their title.  We love having a lot of sun and use the word “sun” in many towns, even bridges.

Sometimes, Floridians have struck out with a name.  Florida is no Utopia – two times over. In 1882, a group of farmers started the town of Utopia (Holmes County) and the land was so bad the town was deserted in four months. In 1897 Clifford Clements started a fishing village called Utopia in Okeechobee County. It had a school, two marinas, and a post office when the catfish ran out and Utopia soon ran out.

Friendly is the town, but frost proof it is not.

Like good promoters, a lot of Florida towns have exaggerated names.  Frostproof in Polk County has had days of frost.   Gold was never found in Valrico, nor in Eureka.  Summit, Florida, reached the grand elevation of 180 feet.

The town of Sapp (Baker County) is famous for its blueberries.  There are no maple syrup plants.  There are many Paradise Islands in Florida, and some are nice, but the one in Monroe County is in the Everglades and it is a mosquito-invested gator hole.

Although the early Europeans wiped out the original Florida Indian tribes mostly by the European version of CO-VID, the Indians contributed many names to the Florida glossary.  Then the Seminoles arrived in 1704 to add some names.Our capital is Tallahassee (Creek for “old town”).  Some other good names include Okeechobee (‘big water’), Apalachicola (people on other side of river), Ocala (fertile kingdom), Homosassa (place of wild peppers), and of course, Istokpoga (“dead man”).

No one is certain what it means, but it isn’t “Home of a Rich Rodent.

Unfortunately, scholars can not agree on the meaning of Kissimmee, the home of Mickey Mouse. And Miami still causes debate.  Miami, Ohio, is from the Chippewa tribe and they never vacationed in Southeast Florida.

My favorite word to say was Wimauma (Say it fast five times.), but I then found out that the first postmaster named the village after his three daughters: Wilma, Maud, and Mary.

Many in Miami don’t even know Fort Dallas is still downtown.

The Seminole Wars produced as many towns with the word Fort as Western states: Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Fort Walton Beach.   Most Floridians don’t realize Fort Brooke became Tampa and Fort Dade became Miami.

As usual, the Fort Lonesome Grocery is crowded.

My all-time favorite is Fort Lonesome in Hillsborough County.  There never was a fort here.  Just Mrs. Dovie Stanaland and her isolated little grocery.  It was easy to call this deserted intersection Fort Lonesome.  If you go there, they even see tee-shirts.

El Jobean has a museum, cafe, PO, bait shop, & store in one place.

Thinking of some of my other favorite towns: El Jobean in Charlotte County was called Southland until 1924.  While lots of Florida Boom Towns used Spanish and Italian names to add color to their image.  El Jobean was renamed by its main developer JoEL BEAN.

If I have to pick one spot, it is the Two Egg (Jackson County), a sign on US90 where you can see a few distant old farmhouses. The town was once called Allison, but a shrewd parent and black farmer named Will Williams changed its history.

If you text or drive too fast, you might miss Two Egg.

Williams had 16 children and when they started to ask for an allowance, which was beyond his financial means, he gave each child a chicken and told them to sell eggs.  The price of candy back then was “two eggs.” So many locals and visitors saw these transactions that they started to call the place “Two Egg Crossing.”  The sign is there but the grocery is gone.

That makes a good story, but shockingly there is more to Two Egg.  A local girl became a cheerleader first at FSU and then at the University of Florida. Gads! Then she decided to become an actress.

TWO EGG? Two egg?

Despite her refusal to fix a space between her front teeth, Faye Dunaway became the first Floridian to win the Academy Award for Best Actress (Network 1976). She was also nominated two other times (1967 Bonnie & Clyde) and (1974 Chinatown).

She also won three Golden Globe awards.  Not bad.  That would be worth a lot of eggs anywhere.

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When I was a student decades ago at the University of Miami (the U), I rarely went into downtown Miami.  There was a neat jazz club on the Miami River by the main bridge, but young people went to Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, the Gables, and the Grove for fun and action.

By the 1980’s, the Art Deco district was established on the Beach and people who watched Miami Vice on TV could see the skyscrapers going up.  Remember the building with the square hole in the middle?

Later when I visited Miami from my home on the Florida West Coast, I usually visited the Bayside Marketplace with its 140 shops and tour boats of Biscayne Bay’s islands.  Only a historian like me would be a visitor to Fort Dallas (1836) or the Freedom Tower or historic Bayfront Park where the mayor of Chicago took a bullet meant for FDR.

Miami buildings since the 1990s Have Been Colorful Compared To Other Cities

By 2000, the establishment of Miami as an booming international metropolis and gateway to South America and port to the Caribbean was known to most Americans.  There is much more now to downtown than banks and trading firms.

Miami downtown is becoming more than just a business destination.

People are returning to the area for more than jobs. If I still lived in my Coral Gables apartment, I could quickly hop into the 25-mile dual track monorail system that speeds thousands into the downtown business, museum, and educational sites.

Miami Downtown has transportation that few American cities offer.

With the fast Metrorail taking people from Miami International to downtown, few cities in the world can match this setup. There is a Loop Route and Miami is working on a monorail to Miami Beach.

Historic Flagler Street with its older buildings is being rebuilt as a festival street.  It may not be the Freemont Street Experience of Las Vegas, but who knows for a lot of investment is being spent.

Flagler Avenue is being redesigned for festivals and concerts.

Downtown Miami seems to be growing bigger and better. Just north of downtown is the hipster WYNWOOD ARTS DISTRICT with galleries and restaurants in the wildest of building colors.

Wynwood Arts District is what the Grove was in the early 1960s

And north of there is the booming MIAMI DESIGN (and Garment) DISTRICT, 18 square blocks of high fashion boutiques like Prada, Celine, and Balenciaga, mixed in with untypical art studios, public art parks, and upscale restaurants.

The Miami Design District is 18 square blocks of arty fun.

The Miami Film Festival moved from the beach to downtown, quite logical since Miami’s FILM GATE located in the Downtown Media Center is a headquarters for so many Indie Film production groups.

What is really mind-blowing is all the monstrous projects going up in downtown Miami.  With its tropical climate, nearby beaches, and international investment, this development is getting more of a Dubai look than a Northern American city.

The Marriott is just part of the Miami World Center.

Smack in the heart of the Central Business District is the MIAMI WORLD CENTER with 27 acres between the waterfront American Airlines Arena (Miami Heat) and the Miami Central Station (from the Airport.)  

Miami’s view of a rooftop pool is not the average image of rooftop condo pools.

It has three hotels: citizen M, Legacy Tower, and a Marriott Marquis hotel with 1700 rooms and a 600,000 square foot convention area.  The Legacy is a hotel and a giant condo.

If one thinks the 52-story Miami World Tower will impact the already tall skyline, nearby going up is the WALDORF-ASTORIA MIAMI hotel-condominium skyscraper. 

Count the cubes at the 1000+ Miami Waldof Astoria

At 1,049 feet in height and over 100 floors, it will be a photographer’s dream with its highly controversial Cuba shape.   You can get a 516-square foot studio in Cube 4 for $656,000, or perhaps a four-bedroom, 3256 square foot unit in Cube 6 for 4.9 million dollars.  All the four bedrooms are at least above the 60th floor of excellent views.

The Legacy Tower has a high rise view of the Atlantic.

With all these attractions and activities, some visitors to Miami might not even get out to the beach.

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The Dumbest Things People Say About Hurricanes

While September has been the worst big hurricane season, we can get one here in Florida in early July.

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The Dumbest Things People Say About Hurricanes

Well, hurricane season came early this year to Florida.  As I sit in my home office gathering information to see how close Elsa comes to Tampa Bay, I have a lot of images of past storms flash into my mind.   If it goes past on the Gulf side, Tampa Bay will get up to 4-feet of storm surge; fortunately, I live at 12-feet in the middle of the Interbay Peninsula.

Hurricanes remind long-time Floridians like me of all the dumb things you have been told about hurricanes.  Here are some of the dumbest statements I can remember.

“I don’t plan to leave my oceanside condo for I live on the twenty-second floor.”

I suggest you take a close look at photographs of condos after a huge hurricane. As many upper floor windows are gone as lower floors.  The winds are higher as you ascend. Your “vertical evacuation” is a bad strategy and I hope you don’t mind going without an elevator.

Count the broken windows – up and down.

“I don’t worry about storm surge for I don’t live near the ocean.”

Thanks to modern weather forecasting, while property damage on Florida islands can be huge, most people evaluate and are saved. But quite often there are more casualties from a hurricane due to flooding from rivers, lakes, and being in low-lying areas. 

People who live fifty miles from the ocean in Florida die from hurricanes!

“Hey, I’m a Florida snowbird and I’m not here in the summer months. Got my metal storm windows up at my house so I don’t fear hurricanes.”

Sounds great but police will tell you that it tells every burglar you are LONG GONE, and every fireman will tell you it is horrendous if your house ever caught fire.

“I always leave a window slightly open.”

This does not equalize air pressure and it can let in driving rain.  This is one of the world’s oldest unscientific statements. 

But does it not save your home from tornadoes?   Even this has been proven to be incorrect – studies have showed it not only doesn’t help, but tornadoes will sometimes use the opening to blow in and even explode your house upward in a draft.

“I like to go out into the eye of a storm and take great photographs and movies.”

This might seem logical, but it is really a good move only for the Weather Channel people.  As a teen, I went out with a friend in the eye of a hurricane in Brant Rock, Massachusetts.  It was wonderfully calm, until a TV antenna slide off a roof and hit my friend in the face.

“I have bought National Flood Insurance for years, so I do not worry about hurricanes.”

I bet every private home insurance guy carries around a bunch of brochures about NFI.  Know why?  It only covers $250,000 for your home and $100,000 for personal property.

Why I will never buy a houseboat.

“When the storm approaches, I always fill my tubs and sinks with water to drink.”

I am assuming you still have electricity to heat that water on the stove.  That is good for one cold bath or washing the dishes once.

“If a storm is getting near, I always tape up my windows.”

Another classic hurricane statement.  I wonder if people believe this turns their windows into automobile windshield shatterproof strength. A hurricane, however, can throw a tree at 90 m.p.h. into your window and only metal shutters and maybe 5/8 inch plywood would slow the missile.

Sealed tight but a burglar may still bite.

I have my mobile home tied down so I’m safe.”

If a house screwed down into the concrete foundation can be destroyed, your mobile home can not be safely grounded in a big hurricane.  You might as well use Gorilla Glue on your mobile.

HERE IS MY FAVORITE.  “I don’t live near the coast, so maybe I will see one hurricane every ten years.”

Look at this map and you will see that some homes in Polk County alongside US27 saw three hurricanes sweep across their yards in the SAME year!  On one side of the road, the trees are bent eastward, but on  the other side of the road, the trees are bent the other way.

Three hurricanes visit the same street from different directions in SAME year.

RESULT: I do not trust hurricanes whether you give them a male or female name.

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Florida’s Best Beach Campgrounds and Recreational Stops

Florida is warming up with the Spring and late Spring months great times for camping and RVing if you have the equipment, but even if you do not, full facility State Parks have kayaks and canoes, nature trails, and some of Florida’s best beaches.

The water may still be a little cold, certainly for Floridians.  The further south you go the water gets warmer.  Fernandina Beach near the Georgia border is today a chilly 58.2 F, but it will be 67.8 by mid-April and 74.1 F by May.  Key Largo in the Keys is 76.7 F now in March.  The Gulf is always warmer as an enclosed smaller body of water: Panama City is 64.3 F right now, so you won’t see the college spring breakers in the water for long, but it becomes 75.4 F by May first. Sanibel (Ft Myers) is a nice 72 F.

Here are my favorite Florida beaches with RV and campground facilities:

Reservations at State Parks are made via Reserve America (800-326-3521) and all these parks have great websites with maps and photographs and information.

FORT CLINCH STATE PARK CAMPGROUND on Amelia Island is neat for seniors and couples due to all the B&Bs and sites in historic Fernandina Beach.  The park houses a huge Civil War fortification with tours with bike and kayak trails on the protected island side.

Fort Clinch just tops a beachside park near a wonderful town to explore.

JONATHAN DICKINSON STATE PARK on the Atlantic has perhaps the most diverse facilities for families.  It is a short drive to some of Florida’s best surfing beaches, but the park on the Loxahatchee River is the largest in Southeast Florida with 16 natural communities to explore. There are 8.7 miles of bike trails, even 9 miles of mountain bike routes.

Huge Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers the greatest diversity of activities in Florida.

There is swimming on the river, but the place is best for kayaks and canoes or a tour on the Loxahatchee Queen pontoon boat. You can even bring a horse ride with its 8 miles of horseback trails.

BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK is the best full-service campground and beach in the Florida Keys, and it is mid-way to Key West.  It has beaches on both the Atlantic and Bay sides, snorkeling tours to Looe Key Sanctuary, and tons of opportunities for kayaks and boats.

It is difficult to break the facilities and location of Bahia Honda.

FORT DeSOTO COUNTY PARK (727-582-2267) south of St. Petersburg has all the facilities of a state park and maybe even more.  The complex contains four islands with large Mullet Key housing a Spanish-American War fortress and museum and a beach, once selected “Best in the USA.”

The massive size of Fort DeSoto offsets the huge weekend crowds.

The waterside campgrounds have all the facilities of any center in Florida.  With two fishing piers, a dog park and beach, food services, and rental boats, it is not a shock to see how popular Fort DeSoto Park is with the residents of Tampa Bay, as urban beaches lack enough parking and space.

ANASTASIA STATE PARK, on Saint Augustine Beach, has 1,600 acres of prime real estate.  Minutes from the historic Ancient City, the park has good beaches and a backyard of wonderful nature trails.

Minutes from historic Saint Augustine is another world for campers.

While the Atlantic Ocean may have its surfing, swimming, and shore fishing, the marsh side of this park is for nature hikes, bird watching, and boating.

ST. GEORGE ISLAND STATE PARK and ST. JOSEPH PENINSULA STATE PARK in the middle of the Panhandle makes an interesting combo. St George State Park is located on one-half of St. George Island and has beachside campground facilities with some nearby restaurants and stores.

There is a reason the Panhandle elite have places on St. George Island

The park on St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is for people who want isolation and a huge white sand peninsula that looks like Cape Cod in reverse.  You come here to fish and swim with few people within sight.

While campground now reopened, St. Joseph State Park is a natural wonder.

SADLY, THE CAMPGROUND at St. Joseph IS CLOSED since repairs from Hurricane Michel are not completed. The bayside is a wonderful haven for birds and the Marine Hammock Nature Trail.  You can stay at one park and make an exploration at the other.

NOTE: There are several incredible State Parks with beautiful beaches, good parking and recreational services but NO CAMPGROUND. One of these is Lovers Key State Park west of Fort Myers.  What a sight for a campground, but maybe not enough room when all the Floridians.  Yet the water today  at Lovers Key is 73 F.

#Florida #stateparks #beaches

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When growing up in Massachusetts, my family had a summer rooming-house in a fishing village.  Next door was the town toy and gift shop run by a lady named Mrs. Gassett. I got a job as a kid of putting out the windmills, toy sailboats, and beach goods on the store front porch.

Besides having the most popular store for kids, the other thing, Mrs. Gassett did was paint landscapes, but not of New England, but her winter home in Mount Dora, Florida.  Her paintings looked like a New England village on a hill, but there were palm trees on the waterfront.  Other paintings showed what looked like a seaside New England Victorian inn but with more palm trees.

It was a real shock when my family moved to Florida and I discovered that the town Mrs. Gassett loved so much was fifty miles from the Atlantic.  When I finally visited Mount Dora, I had another shock – a 35-foot New England style red and white lighthouse graced Grantham Point at Gilbert Park on Lake Dora.

The Mount Dora Lighthouse is a real lighthouse on a freshwater lake.

In case you think the lighthouse is just a decoration: you are wrong.  The lighthouse has a 750-watt photocell that uses a blue pulsator that helps guide boaters to the town docks. Boat tours around some of Lake County’s 1200 named lakes begin lakeside at the historic LAKESIDE INN, which started in the 1880s. The town with hilly roads has a New England charm that has attracted people like Mrs. Gassett.

One thing I hope to return is the Royal Palm Railway that took visitors on a 75-minute tour to and from the neighboring town of Tavares.  That might not be operating, but the railroad depot is a historic site.

The town and the lake are named for Ms. Dora Ann Drawdy, a Georgian who homesteaded in the 1840s and convinced other Southerners to come to farm and grow citrus. The arrival of the railroad brought the first Northerners, who found the lakes and the 184-foot plateau where Mount Dora is situated a great winter location. 


Why do people pour into Mount Dora not just in the winter, but on weekends all year? The hilly town of 15,000 is loaded with shops, particularly antiques and art galleries, fun restaurants, historic buildings, and interesting lake and town events. 

The people are proud of Mount Dora and like to point things out to you.  Some people were so friendly in 1981 that they agreed to temporarily paint their buildings and homes an ugly pink for a stupid movie “Honky Tonk Freeway.”

Mount Dora is the favorite spot for antique dealers in the winter months.

A star attraction is the 117-acre Renninger’s Vintage Antique Center and Farmers Market outside town on US 441. While it operates all-year on weekends, in the winter months, hundreds of dealers from the North bring antiques here and there are big, promoted shows, where you can buy anything from classic cars to antique guitars.  Downtown has many antique shops such as the 60-vendor Village Antiques Mall at 405 North Highland Street.

In case you think the Mt. Dora shops only sell used, vintage stuff, you should visit the Modernism Museum Shoppe at 144 East 4th Avenue.  The three block-by-three block hilly downtown has dozens of gift shops, two pet boutiques, five large art galleries, and an abundance of historic buildings, museums, and unique public buildings.


Downtown Mount Dora packs twenty-five restaurants into the district, but be warned: the town has been called “The Festive City.”   I have only visited on weekends and every-time there was a car show or an art show going on and the streets were packed.

People will drive for miles to reach The Goblin Market

There are two food spots I always want to visit. The Goblin Market might look like a huge multi-storied old house until you discover every room up to the attic has been converted to book-lined dining areas and lounges. This is an expensive restaurant, but people drive from Orlando twenty-five miles away to dine here.  Try the whiskey onion soup. (352-735-0059) 330 Dora Drawdy Way

Looking at all those antiques makes me want to have a cup of afternoon tea.

All those antiques make me want to have tea and scones at the Windsor Rose Tea Room and Restaurant (352-735-2551) at 142 West 4th Avenue.  If you want something a little more male-like, you will enjoy the highly rated Magical Meat Boutique (352-729-6911) at 322 North Alexander, a British gastro-pub and bar open from 8 am to midnight.


While there are your standard motel chains out by the highway, the heart of Mount Dora is quite unique.  Besides the Lakeside Inn (352-3834101) at 100 North Alexander Street, started in 1882 and now a large complex with restaurant, Mount Dora has an incredible eleven bed-and-breakfast spots.  It is a B&B paradise for people who love comfy accommodations and friendly hosts. Tripadvisor gives you a good pictural look at the major ones.

The Victorian Lakeside Inn is a proud local landmark.


It is not surprising that one of the main activities in Lake County is taking a boat tour and if you want to speed along in a two-seater, contact CatBoat Adventure Tours (352-322-1442), located at the downtown Boating Center. Their two-hour tours zip thru the Mount Doral Canal into the Harris Chain of Lakes, where you will see mansions and gator swamps.  This firm also does Segway tours around the town.

Cruising into the Mount Doral Canal to other lakes.

For people who prefer letting someone else cruise the lakes, there is Premier Boat Tours (352-434-8040) waterside at Lakeside Inn. Their boats are covered pontoon boats that can handle weather issues.

A boat tour can be relaxing after a day of shopping downtown.

Inside or outside, Mount Dora is a great place to visit or stay.

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With Walt Disney World operating at a limited capacity and some restaurants and resort not open, it might seem premature to write an article on this topic, but I suspect that as Disney slowly opens options in 2021, more people will look into Disney because this was going to be the “great 50th anniversary year of the park.

Here is my evaluation. Right now, WDW is best suited for locals, annual passholders, and frequent visitors who already know what they want to do and see. That would describe my family.  Considering the high costs, WDW in 2021 is a poor choice for families with small kids since there are few character meets or meals, strict rules on masks and lines, and even disciplined ways to eat and drink.

Magic Kingdom Fireworks at Bay Lake Tower & Contemporary Resort

Disney without kids and less people might NOT be such a bad vacation trip or place for romantic celebrations.  Disney is still not an inexpensive holiday spot.  Still, here are my choices for romantic WDW for this year’s options and years to come:

WHERE TO STAY:  To no one’s shock, the opening of WDW resorts favored villas and upscale resorts, and not value hotels. Since this article is for 2021 travelers, we are including reopening dates.

WILDERNESS LODGE (June 6) and open now COPPER CREEK VILLAS & CABINS, BOULDER RIDGE VILLAS.  Just a neat boat ride from Magic Kingdom, the Wilderness Lodge has lakeside cabins and lakeview villas. I give high marks for the romantic lakeside Geyser Point Bar & Grill and have breakfast/lunch fun at Whispering Canyon.  You feel you at in the Pacific Northwest with all the forests and natural Bay Lake.

Cabins and villas at Wilderness Lodge are lakeside

JAMBA HOUSE & ANIMAL KINGDOM VILLAGES at Kidani Village – the Lodge is closed and with it Boma and Jiko, but if you have an automobile, this is the place to get away to Africa. The animals await at the windows of Sanaa restaurant and the Uzuma Springa Pool Bar is a plus as is two good lounges.

At a window at Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge, you get exotic food critics.

CONTEMPORARY RESORT and ultra-expensive BAY LAKE TOWER VILLAS is for urbanites with its monorail to Magic Kingdom and Epcot, plus classic top-floor CARIBBEAN GRILL and quality THE WAVE and its Lounge.

Bay Lake Tower gets a two lake ultra-view.

YACHT CLUB, BEACH CLUB (May 30) and BEACH CLUB VILLAS lost points for unopened Yachtsman Steakhouse & Cape May Café, but win points with its boat-ride to Epcot and boat-ride or gondola to Disney Studios.  Location to the best parks and best pool are strong points.

GRAND FLORIDIAN and VILLAS are just very expensive and sneak onto this list for having good lounges, facilities, the monorail, and NARCOOSSEE’S, a romantic restaurant.

Narcoocssees is the Grand Floridian’s waterfront seafood star.

It is hard to spend less money in Disney’s moderate and value resorts and still carve out a romantic atmosphere. CARIBBEAN RESORT has the gondola to Disney Studios and Epcot, but the table restaurant was closed.  So I look into these non-Disney but inside WDW choices:

DOLPHIN and SWAN RESORTS are Marriott resorts so you can use your hotel points, and with less conventions, they need lots of visitors. They have some low rates. These hotels are in the middle of WDW with boats to Epcot and Disney Studios, and facilities like a quality spa, several pools, lots of bars, and 17 restaurants, including such good romantic spots as Kimonos, Todd English’s Blue Zoo, and El Mulino.

Todd English Blue Zoo bar is really in the blue (Dolphin Resort).

WARDOLF ASTORIA BONNET CREEK with its attached HILTON is perfect if you come by automobile and want a golf course outside your door, two of Orlando’s Top Five restaurants, a lazy river, and the use of two resorts (like the Dolphin/Swan) to explore.  Bonnet Creek is actually “inside Disney property”, but not owned by Disney.

* * * *

ROMANTIC PARK DINING: Although not all restaurants have yet reopened, Epcot had always been “the adult’s park”

EPCOT easily wins here as it is the “adult-park.”  Try to get a window-side table at Hacienda de San Engel or a hideaway corner at Le Cellier or Tutto Italia.

MAGIC KINGDOM has always been a fast-food wasteland. Overpriced Be Our Guest is nice for dinner and if you are somewhat daring, look into the menu at Jungle Navigation Skipper Canteen.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS is best with a corner table at the Hollywood Brown Derby, but you will have great fun at the food spots at Star Wars Galaxy Edge.

Find a quiet corner table & pretend you are a movie star at the Brown Derby.

ANIMAL KINGDOM has only Tiffins for romantic dining, but you should enjoy an other world trip to Pandora’s Satuli Canteen.

Eating on the another planet at the Satu’li Canteen in Pandora, Animal Kingdom.

DISNEY SPRINGS is not a park, but WDW’s food and nightlife plus shopping spectacular is here and since these are not Disney restaurants, most are open. Beautiful Marimoto Asia, Jalio, and STK Steakhouse are logical choices, but look at the DRINK and ENTERTAINMENT choices.

The Boathouse dock is a great place to eat and watch the automobiles (?) drive by.

* * * *

Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs is not your typical local Chinese restaurant.

ROMANTIC DRINKS & ENTERTAINMENT:  Since most the clubs at Disney’s Boardwalk complex are not open, Disney Springs is the place to go particularly if you eat there. Raglan Road was nightly music and dancers and all those massive bars imported from Eire.  The Edison is the only spot resembling a nightclub with no less than seven food and drink areas.   The bar out of the dock at the vast Boardwalk restaurant has a good menu of food and drink.    Enzio’s Hideaway is a speakeasy in an underground location – certainly atmospheric.

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The Forgotten Weekend Florida Vacation Spot

When people schedule their Gulf Coast Florida vacations, very few consider Punta Gorda as a town to stop.  The nearest beach is over thirty-minutes away.  There are no famous historical landmarks.  But they may be making a mistake.

PUNTA GORDA, county seat for Charlotte County, sits at the mouth of the Peace River and at the start of massive Charlotte Harbor.  Conveniently located just off I-75 and US41, the town is usually identified for its fishing and boating, not its restaurants and hotels, wilderness tours and entertainment.

In 2004 Hurricane Charley rammed downtown with 145-mph winds, destroying the old hotels and causing a redevelopment of the area.  The beautiful waterfront Victorian houses survived the storm, some of them turning into neat restaurants.

The Charlotte Convention Center, where my parents put on shows, is now surrounded by three new highly rated hotels: Four Points Harborside (941-637-6770);Wyvern Punta Gorda (941-639-7700); and Spring Hill Suites Harborside (941-347-4224).  Seafood restaurants and tiki bars stand by the marinas, and until the Co-Vin hit, downtown has so many cute bars and taverns, the Chamber held a walk-run bar hop every night.

The new Punta Gorda resorts have waterfront facilities.

Along the waterfront is large Gilchrist Park, named after the early pioneer Albert Gilchrist who rose to become Governor of Florida.  Further west, you can not miss FISHERMAN’S VILLAGE, extending out into Charlotte Harbor with restaurants, shops, rental suites, and a huge marina.  Just before the Village entrance at 900 Marion is the 17,000 square foot MILITARY HERITAGE MUSEUM.

Fisherman’s Villages has shops, restaurants, suites, and tour boats.

At the Village is located KING FISHER FLEET (941-639-0959), which operates fishing charters, boat tours to the islands of Charlotte Harbor, and sunset cruises. If you would like to tour up the Peace River, WILDERNESS BOAT TOURS (317-997-4639) on Nesbit Street by the waterfront Laishley Crab House.  Once you leave town, the river’s natural attractions appear.

If you drive west from the Village you will enter the upscale Punta Gorda Isles development which contains PONCE DE LEON HISTORIC PARK, a tribute to the Florida explorer’s 1521 visit to the area.  No one really knows the exact spot in Southwest Florida where de Leon met his fate by a poisoned Calusa arrow.

With the river and Charlotte Harbor, boating rules in this town.

Punta Gorda is so nicely compact that every block seems to have an interesting building. Walk along Retta Esplanade and Gilchrist Park toward Fisherman’s Village and you will pass a row of beautiful Victorian houses built in the 1890’s by the town leaders, many converted in recent times into quality restaurants, which make good use of large verandas, courtyards, and water views.

The compactness of Punta Gorda helps its night activities.

Turn inland and the commercial district is filled with 1920s structures. The 1923 COUNTY COURTHOUSE, the 1927 WOMENS CLUB, and more.  Punta Gorda is one of those towns that has covered most of its downtown empty walls with impressive murals that tell the story of the town.  These murals are a photographic op for most visitors and provide a unification to the area. 

Beautiful murals boost the facade of older shops.

Small restaurants, bars, and shops have filled up most of the older buildings. Across from the historic 1926 SMITH ARCADE is the transplanted 1886 shed-like ISAAC TRABUE COTTAGE, home of the farmer-fisherman who started the town. He=is desire to have the town named after him failed, but at least his house was moved into a more prominent spot.

There is more to see and do in Punta Gorda. Besides several historic parks outside downtown, south on US41 is the MUSCLE CAR CITY MUSEUM, a collection of over 200 of the most famous and collectible vehicles in US auto history.

For those who prefer the nature, most of Eastern Charlotte County is the 67 million acres of the BABCOCK RANCH PRESERVE (800-500-5583). This is not just a functioning ranch with cattle, it is a great sport to hike and hunt (in season) and fish and take a long tour into the wilderness.  This vast landscape is home to boars, black bear, bobcats, panthers, and herds of deer.

Babcock is not an amusement park tour.

And if you prefer animals of an African or Asian kind, off FL31 and the Babcock area is the OCTAGON WILDLIFE SANCTUARY (239-543-1130), one of the Florida’s most respected refuges for unwanted big cats and other creatures.

The front door sign tells you about some of the residents.

That looks like a place worthy of a visit. Punta Gorda will be just one of many places in my Driving Tours of the Florida West Coast paperback to be released later this year.

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