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

Favorite Florida Food Facts 2020 Style

via Favorite Florida Food Facts 2020 Style

Quote | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Favorite Florida Food Facts 2020 Style

One of the important Florida economic institutions that are in limbo during this Coronavirus Pandemic is the restaurant industry.

While you can pick up and have delivery of most comfort foods from the large restaurant chains, the stand-alone family restaurants that are most famous for unique Florida favorites are often closed.  So I thought it might be time to honor Florida food so much we appreciate it when it is unavailable.

What foods and drinks remind you of Florida?

ORANGE JUICE is more than Florida’s official beverage.  The Spanish brought it to Florida in the 1500s although commercial production did not boom until railroads in the 1870s could ship oranges to the North.

FLORIDATRAVELER food box-of-oranges-postcard

90% of Florida’s oranges are grown for juice while California specializes in the hard skin oranges.  One of the reasons for this was World War II and the development of frozen concentrated orange juice by a one-time high school science teacher and football coach Cedric Donald Atkins.

KEY LIME PIE is usually an untruth.  After several freezes and a plague very few real key lime trees exist.  This is probably why Floridians state that key lime pies taste best in the Florida Keys where the real limes exist.


Those large green limes are really Persian limes and even more horribly supermarkets are filled with bitter Mexican green limes. The tiny, seedy, yellowish real Key Limes are rare and prized by tree owners who hide them from neighbors.

FLORIDA STONE CRABS are famous around the world and the last time I looked at Joe’s Stone Crabs on Miami Beach had delivery and take out.

FLORIDARAVELER food Joes Stone Crabs

This is the second most profitable family restaurant in the USA, taking in $37,243,159 in the trade or an average check of $80.

APALACHICOLA OYSTERS are struggling to survive due to pollution coming down the Apalachicola River from Alabama and Georgia. The industry is developing new hatcheries and methods and my wife and I support the industry.

Do you know that an oyster will actually clean 50 to 75 gallons of water every day? 

CUBAN SANDWICH is not like Havana imports like Fritas, Cafeato, and Mojito.  The Cuban sandwich was invented in Tampa’s Ybor City in 1915, and actually reflects Cigar City’s “mixto” heritage. Notice the Genoa salami, Italian pork, Spanish ham, and the German mustard.


I oppose those Cuban restaurants that are using mayonnaise and other foreign ingredients.  At least you can still take out Cubans in Florida.

GROUPER SANDWICHES are the food of choice if you are taking in the beach volleyball courts or piers anywhere along the Florida Gulf Coast.  Unfortunately, my excursions to Frenchy’s will have to wait until the virus is quelled.

FLORIDATRAVELER food -Grouper-Sandwich

Some people like the grouper blackened and that is OK.  Mahi-mahi, once called dolphin or dolphinfish, is the second choice.  While on the topic those weird creatures on Disney’s Dolphin Resort are the fish and not the mammal-like Flipper or Winter.

SMOKED MULLET is probably an acquired taste and most people find it extra work to scrape the meat off the fish bones.  It is a distinctive Florida experience.

GATOR BITES might not replace Chicken Nuggets, but I’ll challenge people to go blindfolded and see if they can taste the difference. Half of my friend Northern transplants couldn’t tell the difference.


With 1.5 million gators sharing Florida’s real estate, I wish more people would try our big reptiles.

FLORIDA SPINEY LOBSTERS are the same as the Bahamian variety, often called in Nassau crayfish.  For scuba divers, it is one of the most popular sports with a July two day season and an eight-month August to March season.  Don’t ask me to explain these rules.  I do know that you can catch six more lobsters in the Gulf than in the over-fished Florida Keys and Miami areas.


COMMERCIAL FOODS:  I guess I should furnish this food excursion with a few man-made examples.  A few blocks down the street from my home on Henderson Boulevard is the first Outback Steakhouse. You mention what food icon came from here and you will be shocked to know how many people will say: “Blooming Onion.”


Tim Gannon, one of Outback’s founders, got the idea from a New Orleans restaurant back in 1988.  He turned it into a full family appetizer for a few individuals who will tackle a full one.  In the last three years, over 40 million Blooming Onions have been consumed, making it to my Florida Food List.





Posted in florida history | Leave a comment

Florida Might Be Closed, But I Am Back and Open

floridatraveler manatees crystal river west indian manateesI have returned at a strange time.  Most of Florida’s attractions and resorts are closed so to fully benefit from my articles you might have to wait until that sunny day when things return to normalcy.

Still, if you enjoy living in Florida, visiting Florida, or seeing Florida, this blog will have a lot of entertaining as well as educational features.

Since my last blog, I have added the title “Emeritus” to my career as a historian and traveler.   Since all of my four classes are now online and we are prisoners to our homes, I am really tied down to my desk. Therefore, you will find more frequent and diverse information at this site.

I am mainly a “Florida specialist” and this blog will contain excerpts and even chapters from my books and materials past and present. This year I will be publishing an Insiders Guide to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios which will contain lots of material that will both save you money and time at Florida’s biggest attractions, but also reveals insights to make your vacation better.

Thanks to the wonder of ebooks and quicker self-publishing options, I will put out a Guide to Florida Extreme Sports and Adventures as well as new editions of some of my travel books produced for tour groups, but now designed for Florida travelers.

If there are Florida topics you would like me to include in this blog, please email me at


Posted in florida history | Leave a comment

Florida’s Little Rivers Pack A Tourist Punch

Florida has 11,000 miles of rivers and most Floridians will remember that the 310-mile St. Johns River flows very slowly northward just a few miles from the Atlantic before reaching the ocean. People recognize the Suwannee River, with its 206 miles in Florida and 32 miles in Georgia from a song written by a man who never visited Florida..

Yet many of Florida’s smallest rivers provide locals and visitors the most recreational fun. I am not going to include the many springs that flow just a few hundred yards into a major stream. These are my “favorite little Florida rivers.”

The Braden River is a 21-mile (34 km) waterway and the largest tributary of the Manatee River. The lower river is navigable by canoe and kayak and despite its almost urban location, the river is home to abundant wildlife.

FLORIDATRAVELER linger lodge pier

At the Linger Lodge

Linger Lodge is a place to rent boats, park your RV, and eat old Florida style in a place that Forbes Magazine called one of the most unique dining spots in the nation. Some would call the rustic location and menu of gators, frog legs, and local seafood a little weird. The food is great, but service depends of how busy they get. I don’t fish or camp, but I vouch it is a neat place for nature photography.

Over in urban Palm Beach County the 17 mile Loxahatchee River a great place to fish, canoe, kayak, and enjoy natural Florida. The North Fork goes to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, my choice as the best all-around Florida facility.


This is near Palm Beach?

You can not only rent canoes and kayaks, you can hike up Hobe Mountain. This park is the largest in Southeast Florida and has cabins, RV sites, horseback riding, mountain bike trails, and primitive camping. And just across A1A is the Atlantic with swimming, surfing, and boating.

The Estero River is just six miles long but it makes an exciting trip location. Enter Koreshan State Park to see the many surviving buildings of a 19th century utopian community who believed people lived inside the globe.

FLORIDATRAVELER Koreshan_SHS_planetary_court02

The Planetarium at Koreshan Utopian Community

Besides the usual camping and hiking facilities, experienced paddlers will want to go charter down the river to Estero Bay to Mound Key, site of the largest Calusa Indian village, the one that Ponce de Leon probably saw on his second voyage.

Up by Saint Augustine is Pellicer Creek, an eleven-mile coastal river and one of the favorite state designated canoe trail. The best place to get a canoe or kayak is at Faver-Dykes State Park.

FLORIDATRAVELER faver dykes st pk

The creek is just two to six feet deep and it is a lovely route, where the sighting of bald eagles and river otters are a regular observation.

Most everyone in Florida knows that the place to canoe or snorkel next to manatees is the very clear Crystal River, a seven-mile excursion into the Gulf of Mexico. It is best to have an experienced guide to paddle into the complex of mangroves and that form the wide ocean delta.

FLORIDATRAVELER at crystal river

A resident of Crystal River and Kings Bay

The town of Crystal River has several waterside motels and restaurants with the Plantation Inn the largest and most famous. The resort has a 27-hole championship golf course and four on site restaurants. This means some family members can be swimming with manatees in the spring while others fish or golf.

The eight-mile Homosassa River is just twenty miles to the south on US19 and there is the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park with its underwater observatory where you can watch both freshwater and saltwater fishes. There will be manatees here also as well as a boat tour along this tropical river.

FLORIDATRAVELER Homosassa_Springs_State_Park_underwater observatory_obs01

The Underwater Observatory at Homosassa Springs

If you like a little history you might like the eleven-mile Wakulla River, which starts at the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, where they filmed the Creature of the Black Lagoon. The inn here is the largest such property on any Florida park.


Traffic on the Wakulla River

The Wakulla flows into the St. Marks River three miles north of the Gulf of Mexico where St. Marks Lighthouse is the landmark. Up the St. Marks is San Marcos de Aplachee State Park where old Spanish and Confederate fortifications can be found.

Posted in florida history | Leave a comment

Key West Is Still Florida’s Literary Treasure

After reading Jack L. Roberts’ The Writers Compound, a book about four Key West writers, I became curious how many National Register Literary Landmarks were in Florida and I discovered that 33% of Florida’s sites are found in one town – key West.
The island city is still Florida’s best place to visit if you are a writer or a lover of books.

I do suggest that there are places which you should visit elsewhere, such as: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek country house surrounded by the living pages of her books The Yearling and Cross Creek; Zora Neale Hurston’s Eatonville; and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ cottage in South Coconut Grove in Miami.

FLORIDATRAVELER marjoe s douglas cottage

The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Cottage

But Key West became the winter refuge for writers and poets and dramatists after Ernest Hemingway set up shop in 1931. Back then in the Depression the rundown Conch City was a funky, inexpensive, social community that tended to accept the unusual and the non-conformist.

FLORIDATRAVELER hemingway house3Heck – when Florida seceded from the Union, Key West seceded from the Confederacy!

The Hemingway House Captures The Writer

FLORIDATRAVELER hemingway writing room

Ernest Hemingway’s Home and Museum at 907 Whitehead House attracts thousands of writers and readers every year. The town even has an annual Ernest Hemingway lookalike contest. Hemingway did not write any of his best novels here, but the beauty of this place is you see his workplace, his pool, his bathroom, his kitchen.
His bed always has a sleeping cat or two. In fact, visitors spend a lot of time looking for cats with deformed toes. This is one tourist spot where stray animals find a welcomed home.

FLORIDATRAVELER t williams 1431 duncan

The Tennessee Williams Cottage

Hemingway attracted many to Key West but none but important than Tennessee Williams who finished Streetcar and other plays here. His cottage is at 1431 Duncan Street and there is a Tennessee Williams museum at 513 Truman Avenue. Fanatics claim you can stay at his hotel room at the La Concha Hotel at 430 Duval Street.
It is not a shock that the local theater named after him often has a Tennessee Williams play. It may be more of a surprise Williams was baptized as a Catholic at St. Marys Church.

FLORIDATRAVELERS 721 windsor at writers compound

The Windsor Lane Compound has 11 cottages

There are actually many cottages and shanties that have recruited writers and artists over the years, but the Windsor Lane Compound, a complex of some eleven little cottages is the most famous. John Hersey’s cottage is here as are places where Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man), poet John Wilbur, and writer John Ciardi were neighbors.

Poetry lovers will want to see Robert Frost’s winter cottage at 410 Caroline Street. It’s behind what was once the Heritage House museum. Now private property – I heard you could possibly rent the Frost place for your own literary vacation.


I found this on Tripadvisor

624 White Street was the home of poet Elizabeth Bishop when she wasn’t roaming the globe. While people will track down all of Hemingway’s drinking spots, you might want to visit the Key West Public Library where some modern writers hang out.

I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you to visit the 1890 San Carlos Institute at 516 Duval Street. It is here at the center of Key West’s Cuban Revolution against Spain that poet and revolutionary leader Jose Marti made many visits. Inside there is a wonderful Marti statue by Manuel Carbonell.

FLORIDATRAVELER isc_marti_white_rose

Jimmy Buffett may have left the scene to build huge resorts but don’t be surprised to see a writer like Judy Blume going to the local grocery.

#florida  #writers  #keywest

Posted in florida history | Leave a comment

In Search of Florida’s Conquistadors

The story of European Florida begins with the two voyages of Ponce de Leon to the peninsula of Florida, but despite good records by the explorer, the location of his first landing on the East Coast of Florida can not be verified.

My geography professor at the University of South Florida – Dr. Robert H. Fuson – used the logs of Ponce de Leon’s and placed the explorer’s landing closer to Cape Canaveral than Saint Augustine.  Early records and detailed history books reveal that most Americans have a totally mythical image of Ponce de Leon.

  • Ponce de Leon did not discover Florida – there are two detailed maps showing Florida as a large peninsula (or possibly an island). As former Governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce knew of the maps and the fact Cuban slavers went there to capture natives for Cuban plantations.

FLORIDATRAVELER portrait-of-juan-ponce-de-leon

  • Ponce was not looking for a Fountain of Youth – he was in fine health and only on his way back did he send a few men to the island of Bimini, where some thought there was a magical spring. His boss King Fernandina did believe in the legendary waters.
  • Ponce wasn’t interested in gold – he had a successful plantation and a lovely family, but had been ousted as Governor when the Spanish High Court ruled that Diego Columbus owned all islands his father had explored. Ponce wanted to regain the family honor and status.

FLORIDATRAVELER Ponce de Leon park punta gorda

Ponce de Leon’s unsuccessful attempt to set up a colony on the Gulf Coast is honored at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda Isles.  In truth, no one knows the exact location of his landing.

A more interesting excursion would be to visit the Calusa Heritage Trail (Randell Research Center) on Pine Island to see the miles of canals and mounds that Ponce described in his trip.  If you have a boat or kayak, going to Mound Key Archaelogical State Park in Estero Bay is another sight noted by Ponce de Leon.

FLORIDATRAVELER Calusa trail pine island

Up the coast on the Manatee River five miles west of Bradenton is the DeSoto National Memorial, a museum and constructed village describing the 1539 arrival of the ruthless conquistador who deserted his colony to search for gold.

FLORIDATRAVELER desoto-reinactments

No one is certain exactly where DeSoto landed in the Tampa Bay area, but this 26-acre complex offers a worthy look at early Spanish colonies.  In Saint Petersburg is privately owned Jungle Prada Park, the site of a Tocobaga mound and possible location of the 1528 arrival of Panfilo de Narvaez.

FLORIDATRAVELER narvaez _Jungle_Prada

Most visitors want to see more than a few artifacts so I would like to point out two places history buffs should put on their visit list.   The Crystal River Archaeological State Park, just two miles northwest of Crystal River off US19/98, is Florida’s best early Indian site.

FLORIDATRAVELER Crystal_River_Arch_Park_TM01

There is a museum, six large burial mounds, and a temple platform which leads to a great river view.  This was the type of village that the conquistadors saw.

FLORIDATRAVELER crystal river site by leonard

While this site represents the early colonization of Spanish Florida, Mission San Luis in Tallahassee  is a wonderful reproduction of a 1633 Franciscan mission and the Anhaica capital of Apalacha Provence.  The Indian meeting place is massive.

FLORIDATRAVELER mission_san_luis_01-16_02b

We know de Soto came here for nearby is the DeSoto Historic State Park, just off US27, where actually artifacts used in his long and futile excursion into Southeast United States took place.





Posted in florida history | Leave a comment

How Safe Are Florida’s Greatest Historic Sites?

The recent destruction of much of Notre Dame in Paris brought a lot of questions from my college students since they know my long-time involvement in historic preservation.
The restoration and rebuilding of historic structures is guided by the 3-M principles: money, manpower (skilled artisans), and materials. Notre Dame will have no problem with the first M for people who have never even been to France are sending in tons of money.
Getting skilled manpower is not as easy as it seems – there are Gothic specialists still working on European cathedrals damaged or destroyed by World War II, seventy years later. Most of what was destroyed in Paris was 800 to 500-year old wood – from forests that no longer exist in Western Europe. Notre Dame purists will resist rebuilding the cathedral with steel, plastic, and California redwood.
Here in Florida our oldest man-made structure is relatively safe from serious fire, hurricanes, and other natural causes: the Castillo de San Marcos, built in 1672-1695 by Spaniard Ignacio Duza.

FLORIDATRAVELER Castillo_de_San_Marcos

With eight-foot thick walls of stone and coquina (shell and limestone), the Saint Augustine landmark is stronger than any other building in the Ancient City. I would be more concerned if a hurricane Category 5 hit the Government House (1713) or Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse (1713) in the Historic District.

FLORIDATRAVELER St_bernard_de_clairvaux_church_yard_2006

The oldest building in Florida is the monastery St. Bernard de Clairvaux in North Miami Beach. It was built of stone in 1133 outside Segovia, Spain, and illegally obtained in 1925 by William Randolph Hearst for his California complex. He lost the directions book and a Florida group finally purchased the “boxed masterpiece” in the 1950’s as a tourist attraction.

To be honest few Floridians are excited about the low-lying monastery even though it is “the oldest European-built structure in the USA.”
Fire is always a concern in Florida – with it low-lying terrain, closeness to two oceans, and huge winds. Florida is the “Lightning capital of America” and this is a fire issue to rural church steeples and tall wooden buildings.

FLORIDATRAVELER 1901 JAX FIREThe 1901 Jacksonville Fire was the third worst in US history (Chicago, San Francisco), destroying over 2,000 buildings in 146 urban blocks, and turning 9,000 homeless. A 1908 fire almost destroyed the historic Latin district of Ybor City in Tampa.

I am quite sensitive to Florida’s historic hotels and resorts which were mainly wooden structures despite the innovation of cement into the Flagler Hotel structure by Henry Flagler. Flagler was not so successful with his hotels in Palm Beach.

The Hotel Royal Poinciana built in 1905 as the nation’s largest wooden resort fell victim to the Great Depression and another Florida problem – the termite. Historic buildings in Florida, left vacant and untreated may be destroyed by bugs in Florida’s subtropical climate and heavy rains faster than buildings in other parts of the USA.

FLORIDATRAVELER Royal poinciana hotel palm beach

Flagler’s Breakers Hotel, a famous landmark today, is in fact the third hotel on the site as fires in 1903 and 1925 leveled the structure.

Floridatyraveler BREAKERS HOTEL

It is not shocking that when a older structure finds a new tenant that can restore its original condition and maintain its costly features, the building can remain the symbol of a community. That is the case with Henry Plant’s 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel, today the University of Tampa.

FLORIDATRAVELER tampa-bay-hotel-john-black

Posted in florida history | Leave a comment