Best Florida Sporting Events of Winter 2019

This is the time of time where people are looking at future calendars for vacation plans, trips around Florida, and events they want to attend.  As a sports editor, my father took paid close attention when major “must-see” events were scheduled.

With 1,000 miles of beach, 8,426 miles of shoreline, 1100 golf courses, 10 major league teams, and 15 Major League teams in Grapefruit training, there’s a lot of sports events, but I will show you a few entertainments you might want to put on your calendar.

Here is a look at Florida’s greatest 2019 Sporting Events and I threw in a few niche events that might prove attractive to readers who want a different experience.

 Normally the New Year would start off in Miami with the grand-daddy of Florida football bowls- the Orange Bowl – but this year it’s on Dec 29 as a Top 4 playoff  game between #1 Alabama vs #4 Oklahoma.  January 1 is reserved for Tampa’s Outback Bowl And Orlando’s Citrus Bowl.

floridatraveler ORANGE BOWL

#1 Alabama vs #4 Oklahoma

Football is such big business in Florida, Orlando has THREE bowls: Citrus, Cure Bowl (Dec 15), and Camping Bowl (Dec 28) while Tampa has two, adding the Gasparilla (Dec 20). On Dec 31, Jacksonville’s old Gator Bowl is now the Taxslayer Bowl.  There is even a Boca Raton Bowl (Dec 15).

What is most amusing this year is that of Florida’s local teams only South Florida (in Gasparilla Bowl) is playing on local turf.  Florida (Atlanta), UCF (Arizona), Miami (New York City) and FIU (the Bahamas) are playing away.  I hope the Hurricanes like snow.

Incredibly I was the sports editor at the Miami Hurricane student newspaper at the  University of Miami when they went to the Gotham Bowl.  I think 5,000 people showed up in the old Yankee Stadium.

floridatraveler PGA NATIONAL GOLF 

The PGA National has a lot of water and sand

Snowbird and winter golfers love the fact that the PGA and LPGA play in Florida in February and March with the PGA National at Palm Beach (Feb28), the Arnold Palmer at Punta Verde (Mar 7), and the Vaspar Innisbrook (Mar 21) in St. Petersburg.

The LPGA opens its tour in Lake Buena Vista at the Four Seasons Diamond Resorts (Jan 17) and has its Tour Championship Nov 21 in Naples.

floridatraveler MIAMI OPEN TENNIS

Tennis in a football stadium?

If you like controversy and the unusual, you might want to be in 65,000 seat Hard Rock football stadium on March 18 for the Miami Open Tennis tournament, a hard court ATP and WTA event that outgrew Crandon Park.  How they divide up and “tent” the needed courts will be something to imagine.

floridatraveler SEBRING RACING.jpg

The tiny Sebring Airport Become Car Race Special

Speaking of crowds – 150,000 will certainly show up February 17 for the 2019 Daytona 500, the first of several major races on the big track.  If you like your automobiles on a roadway, you will mark March 13 as the date of the 67th Annual Twelve Hours of Sebring.  These are social events as much as sporting events.

As an old New Englander, I know a lot of us might be interested that on February 23, the defending world champion Boston Red Sox will open 2019 Grapefruit League competition against the New York Yankees in JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.  They will be joined by 14 other Major League teams.

floridatraveler BOSTON RED SOX green-monster

The Green Monster Travels to Southwest Florida

And I hate to say this but Florida’s most gigantic family multi-day sports event is usually filled up by this time.  The Walt Disney Marathon now goes from January 9 to 13 and features numerous race events.  I thought the Dopey Challenge was a little far-out, but I see you can try to win six medals and beat the Dopey Challenge.  Sounds about right.

 

 

 

 

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Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, disney, florida history, Florida sports, florida vacations, mcbobleonard, small towns, travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Florida’s Waterside Entertainment Malls Are A Tourist Plus

A lot of Florida cities take advantage of both the climate and the location on the water of the ocean or a bay.   The creation of waterside entertainment centers give locals and visitors the option to dine, to shop, to nightclub, and to do other outdoor activities like boat tours and fishing trips.

I thought about this when I realized the former Channelside Mall in downtown Tampa by the Cruise Port was reopening this weekend as Sparkman’s Wharf.   A section of the unsuccessful complex was torn down, giving the spot a huge outdoor entertainment lawn facing the waterfront.

FLORIDATRAVELER spartman wharf plans

Completed Plans For Sparkmans Wharf

Until some upscale local restaurants are later next year opening in the main building, the attraction for the setup will be a huge biergarten, ten fancy food trucks built from shipping containers, a music court, and grounds with lawn games.  The Wharf is a few blocks from the hockey stadium, next to the Florida Aquarium, and in a area where some 5,000 people have moved into apartments and condos.

The most famous waterside center is Miami’s two-story Bayside Marketplace located near the Miami Heat stadium on Biscayne Bay.  The center has grown with some six dozen stores selling everything from clothing to sunglasses to travel tickets.

FLORIDATRAVELER Bayside_Marketplace_Waterside

There are a dozen restaurants including Hard Rock Café, Bubba Gump, Hooters, Los Ranchos, and Bavaria Haus Beerhall.  Pier 5 is lined with charter fishing vessels and tour boats that take people to see the sights of Miami Beach and the Biscayne Bay islands and the homes from AL Capone to Gloria Esteban.

Jacksonville Landing on downtown Jacksonville’s Riverwalk opened in 1987 and has averaged some 600 events each year.  The U-shaped complex has shops and restaurants like Benny’s Steak and Seafood, Hooters, Fionn MacCools, Cinco de Mayo, and a neat nightclub called Mavericks.

floridatraveler JACKSONVILLE LANDING

The Landing like the Tampa site features a River Taxi and boat docks, both important factors in recruiting more people to live downtown.  River transportation and Riverwalks shift the focus of Florida’s cities to the waterfronts which were shockingly ignored for decades in Florida’s older cities.

Over on the Gulf of Mexico in Pinellas County is John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk on Madeira Beach, just seconds from the ocean.  The docks are filled with tour boats and fishing charters and you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and jet skis.

FLORIDATRAVELER Johns-Pass

John’s Pass Is A Waterhole of Activity

In such a location seafood places like Sculleys, Friendly Fisherman, and the Wild Seafood Company give you a dockside view of all the action.  Of course, there always seems to be a Hooters and Bubba Shrimp Company.

FLORIDATRAVELER FISHERMANS WHARF -punta-gorda-marina

Punta Gorda’s Fishermens Wharf Combines Food, Shops, Rentals

I have to admit that these swarms of humanity are often too crowded.  Another suggestion is to take a look at restaurants located on Florida piers, a risky investment but a long tradition.  The most commercial operation is the tri-restaurant seafood bonanza on the famous Cocoa Beach Pier.   All you need is some top notch surfers to sail past your window.

FLORIDATRAVELER cocoa-beach-pier

My fun pier is the funky Rod and Reel Pier Restaurant in Anna Maria Island although nearby Bradenton has the exquisite Pier 22 Restaurant.   And few people will be disappointed going to Joe’s Crab Shack on Daytona Beach Pier.

FLORIDATRAVELER Rod and Reel Pier Anna-Maria-Island-

In Contrast: Anna Maria Island’s Funky Pier Restaurant

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My Favorite Florida Holiday Events and Celebrations

The Christmas holiday season is already opening in Florida at the same time the snowbirds and robins are arriving in the state.  Some of the events are very commercial while others are delightful and many have become traditional.

Here are my observations on some of the events and places that visitors, residents, and other late November to the New Year that people can consider:

 All the major theme parks love Christmas with their evening extra admissions specials. They can afford to put on spectacular light shows at Cinderella’s Castle and Hogwart’s Castle with all the additional revenue.

FLORIDATRAVELER Santa-on-the-beach

While Magic Kingdom’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Universal Studio’s Grinchmas and Christmas Town Busch Gardens are popular attractions, nothing beats Disney Epcot’s Candlelight Processional.   Tickets are hard to get to see the huge choruswith its celebrity narrators and traditional holiday entertainment.

FLORIDATRAVELER wdw epcot Candlelight

If you’re in the Orlando area, there are two other spots that meet my Christmas list.  No resort does Christmas like the Gaylord Palms, just a few miles east of Walt Disney World.  The monstrous lobby is frozen to below freezing and tons and tons of ICE! turn the hotel into a winter wonderland with inner tube ice slides, light shows, and holiday food offerings.

floridatraveler GAYLORD PALMS scene

Non-guests buy tickets for this indoor spectacle.

My family once had a condo on Water Street in downtown Celebration, the town built by Disney.  Every night it snowed and you can expect horse and carriage, foods and music.

CELEBRATION015.jpg

It snows every night in Celebration.

Florida has 72 Christmas boat parades and Floridians love them.  The Rose Bowl of parades for its huge ships and crowds is the Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade.

This year’s “Best of the 80’s” is planned for December 15 and the you can expect the 12-mile water route to be filled with lighted craft.

FLORIDATRAVELER Xmas boat show VENICE

In the Panhandle the Holiday in the Harbor Destin Lighted Boat Parade off Harborwalk Village is planned for December 10.

If you like zoos and Santa, both the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa and the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne had Christmas night programs that combine animals and the holidays.

West Palm Beach’s waterfront has something uniquely Florida: Sandi-Land, a 35-foot, 700 ton Christmas tree made of beach sand.  Of course, the entire Landing Area has exhibits and holiday action.  At least, it won’t melt but what about rain?

floridatraveler SANDI LAND west palm beach

Every town in Florida has Christmas lights and often holiday activities like ice skating in downtown Tampa, but to me the most wondrous lighting is Saint Augustine’s Night of Lights.   From now until next year, the magnificent Victorian hotels and Spanish buildings of the Ancient City are dressed in beautiful Christmas lighting.

It should be noted that it was in Saint Augustine that the first Christmas was celebrated by a town populace.  The city has a giant cross on that site.

FLORIDATRAVELER St_-Pete-Beach-Boat-Parade

I guess if you want lots of Christmas entertainment and rides, you should go to Miami’s Tropical Park, home of the largest holiday theme park in the nation.  The park is turned into Santa’s Enchanted Forest and it seems every carnie show in Florida has set up operation.  Circus shows and musical entertainment go on for two months!

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Florida’s Favorite Foods: Worth A Visit

When people like of Florida, they probably think of oranges and seafood. Our OJ is mainly produced for juice as opposed to California’s whole oranges, but our 1,350 miles of coastline means the Sunshine State is “swimming” in saltwater gourmet.  Florida, after-all, is also the only state located on two oceans.

Here is some of the things you should eat if you spend any time in Florida:

Fried Grouper Sandwich

It seems almost a requirement that if you spend anytime in Florida near a dock or marina, you better order a huge fried grouper sandwich, complete with fries and coleslaw, and a cold one.  Floridians have fried grouper sandwiches as often as the English eat fish and chips.

floridatraveler grouper andwich

If you don’t like your fish breaded and fried, most restaurants offer grouper in several preparations.  Most cities have contests to select the best grouper sandwich, but few places dare to serve one that isn’t large and tasty. Look for me at Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach North  with a grouper sandwich.

Stone Crabs

As a native New England I can state that stone crabs are to Florida what lobster is to Maine.  Joe’s Stone Crab (1913) in South Miami Beach has been the most profitable proprietary restaurant in the nation for years despite the fact it closes down without stone crab.

floridatraveler stone crabs

This is actually a Hollywood Florida restaurant

Not every seafood restaurant in Florida wants to tackle the expense and cultivation of a stone crab populace.  But if you don’t serve it right – you don’t put it on the menu.

Spiny Lobster

I wanted to say mullet, but few places serve it up and it is a peculiar dish. There are lots of people in Florida who dive for eight months (August 6 to March 31) to capture their share of Florida spiny lobsters.

SONY DSC

“Hey, this lobster can’t pinch me.”

People in New England might laugh at the size of Florida’s little red beast, but consider the fact that people don’t need a much of lobster traps and a fishing boat to catch this seafood dinner.

Conch Fritters

Like a lot of Florida dishes, this large tropical marine mollusk was diced with celery, carrots, and lime juice and deep-fried by Bahamian sailors when the first Americans arrived.  Now the fanciest seafood spots in South Florida serve conch fritters or dishes, but I still prefer eating conch in a dumpy sea shack in the Keys.

floridatraveler conch fritters

They may look like Hushpuppies but they are not!

Gulf Oysters

Assuming they survive another hurricane and pollution from Georgia, the Apalachicola oyster will remain a popular Florida seafood treat.  Large, plump and slightly salty with a sweet finish, the Florida oyster is best when iot is served just hours from the Gulf of Mexico.

Good Ol’ Gator

Yes, it tastes like gator and I like it somewhat plain even if people want to chop a giant gator into tiny bites and marinated it and serve it with ciantro cream and chipote sauces.  I say “Serve it up larger.” – we got 1.5 million of those reptiles and if saltwater intrusion hits the Everglades, we’ll have dozens of them in our swimming pools.

Ceviche

While they serve ceviche across the nation, seafood-crazy urban Floridians serve up ceviche like they serve up tapas in Spain.  Lots of reasons for the chilled cocktail queen to be big around Miami: it came from Peru; it is served cold with a citrus sauce; and it can be fish, clams, mussels, and shrimp.   Ceviche even sounds like something you want at a big outdoor party by the pool.

floridatraveler ceviche fish and shrimp

This is fish and shrimp ceviche Miami style

Cuban Sandwich

Coming from Tampa, I know the history and tradition of the cigar worker’s favorite noontime meal is an important part of Florida’s Latin heritage.  I don’t know if it started in 1915 at the Columbia restaurant, but I know that it is almost sinful that some places are using mayo instead of mustard.  NO MAYO!

floridatravelr pressing a cuban sandwich

Real Cubans are best presed like road kill.

Look at how the sandwich blended the people who came to make cigars and cigar boxes in Florida: Cuban bread with Spanish ham, Italian salami, German pickles, mojo-marinated pork, and Swiss cheese.  It is a United Nations of food.

Key Lime Pie

Don’t tell people that most of Florida’s key limes were killed in a plague and Persian limes were brought in.  The remaining original limes are mainly hiding in the Keys and every restaurant on US1 claims they have a tree,

floridatraveler key lime pie ft myers

I confess: this is a Fort Myers restaurant

Be sure the meringue-topped pie with the graham cracker crust is not green – a sure sign that this is a loser.  Look for a thick pie.

Latin Drinks

For years Miami has consumed Latin food, Latin music, and Latin drinks.  The drinks are not just found in Art Deco bars and Little Havana, but across Florida’s diverse restaurants.  King of the drinks is the Mojito, that smooth mix of fresh lime, white rum, mint and simple syrup swimming with club soda.

And the next day, part of the wakeup menu at the local café will possibly be a guava-filled pastry and a cafecito, an expresso type coffee super-charged with sugar.  More sugar, I believe, makes it a cotadito, Cuba’s answer to the macchiato.  I am not a fan of sugar drinks so I’ll stick with my café con leche.

 

 

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Food With A View: Best Florida “Scenic” Restaurants

California Grill
Contemporary Resort, Walt Disney World

Everyone who has spent some time at Walt Disney World knows the best view of the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom is from the restaurant at the top of the contemporary resort. Now that they have stolen the chef from Jiko, the menu and food is possibly the best at WDW.
floridatraveler califronia grille

From a WIndow Table or the Catwalk: You Get Fireworks

The good news is there is a large bar at the restaurant (if you can get in) and the menu which includes light items can be served to bar guests. There is even access to the roof viewing area for an perfect outside observation.

Armani’s
Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay

Planted on the 14th floor by the Causeway to Clearwater and right on scenic Upper Tampa Bay, Armani’s serves outstanding Italian food in a Northern Italian trattoria style. The hotel is right next to the landing pattern of Tampa International Airport so you also see the beautiful night views of the colorful airplanes coming and going.

floridatraveler armanis

Area 31
EPIC Hotel, Miami

High-rise Miami is loaded with good restaurants in high locations of buildings and along the ocean and Biscayne Bay, but the nighttime views of the downtown Miami skyline is best here at 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way.

floridatraveler area 31

There is River and Bay Action Here

The 16th floor view will dominate your attention until you are served one of the wonderful seafood entries at Area 31.

Juvia
111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach
The top of a parking lot may seem an unlikely spot to get the best view of most of booming South Beach, particularly its night lights and miles of automobiles, but this is a great penthouse restaurant.

floridatraveler juvia miami

The windows seem to enhance the view

La Mar by Gaston Acorio
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Brickell Key

Surrounded by high rise condos on the exclusive island of Brickell Key is this amazing Peruvian restaurant. From the canopied patio you’ll see all of Miami’s downtown skyline.

floridatraveler la mar

The City Lights At La Mar

Canopy Rooftop Lounge

One would have to describe this as a social bar more than a full-service restaurant, but in downtown crawling with nightlife and mostly sidewalk cafes, this place is unique. People come here after a restaurant or movie to have light fare, have drinks, and relax with the Beach Drive scene and Bayfront all around them.

floridatraveler the canopy

Dusk at Saint Petersburg

Ocean2000
Pelican Grand Beach Resort, Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale has a lot of beachside restaurants but the Pelican’s round main restaurant and long patio are located on the northside of the building and give a magnificent view to the wide beach. The food is served from 7am to 10pm so you can catch a sunrise in the morning and view the arrival of evening.

floridatraveler ocean2000ftlauderdale

Atlantic Bar and Grill
The Four Seasons, Palm Beach

For a lot of Florida visitors, seeing tall buildings aglow at night is not why they came to Florida. They want to dine at seafood with a salt sea breeze and a beautiful white beach spreading across the landscape. This resort beach fits that image both day and night.

floridatraveler atlantic bar and grill pbeach

How People Want To Breakfast In Florida

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Florida “Under The Sea” Is A Vacation Experience

Underwater Vehicles in Florida

Due to the sensitivity and depth of Florida’s reefs and poor visibility in most coastal area, Florida does not have the underwater submarine tours found in the Hawaiian Islands and in Catalina Island, California. Florida is mainly the place for incredible scuba experiences to sunken ships, some dating back to the days of pirates and seadogs.

There are some fun underwater activities you can experience in Florida:

SeaVenture at Sea World’s Discovery Cove

At Orlando’s Discovery Cove, the underwater and above water park next to Sea World, you can not only swim with the sharks and play with the dolphins, you can walk underwater like a member of the crew of Captain Nemo of the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
FLORIDATRAVELER seaventure tour group

The adventure does not require special training and most visitors adjust to the air system. Of course, you can’t look for sponges nor handle the sea life. You can imagine the kind of photographic selfies you can make in this setup.
FLORIDATRAVELER SeaVenture people and residents
The HydroBob Tour in Key West
800-660-1720

Over on Stock Island in Key West at the Marina Village there are dozens of tour boats specializing in taking scuba and snorkel divers out to the Florida Keys reefs. Billy Ocean Underwater Adventures has those tours, but they have something else.
FLORIDATRAVELER hydrobob scooter goes past
Underwater water scooters which require no scuba certification to travel around Stock Island following the fish. These devices probably would be discouraged around some of the shallow coral reefs, but these tours travel other waters. From the looks of the photographs you will see lots of fish.
FLORIDATRAVELER hydrobob tour explore-floridas-only
Jules Undersea Lodge in Largo
http://www.jul.com 305-451-2353

Florida’s underwater hotel off the Florida Keys in Key Largo is a rather expensive place to vacation, but you will have the most unique photographic experiences of any trip. The 600-square foot, two bedroom lodge isn’t fancy like that place in the Maldives, but it is just a short drive from Miami.
floridatraveler JULES LODGEFloridatraveler inside-Jules Verne Lodge livingroom
And you get pizza delivered by underwater scuba divers.

Posted in adventure vacation, bed&breakfast, diving, environment, extreme sports, florida history, Florida sports, florida vacations, keys, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Florida’s Often Undervalued Gem: Charlotte Harbor

Recently I attended a convention in Punta Gorda, the town where my family first moved to Florida in the 1960’s.

The waterfront devastated by category 4 Hurricane Charley in August of 2004 has not only been rebuilt, it has been magnified.  The plain-jane Holiday Inn and motels have been replaced with high end Wyvern and Sheraton Four Points resorts.  Downtown has a dozen neat restaurants and shops, making it a nice weekend vacation spot.

FLORIDATRAVELER charlotte harbor map

 

The Convention Center where my parents produced dancing recitals and beauty pageants has tripled in capacity and produces a diversity of shows.  I don’t recall the Russian Royal Ballet coming to Charlotte County when I lived there.

One thing that didn’t change was the impact of Charlotte Harbor on the area’s tourism and overall economy.  Whereas most visitors know of massive Tampa Bay and perhaps historic Pensacola Bay, most people have never seen the second largest bay (270 square miles) in Florida.

FLORIDATRAVELER FISHERMANS WHARF -punta-gorda-marina

Punta Gorda’s Fishermen’s Wharf Has Stores and Ships

Besides the fishing and boating magnificence of the Harbor, there are two important freshwater rivers ideal for long distance kayak trips and sheltered fishing.  On the northwest corner is the 72 mile Myakka is one of Florida’s most scenic and undeveloped rivers with 34 miles by Myakka River State Park and other campgrounds.

On the northeast corner is the 106-mile Peace River ay whose mouth is Punta Gorda, offering river tours and serious game fishing trips.  The Isles Yacht Marina and Fishermen’s Wharf is home to several boat tour groups as well as a popular sailing school.

FLORIDATRAVELER charlotte harbor boat race

Besides the water, there are places to explore and see: Pelican Island in Gasparilla Sound where hundreds of white pelicans gather in the Fall; exclusive Useppa Island where a few boat cruises are allowed to land, and Cabbage Key.

FLORIDATRAVELER island-useppa

Cabbage Key is a special stop for its houses the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant, built by mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart in the 1940’s.  The restaurant is covered from ceiling to floor with taped one dollar bills, but the restaurant is more famous as the place where singer Jimmy Buffet liked a certain burger.

FLORIDATRAVELER CABBAGE KEY INN restaurant

The Cabbage Key Ceiling Is All Green Paper

The western edge of Charlotte Harbor has some incredible barrier islands.  There is Gasparilla Island and the fishing resort of Boca Grande, home to the famous Gasparilla Inn where the rich and famous hung out for one hundred years.  Sailing along the canal side of the island shows the upscale side.

FLORIDATRAVELER boca grande inn from air

The Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande

      At the southern tip of Boca Grande near the historic lighthouse that survived Charley is the greatest tarpon fishing area in the United States.  Just watching from a distance the catching of huge fighting fish is a spectacular attraction.

FLORIDATRAVELER Tarpon Fishing Charlotte Harbor

Cayo Costa Island State Park allows campers to play Robinson Crusoe on a beautiful beach, on an island designed for primitive camping.  But beware: boaters love to park on the bayside so you won’t be alone.

FLORIDATRAVELER cayo-costa-state-park

Cayo Costa Is Primitive Florida

 

 

 

 

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, conservation, dining, environment, extreme sports, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, Historic Hotels & Inns, keys, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, Restaurants, small towns, travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment