Walt Disney World has eight official Disney Deluxe resorts and much to Disney’s dismay, we include the Swan and Dolphin in this mix for while they are not Disney-operated, they are complete upscale resorts with Disney transportation and character meals.

Unlike most of the urban locations, WDW has so much real estate that these resorts are not high rise and all have lush grounds, feature pools and more, theme restaurants of all shapes and sizes, and an orientation to families.  The Disney resorts are: Animal Kingdom Lodge (1293 rooms), Contemporary (1008), Grand Floridian (867), Polynesian (847), Wilderness Lodge (727), Yacht Club (621), and Broadwalk (372).  The Swan-Dolphin complex has 2,265 rooms.


The Beach Club At Night: WDW on the waterfront

Best Value For MoneyWilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom, Swan-Dolphin, Contemporary (Garden Wings)

The Wilderness Lodge and the Animal Lodge are usually $100 or more less than the other Disney resorts, and both rank high in restaurants, pools, and atmosphere.  Their weakness is their standard room combinations are good for just four adults and a baby in a crib rather than five people.  While Wilderness Lodge has direct boat transportation to Magic Kingdom, it is cancelled in bad weather requiring bus transport.  Animal Kingdom Lodge requires bus transport to all parks so this park is best for people with automobiles.


Wilderness Lodge: Welcome to the Rockies

Disney and Swan Resorts often have rooms close to half the price of the Disney resorts – particularly if there are no large conventions in the complex. If you get a room with a Bay Lake view, the cheaper Garden Wing sections of the Contemporary match up with the Bay Lake side of the main building at a much lower price-tag.


The Dolphin: Not Disney But At Disney

Best Rooms For Large Families:  Grand Floridian, Contemporary, Beach Club

 The Grand Floridians have some rooms at 440 square feet although the attic rooms are wonderfully romantic for couples, but not for small children. All Disney deluxe resorts (except Animal Kingdom Lodge, Wilderness, and Boardwalk) have rooms that sleep five plus one baby under age 3.  That means in WDW lingo two Queen beds and a day bed.    The Beach Club has a lot of forest view rooms, but it is within walking distance of Epcot.


The Grand Floridian is Victorian Wonder In The Holidays

Best Restaurant Selections:   Animal Kingdom Lodge, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge (tie), Contemporary (tie)


The Animal Kingdom Lodge is Exotic

All Disney (and Swan-Dolphin) deluxe hotels have at least one moderately priced table service restaurant, an upscale fine restaurant, a counter-service food option, lounge and pool bars, and decent room service.  The Animal Kingdom has two incredible main restaurants and maybe the best buffet at WDW.  The Grand Floridian has many upscale restaurants, including the super-fancy Albert and Victoria.   If your kids are fussy go on the Disney website, AllEars, and Yelp for menus and the latest reviews.

Best Sports and Water FacilitiesContemporary, Yacht Club, Polynesian


The Contemporary Resort A-Frame with Monorail

Walt Disney World visitors have access to great golf courses and other recreational activities, but the resort needs a good lake for proper boating and parasailing activities.  The pool may be big and bland at the Contemporary, but the boating and tennis choices are very good.   Due to the alligator attack at the Grand Floridian, Disney has closed off its beach facilities to swimmers.

Best Pool Facilities:   Beach and Yacht Club, Swan-Dolphin resorts, Wilderness Lodge

With the longest lazy river at WDW and a monster two resort complex, the Yacht and Beach resorts shared pool facilities is the best at Disney.  Likewise the huge Dolphin and Swan complex has both an Olympic lap pool and two canyon pools with waterfalls, as well as Swan boat rentals.  The Wilderness Lodge has a beautifully designed pool system which starts inside the resort as a mountain river with rocks.

Most Romantic Resorts:  Animal Kingdom Lodge, Polynesian, Grand Floridian


The Polynesian Resort On Seven Seas Lagoon

The isolated nature of Animal Kingdom Lodge means its facilities are almost empty during the day and few daytime visitors come by except those with restaurant reservations.  The Polynesian has beautiful gardens and the new huts built over the Seven Seas Lagoon are quite romantic although lacking underwater views and having a high price tag.   The Grand Floridian is upscale in every way with a decent adults only pool, delightful lounges, and restaurants which overlook the lake.

WARNING:  Go online and examine each resort and you will notice that almost 50% of the rooms even in these Deluxe Resorts face parking lots or court-yards or inner pool areas.  The term “water view” does not mean “waterfront.”  Advertised rates are usually of standard often poor view rooms.

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Florida’s Lesser Known Museums Are Hidden Gems

The other week my wife and I visited the fabulous Ringling Museums in Sarasota.  It was Smithsonian Museum freebie day and the 44 acre property was so jammed with people, we paid for a special tour just to get into the lesser seen rooms of Circus magnate John Ringling’s 56-room waterside mansion Ca’D’Zan.

The trip reminded me that while tourists, snowbirds, and residents attend Florida’s more famous and large museums and centers, the Sunshine State has dozens of lesser known places worth visiting that are rarely the subject of travel brochures and television documentaries.

Here are some of my favorite lesser known attractions:

The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park is rather unique for and art museum for it is the actual final home for the famed Czech-born sculpture.  You can see how he designed his home and decorated it with some 200 major sculptures.


The house is located on beautiful Lake Osceola.  Florida was an inspiration to him and at age 71 he married for the first time here.

No museum matches up to its location better than The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum near the shell-infested shoreline Sanibel Island.  This is more than just a massive collection of shells from around the world.  You can take educational walking tours along the Gulf of Mexico shores and learn about Florida shells and sea life.


The life size replicas of giant squid, octopus, and nautilus are the favorite of kids.  Most adults love hunting in the large gift shop for exotic shells.  The museum has thirty-five exhibits.

Thousands of people visit Saint Augustine each week, but most don’t realize a few miles away in Palm Coast is the Florida Agricultural Museum, a huge complex of historic rural buildings complete with livestock whose heritage dates back to the days of Spanish Florida.  I love those ugly piney rooter hogs.


Horseback Trails Are Big At Agricultural Museum

There’s a dairy barn, a complete farm homestead, even the site of a 1770 saw mill on the property.  Better yet for many there are horses you can rent for trail trips or even take horseback riding lessons.

Florida has several good maritime museums, usually located near a good seafood restaurant and some charter fishing vessels.  My favorite is the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez near Bradenton.


Cortez is still an old-time fishing community centered around the N. E. Taylor Boatworks and a bunch of fishing operations.  The museum is located in the old 1912 schoolhouse which once served a community of fishing families, many of them coming to Manatee County in the 1880’s from the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

If you are traveling in Florida and wonder what hidden museum treasures may be just a few miles down the road, I would go online to the Florida Association of Museums website at www.flamuseums.org, where you can look up museums by type and location.

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Floridians Are Full Of False Advice On Hurricanes

Another hurricane is heading toward the Florida East Coast.  Historically October is Florida’s worse hurricane month and the Fall months far surpass the Summer for serious hurricanes.

It was 2004 when Florida got nailed by four big hurricanes, but myths and bad advice about hurricanes seem to given to newcomers by long time Florida residents as well as snowbirds.   So here are some hurricane notions that you’ll soon hear if you travel Florida from May to late November:

Leave one window slightly open when a hurricane approaches.

This myth came from Tornado Alley people (Oklahoma, Texas) and it is false for both hurricanes and tornados.  Maybe people once believed that air pressure difference between the storm and the inside of your house will prevent your house from exploding.  Your house will only explode if a giant flying projectile (like your neighbor’s car) comes smashing through your front door.


Hurricane hits Davis Island in Tampa Bay

Tape all your windows up with masking tape to prevent breakage.

Believe it or not this dumb trick might even result in more broken glass of smaller windows. The only way to prevent broken windows is to cover them completely with wood or buy professional metal hurricane boards.


Stay away from water

Fill up the bathtub with water.

 Just today I heard a person on the Weather Channel report, “Many Miami stores have run out of bottled water, so fill up your bathtub.”   Unless you have the proper equipment for purifying water, bathtub water should be used for washing your body and clothing and dishes.  Drinking bath water is not a good idea.

Category 1 storms are no big deal.

 The five categories of hurricane created by the National Hurricane Center are based upon wind at the center of the storm, but the danger of a storm is: (1) where your house is in reference to the center of the hurricane, and (2) which way the wind and storm is coming.


More people are killed by storm surge than hurricane winds.   A Category 1 storm going into a large bay like Tampa Bay or Charlotte Harbor will send a great water surge at the bay coastline and would be worse than a big hurricane going 100 miles out from the coast.

Sand bags will keep the water out of my house.

Sand bags might be effective for a few inches of water and if the water recedes.  Water will eventually seep through sand bags and sand bags never stopped flood waters.  An L-shaped thick plastic going up your wall a few feet and under the sand bags will be the most effective way of using sand bags.


Although it is a pain to scrap off, sealing your doors and lower walls with the white foam stuff that seals out water is fairly effective.  It can also get a little expensive.

I can also go to a storm shelter; they have everything.

Most of Florida’s shelters are in high ground schools and public buildings.  They have limited amounts of food, blankets, and medical supplies.  They do not provide beds and entertainment.  Those places are called hotels.

My screened in swimming pool will protect my sliding glass doors.

 Putting lawn furniture and garbage cans on a porch or even inside a screened pool area will not prevent them from flying around when the screens get shopped up by flying tree limbs.  Anything that could fly around should be inside the garage, a storage room, and even inside the house.  Safe is better than neat.

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Historic Florida Train Trips Inside The State

Until trains connected Florida with Northern markets and people, Florida was the least populated state in the South, the least populated region of the country.

At a time when transcontinental railroads were building westward, Henry Flagler was building a railroad down the Florida East Coast, Henry B. Plant one down the Florida West Coast, and William Chipley across the Florida Panhandle.   These railroads meant Tampa cigars, Indian River oranges, and Florida winter vegetables could reach New York and Philadelphia in two days.  It also meant middle class Northerners could take a train to Florida by 1900 and cruise on a steamboat down the St. Johns River.

Trains, not airplanes, started Florida as a winter vacation destination.

It is shocking how today train service had declined.  I remember going to the Punta Gorda train station to pick up my British aunt and uncle who were coming down from Toronto.  Fortunately, there are still some ways to enjoy Florida’s railroad legacy on a trip or vacation.  Here are some choices:

The Florida Railroad Museum (frrm.org) south of Tampa in Parish on US301 not only has a large collection of diesel-powered trains in their rural collection, but also offers 13-mile round trips into the tropical wilderness of Eastern Manatee County.


During the winter season, there are numerous theme and reenactment rides, including a train robbery.  The Ashley gang robbed trains from horseback long after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fled to Bolivia.

The Gold Coast Railroad Museum (gcrm.org) pays tribute to the Florida East Coast Railroad but has many weekend train excursions.  There is even a two-foot gauge children’s steam train ride.


Old Number 153 Rescued People from 1935 Hurricane

This museum has several historic trains including the Ferdinand Magellan, the Presidential car used by Presidents from F. D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan.  There is Florida East Coast Railway 4-6-2 No. 153, the train that rescued hundreds of people from the Florida Keys just before the Hurricane of 1935 destroyed the bridges.


FDR Campaigned From This RR Car

Down in Fort Myers is the Seminole Gulf Railway (semgulf.com) which has 118 miles of track for train trips, including a neat drawbridge over the Caloosahatchee River.   Using the tracks of the Seaboard Coast Line, the railway offers a 3.5 hour dinner train trip and a mystery train experience. The Christmas schedule is very interesting, offering combo-train-boat trips.


If you would like to take a trip along the scenic hills of Central Florida, you could ride the Tavares, Eustis & Gulf Railroad (http://www.orangeblossomcannonball.com), with stations in Tavares and downtown Mount Dora.   The 1907 engine is my favorite on the wonderful lakeside excursions.


A Trip Around The Lakes of Central Florida

Visitors will get an addition surprise when they enter the passenger cars for most of them were obtained from Western movie sets so you can pretend you are part of a movie like “True Grit” or “3:10 to Yuma.”

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THE OVERSEAS HIGHWAY has become a video symbol of Florida in films and publications across the globe.


There is nothing like it in the world – a 113 mile highway (US 1) going southward from Florida to Key West.  It had its base on an incredible 1912 Overseas Railroad destroyed in a Hurricane in 1935 which killed over 400 railway workers.  Now it is a multi-lane highway with 42 major bridges including the scenic Seven Mile Bridge.  You have seen parts of the old bridge filmed for famous action scenes in movies.

THE GREAT WALL OF FLORIDA, better known as the Hoover Dike, is the largest unknown attraction in Florida.  Tourist driving down US27 go past it thinking it is a 35 foot hill.  There are no hills in South Florida – it is a 109 mile multi-path giant dike surrounding the second largest lake found in one state in the United States.


Behind that hill is a gigantic lake

In 1928 2,000 people were killed by a thirty foot tidal wave cause when a Hurricane went across the huge but shallow lake. So in Florida’s largest WPA project, the dike was built. Except for a gap at Fisheating Creek, people can bike and horse ride along the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail.  And do a little bass fishing.

THE VAB BUILDING at CAPE KENNEDY, known at NASA as the Vehicle Assembly Building was until 1974 the tallest building in Florida and it still is the tallest structure outside an urban area in the USA.  It is the largest single-story building in the world, since it houses the massive Saturn V.   Located at Launch Complex 39, the 129,428,000 cubic foot building will be the home of the future Space Launch System (SLS).


THE SUNSHINE SKYWAY BRIDGE, spanning the entrance to Tampa Bay is an acable-stayed beauty, rated by the Travel Channel as the Number 3 bridge in the world.   In 1980 the original 21,877 foot complex was the site of a major disaster when a freighter in a fog hit the main span, destroying the bridge, and sending cars and a bus to their doom in the waters below.  The new bridge opened in 1987 with protections to prevent future ship crashes.


Travel Channel’s #3 bridge in the world

THE VENETIAN ISLANDS AND CAUSEWAY may not be very popular with environmentalists for the 1920 roadway from Miami to Miami Beach, built in 1920, started a boom of man-made islands filling in bays across the Florida East Coast.  The islands built along the Venetian Causeway became the waterfront home of dozens of famous Miami celebrities and fostered dozens of similar Florida island communities.


Man-made Island Living

WALT DISNEY WORLD revolutionized entertainment world wide and the 1971 park became the largest and most visited tourist attraction in the world, promoting added big parks like Universal and Sea World to come to Orlando, the family vacation center of the USA.  The technology from monorails to underground sanitation systems continues to amaze engineers and designers, but most people are just stunned at the size of the 43 square mile world.  WDW is the main reason why Florida became the first state with over 100 million visitors in a single year.


Disney Springs At Night From A Balloon

Disney has twenty-seven themed resort hotels, nine non-Disney hotels, four theme parks, two theme water parks, eight golf courses, a huge camping resort, and more.  The Disney transportation system is bigger than only a few cities: 372 busses, 3 ferries, 9 friendship boats, 15 water taxis, 10 motor craft, and three monrails that farry 180,000 passengers every day of the year.   Because of WDW and the Orlando boom, Florida no longer has “a tourist season.”  Spring and fall visitors are just a few million visitors off summer and winter.

Secret: there was once a Walt Disney Airport at WDW but it was not for tourists and it is no longer in “operational use.”  When you taxied to the office, the runway actually sang “When You Wish Upon A Star.”




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Ten Small Florida Vacation Towns You Should Visit

Tired of a Florida vacation in an overcrowded, overpriced metropolis?  Perhaps you should spend some vacation time in some of Florida’s small towns, where they appreciate every visitor and offer personalized services

Here are ten of my favorite small town spots to visit and even spend a few days:

Matlacha –  There are no beaches on Pine Island but the people in the fishing village of Matlacha don’t seem to mind since this funky and arty community will rent you any kind of water vehicle you want to explore the beach-filled islands of Charlotte Harbor.


Matlacha’s Bridgewater Inn is Over The Water

Destin – There are only 12,000 residents on this man made island but in the summer months it seems like all five million tourists came at once. Amazing sand beaches, great seafood restaurants, and lots of water sports make Destin a Panhandle target to visit.


Destin Has A Lot Of Everything

Jupiter Island – This is the richest per capita town in Florida, but while the rich hide in their gated mansions, you get the beach, the lighthouse, and a lot of neat restaurants and recreational services.

Vero Beach – The Dodgers may have left but the Piper Aircraft Company and a beachside Disney Resort are still in this Treasure Coast classy town. There is a neat downtown on the mainland and on the island besides a great beach, a diversity of restaurants, and lots of parks.


The Oceanside Disney Resort in Vero Beach

Islamorada – The Florida Keys are laid back, but I like the friendliness of the 6,300 people who call this town home with its nice beach, great Plantation Yacht Center, and protected harbor.


Tourists Often Drive Right Past Islamorada – Dumb

DeFuniak Springs – People visit this Walton County Victorian town to see its Chautauqua Hall, historic churches and incredible mansions.  The village even has Florida’s oldest library.


The Chautaqua Hall of DeFuniak Springs

Everglades City – Surrounded by the Everglades, this town is for adventurers.  You can fish, hunt, and ride air-boats into the vast swamps of Florida.  The town bank is now an unusual hotel and the Rod and Gun Club is a famous hideaway for the rich.


The  River of Grass Surrounds Everglades City

Tarpon Springs – Few towns have as colorful attractions as this Tampa Bay village, with its Greek Sponge Docks, antique-centered downtown, and its bayous surrounded by Victorian mansions. There are famous resorts and quaint bed and breakfast spots not far from town.


At the Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs

Apalachicola – Famous for its oystering, this port city has a historic downtown, wonderful inns and waterfront restaurants, and access to the Panhandle’s best fishing grounds. The town does a great job of presenting its history.


The Historic and Delightful Gibson Inn, Apalachicola

Boca Grande – The pride of Gasparilla Island, Boca Grande welcomes the rich and exclusive in the winter months and the world’s best tarpon fishing in the summer. This is a bikers paradise.

Boca Grande Lighthouse aerial (horizontal)

At the southern tip of Boca Grande is the Lighthouse and Museum



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My 2016-1017 Walt Disney World Tips

STUDY the best Non-Disney Websites

Websites like Mousesavers, AllEars, wdwinfo.com have the latest WDW information with “no BS” evaluations, some hotel deals, and restaurant menus.  Don’t just read the WDW website material!


My Biased View On WDW Hotels

In my view the only reason for staying at a WDW All Star Budget hotel is price, for the rooms are small; there is only a food court; there is only bus transportation; and facilities get packed at breakfast and bedtime.  Budget hotels allow families on fixed incomes to come to WDW and these are the vacations you see promoted on TV.

The Moderate hotels have bigger rooms, a real table restaurant, and more upscale facilities and services. You have to take a bus to the parks.  I actually love Port Orleans Riverside with its moonlight horse and buggy rides and a boat to Disney Springs and its nightclubs and restaurants.


Port Orleans Is A Boat Ride to Disney Springs

The DeLuxe Hotels have multi-restaurants, big facilities and services, and most have monorail or boat transportation.  But wait! The non-Disney Swan and Dolphin resorts are actually in the parks and on the boat line to Epcot and Disney Studios.  At times you can get a room here for $160 that sells for $400 at the next door Disney Epcot resorts.  And I can use my SPG points.  Of the Disney hotels I still vote for the Animal Kingdom Lodge.


The Redesigned California Grill On Top of the Contemporary Hotel

Disney Dining Plans Tips

 Be sure you match up your kid’s eating habits to the Disney Dining Plans to see if it is a good deal.  Unused meals expire and wasting a table service credit on a bland meal at your budget hotel is a sad situation.

Remember Signature Restaurants and Character Meals cost two dining credits.

My Worth two Dining Credits List: Jiko, California Grill, Narcoossees, Le Cellier, Yachtsmen, Hoop-Dee-Do Musical


The Boma Buffet

Best One Credit Restaurant List : Sanaa, Boma (buffet), Raglan Road, Chefs de France, Mama Melrose, Tutto Italia, Be Our Guest (D), Cape May Café (buffet) Biergarden (buffet)

Reasons To Stay On Disney World Property

The main reason is TIME … Orlando traffic is terrible .. unless you are also going to Universal Studios, don’t book a hotel on that traffic snarl known as International Drive.  Relying on hotel shuttles to get to and from the Parks will take hours away from your vacation.

Look at Google Maps and note that the hotels just north of WDW in Buena Vista and those east of Epcot like Buena Vista Suites provide the fastest car transport.  Other factors for picking Disney hotels are being able to book FAST PASS 60 days ahead rather than 30 days ahead, EXTRA MAGIC HOURS and the FREE DISNEY TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM.

Underrated Attractions at Walt Disney World 

If you haven’t been to WDW than the older rides that have lost some of their popularity and glow  are really excellent for first-timers. Don’t be influenced by people who have to see the latest rides because they must be best.

My choices of attractions that fit this category include: Muppet Vision 3D, the   Maharajah Jungle Trek, the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail  (formerly Pangani Forest Exploration Trail) , the Jungle Cruise (the ride is only as good as the comedic skills of the boat guide)   and Disney 3D.

Best Looking Themed Restaurants at Disney World

The BOATHOUSE Restaurant;   50s Prime Time Café;     Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater;   Biergarten Restaurant;   Be Our Guest  (choose the Rose Gallery to avoid kids); and T-REX.


The Muppets Still Make Me Laugh

 Disney’s Epcot Tips 

Go Back for Spaceship Earth  if you arrive and see a line … it is a tiny line three hours later; please   Fast Pass Soarin’ Around The World, Test Track (unless you choose to ride single which is often very fast), Frozen in Norway;  Eat in World Showcase  to fully enjoy the World Showcase goals of Walt Disney for the people are from those nations.

To see Illuminations at a table requires great planning for the outside seats at England and behind Mexico are the best spots … the inside waterfront Mexican and Moroccan restaurants do not have views of the fireworks … if you are bringing kids to Epcot get the list to see where the characters will be standing and when: these are the people your kids want to meet and you must be at the right spot and the right time.

When Is The Best Time?

The best time is when you need a vacation to another place.  Florida is hot from May to September and it will be cool only if there is a huge thunderstorm.  It is best to avoid Epcot on weekends during the fall Food and Wine Festival and the spring Flower Festival for Floridians pour into the park.

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