Gone Florida Attractions: Miss Them or Did They Suck?

As a historian I have a great appreciation of the story and evolution of Florida tourist attractions.  Since I was a small child, my family’s annual visits to the Sunshine State brought memories of experiences at Florida attractions – some still operating, some revised (such as some of Cypress Gardens was incorporated into Legoland), and some closed forever.

You might not agree with all my comments but here is a look at some of the Florida attractions of the past and my feelings about them.  Do I miss their simplicity and naturalness or am I just thankful they closed down?

Miss Them or Were They Embarrassing (they suck)?

The Circus Hall of Fame – Sarasota

 When we flew into Tampa International years ago, seeing The Circus Hall of Fame on US41 north of the Ringling Complex was a sign we were really in Southwest Florida.  You might wonder why I listed this attraction since a Ringling Circus collection is now located inside the wonderful Ringling complex.

FLORIDATRAVELER Circus Hall of Fame poster

With no Ringling Circus This Attraction Would Mean More Today

The fact is this attraction closed in 1979 and most of that collection is now part of the International Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana.  But most importantly the old attraction had something not seen in the new museum – it had a performance tent where kids could see live circus acts up close.  I recall shaking hands with clowns and animal trainers.  Choice: I miss this attraction.

Floridaland – Venice (Osprey)

 Since my father was a newspaper editor twenty miles to the South, I was there on opening day in 1964.  This was the theme park that tried to do everything that they thought Florida visitors wanted to see, but without the budget and originality to merit return traffic.  My mother even trained the high school can-can girls.  There was a Western ghost town with shootouts (copying an Ocala attraction also now gone) and dolphins that didn’t pass muster at Sea World.

FLORIDATRAVELER Floridaland venice poster

If This Map Looks Like A Mess of Nothingness, You Are Right

A trackless train (a tram) took you around gardens of unnaturally planted tropical trees.  There was a second rate water-ski show.  When Walt Disney World was announced, it was clear even to local people Floridaland was doomed.  Choice: it sucked as an attraction that felt artificial and commercial.

The Black Hills Passion Play – Lake Wales

 In 1953 Josef Meier brought his South Dakota summer spectacular, panoramic stage show to US27.  If you had good seats it was an amazing show, particularly at night, with its dozens and dozens of volunteer town-folk recreating Biblical history.


School and church groups bussed in hundreds of people from miles around.  The problem was it was very costly and time consuming to produce such a nightly winter attraction competing for tourist dollars.  Clearly, you only went once a year to see this event.  It closed in 1998 and in 2004 Hurricane Charlie leveled the facility. Choice: I miss it for it was a live entertainment not duplicated even by Disney.

Fake African Attractions – all over

 The Florida tourist industry has always had people who tried to associate tropical Florida with Africa. Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens and West Palm Beach’s Animal Kingdom show that it can be done – if the emphasis is on showing real African animals being animals.  Disney brings in real people from Africa to perform music and cultural events.

FLORIDATRAVELER Africa-USA zulu postcard

What’s next?  Get some Kangaroos and have Australia-USA?

Attractions like Africa-USA in Boca Raton and Clyde Beatty’s Jungleland in North Miami were around when my family vacationed. They featured African villages were obvious props and basketball players were dressed up as Zulus. The animals were in poor zoo-like surroundings. One park had tigers in Africa!  Choice:  They suck for they insult both tourists and Africa.

Splendid China – Kissimmee

 Built just minutes from the West Entrance to Walt Disney World in 1997, the 76 acre Splendid China had an amazing recreation of famous buildings of China. Photographers loved using their telephotos to make amazingly realistic views of China.


The Last Days of Splendid China: Giant Americans

The attraction was from the start a big mistake.  Americans love interactive places and looking at Chinese structures for two hours is a very limited market when you have Disney and Universal as competitors.  The attraction was politically incorrect for it had buildings in Tibet, which China invaded and seized.

The Florida sun barbecued the buildings and on some days you come make an entire fake movie with Chinese sets without having a tourist accidentally enter your shot.  Choice:  I miss it but I know it was the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Atomic Tunnel – Daytona Beach

 The worst attraction I saw as a kid was The Atomic Tunnel off US1 in touristy Daytona Beach.  Inside an ill-fated 1950’s bomb shelter, one W. R. Johnson planted tropical gardens, purchased the usual parrots and toucans, and got some small mice to “dance” to loud music and some piranhas to bite pieces of bloody meat.


Cute Ads Did Not Tell the True Tale of Happy – Or Is It Tail?

Most of us tourists got sucked to the site by half-off coupons distributed across Northeast Florida and delightful billboards advertising the star of the attraction – Happy the Walking Fish.

Happy was not happy.  Happy was a small walking catfish, something Northerners probably found incredibly exotic.  To get Happy to walk along a blue ramp, however, it required the “trainer” to stick a pencil up the fish’s ass every six inches.  This was disgusting and scary to kids.  Choice: It sucked that this attraction lasted more than one year.

The Worst Attraction in Florida History

 I never visited this site not only because it was closed before my arrival. I would not want to see it.  In the 1930’s Brooksville turpentine camp owner Pearce Lewis was forced to sell his business.  In perhaps a thought of complete ignorance and lack of sensitivity he came up with an idea to keep his camp and get employment for his workers, almost all African-Americans.

FLORIDATRAVELER the lewis plantation postcard

There is Even Tourist Cars In This Postcard

He would turn his place into an antebellum plantation and unlike real historic Southern places, have the local African-Americans act like they were slaves. They would do the farming activities they normally did, of course, but also give hayrides around the fields and operate the Plantation Kitchen so Northerners could enjoy real antebellum cooking.

floridatraveler LEWIS PLANTATION kitchen for tourists

Lewis Plantation closed before the modern civil rights era.  Photographs do reveal Northern visitors did stop to eat and buy “pine perfume” and even stay in rundown cabins where turpentiners actually lived.  Choice:  Even if there was an attempt to show rural life in the 1880’s it would suck for its bad taste.

If you are a longtime Florida resident, snowbird, or tourist I bet you can think of other long-gone Florida attractions.  You probably miss some and others you are glad they are not around today.




What old attractions would you add to this list and do you remember them foldly or not?


Posted in attractions, circus, conservation, dining, environment, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, mcbobleonard, Restaurants, small towns, travel, Walt Disney World | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Off The Interstate: US 17 Along the St. Johns River

Florida is the cruise capital of the world today and the three largest cruise companies are headquartered in Southeast Florida.   Even one hundred seventy years ago, taking a Florida cruise was a major part of Florida’s first tourist industry.

Only the cruise-ships were multi-decked riverboats and they never left Florida, but instead started in Jacksonville where visitors left their large ocean going steamboats or railroad cars for the riverboats of Florida.

Floridatraveler city of jax 1909 deBary Merchant Line 160 by 32 459 tons

1909 postcard of a fine DeBary Riverboat On the St. Johns River

The cruises went down the St Johns River (like the Nile a north flowing stream) and headed to quaint little tropical port cities.   The extreme adventurer traded ships and took the Oklawaha River near San Mateo for a jungle cruise finally to the Silver River and famous Silver Springs now in Ocala National Forest.

FLORIDATRAVELER astatula on Ocklawaha to Silver River

You can’t duplicate this cruise today unless you rent a motorboat or houseboat on the St. Johns, but you can travel southward on US17 and see more of the Old Florida than taking I-95 closer to the Atlantic Ocean.

DIRECTIONS:   Exit I-295 south of Jacksonville just before to cross the wide St. Johns River and head southward on US17/FL15 on the western shore of the river.

ADDED ATTRACTION:  If you are a real history buff or love Victorian houses, you can cross I-295 on the St. Johns and exit immediately by Scott Mill Road and travel along the eastern riverbank to the small town of Mandarin.  The village is filled with old houses. Unfortunately the home and church built by Harriet Beecher Stowe are just markers today, but the Mandarin Social Center is in the rebuilt church.


The 1872 Madarin School Is A Community Center Now

Imagine Mrs. Stowe hanging out her wash in her backyard when a riverboat floats cross-by so the visitors may wave at the author of Uncle Toms Cabin. On one of those cruises, Robert E. Lee was on the top deck waving at her.

Back on the west banks, going south on US17 you’ll pass Hiberia, an old plantation town with the 1878 St. Margarets Episcopal Church at Fleming Island.   The waterfront park at Green Cove Springs no longer hosts riverboats but the 1880 River Park Inn (http:www.rioverparkinn.com) continues the history of the town.

FLORIDATRAVELERriverpark b&b greencove sps railroad-and-history

RR History Next to the River Park Inn

Palatka is a large port town, where US17 crosses over to the east side of the river.  Whenever I drive here I like to lunch at Florida’s oldest diner, Angel’s Dining Car, and visit Ravine Gardens State Park on the south-side.  If you think all of Florida is flat, you’ll be shocked at the hilly terrain, the wooden bridges over ravines, and the vegetation.  This is the home of the Florida Azalea Festival.

Suspension Bridge at Ravine Gardens, Palatka

Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka

In the days of the riverboats, small boats sailed westward on the Ocklawaha River to Silver River and what is now Silver Springs State Park in Ocala National Forest.  The ill-fated attempt to build a Cross-Florida Barge Canal here ended to Rodman Dam.

The next key port town is De Leon SpringsBeautiful De Leon Springs, off CR 3,  is worth a stop for nature lovers.  It is a great place to see manatees in the cold months and even black bears in the mating season.

A few miles south is the large city of DeLand, home to the lovely campus of Stetson University,  You won’t miss the campus off US17 or the DeLand Museum or the DeLand House, but if you want to see wonderful preservation drive around the downtown district.

FLORIDATRAVELER deland theatre athens theatre

DeLand Is Filled With Neat Structures

South of DeLand, US 17 gets busy as it reaches the tourist packed Interstate 4 at Exit 104.  Before that take a short visit to the 1871 DeBary Mansion, the home to wine baron Frederick de Bary.  He hosted U.S. Grant, the Vanderbilts, and even the Prince of Wales here in the days of the riverboats.


Beautiful DeBary Hall Hosts The Famous

Most people will go west to Walt Disney World or East to Daytona, but Sanford on Lake Monroe was the last riverboat stop for the big ships.

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, conservation, environment, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, food, Historic Hotels & Inns, mcbobleonard, museums, Restaurants, small towns, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Favorite Florida Movie Locations

Just the other week the Academy Award show was on, but I don’t watch it since my wife and I no longer go to the flicks.  We’ll wait until the shows appear on regular television, which probably means there are some films that I won’t see unless I check them out of the library.  Like most large city library systems, they now are the new Blockbuster (a former Florida enterprise).

I thought it might be fun to make my own film awards of a somewhat historical nature –just honoring films made in Florida that reflected some aspect of Florida culture and society.

The Bob Leonard Landmark Award – Norman Studios

 When people vacation in Los Angeles, if they like movies, they have to go see the famous Hollywood sign.  Actually it started as the real estate ad “Hollywoodland” in 1923.  Very few people visit Florida’s film site – the 1916 Norman Studio (built for Eagle Films).  From 1908 to 1922 Jacksonville was home to 30 silent film studios, making the Florida town the original film center of America.


Now a silent film museum, Norman Studio is doubly distinctive for it produced silent films featuring all-African-American casts.  Whenever my wife and I go into our local Longhorn restaurant, there on the wall is a picture of Bill Pickett, the first African-American movie star and a Norman Studio actor from Oklahoma.


The Bob Leonard Personal Movie Site Award – The Colonnade Hotel – Coral Gables

 In the 1930’s the film industry clashed with California over taxes and as a negotiation ploy opened several studios elsewhere.  Columbia Pictures operated the Colonnade Studios on Miracle Mile in downtown Coral Gables.

FLORIDATRAVELKER nona at Colonnade

My Mother Outside Colonnade Studios

They produced some B-movies of fantasy and music.  My mother and my uncle (Cal and Nona Kay) were contracted by British Empire films, but were allowed to make two films at the Colonnade, the only movies my mother made in the United States.  Decades later as a student at the University of Miami, the building housed my bank.   Today it is the front half and lobby of the huge Hotel Colonnade.

Best Places Nicely Shown in a Movie (tie)

 Cocoon – downtown Saint Petersburg:  every-time I drive past the old Coliseum Ballroom at 535 4th Avenue in Saint Petersburg, I visualize Don Amache dancing his way to an Academy Award.   Ron Howard’s strange mixture of wishful senior citizens and space aliens captured the large retirement community and their lives.

FLORIDATRAVELER coliseum ballroom at xmas

While the city has tried for decades to erase its image as a old folks place, most locals loved seeing the world’s largest shuffleboard courts, Mirror Lake, and even the Sunny Shores Rest Home.  The green benches are long gone but this film needed no green screen to show the town.

Doc Hollywood – Micanopy:  Small town Florida is rarely the focus of modern movies, but Floridians quickly recognized Michael J. Fox was not in a town in North Carolina but it one of the Sunshine State’s oldest towns.  Micanopy is located south of Gainesville in North Central Florida. The incredibly rustic town center, the old stores, and the friendly people are worth a real life visit.

FLORIDATRAVELER doc hollywood on set

The Truman Show – Seaside:  The modern super-designed beachside of Seaside along the Gulf of Mexico in the Panhandle was the perfect for this movie featuring Jim Carney as the first global TV-test tube creation living in imaginary town located inside a giant dome.  Seaside is a real village, but can certainly give you the feeling you are in some sort of movie set.

If you are driving in the Panama City/Destin area, Seaside is a nice spot to stop for lunch and visit the unique shops.  If you seem to recognize people from the film, it is not your imagination – half the town’s population served as very realistic residents of the movie community.

Best Florida Building Featured in Movies  – the Fontainebleau

 Before there was the rebirth of South Beach, there was the Hotel Fontainebleau, the glamorous resort that helped make Miami a vacation destination in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Films played a major part in creating this image.

FLORIDATRAVELER James Bond at hotel

I Wonder How Much This Hotel Costs?

It was at the Fontainbleau that Sea Connery (James Bond) tilted with Gert “Goldfinger” Frobe over crooked card games and fatal body-paint.  Jerry Lewis was at his best as a bellhop at the hotel, while Al Picino partied here as a mobster.  Kevin Costner tried to bodyguard Whitney Houston.   I spent my first married night at the Fontainebleau.

Best Scenic Florida Feature in Movies – Seven Mile Bridge

 Outside of Miami Beach and Cape Kennedy, the Florida Keys Overseas Highway and its Seven Mile Bridge is the most utilized film location in the Sunshine State.  The long bridge never looked better than in True Lies as Arnold Schwarzenegger in a helicopter tried to rescue Jamie Lee Curtis in an automobile speeding to a blown up section of bridge.   I can vouch the bridge is completely whole.

FLORIDATRAVELER Jamie-Lee-Curtis-True-Lies

Best Usage of  Florida Water – Creature of the Black Lagoon

 Making a movie in Florida always features palm trees, blue skies, and lots of water.  As a kid I was thrilled at the underwater scenes taken at Wakulla Springs off FL 267, south of Tallahassee, in the horror film where Julie Adams faces the monster.  Florida’s clear springs soon became a major feature not just in dozens of films, but in my childhood TV shows like Sea Hunt and Flipper.

FLORIDATRAVELER creature of black lagoon

Of course, sometimes overuse of a good thing may be misused by a producer, like in one of those Airport disaster films when the huge commercial airplane lands in the Atlantic Ocean and its passengers have to be rescued by scuba divers.  The underwater scene lost much of its appeal when Floridians noticed the airplane was surrounded by freshwater fish.


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Spring Has Sprung in Flowery Florida

While my native New England is getting blasted by another terrible nor’easter and my old summer spot in Brant Rock (Massachusetts) has been flooded so many times this winter the Esplanade is starting to look like Venice (Italy), Florida is having nice spring weather.  That does, unfortunately, mean more pollen than usual, but I can live with that versus a blizzard.

Walt Disney World is having their 20th Epcot Flower and Garden Festival and the horticulture is better than ever.  WDW has more gardeners than any other place on this planet and this is their way to show the public they deserve all their acclaim.   Florida’s tropical atmosphere including fauna and flora have been a major attractions to visitors since the 1870’s.

FLORIDATRAVELER Epcot flower show

Epcot Is The Big Adult Theme Park

Here are some of my most favorite Florida botanical gardens and natural settings:

 Alfred B. Maclay Gardens   Tallahassee

As a student at Florida State University I joined the bikers and hikers and even swimmers on a short pilgrimage here to eye the amazing collection of azaleas and camellias, perhaps the best in Florida.  The gardens have a true Old South feel to them. January to April is the blooming season and there is a six dollar cover charge.


Maclay Gardens Is Old South Florida At Its Best

Florida Botanical Gardens    Largo

This 40 acre Pinellas County Park is not just free; it is a double treat for it is connected to Heritage Village, a wonderful collection of twenty West Coast structure dating back as far as the 1840’s.  The park hosts numerous events during the year appropriate to both the historic and tropical enviuronment.

Harry P.  Leu Gardens   Orlando

Long before the arrival of the huge amusement parts this fifty acre Orlando attraction was a Central Florida favorite.  Its location allows for an interesting mixture of temperate and tropical plants.

FLORIDATRAVELER harry-p-leu-gardens

Harry Leu Gardens in Orlando

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens   Sarasota

Orchid lovers in particular are wowed by this compact but breathtaking waterfront facility just south of downtown Sarasota.  It is a serious research center but you can purchase a grounds only visitation ticket.

FLORIDATRAVELER marie-selby-botanical-gardens-florida

Selby Gardens Is A Hidden Gem

Monkami Museum and Japanese Gardens   Delray Beach

A wonderful tribute to the Japanese community that once came to this area to produce winter crops, Monkami contains the most serene and peaceful lakeside gardens in Florida.   There is a cultural center, a  cafe, and a large store with unusual arty items.

FLORIDATRAVELER monkami gardens

A Trip To Japan In Delray Beach

Matheson Hammock Park   Miami    (HELP! RESTORE THIS PLACE!)

I had to include this Miami-Dade County park that hugs Biscayne Bay on Old Cutler Road.  As a University of Miami student, I came here to find a restful and beautiful spot to study for tests.  The shallow waters of the beach were always popular with parents with small children, but on my last visit the 130 acre park had been drastically altered.

FLORIDATRAVELER matheson-hammock-park

Many trees and vegetation had been removed for parking and access to a marina and restaurant.  I don’t mind the kayak rental shop and the new fishing pier, but the setting has lost its original tropical identity with its lush atoll pools.  I have heard that city leaders are planning a large boat warehouse at the site.  This would be another ugly move.

It is true that just down Old Cutler Road is the magnificent Fairfield Tropical Gardens.  It is really a commercial venture with tram rides and an admission cost of $25 for adults.

Bok Tower Gardens   Lake Wales

FLORIDATRAVELER Bok Tower Gardens Expansion

Into The Woods and Up The Hill

And when you speak of gardens in Florida, you must visit this place. There are fifty acres of flowered trails going up the tallest hill in South Florida to reach a magnificent carillon surrounded by water gardens with swans.  Newsman Edward Bok’s gift to Florida remains a wonderful place to get some exercise and then sit at one of the covered shelters where you have a secret lookout of one of the hill’s small lakes that attract animals and butterflies.

Bok is adding more acreage and public services down by its museum and restaurant.  I didn’t hear any talk of removing any foliage or trees.





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Florida Is Ousting Changing Clocks To Get More Sunshine

Florida lawmakers in the Sunshine State want snowbirds, tourists, and residents to get more “sunshine” on their vacations.

The bill called the “Sunshine Protection Act,” would ask the United States Congress to give the state permission to make Daylight Saving Time permanent year-round. The bill passed the Florida Legislature with little opposition.

FLORIDATRAVELER the sunshine state postcard

Hawaii and Southern Arizona already got Congress to allow them to stay on Standard Time.  Hey!  These are tourist rivals of us Floridians!

The Florida change has its opposition particularly since Panhandle Florida would no longer be in a different time zone and would be two hours off nearby Alabama six months of the year. I guess it would tell people in Pensacola to stay in state to shop.   It might also solve the issue of Miami newsmen declaring Gore the winner in Florida before the polls closed in the Panhandle where Bush got 60% of the vote.

FLORIDATRAVELER warm weather in florida

To be truthful it was a Saint Petersburg tourist promoter/newspaper guy in the 1880’s that coined the idea that Florida was “the Sunshine State.”  It was the start of a winter honeymoon of Northerners coming to Florida by train.

In reality some six states, including Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico have more days of sunshine than Florida.  BUT Florida has the highest average temperature of any state, including Hawaii.

Colorado (45.1 F), Nevada (49.9 F) and New Mexico (53.4 F) are not exactly the best places to wear a bathing suit in January.  Perhaps Florida should be renamed “the warm weather state” for that is why we get more winter visitors than any other state.

FLORIDATRAVELER Florida is further south than california

Look at how far south Florida is vs California and how far West

Any change in time in Florida will have a big impact on scheduling sports events in Florida if you want them to reach Eastern Standard Time audiences.  But if you take a look at Florida on a map – you will notice Florida is actually a most western state.  Are we Floridians really in the Southeastern USA?

Miami (80-11-38 degrees W) is further west than Pittsburgh, PA (79-59-46 degrees W) and Pensacola (87-13-0 degrees W) is almost as far west as Chicago (87-37-47 degrees W).

FLORIDATRAVELER Southernmost-Point-64154

Thanks to millions of Key West visitors who photograph the marker, most people know Florida is the southernmost spot in the Continental USA.  Only Hawaii is further South.

But did you know that Florida’s most northern spot (Fernandina Beach at 30-66-96 degrees N) is further south than San Diego (34-09-28 degrees N).  Heck, we in Florida think of California is a Northern state.

The Pacific water at Santa Monica Pier averages 59 degrees F with a high of 66 degrees in July.  Miami Beach is 71 degrees in January and 86 degrees in July. Only San Diego can hit that 71 degrees in mid-August.

FLORIDATRAVELER dog days of summer florida huskies

Those Beach Party Bingo kids should have been wearing wet suits when they made that movie in November.

The only trouble with this sun and temperature stuff is after many years residing  in Florida your blood system seems to thin and you start complaining when the temperature drops into the 60’s.   Florida kids wonder if school will be cancelled everytime a cold front hits the state.  That’s Florida for you.

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Old Florida Attractions Can Be Refreshingly New

Before the Mouse and Harry Potter and all the robotics, there were Florida theme parks and large attractions that featured Florida’s natural beauty – its climate and its fauna and flora.  Many of those Floridana sites are gone or replaced – like Legoworld replacing Cypress Gardens. Legos don’t water-ski too well.

Fortunately, many of them have survived or have been rescued by the State of Florida and turned into state parks less expensive but still natural attractions.   Spring time is a wonderful time to visit parks and outside sights, but the crowds at the big parks of Florida are overbearing and prices are at their max.

Here are some less crowded more natural attractions you might want to visit in Florida:

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Located fifty miles north of Tampa off US19, Homosassa Spring is a natural spring with the remains of a large animal zoo and one of the first floating observatories to see the springs and the mix of fish.  It is still a wonderful place to see manatees.

floridatraveler HOMOSASSA MAP

When I first visited it years ago Ivan Tors, the TV producer of shows like Flipper, had some of his star attractions here.   I went face to face with Gentle Ben (I mean real name Bruno), the star of the movie and TV show.  In the book Ben was supposed to be a brown bear in Alaska, but Ivan moved the scene to a friendly black bear in the Florida Everglades.


The Wonderful Fish Bowl with Manatees

Bruno and Tors are gone, but Lu the hippopotamus that grabs full heads of lettuce like an NFL tight end is still performing, and the park has a nice, peaceful river trip from the entrance on US19 to the site. I have seen white-tailed deer, river otters, and gators along the route of crystal clear waters.

Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs, just off I-75 in Ocala, was Florida’s first natural tourist attraction for steamboats in the 1880’s came from the St. Johns River to the Ocklawaha to the Silver River to visit the deep and beautiful springs.  Since the state took over in 2013, the animal attractions are gone, but the famous glass-bottom boats are still operating.

floridatraveler Silver_Springs_State_Park_

The Springs has a museum and environmental center as well as campgrounds and ten luxury cabins.  The area is filled with wild boars, white-tailed deer, armadillos, and gopher tortoises.

floridatraveler the monkeys on island

Monkeys Say: “Get Off Our Island Unless You Bring Food!”

You can canoe or kayak along some of the best scenery in Florida.  The colony of non-native rhesus macaques are still on Monkey Island making a commotion.  They are probably mad that they were put there in 1938 by a tour boat operator, who promoted them as cast members of a Tarzan movie.  It has been revealed that the film never used any monkeys so “movie stars they are not.”

Weeki Wachee Springs

Weeki Wachee State Park is located off US19 in Spring Hill, north of Clearwater, and is famous for the underwater mermaid shows in the beautiful Weeki Wachee River.  Being closer to larger populations, the p[ark maintains a water park called Buccaneer Bay and several animal attractions.

floridatraveler mermaid show

While first time visitors should see the mermaid show, a creation in 1947 by stunt diver Newt Perry, the real beautiful of the river, its manatees, and wildlife is best scene in nature walks and boat trips.

floridatraveler WEEKI WACHEE boat trip

Old Florida Is Peaceful and Calming

In 2007, the Karst Underwater Research team executed dangerous exploration dives into the park’s underwater caves and went 6,700 feet to a depth of 407 Feet Fresh Water Flow (ffw).  This makes the cave system probably the deepest known fresh water cave systemn in the United States.

Lion Country Safari near West Palm Beach

I will confess that this is a commercial zoo, ranked in 2009 as the third best zoo in the nation.  It is also the first “cageless zoo” when it opened in 1967, and thanks to creative management a 600 acre drive-through safari park, petting zoo, and amudement center.

floridatraveler ostrish acts like car

“If I Pretend I’m A Car Maybe I Can Escape This Joint.”

When I went here in the early days, the lions roamed freely in an area seperated from the other animals and one lioness decided to rest on the hood of my automobile.  Now the lions are behind fencing and deep water pits, because “the dumb visitors” keep ignoring the warning signs and keep opening their car doors. I find it amazing our species is still alive on this planet.

floridatraveler RHINO and car

You can get right next to the zebras and antelopes, but the park again has to prevent drivers from driving too close to rhinos, who love to exercise by turning tires into junk.  I call it “animal road kill in reverse.”









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Florida’s Brewery and Brew-Pub Businesses Are Booming

When I was a student at the University of South Florida, it was exciting to go down to the Anheuser- Busch beer plant and drink a free beer while we watched the flamingos.  Today, the Tampa brewery is gone, replaced by a huge amusement park and admission is a little more than free.

floridatraveler-florida-brewing-company 1896

The Florida Brewing Company in Ybor City 1896

Ironically, Florida’s oldest brewery, the Florida Brewing Company (1896) is still standing in Ybor City as legal offices.

In 2018 college students of drinking age are more likely to visit one of Florida’s 250 breweries and brewpubs.  More breweries seem to spring up every week, many branches of popular drinking spots.

Here is my 2018 List of Best Breweries (not in order):

 Motor Works Brewing – Bradenton

Voted last year, the Best Large Brewery in the Best Florida Beer Championships, this huge taproom and garden complex is at 1014 9th Street West, a few blocks north of Bradenton’s popular Village of the Arts district.   Their TV Win Motorworks lager was a former medalist as was their strangely tasty Pulp Fiction Grapefruit Gold Medalist.

floridatraveler MOTOR WORKS Bradenton

Big Outdoor Garden and Game Area

People drive from fifty miles away in part due to the beer but also due to the largest beer garden in Florida, one filled with a bocce ball court, a dozen corn-hole sets, games, and big 22-foot projection screen.  There are always two food trucks parked at the complex whenever Motor Works is open.

M.I.A. Brewing – Miami  (Doral)

 M.I.A. is far enough west of downtown Miami to give the alligators a sniff of the brew, but this newbie brewery at 10400 NW 33rd Street in Doral has become instantly popular for its Miami Weiss and MIA 305 golden ale.

floridatraveler MIA BREWING miami choices

Choice Is The Word at M.I.A. Brewing

The 54 draft lines at the bruhaus are packed every evening and this brewery has the largest and most diverse menu in Florida from prime steak to Mexican and Cuban and the standard dogs and burgers and salads.  M.I.A. is settingthe bar high for its competitors.

Cigar City Brewing – Tampa

 This WestShore institution at 3924 West Spruce Street has been given a best beer award by Thrillist.  All I know is that its Florida Cracker and Jai Alai IPA brands are all over town. There is even a Cigar City Brewing bar in Tampa International Airport.

floridatraveler Cigar-City-Brewing-tap room

Cigar City Tap Room Will Soon Be Packed

They do sell cigars, but you have to smoke them out on the patio.  Don’t smoke by the food trucks or you’ll upset some people.  And believe me, the many food trucks fight to get a single day invitation to park here.

The popularity of Cigar City has brought in so many people that there is a bottle club and a growler bar to separate the slow pokes.  That, I guess, is the problem when you become so well known that passengers just off airplanes from South America want to know the location of this brewery.

Swamp Head Brewery – Gainesville

 You can’t talk craft beer without mentioning a college town and up in Gainesville at 3650 SW 42nd Avenue is a brewpub (2008) funky enough for the University of Florida crowd but good enough to recruit serious beer drinkers from good distances.

floridatraveler SWAMP HEAD gainesville

College Size Thirst in Gainesville

Their Cottonmouth Belgian Witbier, Stump Knocker Pale Ale, and Big Nose IPA is starting to appearing outside of North Central Florida.  Not open for lunch on weekdays, Swamp Head is packed on weekends where there are events and more food choices.

Intuition Ale Works – Jacksonville

 I don’t visit North Florida so I asked several traveling friends and more mention this downtown brewery (929 East Bay Street) as a complete brewery and brewpub.  They picked People’s Pale Ale, Irish Red, and Dark Star as their top choices.

floridatraveler INTUITION ALE WORKS in jax

Started in 2010 by Ben Davis, Intuition has a restaurant firm operating the kitchen whenever Intuition is open so the menu is more extensive than most craft breweries.  IAW also has entertainment on most weekends.

Ten10 Brewing Company – Orlando

 Orange County has a lot of fine brewing companies, even an inconsistent brewpub at Walt Disney World on the Boardwalk, but I picked this popular spot at 1010 Virginia Drive east of Lake Ivanhoe.

floridatraveler ten10 orlando

The Lab at Ten10 Orlando

Some people just come here for the great sandwich selections, but the East West IPA is a big winner.

NOTICE:  A few weeks along I did an article on railroad rides and sadly announced that the wonderful train ride in Lake County seemed to have been terminated.     I was in Mount Dora a week ago and was happy to ride the train (the original people didn’t renew one of the trains).  They were even preparing a Mardi Gras train ride that weekend.  So take the train the next time you are in Mount Dora.

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