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

 

 

 

 

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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

What I Dislike Most About Orlando’s Super Theme Parks 2018

It still doesn’t feel like Fall has arrived in Central Florida this Fall and we are hitting October.  Soon the snowbirds will be filling Florida’s highways and the hectic holiday season will be in full swing.

I  thought I should give a new review for going to Orlando’s Super Theme Parks in the winter 2018-19 season with an orientation to the most common complaints I hear from visitors at WDW and Universal. Of course, I have some observations.

What I Dislike Most

 Constantly Increasing Ticket Prices is the largest complaint and this year there is a new problem for Floridians.  Beginning October 16 Walt Disney World will be selling date of visit tickets rather than tickets with seasonal prices.  Where this will get messy is the new tickets have narrower date usage rules.  Go to the Disney websites.

SONY DSC

Will Opening Day Star Wars Mean $200 Park Tickets?

            Many of my Orlando friends buy several single park tickets so if friends come down for a day at WDW, my friends will have a ticket and just drive over to the park.  The new rules, however, really encourage Central Floridians to purchase year-round or seasonal passes. There will probably be a rush on the older ticket choices for the next two weeks.

Over-priced Low Quality Fast Food Places at all the Orlando parks.  While the prices at Table Service restaurants are high and most places have almost combined the lunch and dinner menus and prices, most table service places have decent food.  At the fast food places quality food is rarely the option.

FLORIDATRAVELER columbiahouse magic

See That Second Floor on a Fast Food Place?: Peaceful

My choices as the best value fast food: Magic Kingdom: Columbia House and Pecos Bill; Epcot: Sunshine Seasons Food Court; Studios: Backlot Express; Animal Kingdom: Flame Tree Barbecue; at Universal: The Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomstick shows they spent money on more than just the rides at Harry Potter.

FLORIDATRAVELER the-leaky-cauldron

Universal’s Leaky Cauldron Is Great Theme Fast Food

Rising Parking Fees make me glad I have an annual pass.  I know people who breakfast at the Wilderness Lodge and the Dolphin in order to take a nice, peaceful boat ride into Magic Kingdom and Epcot rather than a packed tram and monorail.

FLORIDATRAVELER parking at wdw

In the world’s largest one-level parking: now two price parking

Mandatory Locker Policies upset a lot of people at Universal even when they have their pocketbooks safely nestled under their armpit.  They do have a lot of rides, one after the other, that flip you about unlike the tamer WDW rides.  WDW is pushy about this only at the water parks and water rides.

Access To The Best Rides is a serious issue for people who come to the Parks from across the world or have saved up their money for six months to visit.  The answer, of course, is the use at the earliest time of the Fastpass system, but even here you have the limitation of just three rides in two categories.

FLORIDATRAVELER epcot_lines

Thanks to Festivals August to May: No Slow Seasons

            How do you choose between Test Track, Soarin’, and Frozen if you have a family of different ages and tastes?  WDW online software is geared on the assumption your entire family wants to Fastpass the same rides.

Universal has the neat Express Pass but it excludes Harry Potter’s rides.  I will confess I loved it when it came as part of the package of staying at Portofino Bay.  My wife and I zipped through the Universal rides like we owned the place.  Considering the resort prices, maybe we did buy the place for the day.

Stinky Stinky Places:  At the end of a day of 50,000 visitors, including dirty diapers and sick kids, confined places filled with confined people will stink despite the huge maintenance crews at both WDW and Universal.   The monorail can get so bad when it is crowded, I gladly take the ferry boat.  Give me fresh air even in the Florida humidity.

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, dining, disney, disney springs, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, Restaurants, Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, wdw | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Hurricane That Killed and Flooded Florida

The devastating flooding in the Carolinas due to the huge hurricane reminded me of Florida’s most dramatic flooding crisis.  It may seem strange to some of you since Florida is so flat and its rivers seem to flow slowly.

Ninety years ago in September of 1928, a Category 5 hurricane came eastward over Palm Beach County and flooded the southern half of Lake Okeechobee with a twenty-foot tsunami that killed over 2,000 people.   It was the most violent natural disaster in the history of the state.

FLORIDATRAVELER muck bowl intro

Much like the controversy over the number of deaths caused by last year’s Puerto Rican hurricane, since a majority of the deaths were immigrant workers from the Deep South and some from the Bahamas, no one can be totally sure on the death count.  Bodies were sent southward miles into the alligator-invested waters of the Everglades.

The hurricane called by Floridians Okeechobee hurricane, also known as the San Felipe Segundo hurricane, formed September 6, 1928, off the coast of Africa.  Moving westward, it hit Guadaloupe on September 12 with Category 4 winds and a storm surge that caused 1,200 deaths on the island.

FLORIDATRAVELER flood zone 1928_Okeechobee_Flood

By September 13 it was a Category 5 with sustained wind of 160 mph as it crashed into Puerto Rico.  312 people were killed, the vegetation destroyed, and 500,000 people were left homeless.   People in Florida sounded the alarm.

But as San Felipe Segundo arrived in the Bahamas, it had weakened somewhat to a Category 4 and the damages in the Bahamas was less with just 18 fatalities.

On September 16 it seemed the storm was heading north along the Atlantic Coast which would mean the western side of the storm might get less rain and wind.  It should be noted that in 1928 there wasn’t today’s radar nor cell-phones nor even a decent radio station to communicate into the Florida interior, the Muck Bowl.

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There was no escape from the huge wave.

Suddenly at night when many in rural areas had gone to be, the storm moved westward hitting West Palm Beach with 145 mph winds.  1,711 homes were crushed.

But there were worse things to come.  Hurricane winds move counter-clockwise and as the hurricane moved to Lake Okeechobee, the huge winds blew the waters in the shallow 25 mile by 25 mile lake from the southern end of the lake to the deeper north end.  Suddenly boats were sitting in the muck and the best roads for escape headed eastward into a wind that could blow a horse cart into a canal.

FLORIDATRAVELER finding bodies 1928 hurricane

Faceless People in the Swamp

Most of the farm workers lived in crude wooden house on stilts to avoid gators and snakes.  As the storm passed a giant tsunami wave rushed southward and swept away the cities of Belle GladeCanal Point, Chosen, Pahokee, and South Bay, Florida.  Only a few commercial buildings survived.  The wave could have been thirty feet high.

FLORIDATRAVELER Mass_Grave_1928

Hundreds of square miles in the swamps south of the Lake were filled with floating bodies that would quickly decay or be eaten by swamp things.  Only mass graves could handle the hundreds of unknown corpses.

FLORIDATRAVELER hoover dike

The Lake Is So Wide It Looks Like An Ocean

The Hoover Dike, Florida’s largest WPA Project, was built around Lake Okeechobee to prevent future disasters, but it also meant interfering with the flow of fresh water into the Everglades to the south.  The Great Wall of Florida is the first man-made site astronauts see as they return to Florida from space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, conservation, environment, florida history, Florida parks, Historic Buildings, Hurricanes, mcbobleonard, small towns, travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Shopping Malls and Shopping Places in Florida

One of Florida’s most popular indoor vacation experiences is to go shopping, although with Florida’s climate, many of the popular shopping spots utilize beautiful outdoor settings.  It seems every area of Florida has discount malls but I prefer going to shopping plazas that are non-traditional in their variety and awesome-ness or have shops you can’t find in nearby malls.

Here are some places you should include on your Florida shopping plans:

The Mall at Millenia (Orlando) at 4200 Conroy Road, Orlando


Orlando is crowded with malls but for some slightly more high-end shopping the Mall at Millenia is my choice. The indoor, multi-level shopping space is only half the size of The Florida Mall, but stores here focus more on the upscale brands such as Gucci, Cartier, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Burberry, and Tiffany & Co.  Located south of downtown, means it is easier to get to from Universal, SeaWorld, Disney and the international airport.

FLORIDATRAVELER MALL AT MILLIA orlando 

Disney Springs off I-10 at Walt Disney World

This monster of a shopping village is more than Disney shops: it has great restaurants, more upscale places then you might imagine, but also the best selection of things visitors want to bring home on vacations.

FLORIDATRAVELER disney-springs-anoitecer

Disney Springs could be called Shopping World

Despite the crowds, the automated free parking facilities make it easy to park provided you don’t arrive weekday afternoons.  The addition of quality nightclubs with movie theaters makes Disney Springs a full day attraction.

International Plaza and Bay Street off Westshore at Tampa Airport

The creation of this upscale 200-speciality shop mall with Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus is often filled with foreign visitors who pop off the airport, book a room in the mall’s hotel, and shop and dine for day.

FLORIDATRAVELER INTERNATIONAL MALL tampa

The restaurant area at International Mall

Bay Street is filled with some 20 restaurants and even the food court’s spots are places like Chipotle, Chick-fil-a, Johnny Rockets, and Earl of Sandwich, not unknown dealers.  There are a dozen deluxe handbag firms, some only found in Italy and Beverly Hills.

Dolphin Mall, 11401 NW 12th Street, Miami

 FLORIDATRAVELER dolphin mall_exterior

Miami is loaded with shopping options, but I am amazed by the Dolphin, the largest outlet-shopping-entertainment complex in Miami-Dade.  It has great transportation options in this overcrowded metropolis.

With massive discount stores by Saks and Neiman Marcus sitting next to Bass Pro Shops and Burlington Coat, you realize this complex has everything, including a 19-screen movie theater, high quality restaurants, and even a Sunday farmer’s market.

Bal Harbour Shops, at 9700 Collins Avenue, off A1A, Bal Harbour

This plant-dominated outdoor mall in the beachside suburb of Bal Harbour is more than an upscale shopping place.  It is a spot where top notch designers want to present their latest selections.

FLORIDATRAVELER bal-harbour miami

There is nothing discount at Bal Harbour. La Perla, Wolford, Agent Provocateur join Oscar de la Renta, and Stella Mccartney.   It is not shocking that the restaurants here are also upscale – a fast snack means Parisian-style treats at Lauduree.

Swap Shop, 3291 West Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale

 Not everyone has Versace tastes or pocketbooks and the Swap Shop is the wildest and probably biggest flea market, farmers market, and 14-screen drive-in in the South.  Everyday 2,000 vendors jam 75 acres of shopping entertainment and the good news is that typical catalog discount stuff won’t get you in the good graces of these shoppers.

FLORIDATRAVELER fort-lauderdale-drive-in-and-swap-shop-

Swap Shop Is 75 Acres of Mad Entertainment

The bright yellow people bridge over Sunrise Boulevard is the yellow brick shopping road to a vast collection of everything.  It may not be the Emerald City but you can purchase discounted emeralds here.

The Galleria, 2414 East Sunrise Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale

 Head toward the beach from Swap Shop and you come to one of Florida’s most world-class shopping meccas.  The two-story structure houses Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, and all the expected glamour chains.  Its valet parking is the best in Southeast Florida and the restaurant list is first class.

FLORIDATRAVELER galleria-fort-lauderdale

 Worth Avenue at  Palm Beach

 Florida’s most famous and glamorous shopping street is Worth Avenue in the heart of Palm Beach.  The island center contains quality shops, but even more wonderful Land Boon architecture, classic hotels, and notable restaurants.

FLORIDATRAVELER Palm-Beach-Worth-Ave-gate

Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, a stroll around this beautiful neighborhood is a worthwhile tourist attraction and you can even find guides online.

The Avenues Mall, 103 Southside Blvd, South Jacksonville

The pride of South Jacksonville off I-95 and near I-295 and the eastside of the St. Johns River, this massive two-story 125-store mall is the best in North Florida.  Besides the traditional big chains and large food court, Avenues has odd places like Subculture and Winey Wench.   The architecture here is amazingly lovely.

Fifth Avenue South, downtown Naples, west of US41

 Upscale Naples has a lot of upscale malls, but I love Olde Naples when the weather is mild and walking along the wide avenue with its tropical plants is so Florida.  People thought shopping might leave here in the 1990’s with the growth of more suburban malls, but Fifth Avenue South has boomed with its delightful mix of sidewalk cafes, unique local shops, and quality urban design.

FLORIDATRAVELER 5th AVenu South

Fifth Avenue South in Naples At Holiday Times

Fifth Avenue South is at its best in the winter months when street festivals and outdoor events attract half of Collier County downtown to enjoy their downtown treat.

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Florida Drives: INDIAN RIVER LAGOON

This is part of a series of driving tours I will present in the next few months with an emphasis on Florida’s natural beauty, historic architecture, and attractions.

Most people vacation in Orlando, Daytona Beach, or Central Florida visit the John F. Kennedy Space Center off FL 405 by traveling east from Orlando on the Beachline Expressway (toll) or coming north or south via Interstate 95.

FLORIDATRAVELER VAB_aerial

With more interactive exhibits, a space ride, the Astronaut Memorial, and such amazing spots as the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and giant rockets, the NASA attraction is a wonderful family attraction.  The fact that you could have a real astronaut as a guide is even more amazing to me.

FLORIDATRAVELER THE INDIAN RIVER TOUR 2018

Cape Canaveral is a massive bird sanctuary and if open, I would drive south along Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and stop at their Air Force Space and Mission Museum.  Exiting Gate 1 will take you to A1A and 528 a mile away from Port Canaveral.

Port Canaveral has some recreational facilities and restaurants but the star of the port are the Disney berths.  Even if you are not taking a cruise to the Bahamas, the Disney Cruise Terminals when any ships are in port is an attraction.

From there you can take an oceanway tour down US A1A as far south as you wish – to Sebastian Inlet or Vero Beach.  Most people like to stop off at historic Cocoa Beach Pier, which has restaurants, gift shops, nearby motels and resorts, and hopefully a great view of surfers if the Atlantic is active.

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Few people can resist stopping at the main store of Ron Jon Surf Shop with all its ocean-going equipment.  The clothing sections will satisfy those who stay on the beach.  The area is starting to look like the largest outdoor sports mall in Florida with nearby Cocoa Beach Surf Company and Oceansports World, huge shops.

If you don’t have enough time to journey south on A1A, you can drive west to the mainland to Historic Cocoa, with a famous theater, the headquarters of the Florida Historical Society, and nice restaurants and shops.

FLORIDATRAVELER PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE

South of Cocoa Beach on A1A is Patrick Air Force Base.  This must be a serviceman’s dream location with its beach cottage rentals, marina, golf course, and location to the family amusement parks.

FLORIDATRAVELER INDIAN RIVER LAGOON

Driving north US1 in Melbourne you are close to the Indian River Lagoon, perhaps the least appreciated body of water in Florida.  It is the most biodiverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere.  It is 156 miles long and only four feet in average depth.  It combines saltwater and freshwater.

FLORIDATRAVELER -Indian River Lagoon2

Along you drive you will probably note this is a great place for a fishing and boating vacation (boat or kayak) on the riverside and swimming and surfing in the Atlantic.  There are also five state parks and four Federal wildlife refuges on the Indian River/Banana River lagoon complex.

FLORIDATRAVELER Melbourne riverside

If you love architecture: you can drive off US1 whenever you want to look at some expensive riverfront homes with their neat docks and wharves.  Historic buffs may wish on another trip to explore Indian River Drive in Titusville where the mansions go back to the 1890’s.

Off FL 509 is the Brevard Zoo, one of Florida’s three best small county museums with over 400 animals and great educational programs.   ALL in all, Brevard County is a vast vacation spot.

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, conservation, environment, florida education, florida history, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, mcbobleonard, museums, Recreational Experiences, travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Favorite Florida Bed and Breakfast Places

When it comes to staying in a great vacation spot at a value place, Florida’s top bed and breakfast houses are a great choice for couples of all ages.  The breakfasts alone at many of these places beats anything you’ll get at a hotel or eatery.

Many of these places are perfectly located near attractions in areas where the hotel prices skyrocket during the prime business seasons.  Everyone in these places often seem to be a voluntary concierge, giving you tips of local restaurants and activities.

Here are some Florida bed and breakfast spots to consider:

 Blue Heron Inn

102 South 7th Street, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

 Fernandina Island challenges Saint Augustine and Key West as Florida’s bed and breakfast treasure house and the Blue Heron is a real gem.  The Victorian mansion is exquisite in its taste in furnishings and décor, but it is modern with full facility Wi-Fi and big flat screen TVs.  Some rooms have whirlpool tubs.

FLORIDARAVELER Blue Heron fernandina bedroom

Where Blue Heron jumps ahead of its competition is its personal service to guests and a four-course hot breakfast with a menu that totally changes each day. The 1904 inn is minutes away from the rustic downtown, Fort Clinch, and the Atlantic beaches.

Carriage Way Bed & Breakfast

70 Cuna Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084

FLORIDATRAVELER Carriage Way Inn St Augustine

No city in America the size of Saint Augustine has as many highly ranted bed and breakfast spots as the Ancient City.  Any couple that stays in a motel out on US1 is out to lunch!  At night the Victorian area just south of the Plaza turns into the city that make writers and artists arrive in the 1890’s.

This place has a magnificent staff and breakfast and treats guests to tea and coffee and wine.  There is a travel concierge who’ll help you make restaurant reservations and show you all the secret spots that make visiting here so unique.

Inn on the Avenue

309 Flagler Avenue, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169

New Smyrna Beach has the same beach as Daytona, without the noisy crowds and carnival atmosphere.  It is five minute walk down Flagler past the quaint gift shops and restaurants to the beach.

FLORIDATRAVELER Inn on Avenue New Smyrna

The Inn is a small, happy place where everyone plays with the pancake griddles during the prix fixe breakfast and few miss the daily happy hour where sangria and hor d’oeuvres seem to be the food choice.  This is great location for such a low key experience.

floridatraveler inn on the beach coral room new smyna

Harrington House Beachfront Bed & Breakfast

5626 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island 34217

FLORIDATRAVELER harrington house anna maria is

This is a no-brainer – if you want a beachside, long-established tremendous bed and breakfast spot on a peaceful island filled with friendly restaurants and happy travelers.

Floridatraveler harringtonhouse-Entrance-

Fifty guests stay in three houses and some bungalows, all on one of Florida’s best Gulf beaches.  An executive chef comes in and makes a unique breakfast everyday.  Your wish is their command for finding island things to do.

Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn

1915 REPUBLICA DE CUBA, 33605 Tampa

If you want to be in the heart of Tampa’s Latin Quarter near the restaurants and nightclubs and a short walk to the trolley to downtown then you might consider this romantic inn.  I know it well for 35 years I taught across the street at the community college.

FLORIDATRAVELER don vicente at ybor city outside

Don Vicente started as the headquarters of the Ybor City Development Company and was once even a hospital.  Jose Marti gave a speech on the steps across the street.  The inn is totally renovated and has some cool public rooms.

FLORIDATRAVELER don vicente ybor lobby

Grandview Gardens Bed and Breakfast 

1608 Lake Avenue, West Palm Beach, FL 33401

FLORIDATRAVELER casa grandview west palm beach pool

This place is half a city block with a 1919 house, a 1925 house, and eight cottages not counting a pool that belongs at a luxury resort.  People have found this spot and is gets booked heavily by repeat business.

FLORIDATRAVELER casa grandview west palm beach bedroom

The breakfast is not a fixed plate, but resembles a restaurant menu of choices.  If you are a couple with an automobile, it is a simple drive to the shops of Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.

Henderson Park Inn

2700 Scenic Highway 98, Destin, FL 32541

The Henderson Park doesn’t fit the image of a bed and breakfast although it resembles a Victorian edifice on Block Island, Rhode Island.  There are two large three story buildings right on the Gulf of Mexico next to Henderson Beach State Park.

Bed and breakfast guests have a huge buffet for dining, but the vast place has a popular restaurant with a view of the Gulf.  The rooms were redone in 2005 with more amenities than most motels.

Heron Cay Lakeview Bed & Breakfast

495 W Old US Hwy 441, Mount Dora, FL 32757

Mount Dora, north of Orlando, is a great village for antique hunting, train rides along the lakes, and a lot of interesting restaurants.  This is a picturesque place on a bluff facing the town.

FLORIDATRAVELER Heron Cay Mount Dora outside

There is a buffet and continental breakfast and Heron Cay even cooks up some special meals.  There is a large swimming pool and something not found at most hotels – a tennis court.

FLORIDATRAVELER Heron Cay mount dora inside food

Happy b&b hunting!

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, bed&breakfast, Florida Food, florida history, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, Historic Hotels & Inns, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, Restaurants, Tampa | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snorkeling In Florida Is A Recreation Bonanza For All Ages

I never appreciated snorkeling when I was a kid and scuba diving seemed an impossibility to be with my poor eyesight.  Ironically, now after cataract surgery I can see underwater as an old coot better than when I was in grade school.

Still, I am not attracted to going two miles offshore to a Florida Keys reef where the waters are five to fifty feet; I’d stick as close to the five foot edge as I could.  Diving down into the deep is not my bag so I need to mention places off the beach.

That’s why this article is not telling you about advanced snorkeling sites and too many places where you have to take a long boat trip to your destination.  Plus, people should realize Florida’s clear spring rivers are filled with great fish and manatees, and there are many safe snorkeling spots where alligators don’t line the shoreline.

Here are some neat spots to snorkel in Florida:

 Biscayne National Park

 You don’t have to go to the Florida Keys to see the third largest barrier reef system in the world for its starts just south of Miami’s Key Biscayne with forty islands (keys), nine reefs, and five shipwrecks to explore, many with near shore snorkeling environments in hard-bottom coral communities.

FLORIDATRAVELER SNORKEL key west snorkel-reef-cruise4

Experts suggest Caesar Creek Sandwich Cove as a nice shallow area with hard bottom coral colonies, and Bell Buoy Reef which does require a snorkeling boat trip.   Look at a map of the underwater Park and you realize it is a giant, protected bay.

Carysfort Reef

 John D. Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a famous place for scuba and snorkeling and Carysfort is in the northern tip, popular with many Key Largo snorkeling firms.  This one is a boat trip to a mature reef with depths of 5 to 25 feet.

FLORIDATRAVELER snorkel -carysfort

Carysfort was a 118-foot British frigate that hit the reef in 1770 and is six miles off North Key Largo.  As the ocean level rises the island that once held the lighthouse becomes a larger shallow snorkel area.

Pigeon Key and Bahia Honda are two islands where the snorkeling is done right off the beach.  While the latter, a state park with campsites is more famous, the snorkeling program at exotic Pigeon Key covers adults to small kids.

Pigeon Key Snorkel Class Right Off Highway

FLORIDATRAVELER snorkel Pigeon-Key1

Key West Marine Park

 Located on the south side of the urban island from the end of DuVal Street to the White Street pier, the Key West Marine Park has 116 mooting buoys marking the near coastal reef.

Experts pick the remnants of the old White Street bridge (Higgs Beach) and the Dog Beach area at Vernon Street as the best entry points to the reef.   They remind people don’t grab any spiny lobsters in the off-season.

Most people think that you have to go to the Florida Keys to find a large snorkeling area that has clear waters and loads of interesting fish.  You can walk off the beach at these spots.

Bathtub Reef Park

FLORIDATRAVELER SNORKEL bathtub reef park

 Located on Hutchinson Island on the Atlantic Ocean, the Bathtub is a honeycomb worm reef that diverts the surf making a more protected bay for snorkeling.  It is a good experience even for amateur and child snorkelers while experienced people can go over the reef walls into deeper water.

Point of Rocks

 FLORIDATRAVELER SNORKEL point of rocks siesta key_701

The design of the Gulf of Mexico beaches limits visibility in Florida, but there are still spots like South Venice Beach that are fun snorkeling spots.  The best Point of Rocks on the south side of popular Siesta Key, voted by many as the whitest sand in the USA.

This is a mostly residential area but there are access points and it is a short southward walk from Turtle Beach (half way south on the island).  A long row of outcroppings protect fish from large attackers.

Florida’s river springs are popular snorkeling places so if you look up the Florida State Parks to see if scuba is allowed – snorkeling will also be allowed.

Crystal River

 Scuba Diving Magazine lists this huge multi-=spring site as one of the top 25 snorkeling areas in the world.  It is famous for swimming near manatees and the water is mild all year.

floridatraveler SNORKELING crystal river

The Three Sister Springs area attracts the most winter manatees and there are several tour firms that specialize in snorkeling programs.

Homosassa River

floridatraveler SNORKEL Homosassa+Springs

 The same tour people also operate thirty miles south in Homosassa Springs famous for its State Park on US19.   Snorkeling here is equally interesting for besides manatees, both saltwater and freshwater fish mix freely in this wide river.

FLORIDATRAVELER SNORKEL destin east jetty

Snorkel off the East Jetty in Panhandle Destin

So consider a snorkeling trip as part of your outdoor Florida experiences.

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, conservation, diving, environment, florida history, Florida parks, Florida sports, florida vacations, Historic Lighthouses, keys, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment