FLORIDA’S GREATEST MAN MADE ATTRACTIONS

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

 

 

 

Posted in attractions, disney, disney springs, florida history, florida vacations, Recreational Experiences, travel, Walt Disney World, wdw | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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September in Florida Still Means Big Events

Labor Day may mean the end of summer in Florida, but it doesn’t mean Florida towns will wait for the snowbirds and big cash tourists to return in winter.  September is a good time in Florida.…

Source: September in Florida Still Means Big Events

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September in Florida Still Means Big Events

Labor Day may mean the end of summer in Florida, but it doesn’t mean Florida towns will wait for the snowbirds and big cash tourists to return in winter.  September is a good time in Florida.  With school back everywhere, the beaches and most tourist attractions are less crowded.  And the water is still very warm.

September events are usual more casual and catering to Floridians.  Here are my favorite September events.

West Palm Beach has decided to jam three marine-oriented events together September 23-25 at the huge South Florida Fairgrounds on Southern Boulevard.  For just ten dollars you can see the South Florida Boat Show, the 8th Annual Marine Flea Market and Seafood Festival, and the Marine and Wildlife Art Festival and Craft Show.

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You don’t have to like boats.  You can eat plates of seafood, shop for Christmas gifts, and see some of Florida’s greatest wildlife artists at work.

Florida is also celebrating its cowboy and Indian heritage with two great cultural events.  On September 26 at Miami’s Miccosukee Resort, Florida’s local tribe celebrate the American Indian Day Festival with music and dance, a fashion show, airboat rides, tribal crafts and arts, and even a little alligator wrestling.   The event is free since it is designed to show Floridians the traditions and heritage of Florida’s Indian population.

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From September 30 to October 1, the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee hosts the Ranch Rodeo and Cowboy Festival which not only displays the cattle ranching life, but also demonstrates ranch horse skills and the use of cow dogs on the Florida open range.  It is a competition that will be attractive to horse and dog lovers.  The festival ends with a big steak festival.

FLORIDATRAVELER cowdog competition

This weekend (September 3-5) the Greek community of Tarpon Springs has their Sponge Docks Arts and Crafts Festival.  What I love about this diverse shopping spree is it is surrounded by incredible Greek restaurants and bakeries.  You might want to visit the sponge museum or take a replicated sponge boat trip down the river for a sponge fishing exhibition.

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The week of September 12 is the 27th Annual Lobster Festival and Tournament at the Schooner’s Last Local Beach Club in Panama City.  The Spring party goers have been replaced with tons of lobster fresh from the Gulf of Mexico.  The 17th Annual Sand Sculpture Contest is one of the largest and best in the Sunshine State.

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Saint Augustine celebrates its long-time Spanish roots September 8 through 11 with the Spanish Wine Festival, where it seems every local restaurant pairs Spanish wines with seafood and caviar.  There is a very competitive super soaker team battle where red wine has replaced   water as a weapon of choice.  I guess it is good to be shot in the mouth in that contest.

For those who like to attend real sporting events that are unique to Florida, I would visit Sugden Regional Park in Naples September 20 to 25 when the Professional Watercross World Championships are being held.  You will not believe what top notch pro and amateur personal watercraft racers can do with their boats.  There are sport, runabout, and ski divisions and this year’s world champions will be crowded.  CBS Sports will be filming for an October 16 showing.

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Lastly, if you idea of a Sunday afternoon is a family athletic oating you might like the 27th Annual Endless Summer Watermelon Ride September 11th in Fernandina Beach at the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center.  You can choose distances from 21 to 103 miles on a beautifl coastal bicycle ride along the tree-lined streets through Amelia Island to Talbot Island State Park.

The North Florida Bike Club has pre-race facilities, food and drink stops, and fully mapped and escorted bike routes.  It is one of the fun family events in Northeast Florida.   All of these events can be looked up online for more details.

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Seven Women Who Changed Florida History

One hundred years ago Florida was the only state in the South with less than one million residents, but things would soon change in every aspect of society in Florida.  Many people played major roles in Florida history – here are seven women who helped change Florida history.

Julia DeForest Sturtevant Tuttle (1848-1898) is the only woman in United States history, who is viewed as the founder of a major American metropolis.  After the death of her husband, Mrs. Tuttle invested in real estate  along the Miami River at a time when it was a wilderness of scattered farms.

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While the story she sent railroad baron Henry Flagler a bouquet of orange blossoms and oranges after a North Florida freeze is a romantic myth, it is no fiction that Julia Tuttle pressured Flagler with land at the mouth of the Miami River and convinced him to extend his railroad.  By the time the trains reached Miami, the settlement was a booming town.

No one has meant more to the development of Florida literature and culture than Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) whose Pulizer Prize The Yearling and autobiographic Cross Creek inspired a generation of Florida authors.  Today her farm at Cross Creek, south of Gainesville, is a major literary attraction for tourists and natives.

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Outside of Florida Mary McLeod Bethune is best remembered as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s national adviser, but in the Sunshine State she is viewed as the woman who started a college for African-American women in Daytona Beach,. The school merged it with a male college, and she served as College President  for over twenty years, at a time few women headed coed colleges.  Her house and grave-site in Daytona Beach are visited  by educators across the globe.

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May Mann Jennings (1872-1963) was the wife of Florida Governor William S. Jennings, but more importantly used her status to improve women’s suffrage, educational funding, historic preservation, prison reform, and child welfare.  She started the Florida League of Women Voters and pioneered the start of the Florida Park Service.  She was a Victorian women whose civic career lasted seventy years.

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Zora Neale Hurston put the African-American town of Eatonville on the map with her award-winning Their Eyes Were Watching God and her autobiographic Dust Tracks. Besides four novels and hundreds of short stories, she was a folklorist for the PWA in Florida, capturing the culture of African-Americans in a more rural era.

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No one talks about the Florida environment very long without mentioning Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998), who fighting for the survival of the Everglades at age 108.  He book The Everglades: River of Grass is one of the most noted non-fiction works in Florida literature.  Her house at 3744 Stewart Avenue in the Coconut Grove is a National Landmark.

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Jacqueline Cochran (1910-1980) was a major aviator who pressured the military into accepting women into the field of aviation.  She was the first woman to break the sound barrier; the first to fly bombers across the Atlantic; and the first civilian women to win the Distinguished Service Award.  She once held more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot in the world, male or female.

FLORIDATRAVELER jacqueline cochran

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New Hotel Boom Hits South Florida

Florida has 370,000 hotel rooms in 16,374 hotels.  It is the only state that is covered by three AAA travel guides.

Despite these statistics the Great Recession slowed down new hotel construction particularly outside South Florida.  Today huge hotel projects are springing up from Pensacola to Jacksonville to Key West, many of them much needed boosts to tourist locations that have not seen much new facilities or seen older hotels converted to more profitable condominiums.

South Beach still leads the way with many older buildings being totally redone.  A great lower priced option in the Lincoln Road area is Haddon Hall or “The Hall”, the first Joie de Vivre East Coast boutique hotel.

Floridatraveler THE HALL

 Designed by Robert McKinley with a little white Art Deco, some Rio and some Caribbean, The Hall has just 163 rooms and an unusual 1.4 acre playground, uncommon for crowded South Beach.

Up in Hollywood Melia Hotels has opened the Melia Costa Hollywood Beach Resort, a six story condo hotel with five restaurants, a spa, a rooftop infinity pool, and 304 rooms. The hotel will impact a area of slow beachfront growth.

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Even the Florida Keys is undergoing a wave of new resorts.  The Playa Largo Rsort, a Marriott Autograph hotel, is the first hotel in the Key Largo area in two decades.

The 155 room resort is spread across 14 acres of prime real estate and features bi-level cottages, three restaurants, a secluded white beach, and a real island feel.

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Key West has several new hotels but a great choice for families who don’t want to be surrounded by the noise of Duval Street might want to head to the quiet side of the island to The Gates Hotel.  The modern, minimalist resort features the poolside Rum Row Bar with its own rum distillery and the funky Blind Pigs tapas restaurant.

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With its 119,800 hotel rooms, second only to Las Vegas, Orlando continues to sprout new hotels like weeds.  The big resort guys have opposite extremes.  Universal Studios is building a second family resort with Loews Sapphire Falls Resort.

Walt Disney’s new super-resort is the very upscale Four Seasons Resort hidden on the property from all the parks and congestion.  The 444 room golf course style resort has high cost restaurants: the Italian Ravello, the Spanish style Capa, and the clubhouse Planca.

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But don’t worry if this is a place just for adults.  Mickey and Company find the place at breakfast time and the five acre Explorer Island with its lazy river is the largest poolside recreation area at WDW.  Instead of crowded Disney buses, guests here take plush motor coaches to the parks.

All across Florida new hotels are changing the waterfront of older hotels.  In Panama City a large Spring Hill Suites by Marriott is filling a hole by the Bay County Pier on Front Beach Road.   At Daytona Beach the 29-story condo Hard Rock Hotel at 777 Atlantic Avenue will be a monster of an addition.

Even Clearwater Beach, where many hotels became condos, there are new places like the Opal Sands Resort, with its 230 rooms with full Gulf of Mexico views, and the new Hampton Inn and Suites.

Look up these hotels if you’re heading that way in Florida

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