Two For The Price of One at Walt Disney World

Everyone likes to get any type of good deal they can and that certainly includes a vacation trip to the Walt Disney World area.  If you are vacationing at WDW, you probably realize that the only inexpensive Disney properties – the “value” resorts – are standard motel rooms with a huge food court, lots of kids in pools, and a morning bus ride to the parks that seem like New York’s Grand Central Station.

There are options in the more expensive categories and non-Disney hotels that offer what I view as an extra benefit.  Here is a concept that you might not have ever considered in evaluating resorts.  It works because of the heavy concentration of hotels in and around WDW.

You get two resorts for the price of one due to the shared facilities of two related resorts right next to each other.  That means twice the options for restaurants, recreation, and services if you select the resorts in this article.  You don’t take a bus or taxi, you just take a three minute walk between facilities.

FLORIDATRAVELER THE DOLPHIN

I Like to Watch the Epcot Fireworks From a Dolphin Balcony

Since I like to gather my points to get free or less expensive rooms, I use my SPG Points at the Dolphin and Swan complex, two non-Disney resorts inside the Epcot hotel area and using WDW’s free boat service into Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios.   These are deluxe resorts whose rooms usually cost up to 40% less than similar rooms at the adjacent Disney luxury resorts.

Floridatraveler THE SWAN

The Boat Leaves The Swan For Epcot or the Studios

Since these hotels share a monstrous convention facility, when there is no conventions, prices drop.  The Dolphin features as main restaurants Shula’s Steakhouse and Todd English’s Blue Zoo, while the Swan has Il Mulino Trattoria from New York City (but without the super high prices) and WDW’s best sushi place.  The pool area and the spa has to be large due to the number of rooms.

Just two hundred yards closer to Epcot is the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, two Disney deluxe hotels that share the same waterfront and facilities.  The huge Boardwalk entertainment village with its nightclubs and restaurants are a short Disney boat trip across the lake as is Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios.

FLORIDATRAVELER yachtbeach

The two resorts at first look like one resort, but they have different personalities.  The Yacht Club is more sedate and low key and has the yacht basin with its rental craft and the Yachtsmen Steakhouse, the best steaks in a Disney resort.  The Beach Club is more colorful and family-oriented since it has most of the massive pool complex, an ice cream parlor, and a wonderful seafood buffet spot in Cape May Buffet.

FLORIDATRAVELER BEACH CLUB pools

Disney’s Best Resort Pool Collection

Disney’s only lazy river is here and the Beach Villas are so close to Epcot, you can hear the music from the England exhibit.   These four resorts are on Disney property.

Most visitors are not aware of Bonnet Creek.  If you look at a Google Map, you will be shocked to see the resort area, with its golf course and hotels, is surrounded by Disney World on three sides and I-4 on the other.  You are closer to some Disney parks then if you were staying in some Disney resorts.    Bonnet Creek is not something Disney people want to advertise.  In the 1960’s when the Disney team was secretly buying up 27,000 acres of Central Florida there was a Taiwanese businessman who would not sell this land.  And the Courts won’t let Disney block it off at Buena Vista Drive.

floridatraveler WALDORF ASTORIA

At the Waldorf Its Four Chairs Or Golfing Fore

The guests at the Caribbean Beach Club might wonder what are those tall hotels peaking over their trees.  It is the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and the Hilton Waldorf Astoria, complete with a small convention hall between them and the beautiful Bonnet Creek Golf Course in their backyard.

Outside of the Five Star Four Seasons Resort north of WDW, the Waldorf Astoria has the best service I have seen in the Orlando area.  When you arrive you get a personal concierge who will make you feel like Richie Rich.  There is 24 hours room service including food from the Bull and Bear restaurant, which duplicate’s its noted New York City menu of the closed 1931 landmark.

Floridatraveler WALDORF pools

Pools at the Waldorf Astoria

While the Waldorf is adult creature comforts, the nearby Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is more fun and games with a giant lazy river complex.   The prime restaurant here is La Luce.  Yes, it is under the wing of Napa Valley super-chef Donna Scala who owns the California restaurant with the same name.

Why stay at one resort when you can use two for the same price?

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Manatee County: The Beaches Between

I used to live in Bradenton and it always bothered me that when I went up North I had to always say “it’s between Sarasota and Saint Petersburg.  I would also be asked in there were any beaches there for people have heard to Saint Petersburg Beach, Clearwater Beach, Longboat Key, and Lido Beach.  They somehow missed Anna Maria Island.

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That is a big mistake.  If you don’t like a wall of tall condos and huge waterfront resorts, go to Anna Maria Island.  If you want a laid-back atmosphere with lots of delightful Oceanside restaurants where they move the tables and chairs onto the beach, you need Anna Maria Island.

ANNA MARIA ISLAND was first settled at the start of the twentieth century by Tampa Mayor MADISON POST who named the island for his wife Maria and his sister-in-law Anna. Just as Cuban fishermen were the first visitors to the island at the southern mouth of Tampa Bay, Post’s settlement was soon dominated by nautical types.

Captain Mitchell Davis was elected the first mayor. Farming was mostly homesteading. In 1912, CHARLES MARTIN ROSER, inventor of the Fig Newton, started the ANNA MARIA BEACH LAND COMPANY with pioneer settler GEORGE EMERSON BEAN who first settled the (Bean) Point at the island’s end.

FLORIDATRAVELER annamaria Roser-Memorial-Church.2

The Roser Church Is One of the Few Historic Landmarks

If you are arriving from FL 64 (Bradenton), you should stop at the DESOTO NATIONAL MEMORIAL, on 75th Street Northwest, honoring the landing of Hernan de Soto and his troops in 1539. Besides the museum, visitor center, and a nature trail passing the tabby ruins of a old homestead, there are exhibitions of Spanish colonial activities in the winter.

FLORIDATRAVELER anna maria island beach

At the Tip of Anna Maria Island

FLORIDATRAVELE ANNA MARIA PIER

Anna Maria Island Pier

If you head north past BRADENTON PUBLIC BEACH along Gulf Boulevard you might want to look at some of the oldest Gulf houses on  BEACH STREETincluding the Tudor home of Talmot Mundy, creator of the Jack Armstrong books.

Turn right on PINE STREET, Anna Maria Island’s original main road, with its OLD JAIL, 1923 ROSER MEMORIAL CHURCH, and stores. At the foot of Pine is the historic CITY PIER, first built in 1910. A right turn goes to the yacht basin, a left turn to Bean Point.

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The Sandbar: The Island’s Restaurants Are ON the Beach

GULF DRIVE is the hotel’s hotel row, where old estates like newsman Walter Lippmann’s estate (was at 5400 Gulf) have been torn done for high rises. The 1925 HARRINGTON HOUSE, however, is now a notable bed and breakfast.

Heading southward along Bradenton Beach, you should turn bayside over the Cortez Road Bridge into CORTEZ, an old fishing village where a drive down 124th Street will lead to the 1890 JESSE BURTON STORE, the CHURCH OF GOD. Off 123rd Street is the 1906 CAPTAIN BILLIE FULFORD HOUSE. The store is a maritime museum and there are lots of traditional old fish camp style seafood restaurants.

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The Pelicans Know Cortez Is The Place For Fish

FL 684 (Cortez Road) will lead eastward to US4l. If you continue south on FL 789 (Gulf Boulevard), you’ll cross the bridge onto Longboat Key and into the condo infested waterfront of Sarasota County.

 

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The Most Dangerous Natural Thing To Fear In Florida

I know people in various parts of this nation who won’t visit Florida because Florida is a dangerous place.  Some of these people just don’t want to leave their home for a week or two.  Others have unrealistic fears like the lady who didn’t want to go to Florida because we have hurricanes.  She lived in Oklahoma City.  I should have asked her how many days does the local weather man give when a tornado is approaching your area so you can seek the best shelter.

We do have natural things in Florida that both visitors and Floridians need to recognize. Afterall, eighty percent of our new residents come from another state (60%) or another country (20%).   So what should you fear?

FLORIDATRAVELER HURRICANE IN MIAMI

Miami Before A Big One

HURRICANES:   Ask people from other states what they fear about Florida and many will say “hurricanes.”  Most Floridians know that living next to the beach may mean packing up the automobile and hoping your house is still standing when you return, but I find that safer than living on a California earthquake fault line.

Hurricanes have always played a big part in Florida history.  The 2017 Hurricane Season has just started here in Florida.  Oddly most people associate hurricanes with Florida’s summer months, but Florida’s biggest storms have come in September.   The September 19, 1559 storm that destroyed Tristan de Luna’s attempt to build a colony in Pensacola Bay was probably a hurricane.   The Florida Land Boom truly ended with the September 18, 1926, storm and two years later in September 16-18, 1928, a hurricane killed 2,500 people or more, when Lake Okeechobee became a thirty foot tidal wave sixty miles from any ocean.  Thanks to modern weather forecasting most causalities of Florida hurricanes are people who did not obey evacuation orders.

SHARKS:  Florida is the “shark bite” capital of the world, but globally there are only 98 shark attacks reported each year with an average of six fatalities.  We humans kill between 30 and 100 million sharks per year so it is a good thing no shark is reading this book.  Florida has more shark attacks than California and Australia for we have relative warmer water and swimmers in huge numbers all year around.

FLORIDATRAVELER SHARK IN FLORIDA WATERS

          You are 132 times more likely to drown on a Florida beach than tangle with a Florida shark.  Heck – you are 391 times more likely to be killed in a Florida boating accident.  But if you really want to lower the odds of meeting a Florida shark, here are some pointers: don’t surf or swim out to sandbars. Avoid murky waters.   And you are 70% less likely to have a shark bite you if you vacation in the Gulf od Mexico rather than the Atlantic Ocean.

HEAT and HUMIDITY:    Visitors always tell me they couldn’t live in Florida in the summer because of our high humidity.  We don’t hide the fact that Florida has a humid subtropical climate.  Appropriately, a Florida doctor John Gorrie is noted as the first inventor of air conditioning way back in the 1851.  The good news is that when there is sweltering summer heat we head to our oceans, lakes, and rivers with nice breezes.    Gainesville (74.4%) is our most humid city but it ranks only 67th of all US cities with 50,000 or more people.  It should be noted that when there is a huge national heat wave it is people in the slums of New York, Chicago, and Detroit who are dying.  Floridians have fans if they have no air conditioning.

FLORIDATRAVELER GATOR ON FLA GOLF COURSE

“I Wonder If He’s Going To Concede The Hole?”

ALLIGATORS:   Gators are twice as likely to eat you in Florida than sharks.  The death of a two year old boy at the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World created global headlines.  A tourist family on vacation from gator-less Nebraska hardly expected an alligator in the middle of a huge resort, but most Floridians know male alligators during mating season from April to June are more aggressive, will roam across busy highways and golf courses let alone vacation parks, hunt at night for food, and even ignore their natural fear of humans.   Fortunately 95% of those attacked by gators escape or at least those are the percentages of the people we know were attacked.

Considering the fact Florida has 20 million people and 1.25 million alligators, it may shock you there have been just 24 alligator deaths since 1973.  Most years incidents of gator bites number less than a dozen.   To improve these odds, I highly recommend: never feed any alligators, never swim at night in any freshwater Florida lake or river, and never wander off a swampy trail into tall grass.  Few alligators have practiced the act of jumping up at people in trees like the performing alligators at Florida zoos, but it is good to know that alligators can move faster than you for thirty yards.

FLORIDATRAVELER LIGHTING AT CAPE KENNEDY

12 … 11 … 10 … Cancel

LIGHTNING:  Now here is a Florida danger that tourists forget.  Central Florida between Tampa and Daytona Beach is the “lightning capital of the USA.”  Lightning is more fatal than hurricanes since we now can predict the latter days before the latter’s arrival. Since 1953 hurricanes have killed 216 people in Florida, but lightning has killed 468 people.  82% of all those struck by lighting are male because golf, fishing, and boating are the major activities of people while getting hit by lightning.  What makes lighting so dangerous in Florida is that it often precedes the arrival of rain by several miles.  If you see a dark cloud coming toward you in the distance, get out of the water or the open field and head for cover.

FLORIDATRAVELER CORAL SNAKE

“Mary, is it red on black or what …?

CORAL SNAKES and RATTLESNAKES:  Florida is a warm place so it is home to lots of undesirable snakes.  In the last five years there were 42 snake bites in populous Southeast Florida – 21 by water moccasins, 11 from coral snakes, 3 from pigmy rattlesnakes, 2 from eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and 5 unknown.  No one died.  Most were camping or fishing in a rural location.  I discovered there were no coral snake deaths or Florida deaths in the last ten years and all the USA deaths were by rattlesnakes, mostly in rural areas of the Western United States.  It was then that I realized Florida is quite urban and access to a hospital with anti-snake venom explains why few people will die of snake bites in Florida.  Now don’t take this as a suggestion to run barefoot through a field of tall grass or stick your hand in a hole in the earth.

FLORIDATRAVELER florida-bark-scorpion 

BAD BUGS:  People who fear bugs are not likely to love Florida.  There is a reason that some bug men here drive a Lexus.  Visitors don’t want to hear about scorpions and black widow spiders.  We have three of the former and two types of the latter.  Florida scorpions can not deliver a fatal sting.  The spiders are more painful.   People who leave their backyards with debris or put their garden gloves and sneakers on an open back porch are giving these little creatures a place to nap until nightfall.  GOOD NEWS: I have never seen a live scorpion in my fifty plus years in Florida.

If you are on a hot Florida beach at noon and you feel a sharp bite on the back of your neck, don’t blame mosquitoes.  Those nasty long-legged uglies rarely attack in warm sunlight.  Mosquitoes are just one of three blood-sucking flies that can ruin your day.  Lousy biting midges, also known as sand flies or no-seeums do attack people, but mainly hit at dusk and dawn.  The probable bad insect in this case is the stable fly (or dog fly), a light colored house fly that likes to dive bomb people even on warm days.  If you see these guys around you, pick another spot on the beach.

FLORIDATRAVELER SUNBATH IN MIAMI BEACH

But the most dangerous thing you will probably face on a summer Florida vacation is SUNSHINE.  Florida is closer to the equator than any other state other than Hawaii and people underestimate the power of the Florida sun.  The bad news is all those collegians baking away all day on a Florida beach will not know how much danger they are in until several decades later.  And the whole danger can be drastically reduced with a regular splash or spray.

 

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Celebrate Summer And Visit Florida’s Old Attractions

It’s coming: summer time in Florida and the temperature is already hot.  The big theme parks are crowded with huge lines awaiting a short flight to Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or a quick train ride from Hogsmeade at Universal Studios.

Perhaps this is a good time to think about going into Florida’s attraction past, where there’s room to walk under the shaded trails and perhaps sail on a glass-boat along a river of cool spring water.    Not all of Old Time Florida has been leveled by the rise of gigantic amusement worlds.

In fact the State of Florida has rescued some of the most scenic wonders of Florida and maintained them for future generations.  The good news is that that if some of these places seem a little more low key, they are also a lot lower in price and crowds.

So here is a little drive around Florida to some spots I have enjoyed for decades.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on US19 in Spring Hill north of Saint Petersburg still has the mermaid show, but for just $13 adults and $8 kids you get the mermaids, a wildlife show, riverboat rides, and access to Buccaneer Bay, a complete waterpark.  You can also rent a kayak and explore the spring river.  Parking is not $10 – it is free.

FLORIDATRAVELER weeki-wachee-springs

All these visitor oriented state parks have continued restaurant service for visitors.

FLORIDATRAVELER Weeki-Wachee-Park-Map

Twenty miles up the road on US19 is Homosassa Springs State Park with the same low fees. The floating underwater Fish Bowl is still there as are all the manatees, pontoon boat rides, and wildlife shows.   What will shock urban folk is how quiet a park heavily forested will seem compared to the noise level at the mega-parks.

FLORIDATRAVELER Homossassa Fish Bowl

The Old Fish Bowl Takes You Down To The Springs

People who travel I-75 by Ocala will be pleased to see Silver Springs State Park offers the glass boat rides gliding over the crystal clear springs of the Silver River.  But today you can rent kayaks and canoes and even some family-sized vessels to take your own 4.5 river trip.  Plus this park has cabins and RV facilities.

FLORIDATRAVELER silver-springs-florida

The Silver River Has Been Popular Since the 1870’s

Many famous old commercial attractions have survived into the 21st Century.  At Vero Beach, you can still see the beauty of McKee Botanical Gardens, an attraction since the 1930’s.  The incredible bamboo structures of folk artist and founder Waldo Sexton are still part of the site.

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McKee Gardens Is Soooo Restful

Maybe the influence of having the beachside Disney Vero Beach Resort nearby has influenced the Gardens.  Kids can check out for free  to take some five different nature adventures around the gardens.

I always loved visiting West Palm Beach’s Lion Country Safari, the first drive-through zoo in the nation.  There are still 900 animals to greet you real close. At a cost of one-third the big places, you can visit here with its five rides, restaurants, amusement park, and wildlife shows.   There is also a Koa Campground on the location.

092412 met lion 3

Dreaming About A Convertible?

In Miami there is still the famous Miami Seaquarium (1955) Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay.  The park always has specials and events so you need to look at the online discounts, which include a Family Four Pack for $99.

FLORIDATRAVELER -sea-trek

Forget Playing With Dolphins When You Can Sea Trek

Of course, it costs extra if you want to play with a dolphin, swim with a seal, pet a penguin, or take an underwater reef exploration.  This is not the park I recall first visiting when I was a college student at the University of Miami in the 1960’s.

FLORIDATRAVELER JUNGLE ISLAND

If you prefer birds Miami’s Parrot Jungle (1936) is now Jungle Island and it is located in a zoological park on Watson Island.   The birds are still around but people today seem to like sloths and lemurs more.

Floridatraveler PARROT JUNGLE

“We’re Jungle Island not Parrot Jungle.”

I have just touched the tip of these attractions.  The Shell Factory down in North Fort Myers is now a complete amusement park.   Gatorland in Orlando still has the gators, but now you can fly over them on a zip line.  That’s as interactive as you will get with Florida alligators.

FLORIDATRAVELER GATORLAND zipline-over-the-alligators

No Jumping Gators Allowed!

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Florida’s AIA Winning Structures Have Been Incredibly Diverse and Unique

Every year the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects (1912) celebrates the outstanding contributions in architecture and design in Florida and Puerto Rico.  This year’s convention will be next month in Naples and a panel of non-Florida architects will select the winners in a variety of categories, including one which features structures that were not built.   I assume that is to encourage future works and perhaps potential clients.

As a historian I am always interested in the awards given to the restoration of structures  and thus preservation of historic buildings in Florida, but the big winners prestige-wise goes to the awards given to new buildings.  Most people may assume that mainly fancy hotels and mansions are the big award winners at this event.   For example Mar-A-Lago, President Trump’s Florida White House was a 1927 award winner.

FLORIDATRAVELER MARALAGO building

But, in reality the winning buildings have reflected since the 1910’s the diversity of structures that are eligible.   Winning such an award does not assure the future survival of the building, but it demonstrates the appreciation by the architectural community for its design and originality.

One of the 1929 Winners is perhaps the most unusual – a building never occupied by human beings.  It is the Sugarloaf Key Bat Tower, one of four that once existed in Florida. They are fragile – the wonderful one in Temple Terrace (near Tampa) was lost in a fire.  Built by Richter Clyde Perky, Sugarloaf has that Gothic creepy look, particularly at nightfall.  It is a perfect mansion for bats.

FLORIDATRAVELER Sugarloaf_Key_FL_Bat_Tower

The AIA Winner Where No Humans Lived

Over the years, to no one’s surprise, hotels and resorts have been award winners.  You may, however, be shocked at the contrast for architecture is evaluated for its location and purpose.   The Don Cesar Hotel on Saint Petersburg Beach (1928) was saved from the wrecking-ball after its usage as a World War II military hospital and the pink place is the favorite landmark locals search for when their airplane is landing at the Tampa Bay airports.

FLORIDATRAVELER the don cesar

I Always Look For The Pink Palace From A Plane Landing at TIA

People are shocked when I tell them that the rustic Desert Inn and Restaurant on FL60 in Yeehaw Junction was a 1924 AIA winner.  It once looked the part of a frontier outpost, but with the Florida Turnpike next door the historic spot has been fixed up as a cool burger bar and motel with 4.5 stars on Yelp and Google Reviews.   I expect this place to be discovered by the makers of biker movies.

FLORIDATRAVERdesert-inn-and-restaurant

Sometimes Award Winners become historically significant long after they were built. The 1925 Miami New Building was a lovely commercial structure, but it did not become a major landmark until the 1960’s when it was the place where thousands of Cuban exiles filled out immigration papers.  Now it is the Freedom Tower and everyone picks it out of the booming Miami skyline.

FLORIDATRAVELER freedom tower

The Freedom Tower

The 1920 President’s House at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytone Beach was viewed as an attractive residence at its start, but when Mary McLeod Bethune became an educational leader fro F. D. Roosevelt in the New Deal, the house got added interest.

FLORIDATRAVELER mary bethune house

Visitors to the Coconut Grove in Miami often drive right past Miami City Hall (1930) , not realizinbg it has more history to it than a political building.  It was constructed as the Pan-American Seaplane Building and, with shades of Indiana Jones, seaplanes took off on some of the first international commercial trips in aviation history.

 FLORIDATRAVELER Miami seaplane city hall

There is a great contrast in the several church structures that have been honored by the Florida AIA.  In 1916 the Mount Pilgrim African Baptist Church in Milton was selected.  It is not the oldest African-American edifice in Florida, but its congregation was started in 1866 and the building is on the US National Register.

FLORIDATRAVELER mount pilgruim church

The most popular wedding church in the Miami area is 1929 winner the Coral Gables Congregational Church.   It is so beautiful that it is often incorrectly called a Spanish mission.

FLORIDATRAVELER cong church

 

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Rent An RV And Camp on Florida’s Best Beaches

My neighbors are planning retirement and going to move from urban Tampa to a more rural county.  This, however, does not mean a total downsize of their activities for they recently purchased an RV and discovered they could less expensively travel the nation and vacation in some cool places.  They also found that you could stay on some of Florida’s best beaches at shocking amounts of savings.

Florida is extremely RV friendly with no special drivers licenses needed.  Many RVs are manufactured here and their used RV lots are as large as the automobile lots.  Besides, you can rent RVs and camping tents from pioneer rustic to family resort size almost anywhere in Florida.  Even if you are looking for a beach and plan to stay at a nearby motel, these are great summer beaches.

Here are my favorite beach-side spots with RV and tent facilities.  Florida’s State Parks had great facilities and lower rates and in many cases better location than commercial campgrounds.  Some have cabin facilities.

Fort Clinch State Park is located at the very northeast tip of Florida looking across the Saint Mary’s River into Georgia.  The park has 32 RV or tent facilities and a historic fort seized by the Union during the Civil War.   The big bonus here is the wonderful Victorian port village of Fernandina Beach with a fun downtown, dozens of notable bed and breakfast sports, and Florida’s oldest saloon (The Palace) and oldest small hotel (The Florida).

floridatraveler FORT CLINCH

Fort Clinch – Campground is to the right on the bayou

You can rent horses at Amelia Island State Park at mid-island, the only state park where you can ride on the wide and hard Atlantic beach, but if you want another great RV and tent park you need to travel ten miles south to Little Talbot Island State Park with its five miles of beautiful , almost deserted sandy beaches.  The bonus here is the estuarine waters of Myrtle Creek and Simpson Creek, ideal for kayak or canoe.

FLORIDATRAVELER Amelia-Island-DEP

Riding Along Amelia Island Beach

Fifty miles southward is Anastasia State Park, just ten minutes from historic Saint Augustine.  The park has great facilities and a nice, wide Atlantic beach, but the north end is near the Inlet so rough currents are a serious issue if you have small kids.  The bayside, however, is a good boating and kayaking site.

FLORIDA TRAVELER anastasia beach

Anastasia Island Has A WIDE Beach

Where are the best RVing and camping beaches?  The Panhandle has some neat beach spots – perhaps less crowded in winter when the water is colder.

At the extreme western tip of Florida’s beaches is the Fort Pickens Campground on Pensacola Beach next to the fort the Confederacy could never conquer. This is the beautiful Gulf Islands National Seashore.  The campground has 200 full facility sites and boat access on the Intracoastal Waterway.  Historic Pensacola is a bay boat trip away and the summer is when the restaurants and clubs on Pensacola Beach is most active.

FLORIDATRAVELER fort-pickens-campground-

Fort Pickens Campground – Water On Both Sides

  The Destin area has great beaches.  Topsail Hill Preserve State Park on Santa Rosa Beach has 140 RV sites and 29 cabins, 1,640 acres of nature trails, and access to three miles of very white sandy beaches.  The park is named for a 25-foot sand dune.  Perhaps the state’s best commercial campground is not far away.  Check out the beach-side Camp Gulf Holiday Travel Park in Destin .

FLORIDATRAVELER camp gulf holiday travel park

Camp Gulf Holiday Park at Destin Beach

If you really want to get away from the tourist traffic and walk on a deserted beach ranked third best in the USA, look up St. George Island State Park. There are 60 campsites here and full facilities.  The Park is on the far east end of the island so the only visitors are staying in the park.

FLORIDATRAVELER st george island

Follow The Lone Gull to St. George Island Beach

 On the Gulf Coast we in Tampa Bay can’t stop suggesting Fort DeSoto County Park located southwest of downtown Saint Petersburg on a series of islands jutting into the entranceway of Tampa Bay.  Rated one year the best beach in the nation by Mr. Beach, this park has RV sites inches from kayak and boat launch, three large beaches, food facilities, two big fishing piers, and a massive Spanish-American War fortress.

FLORIDATRAVELER fort desoto campground

Having A Water View Is Not An Issue

Although the park is extremely popular with day-trippers, it is so large and the campgrounds so isolated , you will feel you are in a rural campground. The amount of recreational activities and rentals are high since there is the added market of visitor renters.

If scuba and snorkeling are high on your agenda then you need an RV park in the Florida Keys.  There are lots of private RV campgrounds in the Upper and Middle Keys, but two lower cost state parks have great locations.

floridatraveler bahia honda park

Beautiful Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park deserves its national reputation due to its location, kayaking and boating opportunities, and two nice beaches.  With the giant US1 Bridge nearby, you won’t think you are in a wilderness, but you will feel you are staying in a neat beach resort.

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At Long Key State Park You Snorkel Next To Your RV

Lesser known is Long Key State Park with 42 waterside RV hookups.  The beach is not so good but if you kayak or boat, it is a wonderful location.  Where else can you catch your evening meal just minutes away from the barbecue?

 

 

 

 

 

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

Florida Hot Weather Is The Time To Kayak A Tree Sheltered River

Most of Florida is in a drought and the temperature is flying over ninety degrees almost everyday.  And it’s only May.  While light coastal winds are making  temperatures a little lower of Florida beaches, it is still hot.

Last weekend I took a trip along Florida’s Nature Coast and stopped for lunch at the Upper Deck restaurant which delightfully overhangs the Weeki Wachee River at the US19A Bridge.  Adjacent is a large kayak rental spot and across the clear cool river is a county park.  The river was packed with kayaks, some canoes, fishing boats, and even some friendly manatees. FLORIDATRAVELER WEEKI WASHEE river

Upper Deck Restaurant on Weeki Washee

I noticed that kayakers who stayed on the sides of the river were in the shade of the riverbank trees.  You’re not only staying away from the motorized craft, but you are in a cooler breeze.   It convinced me that a kayak or canoe ride makes a perfect weekend trip.  Here are some of the top places to kayak.

People in Palm Beach County are fortunate to have the Loxahatchee River, one of Florida’s two Federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers.  The narrow, twisting river is lined with tall cypress trees and thick air plants and ferns which seem to muffle all sound.  Spending several hours along this jungle river so close to huge populations should lower your blood pressure.

 floridatraveler LOXAHATCHEE RIVER

Please note that the kayak trail at nearby Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is great in the cooler months but when you kayak along wet prairies and sawgrass marshes, you are out in the sunny open.  So remember I am talking river not refuge with Loxahatchee.

People in Miami-Dade County have a kayaking treasure in Oleta River State Park, the largest urban park in the United States. You can rent a kayak and even get supplies at the park.  You might want a good park map for Oleta River has numerous inlets and coves filled with lusty mangrove forests.  There is even a 200-foot sandy beach in the middle of the area.

 floridatraveler kayak oleta-river

You Are Actually Minutes From Downtown Miami

There are dozens of good kayaking spots in the Florida Keys, but ocean kayaking is a rougher sport when the lightning season starts. Two kayaking spots where you can hung a coastline of forested inlets and see lots of wildlife are the mangrove trails at  John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and the shoreline of Big Pine Key.  The latter is the home of the cute and tiny Key deer, but as a refuge the shoreline is swarming with birds and animals.

Central Florida has lots of lakes and coastal islands, but if you want a scenic route along crystal clear waters, you should head to Blue Springs State Park near DeLand.  The kayak and canoe trail passes a huge manatee refuge area along Hontoon Island.  The river heads to the huge St Johns River.  The park has rentals as well as neat swimming and picnic facilities.

 FLORIDATRAVELER kayak Blue-Springs

Kayaks and Manatees At Blue Springs

Tampa Bay is open waters but the area has several neat padding areas.  The Little Manatee River has a great Canoe Outpost that rents boats and has maps.  This river can get very rough if there is a huge storm.  The nine mile Upper Manatee River from Fort Hamer County Park to the Manatee Dam has taller vegetation and less steep banks.

 floridatraveler kayak LITTLE MANATEE

The Little Manatee River Gets Narrow And Quiet

Jacque Cousteau called Ichetucknee Springs “the clearest water in the world” and the crystalline, quite cold river is open year round for kayaking and canoeing.  The Ichetucknee Springs State Park is where all the fun is.  It is often crowded on the weekends when the tubing and swimming crowds pile in.

 floridatraveler kayak ichetuckneesprings2

Rainbow Springs was once a tourist attraction complete with glass bottom boats, but today you can kayak along the clear waters for six miles until it flows into the Withlachoochee River.  The wildlife and the flora along the banks of this protected wilderness area are outstanding.  The park has rentals, picnic areas, and restroom facilities.

floridatraveler kayak RAINBOW SPRINGS

Rainbow Springs: Clear and Cool

Coldwater Creek, outside Milton in the Panhandle, calls itself the “Canoe Capital of Florida” and in the summer it seems everyone owns a canoe or kayak.  The latter can be rented at the Coldwater Recreation Area.  The river has sandy river rock bottoms and dozens of sand bars for swimming dips.  The river is so relaxing with its skyline of ancient pine and hardwood forests you might not realize that at 3 mph this is one of Florida’s fastest rivers. It does require some arm power to go upstream past

Hope these places give you some ideas for a future kayak or canoe trip in Florida.

 

 

 

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