In Winter Florida Really Loves Its Manatees

This is the time of year when Floridians, snowbirds, and visitors alike head to the warmer waters of springs and electric plants and even nuclear plant complexes to watch our favorite manatees.  While people call manatees sea cows, the female is the cow and the male the bull.

You can see them all year long in Florida waters and salt water bays, but in winter the West Indian manatees and their young gather in sometimes very large numbers in warmer waters.  I think we get so excited about this because we realize that it is essential for the manatees to seek out warm waters for their mere survival. Manatees have a hard time surviving water temperatures under sixty degrees.

Manatees usually swim alone or in pairs and occasionally in an aggregation, which is a group of around six of the gentle creatures.  To see dozens together is a rare except when the water temperatures start to drop to the lower sixties.

floridatraveler manatees at big bend

Tampa Bay is 56 degrees so the manatee head to Big Bend and warmer waters

It is difficult to not like the manatee, of which about 7,000 exist in Florida. Their survival is still endangered by changing world temperatures, speedboats, and possible diseases.  They are non-territorial herbivores that seem to except snorkelers and scuba divers provided you don’t touch them or get between the mothers and calves.

Where are the best places to find large numbers of manatees?

 TECO Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach is where I take my visitors since I reside in Tampa and Northerners are surprised that manatees would hang out in a huge industrial complex like the Big Bend power plants.

The best place for winter visitors to snorkel and swim alongside manatees is at the Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, 90 miles north of Saint Petersburg. The large spring area can get pretty bust with fishermen, boaters, and dive boats.

floridatraveler manatees crystal river west indian manatees

Normally underwater visitations with manatees is not promoted in Florida but the area’s experienced divers assure people are not trying to feed the manatees or interrupt their slow, casual wanderings around the warm springs.

Down in Southwest Florida the Lee County Manatee Park in Fort Myers offers a front row seat of manatees seeking warm waters.  Prior to the park, people required a good canoe or kayak trip around Lovers Key State Park or a tour boat up the Caloosahatchee River to appreciate the large numbers of manatees in the region.

floridatraveler manatee pk fort myers

Manatee Park in Fort Myers

in Miami cooler weather seems to send the manatees southward toward the Florida Keys, but I have been told that some brave manatees are seen in Oleta River State Park and along the Miami River. In summer manatees are all along the canals of Coral Gables.

 The large manatee groupings are found at the power plant locations by the Atlantic.  West Palm Beach’s Manatee Lagoon is by the Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy plant of Florida Power and Light.

floridatraveler west palm beach manatees

Palm Beach County Manatees Love Warm Waters

This is a real viewer friendly spot with a two-story museum, a gift shop, a snack center, and even a manatee webcam if it’s too cool outside the building.   There are dozens of programs for people wanting to know more about Palm Beach water life.

Equally interesting is the Manatee Observation and Education Center at Fort Pierce on Moore’s Creek on the Indian River Lagoon near the big power plant.  The neighboring Lisa’s Kayaks will put you into the middle of the action.

floridatraveler manatee view fort pierce stand

Of course, Florida’s many warm springs have waters over the 70 degree mark and are always popular with tourists.  I think Homosassa Springs (the river) and Blue Springs at Orange City are great spots for a nature trip.

So when it gets cold in Florida – give the manatees a little love.  #florida  #manatees




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Trip Idea: Take A Ferry In Florida

When my family first came to Florida, we landed at Tampa Airport, rented a car, went over the causeway and then “took a ferry” across the mouth of Tampa Bay from Saint Augustine to Bradenton.

Today, the “second” Sunshine Skyway bridge has long eliminated the ferry, but you can take some interesting trips – long and short – by ferryboat in Florida.  Some of the craft may resemble more speedboats than the old fashion ferries, but the feeling of a seaward trip is still an exciting addition to a vacation..

People in Southwest Florida (Fort Myers and Marco Island) and Key West share the Key West Express, a three-hour cruise between the three locations. The route skirts the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands.

floridatraveler key west ferry

Blasting Along the Gulf and Fort Myers Beach

Travelers can spend the entire day visiting the sites of Key West or relaxing on some of the best beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.  The jet-powered catamarans ships are large vessels that offer a bar and food galley, flat-screen televisions so you miss no sports, and an open-air sundeck for those who want a tropical tan.

We all know that Miami is the “cruise capital of the world” but it might also be the ferry trip center of the nation.  FRS-Caribbean offers a fast $69 cruise from Miami to nearby Bimini island in the Caribbean.  You can also obtain use of the facilities at the Hilton resort in Bimini.

floridatraveler miami to bimini _frs-caribbean-san-gwann_c575987430

I wouldn’t worry about the waves of the Atlantic for the HSC San Gwann is a 170-foot long 400-passenger catamaran that makes the 50-fifty trip in two hours.     You get seven hours to visit Alice Town to enjoy the beaches and outdoor facilities or else visit some of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite dives and seafood spots.

floridatraveler fisher island ferry

While we are in Miami, I should mention the most exclusive ferry ride in Florida – the short sail from South Beach to Fisher Island on the Fisher Island Club Transportation Ferry Service.

 The bad news is this is a private ferry that will accept you only if you have made hotel reservations or are visiting some of the exclusive island’s famous celebrities or millionaires.  I’ll let you look up the costs of staying here.

The Biscayne Xpress is the water taxi for Miami and Miami Beach and for $30 daily ticket you can spend the entire day cruising from the Bayfront shops to the Hyatt on the Miami River to South Beach and other popular attractions.

floridatraveler miami watertaxi

Florida is dotted with islands which require a ferry ride to visit.  Here in Tampa Bay day-trippers have two great options.  You can ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park to Caladesi Island, the #7 beach in the USA in 2018.

floridatraveler caladesi ferry

During your four hour stay you can hit the warm waters, rent a kayak for a mysterious trip into the interior swamplands, or rest on three miles of pristine beach without sight of the high rises of Clearwater Beach to the south.

Another favorite ferry ride is leaving the huge Fort DeSoto County Park, an attraction of beach and Spanish-War fort in itself, to go to Egmont Key island.  The 25-minute trip puts you at the entrance to Tampa Bay on an island with a 150-year old lighthouse, the ruins of Fort Dade, and other buildings.

floridatraveler egmont key from air

The island is a great place to go shelling, snorkel in clear waters, swim, or explore the interior where huge tortoises roam.  You will note that on weekends Egmont is surrounded by private yachts.  #florida  #trips  #ferry  #vacations


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Florida’s Best County Parks Provide Spectacular Experiences

Florida has 175 state parks covering some 800,000 acres as well as the famous Everglades National Park and Ocala National Forest.

Yet most visitors, few snow birds, and all too many residents have visited very few county parks.  Since most are practically free in admission and offer an incredible diversity of outdoor activities, not visiting them is a waste of vacation opportunities.

Here are my favorite Florida county parks:

Fort DeSoto County Park in Saint Petersburg

Most people think this massive series of islands at the very tip of Pinellas County is a State Park.   It is not despite dozens of waterside RV sites, a historic Spanish-American War fort, and beaches that have been listed as the best in the United States. I live in the Tampa Bay area and showing visitors this park is a joy.

floridatraveler fort desoto park

Fort DeSoto Is Vast

You should go online and download a map for without planning you’ll be hard-pressed to select activities, from fishing on two huge piers, biking, taking a boat to Egmont Key, or just hitting the sand.

Haulover Beach Park in Bal Harbour (Miami)

Haulover Beach can not be considered an unknown quantity but the 10800 Collins Avenue facility is just too note-worthy to not include.  With 1.4 miles of wide beach, some visitors won’t even notice that there is a nude beach section.

floridatraveler haulover beach park

Haulover Is Perhaps Miami-Dade’s Best Beach

The huge broadwalk to the Atlantic is historic.  Bike rentals and hiking trials cover the inland portion.  Even in the slower season the Tuesday food trucks cause a massive visitation.  I love the Bark Park.

Tigertail Beach on Marco Island

floridatraveler tigertail beach marco island

Hurricanes have created and reduced and reclaimed this three mile strip of amazing sand.  Hurricane Wilma is responsible for this version and if you think it is too long a walk if you enter from the north, you could “inner tube” across the shallow lagoon to the beach.

Coe’s Landing northwest of Tallahassee

floridatraveler leon co coe-landing-rv-park

Situated on large Lake Talguin off FL 20 in Leon County, Coe’s Landing offers great camping locations for RVs and tents.  There is a great fishing and boating pier and the woods are filled with wildlife.  This park even has wireless Internet (gads!).

Moss Park in Orlando

Central Florida makes great use of its many lakes and springs and this county park on Lake Mary Jane provides great campgrounds, kayak and canoe rentals, and a bathing beach.

floridatraveler orlando moss-park-map

Moss Lake Is A County Park with a State Park look

The location next to the massive Split Oak Preserve probably explains why herds of deer often appear around the camp sites at dusk.

West Lake Park in Hollywood Beach

floridatraveler west lake park hollywood

Better Traffic Signs Than Some Highways

People in crowded Broward County are shocked at just off Sheridan Road is the largest mangrove estuary within a hundred miles of Atlantic coastline, with 47,000 feet of waterfront.   This is the spot to go to the marina and rent a kayak or canoe trtp.

Princess Place Preserve in Palm Coast (Flagler County)

floridatraveler princess-place 1888 lodge-exterior

Kayakers in Northeast Florida know that Pellicer Creek is a great spot to kayak and hike miles of trails filled with 75-foot oak trees.  Some people, however, just want to sit on the porch of the 1888 hunting lodge and watch the abundant water birds.

If I missed your favorite county park, I apologize, but there are just too many good parks.

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New Things For Florida Tourists and Vacationeers To See In 2019

This is the time of the year when individuals around the nation make New Year’s Resolutions and also the time Florida Chamber of Commerces start promoting what new things are coming up in the New Year.

For Florida’s all-important tourist industry that means new attractions, new resorts, and even new cruise ships.  Actually the largest cruise ship, the Symphony of the Seas by Royal Caribbean, sailed into the Port of Miami in November.  The ship is (gads) five times larger than the Titanic.

In the theme park industry which heavily impacts the 100 million annual Florida visitors, here are some of the 2019 highlights to come:

Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (Disney Hollywood Studios) appears to open minus its ultra-fantastic resort hotel around November of 2019.   The Millennium Falcon ride will probably open sooner at Disneyland, but the Orlando site will include the entire Black Spire village on Batin complete with shops, a restaurant, bars, and performers.

floridatraveler STAR WARS HOTEL entrance way

The first floor of new Star Wars hotel won’t open until 2020

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (Disney Hollywood Studios) will open in late summer in the huge Chinese Theater complex.  This is the first interactive ride where riders will enter a wild film short featuring Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy.

Harry Potter Themed Roller Coaster (Universal Islands of Adventure) may be solidly located away from the other Potter attractions, but will feature the flying creatures of Wizarding World and be a “family” coaster.  A summer opening is hoped.

FLORIDATRAVELER -busch-gardens-new-roller-coasters

Tigris Roller Coaster (Busch Gardens) will fly this Spring next to Jungala, the tiger compound, and display a very scary l,800 foot layout with speeds of 60 mph.  Most terrifying will be the fact riders will fall backwards at one point.


Lego Movie World  (Legoland) is a new section with a giant play area relating to the Lego film.  There will also be two new rides: an interactive boat ride, the Quest for Chi, an a new adventure in Emmett’s Bricksburg.

Next to theme parks, most Florida towns advertise new resorts and large hotels:

 Last year Miami had a hotel boom with some twelve new resorts and complete makeovers, but more are on the way. Most interesting to be is the arrival in South Florida of Paligroup from Los Angeles.

FLORIDATRAVELER Palimous Miami Beach

The Palihouse Miami Beach

They are opening this Spring Palihouse Miami Beach, a 70-room boutique hotel on Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach.  The Intracoastal resort is certainly going to be shabby chic eclectic.


A bedroom at Isla Bella is like staying on a ship

Perhaps more exciting will be the debut of the 24 acre Isla Bella Beach Resort on Knight Key in Marathon, almost next to the famous Seven Mile Bridge.  This is the first big resort in the Keys since the destruction of Hurricane Irma and this 199 room, 4 restaurant, 5 pool place will become an instant landmark in the Middle Keys.

In Orlando, Universal is opening two new resorts.  I thought since the theme park filled up its property, they couldn’t continue its hotel boom, but I was wrong.

FLORIDATRAVELER Universals-Endless-Summer-Resort-Surfside-Inn-

The Endless Resort

Universal’s Endless Resort is being built on the location of the old Wet and Wild park at International Drive and Universal Boulevard.  The first stage will have 750 guest rooms with 390 two-bedroom suites.  Additional sections are in the works.

It will be interesting to see how Universal will operate a transportation system on major highways outside their property.

Have a happy holiday and a Merry Christmas.

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The Perfect Trip To Boost Christmas Spirit: Bok Tower and Gardens

The Christmas season can be a time of nervous energy and open tension.  It is a time when if you live in Florida, you may get a lot of visitors, both families and friends.

It is also a time when as hosts you realize taking a large family of guests to amusement parks and Golden Spoon Florida restaurants can blow your bank account for months.  In addition, the holidays have become so commercial and crowded, much of the joy is lessened.

My favorite holiday visit is Bok Towers and Gardens down US 27 in Lake Wales. The site is open 365 days of the year, but takes on a glowing appearance at Christmas without three million lights.   This is nature and this time of year is a wonderful time to take a walk up 295-foot Iron Mountain, perhaps the highest spot in the Florida peninsular.

floridatraveler BOK GARDENS MAP

Bok Tower was the idea of Dutch immigrant Edward W. Bok, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and successful magazine publisher, who recalled his grandmother’s plea for him “to make the world a bit better and more beautiful.” At Bok Tower, you are as close to nature as you can get in a man-made site.


He hired America’s most noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr to turn a giant sand hill into Florida’s most romantic and relaxing garden.  On top of the hill went a huge 60-bell carillion, which plays Christmas music during the afternoons of the holidays.

FLORIDATRAVELER bok-tower-gardens

Over the years Bok Tower has added more all-natural attractions.  I love sitting quietly behind the  Window To the World, where you could see some of the garden’s 120 bird species or even a gopher tortoise or gopher frog, or a Florida field mouse.  A recent addition is the delightful Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, where your kids can walk a broadwalk, visit a music area, and go on a performance stage.


An addition tour attraction is the 1930’s Pinewood Estate, a 20-room “El Retiro” winter home for Bok’s friend, Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel Vice President.  Visiting the seven acre estate is a trip into Christmas in the 1930’s.

FLORIDATRAVELER Bok Tower postcard

Most people want to spend the most time at the Reflection Pond with its swans at the top of the mountain next to the Carillion.  The view of the area is unique in a state as flat as Florida.

There is a restaurant at Bok Gardens and downtown Lake Wales is a neat small town with shops and food.  Giorgio’s (253 East Stuart Avenue) is a highly regarded spot.

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Best Florida Sporting Events of Winter 2019

This is the time of time where people are looking at future calendars for vacation plans, trips around Florida, and events they want to attend.  As a sports editor, my father took paid close attention when major “must-see” events were scheduled.

With 1,000 miles of beach, 8,426 miles of shoreline, 1100 golf courses, 10 major league teams, and 15 Major League teams in Grapefruit training, there’s a lot of sports events, but I will show you a few entertainments you might want to put on your calendar.

Here is a look at Florida’s greatest 2019 Sporting Events and I threw in a few niche events that might prove attractive to readers who want a different experience.

 Normally the New Year would start off in Miami with the grand-daddy of Florida football bowls- the Orange Bowl – but this year it’s on Dec 29 as a Top 4 playoff  game between #1 Alabama vs #4 Oklahoma.  January 1 is reserved for Tampa’s Outback Bowl And Orlando’s Citrus Bowl.

floridatraveler ORANGE BOWL

#1 Alabama vs #4 Oklahoma

Football is such big business in Florida, Orlando has THREE bowls: Citrus, Cure Bowl (Dec 15), and Camping Bowl (Dec 28) while Tampa has two, adding the Gasparilla (Dec 20). On Dec 31, Jacksonville’s old Gator Bowl is now the Taxslayer Bowl.  There is even a Boca Raton Bowl (Dec 15).

What is most amusing this year is that of Florida’s local teams only South Florida (in Gasparilla Bowl) is playing on local turf.  Florida (Atlanta), UCF (Arizona), Miami (New York City) and FIU (the Bahamas) are playing away.  I hope the Hurricanes like snow.

Incredibly I was the sports editor at the Miami Hurricane student newspaper at the  University of Miami when they went to the Gotham Bowl.  I think 5,000 people showed up in the old Yankee Stadium.

floridatraveler PGA NATIONAL GOLF 

The PGA National has a lot of water and sand

Snowbird and winter golfers love the fact that the PGA and LPGA play in Florida in February and March with the PGA National at Palm Beach (Feb28), the Arnold Palmer at Punta Verde (Mar 7), and the Vaspar Innisbrook (Mar 21) in St. Petersburg.

The LPGA opens its tour in Lake Buena Vista at the Four Seasons Diamond Resorts (Jan 17) and has its Tour Championship Nov 21 in Naples.

floridatraveler MIAMI OPEN TENNIS

Tennis in a football stadium?

If you like controversy and the unusual, you might want to be in 65,000 seat Hard Rock football stadium on March 18 for the Miami Open Tennis tournament, a hard court ATP and WTA event that outgrew Crandon Park.  How they divide up and “tent” the needed courts will be something to imagine.

floridatraveler SEBRING RACING.jpg

The tiny Sebring Airport Become Car Race Special

Speaking of crowds – 150,000 will certainly show up February 17 for the 2019 Daytona 500, the first of several major races on the big track.  If you like your automobiles on a roadway, you will mark March 13 as the date of the 67th Annual Twelve Hours of Sebring.  These are social events as much as sporting events.

As an old New Englander, I know a lot of us might be interested that on February 23, the defending world champion Boston Red Sox will open 2019 Grapefruit League competition against the New York Yankees in JetBlue Park in Fort Myers.  They will be joined by 14 other Major League teams.

floridatraveler BOSTON RED SOX green-monster

The Green Monster Travels to Southwest Florida

And I hate to say this but Florida’s most gigantic family multi-day sports event is usually filled up by this time.  The Walt Disney Marathon now goes from January 9 to 13 and features numerous race events.  I thought the Dopey Challenge was a little far-out, but I see you can try to win six medals and beat the Dopey Challenge.  Sounds about right.





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Florida’s Waterside Entertainment Malls Are A Tourist Plus

A lot of Florida cities take advantage of both the climate and the location on the water of the ocean or a bay.   The creation of waterside entertainment centers give locals and visitors the option to dine, to shop, to nightclub, and to do other outdoor activities like boat tours and fishing trips.

I thought about this when I realized the former Channelside Mall in downtown Tampa by the Cruise Port was reopening this weekend as Sparkman’s Wharf.   A section of the unsuccessful complex was torn down, giving the spot a huge outdoor entertainment lawn facing the waterfront.

FLORIDATRAVELER spartman wharf plans

Completed Plans For Sparkmans Wharf

Until some upscale local restaurants are later next year opening in the main building, the attraction for the setup will be a huge biergarten, ten fancy food trucks built from shipping containers, a music court, and grounds with lawn games.  The Wharf is a few blocks from the hockey stadium, next to the Florida Aquarium, and in a area where some 5,000 people have moved into apartments and condos.

The most famous waterside center is Miami’s two-story Bayside Marketplace located near the Miami Heat stadium on Biscayne Bay.  The center has grown with some six dozen stores selling everything from clothing to sunglasses to travel tickets.

FLORIDATRAVELER Bayside_Marketplace_Waterside

There are a dozen restaurants including Hard Rock Café, Bubba Gump, Hooters, Los Ranchos, and Bavaria Haus Beerhall.  Pier 5 is lined with charter fishing vessels and tour boats that take people to see the sights of Miami Beach and the Biscayne Bay islands and the homes from AL Capone to Gloria Esteban.

Jacksonville Landing on downtown Jacksonville’s Riverwalk opened in 1987 and has averaged some 600 events each year.  The U-shaped complex has shops and restaurants like Benny’s Steak and Seafood, Hooters, Fionn MacCools, Cinco de Mayo, and a neat nightclub called Mavericks.


The Landing like the Tampa site features a River Taxi and boat docks, both important factors in recruiting more people to live downtown.  River transportation and Riverwalks shift the focus of Florida’s cities to the waterfronts which were shockingly ignored for decades in Florida’s older cities.

Over on the Gulf of Mexico in Pinellas County is John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk on Madeira Beach, just seconds from the ocean.  The docks are filled with tour boats and fishing charters and you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and jet skis.


John’s Pass Is A Waterhole of Activity

In such a location seafood places like Sculleys, Friendly Fisherman, and the Wild Seafood Company give you a dockside view of all the action.  Of course, there always seems to be a Hooters and Bubba Shrimp Company.


Punta Gorda’s Fishermens Wharf Combines Food, Shops, Rentals

I have to admit that these swarms of humanity are often too crowded.  Another suggestion is to take a look at restaurants located on Florida piers, a risky investment but a long tradition.  The most commercial operation is the tri-restaurant seafood bonanza on the famous Cocoa Beach Pier.   All you need is some top notch surfers to sail past your window.

FLORIDATRAVELER cocoa-beach-pier

My fun pier is the funky Rod and Reel Pier Restaurant in Anna Maria Island although nearby Bradenton has the exquisite Pier 22 Restaurant.   And few people will be disappointed going to Joe’s Crab Shack on Daytona Beach Pier.

FLORIDATRAVELER Rod and Reel Pier Anna-Maria-Island-

In Contrast: Anna Maria Island’s Funky Pier Restaurant

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, dining, Florida Food, florida history, florida vacations, food, mcbobleonard, Restaurants, small towns, Tampa, travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment