One of the greatest business challenges to adjust to “the New Normal” in the entire nation is the problems that Walt Disney World and Universal Studios will have to transition toward opening the parks and resorts in July in various stages.   It is particularly painful to the folks at WDW for 2021 is the 50th Anniversary of the Mouse empire in Florida.

Already, the news of the changes, some temporary and some that may become permanent, are getting more than a little flack from some of the park’s regular and long-time customers.   People fear change.  Many people find it difficult to adjust, particularly if they involve serious family issues.

I understand this for in 2021 WDW may celebrate a 50th anniversary but my wife Barbara Ann and I will also be celebrating a 50th anniversary.  One of the first trips we took as a married couple was to Walt Disney World and to the Contemporary Resort.  Back then the California Grill was a Top of the World restaurant and nightclub. We payed $4.50 for admission and ride tickets and spent out “E” tickets on Haunted Mansion and the Jungle Cruise.

Crowd Events May Be Delayed For Months

Let’s look at some of the areas where the first rule changes are causing a crisis mode for some Florida travelers:

Booking restaurants and other matters will NO LONGER be done up to 180 days for park hotel guests. The new rule will be just 60 days.

This rule change doesn’t bother me probably because: (1) I live 60 minutes away from WDW; (2) Even semi-retired (sic), I can’t make 6-month reservation plans.

This policy change does level the playing field and will upset mainly those who have the money and ability to make long distance plans.  I have never been turned down from 90% of the top restaurants at WDW if I have 60 days.  WARNING: until WDW restaurants and hotels can operate at 100% capacity, there will be fierce competition for the most popular places. It should be noted that ”Very popular” does not necessarily mean the place is worthy of its status.

Social Distancing Will Be A Major Issue

The Disney Dining Plans are gone for 2020.  They may not come back.

People who had reservations with the Disney Dining Plans were offered package discounts of 35% but a lot of people are more than angry about that.

Most people on the Disney Dining Plans “lost money”, meaning the plan cost them more money than the food they actually purchased – about $27 per adult on a three-day counter service type plan and about $40 on a three day counter-table service plan.  Only the deluxe plan which was selling for $150+ per day saved money.

The only good reason for the Dining Plans is you arrive at WDW with most of your food expenses prepaid.   WHAT CAN YOU DO NOW?  Start buying discounted Disney gift cards

At Sam’s, Target Red Card, BJ’s Wholesale etc.  Only accept places where you get a 4-5% discount on the price.  You can use Disney gift cards for food, gifts, and everything else. Use them to have a prepaid vacation.

San Angel Inn: Overcrowded Seating & Dark Rooms Will Change

INSIDER’S FACT: Just about everyone in the WDW food business hated the Disney Dining Plan including thousands of visitors who felt they had to select the most expensive items on the menu to get their money’s worth.  I know a family that forced their 10-year old kid (treated as an adult at WDW) to order a giant Surf and Turf plate at a two-credit restaurant.

INSIDER’S FACT:  Chefs at WDW owned restaurants are under budget and profit pressures. Popular but costly items have been eliminated from menus.  Lsss expensive vegetables have been added to dishes.   I have gone fishing a few times in my life and I have NEVER caught a “sustainable fish” – what do they look like?

Fastpass+ strategies will be drastically shaped by WDW rule changes and may gradually change in a new manner, but most visitors planning ahead will be in the dark until the last minute.

When will all of WDW’s 70.000 “family members” return?

FASTPASS+ do help some people plan their visit to the parks, but its main purpose was to spread people out quickly in the parks, get people eating food all over the park, and improve data collection about customer preferences and trends.  

Due to the virus such popular Fastpass+ attractions as meeting the characters will not open as the parks open.  This could be a killer to some families with small kids since most popular rides have height restrictions.   The problem with character meetings is clear: people stand in various lines and kids want to hug Ariel and Elsa.  At least Mickey and Donald have built-in masks.

How will WDW Deal With Young People From Around the Globe?

IF YOU THINK THESE ARE THE MAIN ISSUES … think of all the others.  The World or International section of Epcot is manned with young people from all-around the world, including the People’s Republic of China.  Will we have people “substituting” for the REAL thing?

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Millions of tourists roll along I-4 between Daytona Beach and Orlando, but few of them turn off at DeLand unless they have real business there.  It is too bad for DeLand is not a typical Central Florida community.

DeLand is actually the capital of Volusia, not Daytona Beach, and it is home to Florida’s oldest private college Stetson University.  The blend of 3,000 students from all corners of the globe and county politics adds a lot of culture and art to the town.

While the fastest route off I-4 into downtown DeLand is exit FL 44 West, coming from Tampa, I prefer to exit I-4 at US27 north.  It makes me realize that DeLand is close to the east bank of the St. Johns River, minutes from Blue Springs State Park, Hontoon State Park, and DeLeon Springs. Boating and kayaking are minutes from DeLand.

Coming from the south also shows off the diversity of interesting antique shops, restaurants, and general stores that fill Woodland Boulevard.  When I had an online store selling Old Florida, DeLand was always a fun spot to shop.

The structure at 109 West Indiana (1875) is the oldest commercial building in Deland.  Next door at 105 West Indiana is the Old Curiosity Shop, so named for a gift shop was housed here since its 1925 construction. 

There are two landmark buildings you have to notice. The 1929 Volusia County Courthouse is an impressive sight with its Corinthian columns of Georgian pink marble covered by a copper dome. Deland has been the county seat since 1888 despite the rise of huge Daytona Beach and coastal towns.

The 1922 ATHENS THEATER designed by Floridian Murray S. King was saved from the wrecking ball by wise locals who knew the old vaudeville house was an architectural asset to the local arts scene.

Continue north from downtown DeLand after some shopping and food for there is more to see.    At 137 West Michigan Avenue, just north of downtown, is the HENRY S. DELAND HOUSE MUSEUM (1886), a tribute to the town’s developer and promoter..

The building is ironically not the former home of the founding father of the city. DeLand sold the land to Arthur George Hamlin, the first attorney in the town. In 1893 Hamlin sold the house to JOHN B. STETSON, the hat manufacturer and benefactor to Stetson University.  Stetson used the building to house faculty until it was finally bought by Dr. Charles Farris, a professor of Greek.

The museum also honors LUE GIM GONG, often called the Luther Burbank of Citrus. Gong developed many varieties of oranges and grapefruit which helped Florida become a great fruit exporter.  He was a friend to DeLand and Stetson.

 The focal point of the town is STETSON UNIVERSITY, founded in 1883 on a 175-acre historic campus north of downtown. Besides offering bachelor and masters degrees in a variety of fields, the 3,000 student university has Law Schools in St. Petersburg and Tampa.  The campus is one of the most beautiful in Florida and since it is historic and compact, it is delightful to park and wander the campus.

A next door landmark is the JOHN STETSON MANSION (1886), designed by George T. Pearson in the Gothic Tudor cottage form. The tiny schoolhouse built to educate his kids stands in the back of the 8500 square foot house.  Stetson provided the money and influence to attract students and scholars to this tiny Florida town and turn it into a cultural area.

.#deland #florida #vacation #stetson

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Most Floridians and certainly most visitors to Florida do not know that on the Plaza Level in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Tallahassee is the FLORIDA ARTISTS HALL OF FAME.

Commissioned in 1986 by the Florida Legislature to recognize artists, both living or deceased, who have contributed to the cultural history of the Sunshine State.  Framed images of each year’s inductees hang in a special area of the Hall of Fame Wall and each inductee receives a bronze sculpture based upon La Florida created by St. Augustine artist Enzo Torcoletti.on the wall.

While there are too many musicians (let alone artists) to include in this blog,, I would like to note my favorite musical Floridians in the Artists Hall of Fame.  This is not in any order on purpose so you can go to the website of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and make your own nominees.


Although born in a hospital on the Georgia side of the border, Ray Charles Robinson grew up in Greenville (where you can visit the rebuilt house and statue), but going blind at age 7, he enrolled in the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in Saint Augustine, where he learned to sing and play the piano, organ, clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone.   During the summer, he entertained his family in Frenchtown, Tallahassee.  Upon graduation, he played in Orlando before coming to live with relatives in Belmont Heights (Tampa) and playing in the Central Avenue clubs.  He even played piano for a white group called the Florida Playboys and started wearing shades.

floridatraveler statue of raycharles

The clubs are no longer in existence and the owners of the Tampa house don’t want a historic marker in front of their residence.  Charles’ first three recordings were made in Tampa before he left for bigger markets.  Many believe his first No. 1 hit “I Got a Woman” was the start of soul music as a recognizable genre.  Of course, we Floridians do not listen that much to “Georgia on My Mind.”   Charles won a dozen Grammy Awards.

floridatraveler ray charles boyhood house


Jimmy Buffett is so identified with the Florida Keys that my daughter’s high school even did a halftime show of nothing but Buffett songs. Like so many Floridians (including me), Buffett came to Florida from elsewhere.  In his case, from Mississippi, from a Mobile trio called the Upstairs Alliance, from two failed albums, and a failed marriage.  Visiting his pal Miamian Jerry Jeff “Mr. Bojangles” Walker, Buffett went to Key West and fell in love.  Maybe it was in his blood since his dad was a sea captain.  In 1977 Buffet release “Margaritaville” in his Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes.   I recall on my first trip to Key West, I had to visit his first restaurant.  Wherever Buffet goes his fight for the preservation of Florida manatees and the Florida reefs will give him high Florida visibility.

floridatraveler first margaritaville cafe


One in four Floridians was born in another land and one of them is Gloria Fajarda, born in Cuba in 1957.  In 1978 she married Emilio Estefan and started a band called Miami Sound Machine. I don’t recall any Latin music on the big charts in the 1980s. The Banana Boat Song does not count.  In 1985 came an album called Primitive Love, with three Top Ten hits.  Kids in Iowa knew the lyrics to “Conga.”   Latin music outsells other categories today and Miami is identified as a Latin music center.   Films, restaurants, children’s books – Gloria Esteban is all over the creative markets.   I took a boat cruise around the islands of Biscayne Bay and more people recognized the home of Gloria Esteban than the home of Al Capone!   It became too popular so she had to move out.

floridatraveler gloria esteban house


This shows my lack of prejudice as an FSU alumnus, I should not promote a native of Gainesville, Florida, and an all-time Florida Gator fan.  But Tom Petty has been a rock icon in Florida since he formed The Heartbreakers back in the 1970s. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has sold over 60 million albums and remains on radio lists despite his death in 2017.   One of the ironic stories of Tom Petty is that as a young teen he took guitar lessons from another Gainesville local: Don Felder, who became the lead guitarist for the Eagles.   Felder of Florida wrote the lyrics to a hit called “Hotel California.”  Felder is also in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

floridatraveler tom petty


I have always been fond of Mel Tillis.  Perhaps because he comes from a small farming village of Dover outside of Tampa.  Perhaps because my brother is a professor of Speech Pathology for Tillis developed a terrible stutter due to childhood malaria.  Yet Tillis did not stutter when he sang a song and it became his career after the military.   He was, however, so bashful about his singing, he became a songwriter producing hits for other singers like Brenda Lee, Webb Pierce, and Ray Price. Guess who wrote Kenny Rogers’ “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town”?

floridatraveler MEL TILLIS

 In 1958 Tillis finally decided to sing his own tunes and he decided he could both write and sing.  In the 1970’s he had a song in the Top Ten Country every year and sometimes more than one hit.  He made over 70 albums.   There are people in Central Florida who only know Tillis for his charity work, particularly with disadvantaged youth.

DID YOU KNOW?   Billboard Magazine selected the Rolling Stone’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” as the top rock hit of the twentieth century.  It was written after midnight in a Clearwater hotel when band members couldn’t get to sleep.

#florida  #music   #buffett    #petty






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Florida is slowly opening up and Florida’s beaches, the longest in the United States will play a major role in the economic recovery of Florida’s largest industry – tourism.  I thought it would be appropriate therefore to take a visit to the oldest modern beach resort on Florida’s Gulf Coast.  For those who want to hit the beach and the neat little shops and fine seafood restaurants, you can use this article.  If you still want to stay in an automobile, you are cruise the streets from the tip of the Pinellas Peninsula northward toward the Don Cesar Resort.

floridatraveler passagrille entrance sign

               PASS-A-GRILLE BEACH, the Southernmost of Pinellas County’s barrier beaches, is now the lower part of Saint Petersburg Beach.  Yet the village was the first beach community on the Gulf of Mexico to develop as a weekend residential spot for successful Tampa and St. Petersburg residents. Home to fishermen, farming homesteaders, and lumbermen like Zephaniah Phillips as early as the 1880s, the island didn’t develop until Roy S. Hanna and Tampa cigar magnate Selwyn Morey started to develop lots for houses and hotels.  Without a bridge until the 1900s, they invested in passenger boats taking visitors from the railroad towns of Tampa and Saint Petersburg to the beach.

floridatraveler passagrille hotel 1900s

James H. Forquer, manager of St. Petersburg’s Detroit Hotel, set up a floating hotel for excursionists and in 1898 George Henri Lizotte, a French travel agent for Thomas Cook Company, opened a huge, first permanent hotel. In summer, with the Northern tourists gone, the beach began to attract vacationers from all over Florida.

Although the town has merged with St. Petersburg Beach since 1957, Pass-A-Grille maintains its own arty and bohemian lifestyle, in part, because the village is but one block wide and 31 blocks long.  There are no giant condos and huge 200-room resorts in Pass-A-Grille.  By the 1920s humble cottages were built by people like Babe Ruth, who wanted to avoid the crowds.  Prices are high for little houses with no front or back yards for the beach is your play area.

WHERE TO START: The island is ideal for walkers if you PARK AT THE SOUTH END OF GULF WAY by the beach. DRIVERS would appreciate the weekdays when you can loop around the narrow roads.   BEWARE: although there is paid parking along the entire beach, parking fills up and there are no garages.

floridatraveler passagrille postcard1

DRIVE EAST ON FIRST AVENUE toward Pass-A-Grille Channel to see the end of Pinellas County’s 26 miles of oceanfront. Only 103 First Avenue, a two-story frame with an old metal stove chimney is an early house. (1) LANDS END is a cottage colony at the very tip of Pass-A-Grille with a view toward the mouth of Tampa Bay.   Here are some driving tour tips, but you can easily walk up to the downtown area and the history museum.

TURN LEFT (north) ON GULF and PASS SECOND AVENUE. On your left are four early 1920’s cottages: (2) 200 Pass-A-Grillea fine 2 1/2- story frame structure with a large front porch.

TURN LEFT ON THIRD AVENUE. All the cottages on your left are old, including the (3) DR. EDMUND MELVILE HOUSE (1906), 104 Third Avenue, a two story that was moved from the Point to make way for apartments. At 110 Third Avenue was the (4) THOMAS WATSON COTTAGE SITE, the cute winter home of Thomas Watson, co-inventor of the telephone.

floridatraveler passagrille poster girl


On your left is the historic family-owned (5) HOTEL CASTLE (1906) one of the older beach establishments and an unusual style of a beach colony. On your right is the (6) FIRST SCHOOLHOUSE (1912), 105 Fourth Avenue, a one room school, now a residence. Across the street lived William Staub, editor of the St. Petersburg Times (111 Fourth).  (7) HAROLD McPHERSON HOUSE (1903), 308 Pass-A-Grille, once an old fish camp, now a large frame house.


The next four houses on your left are fine older homes. The first one is the (8) WALDRON HOUSE (1910), 400 Pass-A-Grille, with a wonderful stone fence and cement yard.

TURN LEFT ON FIFTH AVENUE where old cottages line both sides. The first house on your left is the (9) CAPTAIN RANDON MILES HOUSE (1920), 102 Fifth Avenue, one of the island’s oldest, complete with fluted chimney. The last house on the left is the modernized (11) JAMES SIMMONS HOUSE (1911), 108 Fifth Avenue, a big waterfront owned by the New York Congressman. A huge condo blocks the water view today.

TURN RIGHT ON GULF and right on SIXTH AVENUE. This entire block is mostly 1920’s cottages. The last house on the left stands where Zephaniah Phillips built his sawmill in 1884.


The 600 block once had some old houses like the (11) AMELIA WILLIAMS HOUSE (l9l9), 612 Pass-A-Grille. At 608 Pass-A-Grille was the (12) ZEPHANIAH PHILLIPS HOUSE (1886), once probably the oldest home on the island. Giant three story condos mark this area today. On your right is 1917 (13) V. K. OUTLANDS HOUSE (1917), home of a noted poet, batter known locally as the “Cat Woman.” Here and at 702 Pass-A-Grille were located the Old Spanish Fishing Ranchos in the 1880s.

At 102 Seventh Avenue is the (14) GEORGE GRANGER HOUSE (1925), one of the oldest waterfront cottages in Pinellas.

floridatraveler the hurricane

TURN RIGHT ON GULF WAY and RIGHT ON EIGHTH AVENUE, downtown Pass-A- Grille. The two-story buildings with their open or enclosed second-floor porches give downtown a frontier look except at 111 Eighth, a delightfully tiny pink storefront advertising “a little room for ART.” A block away is the towering HURRICANE RESTAURANT, where people drive for miles for a grouper sandwich and a sunset view from the rooftop bar.

DOWNTOWN is one long block of funky shops dating as far back as the 1920s. At 107 Eighth Avenue was the (16JOSEPH MERRY BAIT SHOP (l911). The fancy building at 106 Eighth Avenue is the 1913 (17) J. J. DUFFY GROCERY, started by the first Mayor and major developer of this area. The huge second-floor balcony and the many flags remind me of a consulate in some foreign country. Several shops are housed at the (18) CAPTAIN KEN MERRY BUILDING (1936), 105 Eighth Avenue, once the Kay Metz store. At 102 Eighth Avenue was the (19) JAMES MASON HOUSE (1923), one of the earliest hotels and now an apartment building.

floridatraveler 06-eigth-st-shops

Continue North of Pass-a-grille way to Ninth Avenue.

On your right is the Pass-A-Grille Park. On your left at 808 Pass-A-Grille is the (20) JUDGE L. S. SCHWERDTFEBER HOUSE (JEWETT VILLA) (1908), a big house with three dormers and a cute, little white fence. The Seaside Grille Pavilion across Gulf Way along the public beach continues a tradition started in 1905 by Charles S. Page who opened a beachside snack bar.

One can not miss the (21) PASS-A-GRILLE COMMUNITY CHURCH (1911), 115 Tenth Avenue, now a history museum for the Pinellas islands. Stop by and visit the exhibits if the building is open. (22) 105 Tenth Avenue once housed the 1913 Women’s Club.

At 103 Tenth Avenue is the (23) E. C. KITTRIGHT HOUSE (1903), one of the island’s oldest and moved from downtown. At the end of the block is 1906 (24) ALPHONSE THAYER HOUSE1000 Pass-A-Grille. The art gallery on the backside was the studio of noted artist Ralph McKey.

This shop is just ten-foot-wide. 

floridatraveler passagrille the little art blg

TURN LEFT ON PASS-A-GRILLE past the 1910 Mac Granger House at 1002 Pass-A-Grille, and TURN LEFT ON ELEVENTH AVENUE. At 109 Eleventh Avenue is the delightful (24) CHARLES BEINERT COTTAGE, (1921), better known as the “Staten Island Cottage.”

This ends of the original Pass-A-Grille district. At 113 Twelfth Street is the house with the wonderful porch, the (25) VASHTI BARLETTE COTTAGE (1918) and at 1202 Pass-A-Grille Way is the three-story (26) HAROLD McPHERSON HOUSE.

OTHER SPOTS: 1805 Pass-A-Grille Way – the 1928 waterfront house of movie actress Norma Talmadge; 2201 Pass-A-Grille Way – the 1948 Women’s Club. 1307 Gulf Way – the 1922 Sea Spray Motel, popular in Florida Land Boom with actor Lionel Barrymore has been replaced by a very expensive 2017 beach mansion.




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Small Town Series: This article is part of one of the series that this website will feature as Florida slowly unwraps from the effects of the virus. This article features small towns most visitors to Florida might not normally put on their travel lists.

FLORIDATRAVELER seaside-banner

It’s been over two decades since Jim Carrey escaped from the TV-studio bubble in The Truman Show (1998) and many people now don’t realize that the town on the scenic ocean was not a movie set, but a real Florida village. While its main shops are presently closed due to the virus, they will soon reopen.

Businessman Robert Davis took the eight beachfront acres in Seagrove Beach off US98 that his granddad Alabama store owner J. S. Smolian purchased in 1946 and bought more acreage.  Davis loved his youth there and wanted to resurrect his fond memories.


But Davis’ idea for a unified village with over 200 wood frame cottages was not typical in 1980, for Davis loved New Urbanist architecture and recruited Luxembourg urban designer Leon Krier to make his idea a reality.  They then hired Miami architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Syberk to establish a Southern vernacular design that fit the rural location.

I once owned a condo in downtown Celebration so I realize while some people will love a town without front lawns and perfectly designed walking paths, others will find the conformity or uniformity scary.  It is this division of feeling that made Seaside the ideal spot for The Truman Show about a man born into an artificial glass-domed town where everyone and everything was a daily television set.

FLORIDATRAVELER seaside-odessa pavilion

Seaside is a real town with real people.  You will be thrilled or maybe chilled when you visit.   The location in Florida’s Panhandle means that Seaside would be unlikely to attract industry. In fact, most residents need to drive down the highway for most of their shopping, despite the quaint downtown surrounding the VILLAGE GREEN, site of the Post Office just off FL30A. Seaside fills up in winter with Northern renters and in summer with Southern beach-goers so that the small all-year population truly does know each other.

FLORIDATRAVELER great southern cafe

Davis warned his critics that Seaside was “an idealized vision of a town” and that it was going to remain “a holiday town.” Still, you might think you are in the movie The Truman Show when you see that despite amazing architecture the white fences and common lettering system gives the village a conforming feel despite houses showing Victorian, New Classical, and other designs..

 TOURING SEASIDE can be done on foot since the original village contains just eighty compressed acres, but if you want to drive most of the residential streets using the map, it is best to park at the Village Green or the COTTAGE RENTAL AGENCY and visit the interesting shops, the Playhouse, the Great Southern Cafe (good food), and the Seaside Chapel.

FLORIDATRAVELER seaside-chapel

Most people will next want to walk over FL30A to the many beach pavilions, the most photographed features of Seaside, and in keeping with protecting the sand dunes and sea grapes. Each of these walkways is delightful – the wave-shaped Natchez Street Pavilion, the stick shack Odessa Street Pavilion, the latticework East Ruskin Street Pavilion, and the key Tupelo Street Pavilion.

WARNINGIt is nice to eat beachside, but the food at the beach didn’t match the cafes at the Village Green.

TUPELO STREET was the first Seaside street and it features some of the most notable cottages, including the GIANT’S ROOST AND TOWER at 109 Tupelo, where renters can get a bird’s eye-view of all the village, and the one-story per floor LEON KRIER COTTAGE, at 115 Rupelo. Krier came from Europe so maybe he wanted a townhouse. Notice all the narrow footpaths that connect each street. Walkers can get around faster than people in automobiles.

FLORIDATRAVELER seaside-nesbitt cottage

Another interesting street is RUSKIN STREET with the wildly skeletal ROGER’S LIGHTHOUSE located at 110 Ruskin, the work of Victoria Casasco. Three doors down is Walther Chatham’s futuristic Cracker dogtrot style cottage with two peaked roofs. SEASIDE AVENUE is the village’s widest esplanade with many two-story houses that serve as large family rentals. At 204 Seaside is the large two-story clapboard double porch vernacular with widow’s walk built by founder Robert Davis

Floridatraveler seaside chapel


For people who are still looking for “motion picture shots,” you will notice that the town grocery was used as a meeting spot in the film, and Truman’s home is located at 31 Natchez Street.  The bubble may be gone, but the uniqueness of Seaside is still there.

#seaside  #Trumanshow  #movies  #florida


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My Favorite Weirdest Attractions in Florida

With the virus limiting travel and tourism in Florida, I am writing articles oriented toward the entire state summarizing some past content and painting a wide picture.  As a history teacher, it irritates me how much of the History Channel and even the Travel Channel is dedicated to UFOs, ghosts, and Big Foot.

But I must admit that people are greatly fascinated by these topics so I am featuring “my favorite weirdest attractions” in Florida.  They have to be for real and they have to have value as a location to visit.

CORAL CASTLE (Homestead)

Coral Castle has confused and fascinated engineers and scientists from around the world for decades.  The site, just off US1, is a gigantic limestone structure constructed by one 120-pound, heart-broken Latvian immigrant without the help of machinery or other people.

floridatraveler CORAL CASTLE

Giant one-ton doors rotate at the touch of a finger.  The huge picnic table is shaped like Florida.  An observatory that must weight three tons pints directly to various stars as an observatory.  Even more amazing, Edward Leedskalnin (1887-1951) secretly moved the entire site when threatened by road construction.  All he ever told people is that he learned the use of levers from the Egyptians.

CASSADEGA (Volusia County)

A few miles off the Lake Helen exit on I-4 is a small, unincorporated village known to some travelers as “the Psychic Capital of the World.”  It is not a sideshow operation, but the center of the Southern Spiritualist Association.  The meeting hall, the church, and most of the Victorian houses belong to spiritualists who believe you can talk to the dead and learn about life.

floridatraveler CASSADEGA HOTEL

The village started way back in 1875 by New Yorker George P. Colby, who believed that a Florida winter site would be important to his fellow spiritualists.  There is a hotel, often in winter housing believers from around the globe. Walking around the compact community is an experience even if you don’t want to meet a medium.


Most people will find a scenic Florida state park with campgrounds and canoe/kayak rentals on a river not to be the likely site for an unusual Utopian community.  In the 1870’s Cyrus Teed, known as “Koresh” to his followers, came to isolated Estero to start a colony known as Koreshan Unity.  Some eleven historic buildings remain from a settlement that contained miles of roadways lined with bamboo trees.

FLORIDATRAVELER Koreshan_SHS_planetary_court02

The village produced electricity in a region which had none. The most fascinating structure is the large meetinghouse where Koresh taught his followers that we live inside the world.  In winter there is actually a small restaurant serving food from the Koreshan Unity bakery cookbook.


Some people would get upset if I didn’t include this Florida icon of a museum on US 41 in the Upper Everglades, dedicated to Florida’s version of Big Foot.  The exhibits and evidence might not convince you of the creature, but you’ll like the friendly and informative staff.


Not far away, if you look on the south side of the highway, you’ll see the Ochopee Post Office, the smallest in the United States.

floridatraveler SMALLEST POST OFFICE


It may be appropriate for a state like Florida surrounded by oceans that the most visited celebrity grave is that of a dolphin.  Located at MM 59 on the Gulf side of US1’s island hopping trip to Key West is the Dolphin Research Center.  Obviously closed as an attraction at the present time, the center is more concerned with living mammals than dead ones.



But on the property, complete with a statue, is Flipper (1964-1972), star of the 1960’s television show and movie.  Flipper was really Mitzi and she got the featured part for she could do for things than her standbys.


I know what you are thinking.  This is one of the Ancient City’s typical tourist traps with lots of weird and ugly exhibits, much of which has nothing to do with Florida.  So I am going to tell you what the Ripley people don’t tell you in full detail.

The building was constructed in 1887 as Warden Castle, the winter home of Bill Warden, John D. Rockefeller’s financier.  It was vacant during the Depression until 1941 when Ocala hotel man Norton Baskin turned it into a luxury hotel.  He designed the penthouse into an apartment for his wife famed author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  Baskin thought her relationship to the hotel would help promote the place.

floridatraveler RIPLEY MUSEUM

Rawlings hated the place for she wanted privacy and half the town could tell if she was staying there. She took her Pulitzer Prize money and bought a nice beach house at Crescent Beach.  She really got pissed off when her hubby put a mutual female friend in the penthouse when she was away and town folk felt Baskin was having an affair.

floridatraveler MARGORIE RAWLINGS

Baskin promised his wife never again to put someone in the penthouse, but on April 23, 1944, with her husband serving in the military, Rawlings violated her own ruling by letting a friend stay in the penthouse.  With Rawlings at Crescent Beach, a fire started on the third floor of the hotel and two women were killed, one of them her friend trapped in the penthouse bathroom.

Today Ripley has a “Finding Mr. X Tour” for the second woman who died was not fully identified and a strange man in Room 13 took off after the fire.  Workers at the museum complain about seeing a female ghost and if that is so, it is probably the woman in the penthouse.  Or maybe it is the ghost of Rawlings cursed by her decision.

#florida  #weird   #attractions











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With so many Florida attractions, restaurants, and resorts still closed due to the virus, I want to feature some things that the virus can not drastically change.  And that is Florida – the Natural Place.


It was a Saint Petersburg newspaper reporter in the 1890s that started the notion that Florida was “the Sunshine State.”  Compared to the place where winter tourists were coming, Florida might have seemed “sunny.”  In reality, there are six or seven states with more sunshine annually than us.


               Fort Jefferson in Florida has also never seen a freezing day.

But the truth is you don’t go to Florida because there is a sun.  You go because it is nice are warm in February when Chicago is under a blizzard of snow.  Denver gets more sun than Miami, but would you wear a bathing suit outside in Colorado in January?

Florida should advertise itself as “The Warm State.”


The virus has actually caused thousands of Florida snowbirds to stay in Florida rather than to return to New York and New Jersey.  Many are wondering if what will be worst: summer in Florida or disease in New York City.

FLORIDATRAVELEr florida is hot and humid

          I will not lie: Florida temperatures rise over ninety across the state in the summer and the humidity is high.  My Tampa has an average humidity of 87% vs San Diego at 76% and Honolulu at 71%. Key West is the only city in the continental United States that has never had a freezing temperature.

On June 29, 1931, Monticello hit 109 degrees F and on February 13, 1899, Tallahassee dropped to -2 degrees F. These hottest and coldest spots are just 24 miles apart!   Going north in Florida does not mean cooler temperatures in July.


Look in an almanac and you read that Georgia (57,906 square miles) is the largest state east of the Mississippi River.  Florida not only trails Georgia, but it is also smaller than Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin.  But wait! If you count all the lakes in those states, you will note that at 65,755 square miles, Florida is the LARGEST state east of the Great River.

I contend that since Floridians live on boats and houseboats on our lakes, the lakes are indeed part of Florida counties.

Florida’s long thin “Biblical seven” shape also desperately hides its true size.  To drive from Pensacola to Key West, it takes 12.5 hours and 832 miles of roadway.  New York to Chicago is 802 miles and Cincinnati to New Orleans is 805 miles.


Look at the map and notice that if you drive due north from Pensacola, you’ll hit Chicago and Miami on Florida’s East Coast is as far west as Pittsburgh.    Florida is very south also.  Jacksonville, Florida’s most Northern large city, is further south than San Diego, California’s most Southern city.


          Ironically the most Western and most Southern American state is Hawaii.   Florida does have something that only the Northwestern Hawaiian chain of the island has.  Florida has Marquesas Keys, the only known atoll in the Atlantic Ocean.


Florida is the only state located on two huge bodies of water: the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.  Only Alaska has more coast than our 1,350 miles.  The peninsula emerged out of the ocean and is slowly going back as oceans arise.  I don’t worry for I live at a staggering 12-feet above sea level and my science friends say Florida will not drown in a Hollywood movie-style tidal wave.  But we will start to look like Holland, only with Pina Coladas, not tulips.


          This photograph should upset people in Florida: when the Everglades starts to become a saltwater marsh, some one million freshwater alligators will be heading northward for one of Florida’s 30,000 lakes or three million swimming pools.


Despite some earthquakes south of Puerto Rico, Florida is not very near any active fault lines.  But if you live in some counties in Central Florida, it is wise to look into “catastrophic ground cover collapse insurance.  That is a polite way of saying “sinkhole protection.”  Despite serious attempts by the construction industry to avoid dangerous limestone real estate, Florida gets 400 new sinkholes every year.


          In 1981, a 300-foot wide, 100-foot deep sinkhole appeared in upper-income Winter Park and consumed one house, six automobiles, and a swimming pool.  At least we Floridians have a warning of the gradual nature of most sinkholes.  Only four people are known to have died in sinkholes in the last fifty years.

Keep Safe.           #florida  #nature   #sinkholes   #water



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With most of Florida’s tourist attractions, top restaurants, and resorts closed or operating on a limited basis, I thought I would contribute a story on one of Florida’s favorite topics: TREASURE.   In this case, it isn’t pirate gold, but Confederate gold coins.

As a historian and college professor, I get several emails and letters every year from people who wishfully hope I have some lost diary or letter that might provide evidence where there is treasure such as “the Confederate treasury that fled Richmond before that city fell.”

floridatraveler CONFEDERATE GOLD

Most scholars question whether the treasury was that extensive, but I can assure you some of it got to Florida and some of that gold might still be buried on the roadway between Archer and Waldo, Florida.

Here is a story based upon these facts:

It is APRIL 1, 1865, and the Confederacy is collapsing.  In Florida, locals get a real jolt. Governor JOHN MILTON, worn down by the stress of his office and depressed with the inevitable collapse of Richmond, goes to his Marianna plantation Sylvania and fires a bullet into his skull.  Ironically, Tallahassee is the only Rebel capital east of the Mississippi River that the Union forces do not invade.

Floridatraveler JOHN MILTON

APRIL 2, 1865:  Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet flee Richmond by train. What is left of the Confederate Treasury and funds in the banks of Richmond are placed in a second train in boxcars that contain four Conestoga wagons and nine large buckboards.   Important Confederate documents are also in the cargo.


APRIL 3, 1865:  Richmond falls and Grant begins his chase of Lee south of the Rebel Capital.  Although some Confederate officials are still talking about starting a new Rebel government in Texas, Cuba, or even the Bahamas, their plans will soon be ruined.  The gold train could not reach the Deep South with General Sherman’s forces controlling the rail routes.

APRIL 9, 1865Robert E. Lee surrenders the Confederate Army to U.S. Grant.  The cause seems lost except to a few militants.  In Washington, Georgia, the Richmond bank money is placed in a local bank to return to Virginia.  Rebel funds are divided into various wagons and soldiers are paid.  Then the wagons go in different directions.

floridatraveler LEE & GRANT

MAY 10, 1865:  Confederate President Jefferson Davis is captured outside Irwinville, Georgia. The 4th Michigan Cavalry claim Davis’s party has only a few dollars.

May 15, 1865:  A small wagon train secretly enters Florida along a backwoods trail.  Ten Rebel soldiers, two civilian scouts, and five black laborers travel at night to avoid Union forces that guard the Florida roads.

May 22, 1865:   The wagons reach their destination: Cotton Wood, the plantation of former United States Senator DAVID LEVY YULEE, the railroad pioneer who built a railroad route from Fernandina to Cedar Key and right past Yulee’s Archer, Florida, farm.


The Senator is away but Mrs. Levy tells them the sad news that President Davis has been captured.  The soldiers hide the wagon and give Mrs. Yulee chests and bags containing not just Rebel records, but some of Davis’ personal belongings.

That night, almost alongside the railroad, the ten Confederates decide to divide up the money they have, giving each soldier 400 gold sovereigns (worth $1,940 in 1865) plus $55 in travel expenses.  They give another $975 in gold to each of the civilians and the five black servants.

MAY 23, 1865:   The next morning Senator Yulee arrives and advises the men to seek paroles, surrender, and go home to their families in Virginia.  The men leave immediately.

floridatraveler DAVID LEVY

Records show that the ten soldiers surrendered at Waldo and Baldwin, and no mention of Confederate gold was made.  It may be assumed that the men may have buried the gold along the rail route, knowing they would be searched if captured.

May 24, 1865:  Senator Yulee took the Davis trunks to the Waldo railroad depot where Union forces seized them.  Hours later Captain O. E. Bryant and Union cavalry arrived at Cotton Wood to take the wagons.  They found no gold but Mrs. Yulee presented Bryant with Jefferson Davis’ French musket.

The Confederate gold may not have reached the Bahamas, but one key Rebel leader did escape via Florida.  

MAY 25, 1865: Confederate Secretary of State JUDAH PHILLIP BENJAMIN reached the sugar plantation of Robert Gamble on the banks of the Manatee River. 

floridatraveler GAMBLE MANSION

Many tales stated he was dressed as a woman (sic); the reality was that Benjamin, born in the Dutch Virgin Islands, pretended he was a lost French newsman.

Judah Philip Benjamin Painting; Judah Philip Benjamin Art Print for sale

Judah Philip Benjamin Painting; Judah Philip Benjamin Art Print for sale

A few days later, pretending to be a French cook, the Gambles got him on a boat leaving Sarasota Bay. Benjamin moved to London and served as a lawyer.

#florida  #treasure  #gold  #civil war





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A recent article that Tom Hanks might play the role of Colonel Tom Parker in a planned new Warner Brothers movie about the life of Elvis Presley attracted my attention.  I don’t know if the screenplay will feature Parker since no one was proposed for the Elvis role. I suspect this movie will be a backstage expose of the two men.

Floridatraveler ELVIS pic of Colonel Tom Parker

Florida and Elvis and the Colonel go hand in hand.  Yes, I know Elvis was raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, moved to Memphis as a teen, and showed up at Sam Philips’ Sun Records.

Elvis went on a Florida tour on May 7, 1955, with his guitarist Scotty Moore serving as manager and big brother.  The King of Rock got $50 to warm up Hank Snow and was just a red-sequined “Special Added Attraction” for what was mainly a country music tour, the most common show in the South.

The next day (May 8, 1955) Elvis was performing at Tampa’s Homer Hesterly Armory, the first of nine shows he would do in the Big Guava in the first fifteen months of his career.  By mid-1956, Elvis did 41 Florida shows. Young women immediately went wild and from the start experienced entertainers did not want the young singer to open their show.  Faron Young told Elvis it was dirty to shake his hips. 

FLORIDATRAVELER Fort Hesterly Armory-006

I never saw Elvis at Fort Hesterly since I moved to Florida in 1961, but I saw Elvis at the late Curtis Hixon Auditorium.  There was even a song about Elvis not liking Tampa, but he kept showing up with Tampa shows possibly because of the Colonel.

Colonel Parker was really “Andres van Kuijk” and he never became a U.S. citizen. The Colonel listing was also fake, a title he got from political friends and not military service.  Parker was once Tampa’s dogcatcher and he once lived above the Humane Society at 3607 North Armenia Avenue. He was a carnival announcer and then a Florida promoter, which is how he got became part of the Elvis story.

FLORIDARAVELER elvis Adams City Hatters

Parker was prematurely bald and that is how I met the Colonel.  When in town Parker got his famous fedoras from Joe Adams, Tampa’s mad hatter, and a downtown icon. It was clear from the start that Parker was a wheeler-dealer and disliked by many locals as a con man.  Parker loved to talk about Elvis to anyone who was in the store.

FLORIDARAVELER elvis and the colonel

Elvis was always “my boy.”  Parker kept saying this line. Parker hated airplanes so Elvis turned down huge sums of money to perform in Europe and Japan.  Parker had been kicked out of the Army so he hated Elvis’ military tour in Germany, where Parker lost influence. Elvis was committed to ten movies, each of which had to have a new album of songs of varying degrees of quality.

By the summer of 1956, Elvis had made 41 Florida concerts from Miami to Jacksonville.  Elvis’ July 30-31, 1955, show at Hesterly was the Parker’s first Elvis performance and Parker actually paid the Tampa Sertoma Club to get Elvis on a country show headed by TV star Andy Griffith.  A huge billboard showed Elvis in tiny letters.

FLORIDATRAVELER Elvis in Tampa and the photo albums

But that didn’t bother the Colonel.   He had hired the best photographer in Tampa, William Robertson, to capture the performance in front of a huge crowd, many of them older people.  These photos would be used on Elvis record covers for many years.  The Colonel also helped Elvis get a fancy convertible as part of the image.

FLORIDATRAVELER elvis the tonsil album

Elvis’ first hit also has Florida routes.  A Jacksonville fan Mae Axton wrote the music for friend Tommy Durden, a local guitarist, who wrote a song.  The tune was “Heartbreak Hotel.   And with a touch-up job to make the song more edgy, it became the song that launched Elvis into 1956 stardom.


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Will The Virus Ruin Walt Disney World’s 50th Birthday Party?

The family entertainment center of the world is completely closed down.  International Drive is more deserted than on the last hurricane attack.  Since 9.8% of Florida workers are in the travel and vacation industry, the economy, particularly in Central Florida, is in bad shape.

No one is certain how long and how hard the virus will be in Florida, since only Southeast Florida (Miami/Fort Lauderdale) is now in a hot spot category  I live in Tampa and there is a huge mansion going up in the lot next to my house.  Construction is not part of the Florida lockdown, but it seems workers are intentionally moving slowly as if this may be their last contract for many weeks and Disney construction is nil due to the volume of workers.

This brings up the main point of this article.  How will the virus shape all the plans for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021? 

A month ago my Disney contacts told me that it “would depend upon how fast the virus declines to bring back the tourists and the revenue.”      The present statements indicate that Disney’s priorities will be based upon how far along each project is.  With the rainy season about to arrive in a few weeks, enclosed projects will not miss work time due to weather.

HERE IS DISNEY’S GOOD LUCK CHARM:  WDW actually opened on October 1, 1971, so Disney can use the one-by-one opening of new rides and attractions during 2021 as the magic official day.  Disney World hits 50 on October 1, 2021.

Here is the probable situation of what will be ready and what may not.

TRON LIGHTCYCLE RUN at Magic Kingdom next to Space Mountain is a towering skeleton and if the ride resembles the Asian ride (here is a Attractions 360 You Tube link) there is a lot of outside exposure to the ride.  The good news, however, is that the ride duplicates the popular rides in China and Japan and one assumes that will speed up interior work.  Expected Opening: Late Fall 2020.


Just a side note: when Tron is about to open the Disney Railroad Train will again be able to circle the Magic Kingdom.  The GRAND FLORIDIAN WALKWAY to Magic Kingdom seemed just a few weeks away when the park closed.  The pedestrian bridge is complete and the sidewalk is ready for concrete.

There is huge construction projects at Epcot.  The EPCOT ENTRANCE is now filled with the green of garden and sadly my family’s Leave A Legacy monument has been removed.  For people wondering if there will be any lawsuits, I can tell you that the Disney guarantee was the Legacy would last at least 10 years (sic). Since the last monument sales were in 2007, the contract is up.

The biggest ride building is GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY– Cosmic Rewind Roller Coaster. It has nothing to do with the ride in California and is incredibly high tech with the cars interaction with the ride.  The exterior of the building is almost complete so the high priority interior work will be a first agenda item.

FLORIDATRAVELER Guardians of the Galaxy

The ride will change traffic patterns at Epcot when it opens.   Even still, EXPECTED OPENING: Summer 2021.

Not very promising is the remake of FUTURE WORLD.  Innoventions West is gone and the Easy side is vacant.  The maze of construction walls will remain up for a long time and the Festival Center and Moana attraction is something to consider in 2022.

The unique SPACE 220 RESTAURANT next to Test Track was delayed twice and was planned for late February 2020.  The Patina Restaurant people who run the Italian restaurants at Epcot were still hiring people when the park was closed.   EXPECTED OPENING: Early Fall 2020

FLORIDAYTRAVELER Space 220 restaurant

The new Epcot nighttime show of DISNEY HARMONIOUS was also on the verge of replacing the popular fill-in show of EPCOT FOREVER. Since no new buildings are part of the show, it is a matter of completing electrical sites and more.   EXPECTED OPENING: Early Fall 2020.

REMY’S RATATOUILLE ADVENTURE in the France Pavilion is an enclosed building and I am told it is very similar to the fun ride at Disney Europe (see Attrations 360 YOU TUDE video).  With the delightful Beauty and the Beast movie already open, the French will be the big competitor for the Norway Pavilion with the Frozen ride.

FLORIDA TRAVELER ratouille ride paris

This is a priority attraction ride near the completed Epcot gondola station.  Prepare to shrink yourself into a mouse with an EXPECTED OPENING:  Fall 2020.

Disney’s Hollywood Studio has had a huge last two years with the completion of Toy Story and Star Wars, and finally just a few weeks before the virus closing, MICKEY & MINNIE’S RUNAWAY RAILWAY, an important family attraction.

Some other construction plans at Hollywood Studios will not be so fortunate.  The Old Hollywood Studio entrance was being redesigned and the must-do new entrance will be completed as the parks reopen.

As much as Disney hopes to have the STAR WARS GALACTIC STARCRUISER hotel ready for opening day in October of 2021, it will be a close call.  I am told Disney does not want to open the high priced hotel without all its features.   SEE OCTOBER 1, 2021.

#wdw  #virus   #orlando


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