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 build-up.to 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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Favorite Florida Food Facts 2020 Style

via Favorite Florida Food Facts 2020 Style

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Favorite Florida Food Facts 2020 Style

One of the important Florida economic institutions that are in limbo during this Coronavirus Pandemic is the restaurant industry.

While you can pick up and have delivery of most comfort foods from the large restaurant chains, the stand-alone family restaurants that are most famous for unique Florida favorites are often closed.  So I thought it might be time to honor Florida food so much we appreciate it when it is unavailable.

What foods and drinks remind you of Florida?

ORANGE JUICE is more than Florida’s official beverage.  The Spanish brought it to Florida in the 1500s although commercial production did not boom until railroads in the 1870s could ship oranges to the North.

FLORIDATRAVELER food box-of-oranges-postcard

90% of Florida’s oranges are grown for juice while California specializes in the hard skin oranges.  One of the reasons for this was World War II and the development of frozen concentrated orange juice by a one-time high school science teacher and football coach Cedric Donald Atkins.

KEY LIME PIE is usually an untruth.  After several freezes and a plague very few real key lime trees exist.  This is probably why Floridians state that key lime pies taste best in the Florida Keys where the real limes exist.


Those large green limes are really Persian limes and even more horribly supermarkets are filled with bitter Mexican green limes. The tiny, seedy, yellowish real Key Limes are rare and prized by tree owners who hide them from neighbors.

FLORIDA STONE CRABS are famous around the world and the last time I looked at Joe’s Stone Crabs on Miami Beach had delivery and take out.

FLORIDARAVELER food Joes Stone Crabs

This is the second most profitable family restaurant in the USA, taking in $37,243,159 in the trade or an average check of $80.

APALACHICOLA OYSTERS are struggling to survive due to pollution coming down the Apalachicola River from Alabama and Georgia. The industry is developing new hatcheries and methods and my wife and I support the industry.

Do you know that an oyster will actually clean 50 to 75 gallons of water every day? 

CUBAN SANDWICH is not like Havana imports like Fritas, Cafeato, and Mojito.  The Cuban sandwich was invented in Tampa’s Ybor City in 1915, and actually reflects Cigar City’s “mixto” heritage. Notice the Genoa salami, Italian pork, Spanish ham, and the German mustard.


I oppose those Cuban restaurants that are using mayonnaise and other foreign ingredients.  At least you can still take out Cubans in Florida.

GROUPER SANDWICHES are the food of choice if you are taking in the beach volleyball courts or piers anywhere along the Florida Gulf Coast.  Unfortunately, my excursions to Frenchy’s will have to wait until the virus is quelled.

FLORIDATRAVELER food -Grouper-Sandwich

Some people like the grouper blackened and that is OK.  Mahi-mahi, once called dolphin or dolphinfish, is the second choice.  While on the topic those weird creatures on Disney’s Dolphin Resort are the fish and not the mammal-like Flipper or Winter.

SMOKED MULLET is probably an acquired taste and most people find it extra work to scrape the meat off the fish bones.  It is a distinctive Florida experience.

GATOR BITES might not replace Chicken Nuggets, but I’ll challenge people to go blindfolded and see if they can taste the difference. Half of my friend Northern transplants couldn’t tell the difference.


With 1.5 million gators sharing Florida’s real estate, I wish more people would try our big reptiles.

FLORIDA SPINEY LOBSTERS are the same as the Bahamian variety, often called in Nassau crayfish.  For scuba divers, it is one of the most popular sports with a July two day season and an eight-month August to March season.  Don’t ask me to explain these rules.  I do know that you can catch six more lobsters in the Gulf than in the over-fished Florida Keys and Miami areas.


COMMERCIAL FOODS:  I guess I should furnish this food excursion with a few man-made examples.  A few blocks down the street from my home on Henderson Boulevard is the first Outback Steakhouse. You mention what food icon came from here and you will be shocked to know how many people will say: “Blooming Onion.”


Tim Gannon, one of Outback’s founders, got the idea from a New Orleans restaurant back in 1988.  He turned it into a full family appetizer for a few individuals who will tackle a full one.  In the last three years, over 40 million Blooming Onions have been consumed, making it to my Florida Food List.





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Florida Might Be Closed, But I Am Back and Open

floridatraveler manatees crystal river west indian manateesI have returned at a strange time.  Most of Florida’s attractions and resorts are closed so to fully benefit from my articles you might have to wait until that sunny day when things return to normalcy.

Still, if you enjoy living in Florida, visiting Florida, or seeing Florida, this blog will have a lot of entertaining as well as educational features.

Since my last blog, I have added the title “Emeritus” to my career as a historian and traveler.   Since all of my four classes are now online and we are prisoners to our homes, I am really tied down to my desk. Therefore, you will find more frequent and diverse information at this site.

I am mainly a “Florida specialist” and this blog will contain excerpts and even chapters from my books and materials past and present. This year I will be publishing an Insiders Guide to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios which will contain lots of material that will both save you money and time at Florida’s biggest attractions, but also reveals insights to make your vacation better.

Thanks to the wonder of ebooks and quicker self-publishing options, I will put out a Guide to Florida Extreme Sports and Adventures as well as new editions of some of my travel books produced for tour groups, but now designed for Florida travelers.

If there are Florida topics you would like me to include in this blog, please email me at flahist@aol.com.


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Florida’s Little Rivers Pack A Tourist Punch

Florida has 11,000 miles of rivers and most Floridians will remember that the 310-mile St. Johns River flows very slowly northward just a few miles from the Atlantic before reaching the ocean. People recognize the Suwannee River, with its 206 miles in Florida and 32 miles in Georgia from a song written by a man who never visited Florida..

Yet many of Florida’s smallest rivers provide locals and visitors the most recreational fun. I am not going to include the many springs that flow just a few hundred yards into a major stream. These are my “favorite little Florida rivers.”

The Braden River is a 21-mile (34 km) waterway and the largest tributary of the Manatee River. The lower river is navigable by canoe and kayak and despite its almost urban location, the river is home to abundant wildlife.

FLORIDATRAVELER linger lodge pier

At the Linger Lodge

Linger Lodge is a place to rent boats, park your RV, and eat old Florida style in a place that Forbes Magazine called one of the most unique dining spots in the nation. Some would call the rustic location and menu of gators, frog legs, and local seafood a little weird. The food is great, but service depends of how busy they get. I don’t fish or camp, but I vouch it is a neat place for nature photography.

Over in urban Palm Beach County the 17 mile Loxahatchee River a great place to fish, canoe, kayak, and enjoy natural Florida. The North Fork goes to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, my choice as the best all-around Florida facility.


This is near Palm Beach?

You can not only rent canoes and kayaks, you can hike up Hobe Mountain. This park is the largest in Southeast Florida and has cabins, RV sites, horseback riding, mountain bike trails, and primitive camping. And just across A1A is the Atlantic with swimming, surfing, and boating.

The Estero River is just six miles long but it makes an exciting trip location. Enter Koreshan State Park to see the many surviving buildings of a 19th century utopian community who believed people lived inside the globe.

FLORIDATRAVELER Koreshan_SHS_planetary_court02

The Planetarium at Koreshan Utopian Community

Besides the usual camping and hiking facilities, experienced paddlers will want to go charter down the river to Estero Bay to Mound Key, site of the largest Calusa Indian village, the one that Ponce de Leon probably saw on his second voyage.

Up by Saint Augustine is Pellicer Creek, an eleven-mile coastal river and one of the favorite state designated canoe trail. The best place to get a canoe or kayak is at Faver-Dykes State Park.

FLORIDATRAVELER faver dykes st pk

The creek is just two to six feet deep and it is a lovely route, where the sighting of bald eagles and river otters are a regular observation.

Most everyone in Florida knows that the place to canoe or snorkel next to manatees is the very clear Crystal River, a seven-mile excursion into the Gulf of Mexico. It is best to have an experienced guide to paddle into the complex of mangroves and that form the wide ocean delta.

FLORIDATRAVELER at crystal river

A resident of Crystal River and Kings Bay

The town of Crystal River has several waterside motels and restaurants with the Plantation Inn the largest and most famous. The resort has a 27-hole championship golf course and four on site restaurants. This means some family members can be swimming with manatees in the spring while others fish or golf.

The eight-mile Homosassa River is just twenty miles to the south on US19 and there is the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park with its underwater observatory where you can watch both freshwater and saltwater fishes. There will be manatees here also as well as a boat tour along this tropical river.

FLORIDATRAVELER Homosassa_Springs_State_Park_underwater observatory_obs01

The Underwater Observatory at Homosassa Springs

If you like a little history you might like the eleven-mile Wakulla River, which starts at the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, where they filmed the Creature of the Black Lagoon. The inn here is the largest such property on any Florida park.


Traffic on the Wakulla River

The Wakulla flows into the St. Marks River three miles north of the Gulf of Mexico where St. Marks Lighthouse is the landmark. Up the St. Marks is San Marcos de Aplachee State Park where old Spanish and Confederate fortifications can be found.

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Key West Is Still Florida’s Literary Treasure

After reading Jack L. Roberts’ The Writers Compound, a book about four Key West writers, I became curious how many National Register Literary Landmarks were in Florida and I discovered that 33% of Florida’s sites are found in one town – key West.
The island city is still Florida’s best place to visit if you are a writer or a lover of books.

I do suggest that there are places which you should visit elsewhere, such as: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek country house surrounded by the living pages of her books The Yearling and Cross Creek; Zora Neale Hurston’s Eatonville; and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ cottage in South Coconut Grove in Miami.

FLORIDATRAVELER marjoe s douglas cottage

The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Cottage

But Key West became the winter refuge for writers and poets and dramatists after Ernest Hemingway set up shop in 1931. Back then in the Depression the rundown Conch City was a funky, inexpensive, social community that tended to accept the unusual and the non-conformist.

FLORIDATRAVELER hemingway house3Heck – when Florida seceded from the Union, Key West seceded from the Confederacy!

The Hemingway House Captures The Writer

FLORIDATRAVELER hemingway writing room

Ernest Hemingway’s Home and Museum at 907 Whitehead House attracts thousands of writers and readers every year. The town even has an annual Ernest Hemingway lookalike contest. Hemingway did not write any of his best novels here, but the beauty of this place is you see his workplace, his pool, his bathroom, his kitchen.
His bed always has a sleeping cat or two. In fact, visitors spend a lot of time looking for cats with deformed toes. This is one tourist spot where stray animals find a welcomed home.

FLORIDATRAVELER t williams 1431 duncan

The Tennessee Williams Cottage

Hemingway attracted many to Key West but none but important than Tennessee Williams who finished Streetcar and other plays here. His cottage is at 1431 Duncan Street and there is a Tennessee Williams museum at 513 Truman Avenue. Fanatics claim you can stay at his hotel room at the La Concha Hotel at 430 Duval Street.
It is not a shock that the local theater named after him often has a Tennessee Williams play. It may be more of a surprise Williams was baptized as a Catholic at St. Marys Church.

FLORIDATRAVELERS 721 windsor at writers compound

The Windsor Lane Compound has 11 cottages

There are actually many cottages and shanties that have recruited writers and artists over the years, but the Windsor Lane Compound, a complex of some eleven little cottages is the most famous. John Hersey’s cottage is here as are places where Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man), poet John Wilbur, and writer John Ciardi were neighbors.

Poetry lovers will want to see Robert Frost’s winter cottage at 410 Caroline Street. It’s behind what was once the Heritage House museum. Now private property – I heard you could possibly rent the Frost place for your own literary vacation.


I found this on Tripadvisor

624 White Street was the home of poet Elizabeth Bishop when she wasn’t roaming the globe. While people will track down all of Hemingway’s drinking spots, you might want to visit the Key West Public Library where some modern writers hang out.

I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you to visit the 1890 San Carlos Institute at 516 Duval Street. It is here at the center of Key West’s Cuban Revolution against Spain that poet and revolutionary leader Jose Marti made many visits. Inside there is a wonderful Marti statue by Manuel Carbonell.

FLORIDATRAVELER isc_marti_white_rose

Jimmy Buffett may have left the scene to build huge resorts but don’t be surprised to see a writer like Judy Blume going to the local grocery.

#florida  #writers  #keywest

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