The Saltwater Crocodile Is Florida’s Least Known Local Resident

Florida has l.5 million American alligators and as saltwater intrusion continues in the Everglades, the activity of transporting wandering gators from South Floridians’ swimming pools and backyards has increased as gators move northward.

There are so many gators that there is a hunting season (with limited licenses) – you hunt with spears since a shot reptile might sink into the swamp’s muck.  Most professional hunters use the hides and sell the meat to seafood restaurants.

There is another prehistoric creature that is slowly moving northward and most Floridians have never seen one.

Florida’s saltwater crocodiles, most living until recently on the tip of the Everglades away from populations, are rare sights.  Crocs are Federally and state protected and only number around two to three thousand in numbers in Florida.

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It May Seem Strange to See An Oceanside Croc Capture

It should also be noted that the American crocodile, unlike alligators, tries hard to avoid people and is less aggressive.  Most research on crocs have taken place in the Cape York Peninsula of Northern Australia where the saltwater crocs number 100,000, but reside far from large populated areas and are studied under more natural habitat.

In recent years, however, the Florida crocodile is moving into the Florida Keys, killing small pets and scaring people.  Part of the problem is the reality that the canals in the Keys are saltwater and people often swim in the canals – and they even swim at night when crocs and gators (who can tolerate salt water for a few days) are hunting.

FLORIDATRAVELER Nile croc seen in Florida crocodylus_niloticus6

Nile crocs are very imposing …

At present, Florida authorities will remove the crocs and move them back into the Everglades, but there are more limited locations to place them since throwing crocs in with gators is not a good idea.

Even of more concern to some Floridians is the discovery of some Nile crocodiles in Florida. These are large reptiles whose behavior in Florida’s animal population is not researched.  Florida is not Africa.

As climates change slowly around the globe, there is reason for Florida scientists to be on the look out for more exotic species from the Caribbean, South America, and even Africa.   #mcbobleonard

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Floridians and Visitors Love Florida Food Festivals

With mild weather and little rainfall this time of year is a great time for one of Florida’s favorite outdoor activities – food festivals.

In the summer almost every Panhandle town has a seafood festival and in the fall Walt Disney World’s Epcot houses the gigantic Wine and Food Festival, which erases the notion that the Fall is a more quiet time to visit Orlando.   In the late winter and early spring, Southeast Florida, however, holds the most food festivals.

If you like celebrity chefs and simply decadent cuisine and wild tastings, you’ll need to get tickets for the 18th Annual South Beach Wine and Food Festival, a five-day event starting February 20 this year.  SO big it is sponsored by  the Food Network, Cooking Channel, and Food & Wine magazine.

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Over 100 food events at South Beach Wine & Food Festival

While some of the social events will break most bank accounts there are dozens of events around Miami that will cost under $100 and make your dining friends envious.  The Festival attracts some 60,000 people and presents over 100 events that raise millions in funds for charity.

If casual food is your thing, there are two food festivals in March that honor Florida’s favorite transplanted sandwich – the Cuban sandwich.  On March 2, at Kissimmee’s beautiful Lakeside Park, the 4th Annual Kissimmee Cuban Sandwich Festival will bring the top sandwich makers together in competition.

FLORIDATRAVELER cuban sandwich festival

Orlando and Tampa have Dueling Cuban Sandwich Contests

There will be music, food of all types, and an attempt to oust the 161-foot long Cuban sandwich made by the Latin Times Media of Tampa.  And guess what?  On March 30, the Orlando winners will be facing the Tampa restaurants in the International Cuban Sandwich Festival at the Centro Asturiano in Ybor City. Some 100 food booths, live music, dance performances, and art will celebrate Florida’s Latin heritage.

More in line with the major Florida image is the 43th Marathon Seafood Festival, held this year on March 9 and 10. Some 20,000 visitors from Miami to Key West pour into the Middle Keys to consume huge amounts of stone crabs, spiny lobster, shellfish, and seafood.

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An Ocean of Seafood At Marathon Seafood Fest

Marathon Community Park is filled with some 220 vendors and even if you don’t like seafood, there will be plenty of other selections.  For a small town, this festival is amazing!

The Bacon and Bourbon Fest in the Wellington/ Delray Beach area May 22 and 23 at the Wellington Community Center is a rather unique food blend.  The number of bacon and pork-related food selections almost matches the huge selection of bourbon and whiskeys to select.

There’s even bacon ice cream for the kids.  I’ll pass on that one.

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April is the time for some historically large but different food festivals.  On April 5, Fort Lauderdale’s famous Las Olas Boulevard is closed so some seventy of South Florida’s most notable restaurants entertain in the Las Olas Wine and Food Festival.

This is an adults-only event costing $130 to $150 for the American Lung Association.  That price allows you to buffet away for five blocks of food and wine samples by some very expensive restaurants which may cost you that much for a full meal in just one.

I must say that A Taste of Saint Augustine held at the Amphitheater on Saint Augustine Beach April 28, is a more family-oriented affair, held in the daytime, but the diversity of cuisine from some twenty-five local restaurants is wonderful.

FLORIDATRAVELER a taste of st augustine

You purchase $1 “taste-tickets” and run around like a kid on Halloween.  There is music and activities for the entire family.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Floridatraveler LEGOLANDFLORIDA_LEGOMOVIE

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.

FLORIDATRAVELER Isla-Bella-Guest-Room

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.

FLORIDATRAVELER Bok-Tower-Aerial-

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.

FLORIDATRAVELER Xmas at BOK TOWER The-Loggia

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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