Things In Florida That Scare Visitors: Fact and Fancy

As a person who writes blogs and articles about Florida, I get a lot of emails about whet people like and don’t like about my state.  It may shock some of you that there are people in the USA who not only haven’t visited the Sunshine State, they are afraid to visit here.  Here are some of the major Florida fears:

Ask people from other states what they dislike about Florida and many will say “hurricanes.”  I once met a lady from Oklahoma who told me that she liked to visit Florida, but not in the hurricane season.  It scared her.  I should have asked her how many days does she have to get ready when a tornado appears on the Tulsa radar screen.  Most Floridians know that living next to the beach may mean packing up the automobile and hoping your house is still standing when you return, but I find that safer than living on a California earthquake fault.

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This Is Hurricane Fran

Hurricanes have always played a big part in Florida history.  Oddly most people associate hurricanes with Florida’s summer months, but Florida’s biggest storms have come in September. In 2004 four major hurricanes hit Florida: Charley (Punta Gorda August 13); Frances (Stuart September 5), Ivan (Pensacola September 5) and Jeanne (Stuart again September 25).  The routes of Frances and Charley would cross at a point along US27 at Avon Park.  I drove past and could see all the trees bent one way on one side of the highway and bent the opposite way on the other side.

High Humidity:  Visitors always tell me they couldn’t live in Florida in the summer because of our high humidity.  We don’t hide the fact that Florida has a humid subtropical climate.  Appropriately, a Florida doctor John Gorrie is noted as the first inventor of air conditioning way back in the 1851.  The good news is that when there is sweltering summer heat we head to our oceans, lakes, and rivers with nice breezes.

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Of America’s big cities,  Jacksonville (74.3% average humidity) ranks second to New Orleans in average humidity with Orlando 4th (74.1), Tampa 5th (74.1), and Miami 8th (73.2).  Gainesville (74.4%) is our most humid city but it ranks only 67th of all US cities with 50,000 or more people.  It should be noted that when there is a huge national heat wave it is people in the slums of New York, Chicago, and Detroit who are dying.  Floridians have fans if they have no air conditioning.

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

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I Suggest You Avoid Doing This

          You are 132 times more likely to drown on a Florida beach than tangle with a Florida shark.  Heck – you are 391 times more likely to be killed in a Florida boating accident.  But if you really want to lower the odds of meeting a Florida shark, here are some pointers: don’t surf or swim out to sandbars. Avoid murky waters.   As a resident of Tampa, I suggest you go to the Gulf of Mexico since the shark attacks since 1882 favor Atlantic Ocean beaches 10 to 1 in shark attacks over the Gulf.

Alligators:   Gators are twice as likely to eat you in Florida than sharks.  The death of a two year old boy at the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World created global headlines.  A “Do Not Swim” sign clearly did not concern a family from gator-less Nebraska, but most Floridians know male alligators during mating season from April to June are more aggressive, will roam across golf courses let alone vacation parks, hunt at night for food, and even ignore their natural fear of humans.   There are more shark attacks per year than gator attacks in Florida, but a gator attack is slightly more likely to result in death.  A gator bite is almost twice as strong as the bite of a great white shark.   Fortunately 95% of those attacked escape or at least that are the odds of the people we know were attacked.

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Floridians Usually Laugh At These Dumb Posed Cards But …

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

Coral Snakes and Rattlesnakes:  Florida is a warm place so it is home to lots of not nice snakes.  In the last five years there were 42 snake bites in populous Southeast Florida – 21 by water moccasins, 11 from coral snakes, 3 from pigmy rattlesnakes, 2 from eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and 5 unknown.  No one died. Most were camping or fishing in the Everglades.  When I looked up the number of people who died of snakebites in the United States, I discovered there were no coral snake deaths or Florida deaths in the last ten years and all the deaths were by rattlesnakes, mostly in rural areas of the Western United States.  It was then that I realized Florida is quite urban and access to a hospital with anti-snake venom explains why few people will die of snake bites in Florida.  I have never seen a coral snake or a rattlesnake except in a cage in fifty years.

There are some things you should fear more than the above:

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

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

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

For most Florida visitors, the bugs will be your biggest complaint.

 

 

 

Posted in adventure vacation, conservation, environment, florida education, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, travel | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

March Is Flower Blooming Season In Florida

March is perhaps the best season to visit Florida’s dozens of beautiful, flowering parks from Jacksonville and Pensacola to Miami and Naples.  There is a great diversity of plants in March in Florida which is famous worldwide for its azalea gardens this time of time.

Begonia, bougainvillea, roses, gardenias, hibiscus, oleanders, and camellias all have their March fan base.  Other visitors want to see the flowering trees like the jacaranda, royal Poinciana, white champaca, and, of course, cherry trees.

Here are my favorite major gardens for March:

BOK TOWER GARDENS (Lake Wales) is unlike few gardens in the United States.  Built up on the Florida peninsula’s tallest hill in 1929 by journalist Edward Bok, Bok Tower Gardens is topped by a masterpiece 205-foot art deco Singing Tower carillion.  The 157 acres contain winding paths along small ponds and exquisite views of the tip of Florida’s Central Highlands.

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Bok Tower’s gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr who did the Jefferson Memorial, the Biltmore grounds, and Rock Creek Park.  Also on the grounds are the 8 acre 1930 Pinewood Estate and the Pine Ridge Trail, once a chain of islands 298 feet above sea level.

MARIE SELBY BOTANICIAL GARDENS (Sarasota) has nine acres of orchids, bromeliads, and tropical plants on an incredible nine acre garden on Sarasota Bay.  There is a lovely museum and plant research center as well as seven large greenhouses the home to dozens of unique plants.

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Down A Quiet Path In Sarasota Just A Few Feet From US41

ALFRED B. MaCLAY STATE GARDENS (Tallahassee) is a 308-acre estate built in the 1920’s by New York sportsman Alfred Maclay and later donated to the State of Florida.  March is azalea blooming time and thousands flock to see the lush foliage and plants around the lakeside park.  I love the dogwood trees here in the Tallahassee Hills.

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In complete contrast is the MORIKAMI JAPANESE GARDENS (Delray Beach), a 200-acre masterpiece and gift of Japanese farm leader George Morikami.  With lovely bonsai gardens, waterfalls, and ponds with arched bridges, it is one of the most romantic sites for outdoor weddings in Southeast Florida.

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The end of March is a major tourist time at Morikami for it is the blooming of the cherry trees.  I noticed Melanie Trump visited last week for ideas for the new wing of the White House gardens.

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The Japanese Gardens Make A Great Wedding Site

If you want to take a driving tour of rugged terrain or at the opposite side of the spectrum, hike up and down hills and take swinging bridges than RAVINE STATE GARDENS (Palatka) is your place.  The 1.8 mile loop around the gardens which are near the St. Johns River is unlike any other gardens I have visited in Florida.

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Rugged Terrain At Ravine Gardens

March is the time when the 100,000 azaleas at Ravine Gardens are in bloom as well as the flowering trees.  This popular spot started in 1933 as a Civilian Conservation Corps project.

 

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Florida’s Biggest Stadium Does Not Have A Football Field

Spring training is just around the bend in Florida and I’m teaching a class as an adjunct in the building almost next door to the largest spring training stadium in the Florida Grapefruit League, George Steinbrenner Park, spring home of the New York Yankees.

Steinbrenner Field, Tampa, Florida

Florida’s Biggest Spring Field Has Exact Yankee Stadium Field Dimensions

I’m getting out at the time the spring games start in Florida so I just realized I might have to consider a new route home to avoid a traffic delay on busy Dale Mabry Highway.  The oldest spring training facility anywhere is down in Bradenton – beloved MeKechnie Field (1923) now used by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  It’s been renovated twice but not moved from what is now a residential neighborhood.

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Bradenton’s MeKechnie Field (1923) Is The Oldest

Floridians love their sports stadiums but the largest stadium is not a football stadium.  It is the second largest sports facility in the United States – the Daytona International Speedway with a capacity of 167,785 seats.   As you probably now suspect the nation’s nation stadium is the Indianapolis Speedway.

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This Is Florida’s Largest Sports Stadium

College football stadiums beat professional football stadiums in Florida.  Ben Griffin Stadium, seating 88,548 and home to the University of Florida Gators, is the largest football stadium.  Their rival Florida State University plays at Doak Campbell Stadium, capacity 79,560, second in size.

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The Home of the Gators

The largest professional football stadium is Hard Rock Stadium (once known as Sun Life Stadium), capacity of 78,468, home of the Miami Dolphins.  But it is also the playing field of the University of Miami.  The stadium is not in the City of Miami, but in Miami Gardens.

When the Orlando City Soccer team started play in the 1936 Florida Citrus Bowl (capacity 70,158), they were playing in the large professional soccer field in the nation.

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Look Carefully, Folks, Floridians At A Soccer Match?

You could argue that stadiums tell you football rules over baseball in the Sunshine State.  The largest professional baseball stadium is domed Marlins Park, home of the Miami Marlins, with a capacity of just 36,742, and the Tampa Bay Rays play in another indoor field, Tropicana Field with the smallest (31,042 seats) in the MLB.

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Florida Baseball Is An Indoor Sport – The Marlins

Professional Basketball is competitive size wise in Florida.  The Miami Heat’s downtown American Airlines Arena was a capacity of 21,000, just 1,000 more than the Miami Magic’s Orlando Amway Center.

At the college level Florida State University’s Donald L. Tucker Arena with 13,800 seats is the fourth largest in the powerful ACC with has Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, seating 35,446, the nation’s biggest college basketball site.  Then I discovered that tiny Jacksonville University is playing games in the Jacksonville Memorial Auditorium which fits 14,091 seats.

Professional Hockey is doing near capacity business in a state where no lakes freeze over. The largest hockey rink is the BB&T Center in Sunrise, home of the Florida Panthers.  It’s official capacity is 20,737.

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Guess What Sport Are These Skybox Fans Watching?  See below

But not all stadiums in Florida showcase the biggest team sports.  The Gainesville Raceway, now known as Auto Plus Raceway, is a quarter-mile drag strip surrounded by 30,000 seats and VIP Skybox Suites which you associate with a football stadium.

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Gainesville and the Gatornationals Are A Dragstrip Showdown

Tennis is still popular in Florida and the Tennis Center at Crandon Park is not used for other sports.  It has a capacity of 13,800 seats so it resembles a basketball arena.

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The Tennis Center At Crandon Park – Williams Sisters Turf

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s Art Festival Time In Florida

February and March are big months for huge outdoor art festivals in Florida.

Last weekend was one of my favorite events to visit – the 20th annual art festival in downtown Dunedin.  Main Street was filled with artists and craftsmen from all around Florida and all over the United States. This small town has the ideal location for the park with the artists is surrounded by good restaurants, even some that accept pets.

It is an expensive investment to come to Florida and exhibit at the art festival circuit.  There is a processing fee at each fair, strict requirements for quality photographs of samples of your best work and one of your outdoor exhibit tent, usually limited to 10 feet by 10 feet. If you are accepted and there are no guarantees, you must pay entry fees.

While the larger fairs have several thousand dollars in prizes, the real reward is finding customers and that requires knowing the Florida market.  There may be more upscale buyers in Mount Dora and Winter Park or Palm Beach or Sarasota, but your art work might find a major niche with nature lovers and outdoor people anywhere.

Here are some of my favorite art shows coming up in the next few weeks:

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The Naples Show Surrounded By  Royal Palms

The Naples National Art Festival (February 18 & 19) fills Cambier Park with 260 exhibitors in the heart of prosperous Naples.  The art market here is traditional and more upscale than most Florida festivals.

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Fish, Boats, and Sunsets Sell Best in Key West

If you prefer a more funky exhibition of boat and landscape paintings than the Old Island Days Art Festival (February 25 and 26) in the heart of Historic Old Town in Key West is the place to go.  It is a tropical themed show of only art work, no crafts.

On March 3 and 4 in Fort Lauderdale is the 29th Annual Las Olas Art Fair with over 200  artists lining Broward County’s best boulevard for shops and restaurants.

Across the state on March 4 and 5 is the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts now located on the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.  327 exhibitors pack the grounds next to the Tampa Museum of Art.

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Big Money and Big Buildings Highlight Gasparilla Art

The big prize money recruits not just highly successful artists, but many massive and unusual exhibits.

There is little protection from the sun at Gasparilla, but that is not the case with the Under The Oaks Art Festival on March 10 to 12 held in scenic Riverside Drive in Vero Beach.  This show attracts 215 very competitive artists and artisans.

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Vero Beach Artists Get Oak Tree Shade

 

 

If you prefer to catch some sun on the beach, you can do that at the 29th Annual Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center Art Fest held right off South US Highway 1 at Juno Beach.

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Palm Beach Art On Beach (David R. Randall)

Whatever the environment – riverside or beach side, urban or rural – the quality of art work at these winter shows seems to get more impressive every season.

 

 

 

 

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How Can You Tell A Real Floridian From All the Visitors and Newcomers?

This is the time of year when Floridians feel they are outnumbered on the highways and stores by visitors and “snowbirds.”

I know some people don’t like that term.  Texas calls them “winter Texans” and that’s OK with me.  But dozens of winter people belong to clubs using the term, including some 100,000 Canadians that are now enjoying our beaches and attractions.

If you wonder if we Floridians can tell apart the natives from the visitors  now that rental cars don’t use special plates that benefit our criminal crowd – the answer is a big, fat YES.  Just like a Parisian can tell the Americans as they walk past the cafes, Floridians can be distinguished from our visitors.

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Funny But Elderly Floridians Would Never Sit Here

Here are some observations I have made while living in “The Warm Winter Weather State” since 1961:

When we Floridians enter a large parking lot, we know where the few shady spots are located and if there is no decent shade, we park our cars facing  away from the sun. If we have a sun shade, it will be silver and custom fitted.

We only smile when a tourist bitches about the heat in July, particularly if they are spending a mint at Walt Disney World.

Unless it is frigid cold, we wear flip flops to nearly every occasion. 

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When we hear lightning even if it is far away, we are the first to run for cover.  I don’t care if there isn’t a cloud above our heads.

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This Is Not Disney’s New Nighttime Production

Floridians won’t accept an invitation in the summer to go to Walt Disney World unless your visitors have reservations for a window seat at California Grill about the time the Magic Kingdom is closing.

Floridians won’t leave their beach vacation when they hear a hurricane has entered the Eastern Caribbean.  We got a day or two of nice weather and can get home in a few hours.

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You Decided To Vacation In July – Hot Rain Hot Rain

Floridians don’t foolishly jump off a pier without looking.  I can’t list all the living things that like the shade of a pier.

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At Least This Is Saltwater – No Gators

Floridians do not feed seagulls or pelicans especially if we are at a family picnic.

We are the first to head in the opposite direction when we see an alligator on the pathway in front of us.

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Isn’t That Jud’s bike and Mary’s?

We will look bored when people start talking about how things are done elsewhere.  After-all,  you came to Florida – we didn’t go where you came from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US27: The Old Alternate Route To Miami

Most people from the Northeast heading to Miami or the Keys simply take I-95 along the Atlantic Ocean.  Those coming from the Midwest usually leave I-75 at the Florida Turnpike and slice across Florida through Orlando.

Before the development of Interstates you had to drive through the crowded coastal towns on US1 on the East Coast or US41 on the Gulf Coast.  Unless you wanted to avoid all the vacation traffic and go down the middle of the state on US27.  That route has built up like the rest of Florida, but even today it gives you another taste of Florida – a more Old Florida, small town feel.

If you head south off I-4 on US 27 (Exit 55), you are just minutes from Walt Disney World and the congestion of booming metropolitan.  You realize new gated communities are springing up, advertising how many minutes they are from the Mouse.   At Haines City (US 17) you pass over the Railroad Line used by Amtrak’s Silver Star and Silver Meteor and maybe soon Florida’s Super Train.

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quarter-cloverleaf interchanges on the southeast and northwest corners of the bridge over Interstate 4  at Exit 55.  At FL 540 you realize LEGOLAND FLORIDA is just four miles to the east.  If you’re an old person like be you remember the lakeside area as the site of Cypress Gardens, perhaps Florida’s first all natural attraction.  If you have small kids, Legoland is for you with a wild hotel, water park, rides, and restaurants.

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The Legoland Hotel Is Not All Legos

Further south US27 becomes a six-lane divided super-highway for you are entering a region of South Central Florida Lakes and a booming snowbird population.  At FL60 you reach LAKE WALES with its beautiful Bok Tower seated on the tallest hill in peninsular Florida.  Its gardens and ponds are worth a visit.  Spook Hill, an optical illusion of rolling up a hill, is still a popular stop as is a look at downtown Lake Wales.

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Bok Tower and Gardens: Peaceful & Beautiful

Going southward, you realize the Central Highlands of rolling hills are vanishing, but the area is dotted with attractive small lakes for fishing and boating.  If you want to retire to Florida and don’t like the more costly coastal cities, this region is attracting a population boom.

As you pass Lake Leila and Lake Anoka and South Florida Community College by Lake Glenada , you are reaching the town of AVON PARK, the oldest town in Highlands County.   A left (east) off Fl 64 will take you into the historic downtown district where the JACARANDA HOTEL will take you back to the 1920’s.  Down the street is the Depot Museum, with some exhibits in a California Zephyr passenger car.

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The Jacaranda Hotel Open Since The 1920s

Ten miles south is LAKE PLACID, known as the “City of Murals.”  The entire downtown area is flooded with full building sized murals showing the history, people, and economy of the community.  A nice attraction here is the Henscratch Farms and Winery, which includes not just wine tasting tours, but strawberry picking and animal activities and a country store.

Lake Placid Is Filled With Murals

US27 now begins to curve around the southwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee, an enormous lake that should be seen to believe.  The next town is Clewiston, center of Florida’s sugar industry.  Nearby is the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation with the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki-Museum, Florida’s best Indian center since it is surrounded by nature and manned by tribal members.   Air-boat rides, nature walks, and educational programs are part of this complex.

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Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Is Real Seminole

Sebring is the home of the famous Grand Prix but extreme sports fans know Clewiston and Sebring are centers for hang-gliding, parachuting, and learning to fly all types of aircraft.  You are less than an hour from the big populations on the East Coast.

At rustic Moore Haven the road crosses the Mamie Langdale Memorial Bridge over the Caloosahatchee Canal which allows boats to reach Fort Myers and the Gulf of Mexico.  Forty miles away on the east side of Lake Okeechobee is the route for boats going into the Atlantic.  This is Florida’s onlt cross-state canal and most of it is natural waters.

When US27 crosses the interchange with I-75 and Alligator Alley, the terrain reveals the upper reaches of the Everglades-related wilderness and large recreational areas.   The road is curving eastward on the southside of Lake Okeechobee.  A good place for boat trips and a picnic by the Big Lake is at South Bay, a town destroyed by a thirty foot tidal wave when the Hurricane of 1928 rushed across the shallow lake.  Over 2,000 people and there is a mass grave monument in a local park.

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Over 2,000 People Drowned In A Tidal Wave

As US27 heads toward the Gold Coast, the area becomes swampy and power lines reveal that Broward County’s suburban developments are intruding into the wetlands.

Keep going east and US29 becomes North 36th Street in Midtown Miami, just 4 miles from US 1.  It is mind-blowing to see how fast the scenery changes from flat wetlands to urban sprawl.

 

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The Annual Walt Disney World Food Challenge

Every year restaurants are added and some vanish at the resorts, four parks, and Disney Springs complex at Walt Disney World.  As an annual member and nearby Florida resident since WDW opened in 1971, I sometimes feel like a Disney cast member rather than a visitor.

Our viewpoints toward the food, the prices, and the service have often changed.  We think more and more people want value even if most everything is resort priced. Here are our choices for 2017 in major categories.

PIZZA:   Besides overpriced pizza, it is shocking that there are places which preheat frozen pizzas that taste like cardboard.  It is appropriate that the choice is VIA NAPOLI located in the Italian pavilion of Epcot.  The massive stove ovens representing Italian volcanoes fill the Florentine open structure with smells and the giant pizza (get 1/2 and 1/2) and family style house salad will feed four football linemen.  They even try to take walk-ins.

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Volcanic pizza and more at Via Napoli, Italy Epcot

ITALIAN:  Maybe because of good profit margins, Italian restaurants abound at WDW. Never impressed at Magic Kingdom’s Tony’s Town Square which requires sunglasses if you eat in the garden room. Tutto Italia at Epcot is good food, beautiful room, but pricey. Mama Melrose’s clever New Yorker is best for families with its fun desserts. Our choice is IL MULINO NEW YORK TRATTORIA at the Swan for service, huge menu, and quality food.

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The Open Kitchen at Il Mulino at the Swan

CHINESE: Because of the rise of terrific Pan-Asian restaurants, the entire WDW area has a weak selection of high quality Chinese places. For a basic Chinese menu and good prices, we have to pick almost by default the improved NINE DRAGONS at Epcot China. The room is lovely, the service good, and there is an attempt to service families, a major WDW concern.

JAPANESE:  Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs is a glamorous Pan-Asian place worth a visit particularly for its second floor sushi bar.  My wife and I, however, love the menu and service at TOKYO DINING.

SUSHI: KIMONOS at the Swan but beware there is also hard nose Karaoke most nights.

GERMAN:  This is a wasteland.  The beer and entertainment at Epcot’s BIERGARTEN is fun, but the buffet is costly and predictable except for the desserts.  If you’re very clever you might arrive at the last minutes of lunch buffet, pay for lunch, but get the dinner buffet.  (Don’t tell them where you read this.)  Prices vary based upon time of season.

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A Little Bit of Bavaria in Orlando

STEAKHOUSE:  This is perhaps the toughest competition and everyone has high prices for the best steaks.  If I hung out with the guys I would pick Shulas at the Dolphin.  If I like a family atmosphere, and a youthful zing, I would go to Le Cellier at Canada in Epcot. If you are a romantic couple who like a classic room with a poolside view with a veteran serving staff, go to the YACHTSMAN at the Yacht Club Resort.

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The Yachtsman: Where The Steak Is The Show

OUTDOOR DINING:  If you’re in the park, getting a waterside table at Epcot in England’s ROSE and CROWN is great.  Obtaining a table when the fireworks start is much harder.  For sheer enjoyment, I select staying out at the floating Dockside Bar section of THE BOATHOUSE at Disney Springs.  You can order from the main menu and watch the aqua-cars float past.

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MEXICAN: Most prices at Epcot Mexico would scare people used to hometown restaurants.  The San Angel Inn is unique in its volcano lagoon setting but food has become less original.  La Hacienda de San Angel had better food, but failed to take advantage of its waterside location.  You should visit FRONTERA COCINA at Disney Springs even if the menu is from Rick Bayless.

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The New Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs

FOOD WITH A VIEW: Until they put a rooftop restaurant on the Grand Floridian, the CALIFORNIA GRILL at the top of the Contemporary Resort has it all: good food, good service, and the fireworks of the Magic Kingdom.

CHARACTER MEALS:  This is a major event for most small kids and often a major headache.  Please study in detail the prices and characters.  CINDERELLA’S ROYAL TABLE at the Magic Kingdom books up months ahead.  Dinner can cost a mint (how about some $320 a bottle Dom Perignon), but there is a breakfast and lunch version. Also, note this is not a buffet style place and with all the princesses, boys may hate it.

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The Very Upscale Cinderella’s Royal Table

The alternative is the princess buffet at AKERHAUS RESTAURANT at Epcot Norway. It is less costly, but not all the princesses make each show.  If you have small tots that watch Disney Junior shows, look at the Hollywood & Vine shows at Hollywood Studios.

 

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