Some Places To Enjoy Life... In Florida
However, for what it's worth, my recipe for really enjoying Florida is:
- Search for places and activities that allow you to enjoy Florida's superb wildlife, e.g. try here. This is perhaps your best chance of experiencing what is left of the old Florida - the Florida of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
- Get hold of a boat - or make friends with someone who has one. It's possible to enjoy life in Florida without a boat, but so many great experiences (especially those involving wildlife) need you to be on fresh or salt water at some point!
Here is a small selection of places that we have particularly enjoyed.
- Gulf Coast: Palm Island
- Fantasy of Flight
- Orlando: Morse Museum and Winter Park
- Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
- Grassy Key: Dolphin Research Center
- Jensen Beach and Stuart (new)
- Marathon Key: Cannon Point
- Key West: Mallory Square at Sunset
- You will find all of my travel photoblogs (with pictures and more links) here in my Categorian blog.
- If you follow the links in the right hand panel, you will hopefully find a lot of useful or interesting information. The first (reddish-brown) link will take you to a map of Florida marked up with our favourite sites, restaurants, hotels etc.
- Links in that panel will generally open in a new window.
Gulf Coast: Palm Island
My wife and I once spent a very pleasant week in this area, sharing a beach house with our American family (for information on Palm Island, go here).
Below the house was a creek with a small jetty, from which we would sometimes fish. If I stood there quietly, it wouldn't be long before a feeling would creep over me that I wasn't alone, and that I wasn't the only one doing the fishing! I would glance up and see this splendid fellow (or lady) perched on a rail some two feet above my head, quite unconcerned with my pathetic efforts...
The highlight of our trip was a night fishing expedition in our cousin's husband's boat. The nights are dark here - lighting is restricted for 6 months of the year in order not to disturb the turtle hatching - and we had a beautiful starlit sky. We moored to a post in the mouth of the Peace River (not something I would have attempted if I had rented a boat myself) and just enjoyed being out there, very close to Nature. We did in fact catch a number of ladyfish, all returned to the water - but it wasn't long before we heard the "whoof" noises of dolphins close around us, invisible in the darkness. It was a quite magical experience.
(We visited this place in May, which is a good month to go. Don't leave it too late, though... I am told that on May 21st the rainy season starts.)
On the way from Orlando to Palm Island we stopped for lunch at Linger Lodge Resort, which I can highly recommend. This is a unique place on the Braden River just off I-75, a little to the north of Sarasota.
Epcot was originally intended to be EPCOT, standing for Experimental Prototype Community (or sometimes City) Of Tomorrow. Walt Disney's original concept never came to fruition, but the theme park that resulted still carries some of his original vision. Actually, Epcot is a park with two different themes: the Future World pavilions, showcasing technology and science with a learning element, and the Community of Nations, a lake surrounded by pavilions showcasing the culture, food and products of different countries.
I have visited Epcot several times over the years, and it changes all the time - perhaps not always for the better. Some thrill rides, for example, have now been added. It is still a great place to spend time - lots of time. To see everything would take many days!
Nowadays we take it slow and concentrate on a few favourite places. We always stop at the Mexican Cantina on the shores of the lake, outside the Mexico Pavilion, just to sit and watch the world go by. We always visit The Living Seas (as it was called last time we were there), an aquarium so vast that it is like a miniature ocean, with a "sea base" for viewing and for educational and research stuff submerged in the middle of it. We have supper at one of the many excellent restaurants in the Community of Nations (which you should reserve places for on arrival at Epcot). After dark we stroll around, and enjoy the spectacular IllumiNations firework and light show.There is much more to Epcot than I have described here, from random jets of water dancing from one flower-bed to another to the awesome Universe of Energy pavilion. However for me, it is the Community of Nations that encapsulates much of what Disney wanted to achieve.
Fantasy of Flight
Even if you have been to Florida several times, you may not have discovered a wonderful attraction called Fantasy of Flight.
This place is not a theme park and it is not the work of a corporation. It is the lifetime achievement of one extraordinary man, the billionaire aviator Kermit Weeks - a man with the spirt of the legendary Howard Hughes.
Among other things, it houses the greatest private collection of aircraft in the world, all of which are, or are in the process of being, restored to full flying condition. It includes an airfield, many hangars and workshops, and a lake from which flying boats take off and land.
We had a fascinating day there, including visits to the workshops where dedicated enthusiasts think nothing of undertaking restoration projects lasting 10 to 15 years, or even more. If you like working in wood (many of the planes have wood and fabric frames), or any kind of craft where the joy is in doing something right, then the workshop tours are a don't-miss.
Click the picture above, or go here, to see my Categorian photoblog of our visit.
Orlando: Morse Museum and Winter Park
Winter Park is an attractive older part of Orlando that many people don't see. It is home to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which houses many of the beautiful works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, including Tiffany jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass windows, lamps, and the chapel interior he designed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Highly recommended!
After visiting the museum, we often eat at the nearby Briar Patch restaurant. Oddly enough, I have yet to see a good on-line description of this rather charming place!
Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
If you want to spoil yourself, I can really recommend the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Hotel. We were there for only a couple of days, and it was cold and rainy the whole time (very unusual for Florida!). Although we couldn't properly enjoy the superb outdoor water features, the food and the service indoors were just great. As you can see from the photo below, the design of the hotel's interior is particularly attractive.
This hotel is also very conveniently located for the Disney attractions.
Jensen Beach and Stuart
Jensen Beach has a particularly nice community life, and both places have attractive older centres with many good restaurants and shops.
You will find them here on my Florida Map (with Google's new map style, you may have to click the slide arrow on the left of the top bar to see the list of places).
There is much to see and do in this area - you will find some examples if you visit my Categorian Blog for this area. Click
either picture above for a starting point, or go straight to the sections for:
Stuart - Atlantic Coast,
Stuart - near St Lucie River,
Jensen Beach - Indian Riverside Park, or
Jensen Beach - Savannas Preserve State Park.
Grassy Key: Dolphin Research Center
This is the Dolphin Research Center at Grassy Key. We liked it very much - it's quiet, education-based and very different from other entertainment-oriented marine parks.
As the staff keep pointing out, the visitors are here to entertain the dolphins, not the other way around (actually, it's thoroughly mutual).
We were here to fulfil a life-time ambition of my wife's, which was to swim with dolphins. It was truly a day to remember. Click either picture above to see my Categorian photoblog of our day there.
Marathon Key: Cannon Point
On this trip we (12 of us) stayed here at Cannon Point at Marathon Key. It's a great spot if you have a large family and a boat, situated in a narrow strip of waterway between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico (both very shallow around here, typically only 7 feet of water under the keel until you get well out).
Click any picture below to see my Categorian photoblog from our May 2008 trip (it will open in a separate window).
Key West: Mallory Square at Sunset
Mallory Square is a famous place from which to watch the sunset and watch the street entertainment and the ships going by.
Click either picture below to see my Categorian photoblog from our May 2008 trip (it will open in a separate window).