Archive for July, 2012

Getting the Most Vacation Bang-for-your-Buck!

You can thank Janet for this blog.

She recently asked me a question that I think many folks can relate to: How do you go about getting deals for a limited income family?

It occurred to me about mid-answer that everyone should know these tips, so I’m sharing them here.

My advice:

  • Pick destinations with LOTS of lodging, or that are off-the-beaten track. Daytona Beach and Panama City Beach are two examples of destinations with lots of lodging (including oceanfront); Indialantic (by Melbourne Beach) is an example of a tiny town where you can find deals.
  • Use the 'hot deals' tab on VISIT FLORIDA's homepage, on the upper right hand corner. It will give you all kinds of specials, which you can filter by destination.
  • Use the visitor's services website — and the personnel staffing the visitor’s services– of wherever you're considering going. To use Daytona Beach as an example again, there website has all kinds of specials you can find online. (At least half of the destinations offer online specials.) And absolutely call them. Ask if there's a better time of year or week and what they would suggest for your exact needs.
  • If you are military, a senior, a Florida resident– or whatever — ask if you can get an extra discount.
  • Use free events and low-tech activities. Many destinations offer free events all year long. For example, Pensacola, St. Augustine, Panama City Beach and Amelia Island are only a few of the destinations offering free concert series this summer. Likewise, an activity doesn't need to involve a lot of expensive equipment to be incredibly fun. Kayaking, hiking, and exploring parks are all examples of inexpensive, fun activities. One of my favorites is a night sea turtle walk, where you go out with a guide and hopefully watch a mother sea turtle lay her eggs. These walks are usually either free or very low cost, like $8 a person or so.

Now grab your flip flops and start packing!

Continue reading Getting the Most Vacation Bang-for-your-Buck! »

Florida Travel + Life Names Florida’s Best Beach Bars

Sounds like a tough gig. Not.

Florida Travel + Life scoured the Sunshine State’s coasts to find the top 24 spots to sip a cold one. Here’s their list of Florida’s best beach bars.

I’ve visited lots of these places – like Bud & Alley’s in Seaside, the Mucky Duck in Captiva Island, and Sand on the Beach in Melbourne Beach — but not all of them. So now I’ve got a new and exceptionally worthy goal.

How many have you been to? Which ones? And how did you like them?
I want to know.

Insider’s Note: If Florida Travel + Life needs another set discerning lips next year to help them pick, I’m available.

Continue reading Florida Travel + Life Names Florida’s Best Beach Bars »

Rand McNally & USA Today Name Delray Beach Most Fun Small Town in America!

It's the most fun small town in America — officially!

On July 17, 2012 , Rand McNally and USA Today named Delray Beach the Most Fun Small Town in America in their Second Annual Best of the Road Competition.

How did they pick?

The quest began on June 15, 2012, with five teams of two searching for the best America had to offer in the categories of Best Food, Most Patriotic, Most Beautiful, Friendliest and Most Fun. 

After a period of online voting, Delray Beach surfed into a spot as one of the six finalists for Most Fun Small Town in America. Team 'Fresh Traveler,' Anna Haas and Patricia Serrano, visited the six towns and ultimately decided who most deserved the title.

The results are about as surprising as fins on a fish: spirited, quirky Delray Beach won! The Atlantic village washed out the other contenders, which were Corning, New York; Santa Claus, Indiana; Denton, Texas; Buena Park, California and Geneva-on-the-lake, Ohio.

And this is really a blast!

After hearing the happy news, the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative began whipping-up the most fun Delray Beach weekend ever.

Check out the video to see what team ‘Fresh Traveler’ enjoyed there! I'll give you some hints: their adventures included snorkeling a shipwreck, making mojitos and painting the town. You have to see it.

Guess what else?

The video’s going to air on the Travel Channel on July 25, 2012 at 8 p.m. Cool beans!

Insider’s Warning: Watching this video may cause beach envy, and could even result in a vacation.

Continue reading Rand McNally & USA Today Name Delray Beach Most Fun Small Town in America! »

St. George Island Sizzler Race: Are You Tough Enough?

The sun lay like a friendly arm across her shoulder.  ~Margorie Kinnan Rawlings, South Moon Under

Marjorie expressed a lovely sentiment about the sun, but I’m afraid at the 15th Annual St. George Island Sizzler it might feel more like a heavy, sweaty hand than a friendly arm!

Are you tough enough to tackle the Sizzler?

It’s a Tate's Hell Track Club event featuring a one mile fun run and 5K race benefiting the Franklin County Humane Society. It boils onto the serene Island Aug. 11, 2012, from 4 – 8 p.m. – but even if you don’t want to run, you should come for the fun!

That’s because the race is just the tip of the sandbar! Come on out and enjoy some fresh shucked oysters, low country-boil, ice-cold watermelon, beer, wine and soft drinks. Post-race awards and party will be held at the Lighthouse Pavilion in the center of the Island.

Insider’s Tip: The race is the perfect excuse to discover St. George Island, a pristine, 22-mile barrier island near Apalachicola Bay. St. George Island State Park was named the No. 4 most beautiful beach in the country for 2012 by “Dr. Beach,” Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University. 

Continue reading St. George Island Sizzler Race: Are You Tough Enough? »

The St. George Island Sizzler Race: Are You Tough Enough?

The sun lay like a friendly arm across her shoulder.  ~Margorie Kinnan Rawlings, South Moon Under

Marjorie expressed a lovely sentiment about the sun, but I’m afraid at the 15th Annual St. George Island Sizzler it won’t feel much like a friendly arm across your shoulders. I’m thinking it might feel more like a big, fat ball of fire cooking you alive!

Are you tough enough to tackle the Sizzler?

It’s a Tate's Hell Track Club event featuring a one mile fun run and 5K race benefiting the Franklin County Humane Society. It boils onto the serene Island Aug. 11, 2012, from 4 – 8 p.m. – but even if you don’t want to run, you should come for the fun!

That’s because the race is just the tip of the sandbar! Come on out and enjoy some fresh shucked oysters, low country-boil, ice-cold watermelon, beer, wine and soft drinks. Post race awards and party will be held at the Lighthouse Pavilion, in the center of the Island.

Insider’s Tip: The race is the perfect excuse to discover St. George Island, a pristine, 22-mile-long barrier island near Apalachicola Bay. St. George Island State Park was named the No. 4 most beautiful beach in the country for 2012 by “Dr. Beach,” professor Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University. That’s a sizzling hot beach, if I don’t say so myself!

Continue reading The St. George Island Sizzler Race: Are You Tough Enough? »

The St. George Island Sizzler Race: Are You Tough Enough?

The sun lay like a friendly arm across her shoulder.  ~Margorie Kinnan Rawlings, South Moon Under

Marjorie expressed a lovely sentiment about the sun, but I’m afraid at the 15th Annual St. George Island Sizzler it won’t feel much like a friendly arm across your shoulders. I’m thinking it might feel more like a big, fat ball of fire cooking you alive!

Are you tough enough to tackle the Sizzler?

It’s a Tate's Hell Track Club event featuring a one mile fun run and 5K race benefiting the Franklin County Humane Society. It boils onto the serene Island Aug. 11, 2012, from 4 – 8 p.m. – but even if you don’t want to run, you should come for the fun!

That’s because the race is just the tip of the sandbar! Come on out and enjoy some fresh shucked oysters, low country-boil, ice-cold watermelon, beer, wine and soft drinks. Post race awards and party will be held at the Lighthouse Pavilion, in the center of the Island.

Insider’s Tip: The race is the perfect excuse to discover St. George Island, a pristine, 22-mile-long barrier island near Apalachicola Bay. St. George Island State Park was named the No. 4 most beautiful beach in the country for 2012 by “Dr. Beach,” professor Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University. That’s a sizzling hot beach, if I don’t say so myself!

Continue reading The St. George Island Sizzler Race: Are You Tough Enough? »

Learn How to Train Your Shark in Sarasota

Q: What's worse than one shark coming to dinner?
A: Two sharks coming to dinner.

I have to admit, I did a double-take. I was reading-up on attractions at the Mote Marine Aquarium in Lido Key when I saw the headline: New: Narrated Training Sessions with Sharks.

Turns out, in order to take care of their sharks, Mote aquarists actually train them to eat near special targets. Each species of shark is trained to feed at a different type of target.

Dr. Eugenie Clark, Mote's founding director, was the first scientist to document that sharks were capable of learning such tasks. She began training sharks back in the 1950s and was able to demonstrate how adaptable they really are. Until Clark told the world about her efforts, sharks were thought of as mindless eating machines.

And now you can see and hear first-hand how the folks at Mote train these cool creatures.

The Training Sessions take place at 11 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You can watch, listen, and even ask the Mote staff questions.

More news to twirl your beach towel?

The sessions are free with admission.

J-awesome!

Continue reading Learn How to Train Your Shark in Sarasota »

Madeira Beach Video

How wide is the beach? What’s the vibe like? Is it crowded? How clear is the water?

These are all good questions, and it’s hard to answer them in words that convey an accurate portrait. Which is why video is such a great thing. Just sneak a peek at my footage of Madeira Beach and draw your own conclusions.

Where is Madeira Beach?

This Gulfside paradise is a splash north of St. Pete Beach and south of Clearwater Beach. The city is renowned for its sea-themed John's Pass Village and Boardwalk, which serves up shops and eateries and a 1,100-foot boardwalk along the Intracoastal.

Fun Fact: According to legend, a pirate named John LeVique was the first European to settle the Madeira Beach area. (Can pirates ‘settle’? I think they’re more into pillaging.)

Insider’s Warning: Watching this video could cause severe symptoms of beach envy, and could even result in a vacation.

Continue reading Madeira Beach Video »

Sprint over to the Sandestin Triathlon this August

Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.  ~Plato

Are you a fitness freak? Do you love the beach?

Then lace up your running shoes and sprint over to the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort Aug. 18, 2012, for the Sandestin Triathlon.  The 26th annual race will lure 700 participants to South Walton – a dreamy destination with sugar-sand beaches, emerald waters and an abundance of shopping and dining options — for a half-mile swim in the Gulf of Mexico, a 20-mile bike ride along the coast and a four-mile run.  

More news to twirl your beach towel?

All proceeds will benefit the Sacred Heart Hospital of the Emerald Coast.

Continue reading Sprint over to the Sandestin Triathlon this August »

Rocking and Reeling on the Emerald Coast

Eventually, layer upon layer was deposited on the coast of northwest Florida. Fast forward to today. Families flock to perfect playgrounds along the shores of Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island. No wonder these pristine, sugar-white beaches consistently top “Best Beach” lists.

Splish Splash

Take your pick of beachside relaxation, action or both.

  • Recharge beneath a beach umbrella, soothed by the sounds of gentle waves and laughing gulls, far away from big city clamor.
  • Snorkel from the beach or go below with a dive trip on a natural reef like Timber Hole, a submerged petrified forest.
  • Get soaked on 40 water slides and attractions for all ages at Big Kahuna’s Water Park.
  • Swim with the dolphins, play with otters and catch lively aquatic shows at the newly-renovated Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.

Reel `Em In

Internationally recognized as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and the “Billfish Capital of the Gulf,” a great catch is almost guaranteed along the Emerald Coast.

Destin’s East Pass is only 10 miles from the fertile fishing grounds of the 100 Fathom Curve. Boasting the largest charter boat fleet in Florida, Destin Charter Boat Association offers deep-sea, in-shore and bottom-fishing trips. {pullquote}

Landlubbers also have prime places to cast a line. Fish from the beach, the jetties or the Destin Bridge Catwalk. Extending more than 1,200 feet into the Gulf of Mexico, the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier is open 24 hours every day during the summer. It’s a popular spot for reeling in dinner, panoramic coastline photos and sunset strolls.

Twenty edible fish are always in seasonal runs. Typical catches include red snapper, grouper, triggerfish, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, redfish and flounder. Much awaited by avid anglers, gag grouper (an odd nickname for a very tasty fish) season occurs July 1 through Oct. 31.

Why cook on vacation? Harbor-side restaurants cook catches with all the trimmings for a nominal amount.

Party On

There’s almost always a party-in-progress at the beach. Here’s a short sample of summer celebrations and hot party spots along the coast:

  • Join the Red, White and Blue Celebration with fireworks every Thursday night and Rock the Docks with free concerts every Saturday and Sunday night at HarborWalk Village at Emerald Grande.
  • Enjoy the show at Howl at the Moon, or boogie the night away at The Swamp at the Okaloosa Island Boardwalk.
  • Compete for prizes at one of the country’s largest charitable boating events, the Emerald Coast Poker Run Aug. 11, 2012.
  • And, it’s all about food and fun at the annual Greek Festival on Labor Day Weekend at the Emerald Coast Convention Center.

Score Summer Savings

Emerald Coast vacations are accessible and affordable. The beaches are less than a day’s drive from most of the southeast. Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS) offers daily flights from major markets like Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Charlotte and Washington D.C.

Compare lodging options and cash in on Emerald Specials at the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. Stop by the Visitor’s Center on Okaloosa Island for a warm welcome and a stash of discount coupons for eats, activities and shopping.

This article was brought to you by the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. To start planning your trip to Northwest Florida’s Emerald Coast, go to www.emeraldcoastfl.com.

Continue reading Rocking and Reeling on the Emerald Coast »