Archive for August, 2012

South Walton Adventure Run Features Pirates, Beaches & Treasures!

Most adventure races are challenging. Likewise, most are extremely muddy. Imagine grime smearing your hair, sand under your arms and sweat mixed with dirt, and you’ll have it about right.

South Walton decided to add a new twist to this popular new sport – a clean, refreshing one! The inaugural Treasures of South Walton Adventure Run sprints into Topsail Hill Preserve State Park Oct. 19-21, 2012, providing a fun challenge through coastal forest and along the sugar-sand and clear turquoise water of the Gulf of Mexico.  

Hmm, sugar-sand versus mud. I don’t have much question which race I’d like to dig my toes into…

The Treasures of South Walton Adventure Run encompasses an entire weekend of fun, beginning with a masquerade ball Friday evening, where everyone will don their pirate duds for a night of swashbuckling merriment at the Tops’l Resort, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  You’ll enjoy dancing to live music, dining on hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar and a silent auction.

Saturday features a special one-mile fun run for your little ones, with a scaled-down version of the course engineered just for them.  Sunday brings the main event, with hearty landlubbers striving to navigate the 5k obstacle course – and at the same time, striving to outmaneuver buccaneers out to plunder their booty.  The weekend culminates in an awards ceremony, with prizes for the runner with the fastest time (with booty intact) as well as the pirate with the most booty.

Snag more information or register; sneak a peek at the Adventure Run album on Facebook.

Smile-worthy note: Sponsored by Visit South Walton, the Treasures of South Walton Adventure Run is produced by SRB Productions, whose goal is to produce exciting events in order to leverage awareness and funding for charitable organizations.  The beneficiary of the 2012 event is Food for Thought, which provides backpacks filled with easy-to-make meals, allowing children in need to focus on their development and education.

Continue reading South Walton Adventure Run Features Pirates, Beaches & Treasures! »

Heaven by the Gulf: the Shrimp Shack in Seaside

Most seafood…should be simply threatened with heat and then celebrated with joy. ~Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet)

The shrimp at the Shrimp Shack (2236 Scenic Hwy 30A, Seaside, FL 32459, 850-231-3799) is better than good. It’s plump, it’s pink and it’s firm. It’s fresh, and they heap it into a steaming pile in a little basket for you. (My mouth is going crazy just thinking about it.)

But an even tastier treat than the shrimp is where you eat it. Once you snag your lunch, hustle out to the beachfront pavilion behind the restaurant. The Gulf will play its sweet melody, and you can watch the kids play in the waves while you nosh on pure heaven.

Check out my pictures!

Insider’s Confession: I do not have pictures of the shrimp. That’s because I ate it before I remembered to take pictures. I guess it’s a good thing I’m not the Dining Insider…

Continue reading Heaven by the Gulf: the Shrimp Shack in Seaside »

Is Hang Gliding Fun? Watch the Video!

I love flying my hang glider. I love the way the ground below me turns into a patchwork of pastures, lakes and swamps; I love the way the cars shrink into little toys and finally unrecognizable dots; I love the way you can taste the air and how it smells like orange blossoms sometimes. I love the freedom, and how my wings curve through sky.

About the only thing I love as much as flying my glider is sharing the experience with others. Check out the video I filmed and you'll understand why it gives me so much joy. 

If you want to see what all the excitement is about for yourself, you can try tandem hang gliding– at Quest Air Hang Gliding in Groveland (west of Orlando), where the video was filmed, as well as these other locations:

I have to share this– the in-air footage in the video is of me taking my mom flying for her 77th birthday. Doesn’t she rock?

Insider’s disclosure: My husband manages Quest Air Hang Gliding.

Continue reading Is Hang Gliding Fun? Watch the Video! »

Five Fun Tampa Beach Adventures

If you’re in Tampa, you’re just a splash away from some of the best beaches in the world—and from some awesome beach adventures, too.

Check out these five super-duper Sunshine State experiences!

  • Walk on Water: Snag a flight on the new JetLev at the TradeWinds Island Grand, a beachfront resort snuggled against the Gulf of Mexico on St. Pete Beach. It’s a water-propelled jetpack that soars up to heights of 30 feet at 30 miles per hour. 
  • Ride the Waves: Horse surfing is a little crazy, it’s a lot of fun, and as far as anyone can tell, Bradenton is the only place on the planet to try it. You go for a ride along Palma Sola Bay, take the horses swimming, and then try to stand up on their backs in the water. (Yes, you fall off. Or at least I did.) Just visit www.beachhorses.com. The only way to book a ride is online.
  • Meet a Movie Star: The true story of Winter, star of the movie Dolphin Tale, inspires people worldwide. She’s a symbol of courage, perseverance and hope – and Clearwater Marine Aquarium is the only place on the planet you can see her. The aquarium also offers three animal interaction programs, dolphin photo opportunities and stingray feedings.
  • Celebrate the Sunset: To take part in this fabulous Florida tradition, surf over to Sunsets at Pier 60, a nightly sunset celebration that takes place from 6 – 9 p.m. in Clearwater Beach. With Ma Nature providing a magnificent backdrop, you’ll see painters at work; admire jugglers, magicians and street performers; listen to music and discover cool crafts. You may even see fire eaters and stilt walkers – and your little ones will love the well-equipped playground.
  • Just Breathe: Every Saturday at 8:30 a.m. (weather-permitting), you can enjoy Beach Yoga at Pine Avenue public beach access on Anna Maria Island, Gulf-side. This relaxed, beginner-friendly class is open to all. The cost is by donation. Call 941-794-6723 for more information.

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Five Favorite Beaches by Tampa

Politics, pundits and people, oh my!

Tampa is bustling with activity this week; a trip to the beach to might be just the medicine to soothe your soul. Luckily, the vibrant city is just a splash away from some of the sweetest shores on the planet. Check out this list of five of my favorites.

  • Caladesi Island is a little bit of beach heaven, an unspoiled paradise thick with white sand. Named America's Best Beach by Dr. Beach in 2008, you can reach the pristine island by ferry from Honeymoon Island. The ferry begins running at 10 a.m. every day, with numerous returns and departures. Visitors typically can stay for four hours, weather permitting. According to MapQuest, it’s 46 minutes/27.04 miles from Tampa.
  • Clearwater Beach is wide, heaped with sugar-sand, and has pier that stretches far out into the shallow, emerald-hued waters of the Gulf. It’s a bustling, touristy destination, with a ‘pirate ship,’ offers of parasailing, amenities like showers and restrooms, and free nightly sunset celebrations. It’s 37 minutes/24.51 miles from Tampa.
  • Pass-A-Grille Beach is historic, cute and charming; in the past, it was used as a camp ground for fisherman to obtain fresh water and to grill their catch. It boasts restaurants, small inns and eclectic shops — but is happily lacking in high rises and crowds. Discover its beautiful, still waters just south of St. Pete Beach. It’s 39 minutes/ 28.96 miles from Tampa.
  • Fort De Soto boasts soft sands, blue-green waters and shady pines, which earned the park – made up of five separate islands –TripAdvisor's #1 Beach rating for 2008 and 2009. Ride, skate or jog on the seven-mile paved trail; canoe and kayak through lush mangroves. Your kids will love to explore the canons and jail cells of the old fort. It’s 57 minutes/37.11 miles from Tampa.
  • Anna Maria Island is a little sliver of sand, only seven miles long, and so narrow you can often see the Gulf and the bay at the same time. It’s the kind of place you enjoy a grouper sandwich by the beach in an open-air café; it’s the kind of place you rent a Hobie Cat and go sailing. It’s a laid-back, peaceful slice of paradise with an old-fashioned flavor. Its waters tend to be very clear and calm. It’s 1 hour 9 minutes /55.55 miles from Tampa.

Insider’s Tip: This list is just the tip of the sandbar. Explore all the area’s fabulous beaches – your toes will thank you!

Continue reading Five Favorite Beaches by Tampa »

Meet a Movie Star in Clearwater — Just a Splash Away from Tampa

A movie star lives in Clearwater, just a splash away from the hustle and bustle of Tampa. She’s a sleek, beautiful creature, with mysterious eyes. She seems unaffected by her fame and unaware of her glamour. She’s graceful, inspirational, and has a fondness for children.

And you can meet this lovely lady.

I’m as serious as a stingray!

Winter the dolphin lives in Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She plays herself in the 2011 hit movie, Dolphin Tale, together with Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Kristofferson and Nathan Gamble. The movie was inspired by her true story.

Yes, you have to see her while you’re in town.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium offerings include:

  • Animal presentations
  • Theater show-times
  • Feedings
  • Exhibits
  • Boating eco-tours
  • Behind-the-scenes tours

Or opt for one of their incredible animal experiences. You can feed stingrays; you can even don a snorkel and mask and interact with dolphins.

Insider’s Tip: First, watch the movie ‘Dolphin Tale,’ then, go see Winter in person.

Continue reading Meet a Movie Star in Clearwater — Just a Splash Away from Tampa »

Meet a Movie Star in Clearwater — Just a Splash away from Tampa!

A movie star lives in Clearwater, just a splash away from the hustle and bustle of Tampa. She’s a sleek, beautiful creature, with mysterious eyes. She seems unaffected by her fame and unaware of her glamour. She’s graceful, inspirational, and has a fondness for children.

And you can meet this lovely lady.

I’m as serious as a stingray!

Winter-the-dolphin lives in Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She plays herself in the 2011 hit movie, Dolphin Tale, together with Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick, Jr., Kris Kristofferson and Nathan Gamble. The movie was inspired by her true story.

Yes, you have to see her while you’re in town.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium offerings include:

  • Animal presentations
  • Theater show-times
  • Feedings
  • Exhibits
  • Boating eco-tours
  • Behind-the-scenes tours

Or, opt for one of their incredible animal experiences. You can feed stingrays; you can even don a snorkel and mask and interact with dolphins.

Insider’s Tip: First, watch the movie ‘Dolphin Tale,’ then, go see Winter in person.

Continue reading Meet a Movie Star in Clearwater — Just a Splash away from Tampa! »

All About Tampa, the Republican National Convention Host City

In a twist of irony, many visitors to August's Republican National Convention will travel between their hotels and the downtown Tampa event on a busy road named to honor President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat.

Kennedy Boulevard, a gateway to downtown from the west, was so named in 1964 partially because of a special connection between Tampa and the 35th president. Kennedy had waved to massive crowds lining that road from an open-topped Lincoln Continental on Nov. 18, 1963. The next time he rode in that car, four days later in a motorcade through downtown Dallas, he was shot to death.

A statue of JFK now stands at the present site of the University of Tampa, looking out over his eponymous thoroughfare.

The Tampa-JFK connection is just part of Florida's rich presidential history. It includes Andrew Jackson's role as Florida's first territorial governor in Pensacola, Harry S. Truman's "Little White House" in Key West — the winter quarters hosted a total of six presidents — and the famous compound kept by the Kennedy family at Palm Beach. After Kennedy became president, a secret bunker was installed in an island off the coast in case of a nuclear attack.

Rest for Rough Riders

There's more in Tampa, too. A stone's throw away from Kennedy's statue is a grand structure topped with curiously ornate minarets that was once called the Tampa Bay Hotel. Built by railroad magnate Henry Plant, it was there that then-Col. Teddy Roosevelt and members of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry — better known as the Rough Riders — bivouacked in 1898, before shipping out for Cuba and the Spanish-American War. Today, the building houses a museum and is a centerpiece of the stately downtown University of Tampa campus.

In more modern history, as the Tampa Bay area grew up and Florida became a critical swing state, visits by sitting presidents have become relatively common, and Tampa has become a required campaign-trail stop for any candidate who hopes to win over the many swing voters here. {pullquote}

For visitors to the Aug. 27-30 convention, there is plenty more to take in.

Tampa's former Latin quarter, Ybor (EE-bor) City, adjacent to downtown, was for the first half of the last century the cigar manufacturing capital of the world, with more than 200 factories once lining the narrow streets. That heritage is celebrated here and still alive in the cigar shops mixed in among the bars and restaurants in what is now a bustling entertainment district. In the so-called "Cigar City," aficionados can put fire to a fine stogie rolled minutes before right in the window of one those Ybor City shops.

A can't-miss sandwich

Don't fancy a cigar? Then how about a Cuban sandwich? That's the other product virtually synonymous with Tampa and is similarly interwoven into its history.

A staple of the early immigrant communities in Ybor City, the sandwich of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on pressed Cuban bread remains a Tampa favorite, with many restaurants and sandwich shops claiming to have the best or most authentic version. (Like pizza, Cuban sandwiches are hardly ever bad, regardless of who makes them.)

The area is expected to benefit directly from the convention, to the tune of around $175 million, according to the host committee, and down the road attract potential visitors from among the millions of people watching it on TV around the world. The event will attract three times more media members than the Super Bowl, which Tampa has hosted four times.

"It's coverage that you can't buy," said Travis Claytor, spokesman for the area's tourism bureau. "Every time they do a cut-away shot of the skyline of downtown Tampa or the Tampa Bay Times Forum, or show beauty shots of the beaches and the attractions, that's promoting the destination like we've never been able to promote it before. This is an opportunity that has never come along before, and it's priceless, to be honest with you."

The bay at large

Tampa will be the focus for convention visitors, of course, with its big-city skyline, world-class aquarium, Busch Gardens theme park, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and the riverfront arena where all the convention floor action will take place. But the area is what it is — cool and cosmopolitan enough to attract Super Bowls, NCAA Final Four tournaments and now, a political convention — because of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and the rest of what is collectively known as Tampa Bay.

Visitors will do themselves a disservice if they don't cross the bay and check out St. Petersburg's stunning waterfront downtown area, as well as the youthful vibe of Clearwater Beach. Some of the best white-sand beaches anywhere are close by, too. Two of them — Fort De Soto Park and Caladesi Island — have topped the list from Stephen P. Leatherman, a Florida International University professor dubbed "Dr. Beach" for his annual rankings of the nation's best coastlines.

A Greek enclave

Just north of Clearwater is Tarpon Springs, a small town established by Greek immigrant sponge divers in the early 20th century whose descendants have worked hard to maintain the distinct Mediterranean flavor. The sponge docks now cater to tourists with a string of wonderful Greek restaurants, bakeries and gift shops.

"It was presented (to the RNC) as a complete area and all we have to offer," said convention host committee spokeswoman Aileen Rodriguez. "The community really came together to put the bid together and get it in. Now we're excited about showcasing the whole area to the guests who are coming into Tampa Bay."

Delegates and other visitors will be utilizing hotels on both sides of the bay, with a network of as many as 400 buses shuttling them to and from the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the four nights of the convention.

This story was republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Continue reading All About Tampa, the Republican National Convention Host City »

Glorious Underwater Video of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

I’ve tried to explain to people what scuba diving is like. How you move in a different dimension. How the colors are more vivid. How it transports you to a different world, one that is beautiful and often strange.

But no matter how I craft the language, it pales in comparison to the experience. It also pales in comparison to this video, recorded by Key Largo videographer Frazier Nivens in 2011. Sneak a peek at his glorious creation, and sneak a peek at the glorious underwater world of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Insiders’ Tip: You don’t necessarily need to be certified to try diving. Many establishments offer ‘Discovery Dives,’ where you take a course, including pool work, for a few hours, and then get to go out into the ocean for a dive. I have experienced three Discovery Dives, which have been some of the most memorable adventures I’ve ever enjoyed.

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Private, Pristine, Perfect: Slideshow of Palm Island

A visit to Palm Island Resort feels like letting out a deep breath.

It feels separate from the everyday world where cars shriek and people hurry. It feels remote, perhaps because it’s accessible only by private boat or by ferry.

It’s quiet. You can hear birds and the music of the wind rustling the trees. The sand is soft, and the water is clear and tinted an emerald color. It’s a haven for plovers, eagles, egrets and shorebirds of all sorts. Sea oats bristle from the dunes, and the tide deposits sand dollars, coral, shark’s teeth and shells in great heaps along the natural shoreline.

The villas are roomy and comfortable, and ours boasted soaring views of the Gulf. We could throw open the doors and listen to the surf all night.

The Resort encompasses a two-mile portion of private, pristine beach on the Gulf of Mexico at the northern end of Knight’s Island, a sliver of sand snuggled close to the Intracoastal Waterway on Florida’s southwest gulf coast. Golf carts, bicycles and walking are the only means of transportation.

It’s private. It’s pristine. And it’s perfect. Check out my slideshow and you’ll see what I mean.

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

Continue reading Private, Pristine, Perfect: Slideshow of Palm Island »