Archive for November, 2012

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Welcomes New Baby Girl — a White Rhino!

Do not speak of a rhinoceros if there is no tree nearby. ~ African Zulu Proverb

It’s been said that every baby needs a lap, but it might not be wise to hoist this little sweetheart in your arms – even though she is cute.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay welcomed a baby white rhinoceros into the World on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. The new baby girl weighed a hefty 140 pounds at the time of her birth – but you haven’t seen anything yet. The newborn, yet to be named, will gain about four pounds each day until she reaches an adult weight of 3,500 to 4,000 pounds.

Now that’s a lot of rhino!

Check out the video of the new arrival. She is the most adorable creature on the planet.

Insider’s tip: Busch Gardens’ Serengeti Plain, where the new baby rhino was born, is not to be missed. Viewing the animals there is much like viewing them on the real Serengeti Plain. Rhinos flick at flies with their tails, roll in the sand and nap under the trees. Giraffes and zebras munch on grass, busily searching for the tastiest bits, and the air is fresh and glorious.

You can tour this grassy retreat on the Serengeti Railway or opt for a special Serengeti Safari Tour and explore it in a spacious open-air touring vehicle.

Continue reading Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Welcomes New Baby Girl — a White Rhino! »

Photo: View from Costa d’Este Beach Resort, Vero Beach

The ocean forms a panoramic backdrop for the chic and modern Costa d’Este Resort in Vero Beach.

Continue reading Photo: View from Costa d’Este Beach Resort, Vero Beach »

Photo: Oceanfront pool at Costa d’Este Beach Resort, Vero Beach

The pool or the beach? At Costa d’Este Beach Resort in Vero Beach you can choose both.

Continue reading Photo: Oceanfront pool at Costa d’Este Beach Resort, Vero Beach »

Hidden Jewel: Gloria Estefan's Luxury Boutique Hotel in Vero Beach

The sleepy seaside village of Vero Beach has a secret. This Florida beach town, known for its year-round cultural arts scene, is home to another hidden jewel, a place where summer romance sizzles to a Latin beat.

Far from the bright lights of Miami, the luxurious Costa d'Este Beach Resort is nestled halfway between West Palm Beach and Merritt Island. The resort boasts elegant one-bedroom suites, a signature bar known for its mojitos and an infinity-edge swimming pool that disappears into the nearby crashing waves.
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While this may be the first time you've heard of the resort, I'm certain you'll be familiar with its famous owners. Vero Beach has long been known for attracting creative types and artists, so it's no wonder superstar recording artist Gloria Estefan chose this seaside village to develop her $50 million luxury boutique resort. The international singer and her husband, Grammy Award-winning producer Emilio Estefan, opened Costa d'Este in 2008 and transformed it into a world-class hotel, worthy of its AAA Four-Diamond distinction.

"We chose to develop a resort here because we wanted to invest in Vero Beach and think it's a quiet beach community and is the perfect distance for a weekend getaway from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Orlando," the singer, who owns a home in Vero Beach, told TCPalm.com.

The Estefans discovered Vero Beach about 11 years ago and immediately fell in love with the community and the people. "Once we began spending time in our home we came to appreciate the many natural attractions in the area," Estefan said to TCPalm.com.

Almost 150 miles south in Miami Beach, the couple owns an authentic Cuban restaurant, Larios on the Beach, as well as the sophisticated and art deco-themed Cardozo Hotel on Ocean Drive. Each of their properties, including Costa d'Este, exudes the famous duo's Latin flair and lavish taste.

"The Costa d'Este is one of my favorite places to visit," said Lou Guida, former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and retired Senior Vice President of Merrill Lynch. Guida travels with his family to the resort several times a year.

What does he love most about Costa d'Este? The laid-back atmosphere, personal touches and high level of comfort the resort provides for his entire family, he said.

"The friendly staff anticipates every detail of your vacation," he said. "One of the features everybody appreciates is the perfectly brewed complimentary coffee offered every day."

The resort can accommodate large groups for special events, weddings or corporate meetings. Lou's son, Mark Guida, resides in Vero Beach and planned a family and friends get-together at Costa d'Este.

"We had around 30 people come to the reunion and they had a spectacular time," the younger Guida said. "We enjoyed ourselves so much that many of us extended our stay."

Not only is the resort great for families because of its cozy boutique feel, it's also known for its elegant destination weddings and romantic ambiance. The Queen of Latin Pop designed the resort for guests who desire the perfect combination of tropical days and steamy nights.

With all this in mind, my husband and I set off for a couple's getaway to Costa d'Este. As the Entertainment & Luxury Insider for VISIT FLORIDA, I have had the opportunity to stay in some of the best resorts the Sunshine State has to offer, so I was excited to check out this jewel on Florida's Treasure Coast.

I was immediately impressed with the architecture of the resort – modern and chic with eye-catching geometrical designs and original artwork. It was clear to me the Estefans spared no expense on quality and attention to detail.

The rooms have smooth marble flooring and custom-designed furnishings. The limestone bathrooms are spacious and decked out with one of my favorite luxury amenities – rain showerheads. I easily could have kicked back with a good book in bed all day, pampered by tons of large fluffy pillows and Egyptian-cotton bed linens.

Instead, we pulled up a stool at the poolside bar and enjoyed complementary welcome mojitos, an amenity offered to every resort guest. It's always a good idea to start a relaxing getaway with a cold concoction of lime, sugar, mint and rum, and we found it was easy to get lost in the spectacular ocean view from the pool deck, the center of the resort's activity.

Like the Guida family, I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff. Seven days a week, Manager Ed Riley makes his rounds throughout the resort. He introduces himself to every guest and will stop at nothing to ensure that each detail of your stay exceeds expectations.

"He adds that personal touch that makes you feel welcome and important," Guida said. "If you have a special request tell Ed and he will make it happen."

We asked Ed for dinner recommendations. He suggested The Wave Kitchen and Wine Bar and went out of his way to book our reservation, and hostess Robin Miller seated us at the best table in the house. It was picture-perfect. We sipped wine and listened to live music underneath the light of a full moon.

I'll be honest; I'm not always impressed with hotel food, but this was not your average hotel dining experience. Chef Antonio designed a seasonal menu featuring fresh ceviche, traditional American fare and, of course, Cuban cuisine. After a mouth-watering three-course meal, the chef brought out an incredible trio of desserts on a slab of marble. Every detail of the evening was magical.  

Oh, and did I mention the view? Words cannot describe it, so you'll have to check it out for yourself.

If You Go

What: Costa d'Este Beach Resort
Where: 3244 Ocean Drive, Vero Beach
Phone: 877-562-9919
Web: costadeste.com
Cost: Room prices start at $195
Reservations: Book your vacation at Costa d'Este online at costadeste.com or call 877-562-9919.

Nearby

  • Visit the Vero Beach Museum of Art and view their collection of American and international art. Find them online at verobeachmuseum.org or call 772-231-0707.
  • Go shopping at the adorable boutiques in the Beachside Shopping District on Ocean Drive on the east, Florida A1A on the west and along all cross streets, as well as along Beachland Boulevard.
  • Play a round of golf at the Sandridge Golf Club designed by Ron Garl and operated by Indian River County. For more information, visit sandridgegc.com or call 772-770-5000.
  • For more information about Vero Beach, check out verobeach.com.

Continue reading Hidden Jewel: Gloria Estefan's Luxury Boutique Hotel in Vero Beach »

Free Admission to Delray Beach Seafood & Wine Festival

A word of warning. If you’re hungry, don’t read this.

After all, when the first annual Seafood and Wine Festival splashes into Delray Beach Nov. 10-11, 2012, it promises seafood and wine pairings guaranteed to make you drool — like Chardonnay and lobster rolls, San Angelo Pinot Grigio and chilled shrimp salad on crostini, and Estate Pinot Noir and shrimp, avocado, and grapefruit.

Besides offering seafood and wine, this free admission event offers live entertainment beachside.

Now that’s a recipe for a good time!

Festival hours, on the east end of Atlantic Avenue, are:

Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday 11 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Continue reading Free Admission to Delray Beach Seafood & Wine Festival »

Photo: Veterans Day

U.S. armed forces will be honored at Fort Clinch in Fernandina Beach on Nov. 10 with “History of the American Soldier,” a full day of activities, displays, period music and firing demonstrations.

Continue reading Photo: Veterans Day »

Shining a Light on the Past: The Endangered Lighthouses of Florida's Forgotten Coast

It's called the Forgotten Coast, but the 90-mile stretch of northwest Florida's shoreline from St. Marks west to Cape San Blas once was so dramatically – if intermittently – illuminated that it was hard to miss.

Which, really, was the point insofar as this sporadic illumination radiated from four classic and, by now, clearly historic lighthouses. Their purpose, obviously, was to warn that shoals and other danger lurked nearby for timber ships, fishing boats, vessels carrying produce to or from port and other maritime interests in or approaching the upper Gulf of Mexico.

Now, in the age of global positioning systems and other navigational devices, the  lighthouses serve primarily as tourist attractions, though some of these flashing beacons still aid boat captains. All four are available to visitors, though to varying degrees, and all are within easy drives of Tallahassee or Panama City.
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With a bit of advanced planning and fueled by the fresh oysters, shrimp and fish readily available in the area, tourists can weave a pleasant and informative day or two out of a visit to the four stately structures.

And very many do just that. So, what makes lighthouses this compellingly magnetic?

"It's the romanticism connected to lighthouses, the isolation and all that it entails," said Lonnie Mann, 69, a retiree from Tallahassee who often visits the towers. "It's something people are looking for – maybe some solitude and peacefulness in their lives."

Listen to Tom Aleksandrowicz, 56, a New Jersey native who now lives in Brooksville and has visited lighthouses all along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts: "It's the maritime part of it. These people sailed the seas, and if it weren't for the lights, half of them wouldn't have made it. It's the mystique of it."

Yes, the mystique, the romanticism, the (now lost) isolation. Let's try to recover some of that by starting our "Forgotten Coast Lighthouse Tour" on the eastern edge of the region and working our way west.

St. Marks Lighthouse

Located in Wakulla County just 20 miles south of Tallahassee, the St. Marks Lighthouse is a good place to begin, even though only the site of the lighthouse (rather than the increasingly creaky structure itself) is open most days to visitors.

Eighty feet of brilliant whiteness built in 1842, the lighthouse is attached to the keeper's house, both maintaining watch over the nearby harbor entrance. At night, the light still flashes every four seconds.

Like all lighthouses sited along this stretch of the Gulf Coast, the St. Marks tower has been – and continues to be – a frequent target of hurricanes. As a consequence, the tower boasts walls four feet thick at the base, tapering to 18 inches at the top. The keeper's house, constructed in 1871, is similarly fortified against nature.

These days, the site is jointly operated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, though the Coast Guard is in the process of handing it over to the refuge.

If you go: The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is open daily during daylight hours. The lighthouse is located at the Gulf-end of County Road 59 (Lighthouse Road), with the visitor parking lot at 1255 Lighthouse Rd. From Tallahassee, head south on Monroe Street and veer left on Woodville Highway (S.R. 363). Make a left on U.S. 98 and a right on C.R. 59. Learn more at stmarksrefuge.org/lighthouse.cfm.

Crooked River Lighthouse

This blink-and-you'll-miss-it lighthouse really does seem to belong in a region known as the Forgotten Coast.

Located a bit inland, on the northern side of U.S. 98 about three miles west of the fishing village of Carrabelle, the red and white, iron and steel Crooked River Lighthouse has stood on this spot since 1895. Its purpose: to help vessels navigate the dangerous pass between St. George and Dog islands.

Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places but decommissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1995, the 103-foot tower was deeded to Carrabelle, thanks to the devoted efforts of a group that became known as the Carrabelle Lighthouse Association.

If you go: Happily, the lighthouse – and 138 steps of it – can be climbed Saturday and Sunday from 1 – 4 p.m., weather permitting. The cost is $5 per person and climbers must be at least 44 inches tall. "Full Moon Tower Tours" are offered for $10 per person on nights of the full moon, weather permitting. The Keeper's House Museum and Gift Shop, a replica of the original keeper's house, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. Phone: 850-697-2732.

From Tallahassee, head south on Monroe Street veering right on Crawfordville Highway (U.S. 319). Continue south and west on U.S. 98 through Carrabelle to Crooked River Lighthouse Park, about three miles west of downtown Carrabelle. (Proceed slowly and look for the lighthouse tucked into the northern side of the road.) More information can be found at crookedriverlighthouse.org.

Cape St. George Light

Continuing westward for a mere 20 miles, we encounter not just another stately lighthouse, but also a terrific story about a community that would not let the light perish.

The Cape St. George Light managed to survive hurricane after hurricane, natural abuse after natural abuse, from the moment it was completed on Little St. George Island in 1852 until Oct. 21, 2005. On that solemn Friday, the fine old lighthouse finally gave way to 153 years of erosion and high surf, crumbling into the Gulf of Mexico.

But the residents of the nearby fishing town of Apalachicola and other parts of Franklin County – devotees who struggled for years to shore up their lighthouse – were not ready to surrender. They salvaged and cleaned the old bricks and arranged for the 74-foot-tall, 92-step lighthouse to be rebuilt on the larger, more populated St. George Island, where it re-opened in 2008 and now stands proudly – easily accessible and ready for your visit.

If you go: Continue west on U.S. 98 to the truly tiny town of Eastpoint. Follow the signs to St. George Island, turning south on State Road 300, which becomes a causeway. The Cape St. George Light and an accompanying museum and gift shop are located at 2 East Gulf Beach Dr., smack in front of you as the causeway from the mainland dead ends 100 yards or so from the Gulf.

From March 1 through Oct. 31, the lighthouse is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Thursday. Hours are abbreviated during the winter season, from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28.

Fees for climbing the lighthouse are $5 for adults, $3 for children under 16, and no charge for children under age 6 and U.S. military personnel with ID. Climber must be at least 40 inches tall.

Full moon climbs also are available here for $15 (including light snacks) or $10 per person. Reservations are suggested. Call for dates and other details: 850-927-7744 or toll free at 888-927-7744. Visit the website at stgeorgelight.org.

Cape San Blas Lighthouse

A sadder fate, at least for now, has been visited upon the Cape San Blas Lighthouse, located about 30 miles farther west.

It and its predecessors near the town of Port St. Joe also struggled for well more than a century against the ravages of nature. Frequently rebuilt and relocated, the lighthouse and two accompanying buildings eventually came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Air Force, which controls much of Cape San Blas and uses a facility there to track flights from nearby Air Force bases.

Alas, in October 2012, the Air Force ordered the 101-foot-tall, 131-step lighthouse – the source of much local pride in Gulf County and a popular magnet of tourists – closed with just 10 days notice.

"It's sad to see everything go," said Beverly Mount-Douds, the longtime Cape San Blas "Lighthouse Lady," who pretty much ran the place. "Kids today, they're not going to know anything about lighthouses or fire towers or drawbridges. We should be sharing the history of these places with our children. That's what it's all about."

She and her colleagues in some local groups are trying to raise money to acquire the tower and its buildings and move them to a safer location.

Meanwhile, you can still see the top of the tower from Cape San Blas Road (details just below) and inventive visitors who don't mind walking a mile or so along the beach can get pretty close to what, for the moment, is a phantom lighthouse. In addition, the gift shop has been moved to the Old Maddox House in Port St. Joe, right along the coast at 105 Captain Fred's Place.

In other words, it's not over yet.

"We're going to keep fighting," Mount-Douds said, looking a recent visitor directly in the eye. "I'm the Lighthouse Lady – and I will continue being it."

If you go: From either the east or west, take U.S. 98 and turn toward the Gulf on County Road 30A, which hugs the coast as you approach Cape San Blas. Turn onto Cape San Blas Road and follow it toward the lighthouse. As you approach the bend, you can spot the tower soaring above the tree line. Learn more at capesanblaslight.org and lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=591.

Continue reading Shining a Light on the Past: The Endangered Lighthouses of Florida's Forgotten Coast »

Run from Zombies through a Dade City Obstacle Course

Have you been suffering from boredom? Are you bogged down by ordinary life? Would you die to snag a little excitement?

If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘yes,’ I’ve know of an event with your fang marks written all over it.

The Zombie 5 K features wooded trails, murky swamps and adrenaline-spiking obstacles, all of which you navigate while being chased by flesh-starved Zombies. You can embark on this adventure at Little Everglades Ranch (17951 Hamilton Rd., Dade City, Fla., 33523) Dec. 22, 2012.

Be Zombie Bait

Being bait means being a runner. You’ll start with three flags, each representing a "life." Cross the finish line with at least one flag intact to secure bragging rights among all of your buddies.

Be a Zombie

If you prefer to hunt instead of being hunted, become a member of the Zombie Horde. You’ll adorn yourself in flesh-eating fashion – compliments of the event's expert make-up team or by using your own devices – and stalk runners in one-hour shifts. You’ll be eligible to run the course once you’ve fulfilled your deadly duty.  ​

Have Fun

All registrants receive T-shirts with optional blood spatters, finisher's medal and entry to the post-race Apocalypse party, a celebration complete with live music, food and free beer.

Good News

It turns out even zombies have a heart. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Moffitt Foundation of Tampa Bay and the Shriners Hospital for Children.

Sounds like a killer event to me!

Continue reading Run from Zombies through a Dade City Obstacle Course »

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center Is Primeval Florida in Modern Boca Raton

Boca Raton. A gilded stretch of southeast Florida's Gold Coast. World-class restaurants and shops. Millionaires in their luxury-mobiles. Yachts that could have their own zip codes.

Yet hidden away on an isolated stretch of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway is a spot that is still primeval Boca Raton. It's Boca the way it was before anyone moved here – preserved in its original natural state.

The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is an outstanding research, educational and just-plain-fun place. Here, in a sub-tropical paradise encompassing an incredible variety of ecosystems and plant and animal life, the land still looks as it did a million years ago.
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On the half-mile boardwalk winding through a forest, you'll quickly come to the reason for the Center's name. The forest is filled with gumbo limbo trees, distinguished by their flaky red bark. This tree is native to South Florida (the Center wages a vigorous campaign to keep non-native vegetation out), and it has a wonderful propensity, when branches fall off, to fertilize the area around it – thus supplying more gumbo limbos for the future.

Believe it or not, you've probably sat on some gumbo limbo trees; historically, they've been used for carousel horses.

This forest, though, has much more than just gumbo limbos. It's filled with wildlife, including skinks (a type of lizard), gray foxes, squirrels, crab spiders, raccoons, red-bellied woodpeckers and other birds. There are hammock trees and paradise trees and salt-water-tolerant red mangroves, which the Native Americans called "Walking Trees." (When you see them, you'll know why.) There are ficus trees, called "Strangler Palms," because their voracious root systems have a tendency to strangle any other tree unfortunate enough to be alongside them. And, if you look closely, you'll see many crab burrows in the ground.

In you're wandering through the forest, keep a sharp lookout for grayish soil where the trees seem cleared away. These are ancient Indian "middens" – basically trash piles dating back as much as 10,000 years, and filled with fossilized sea turtle bones, oysters and conchs.

There's an aquarium here, too, including guppies, sharks, seahorses (the males have the babies), sergeant majors, chained pipefish, parrotfish, barracudas and blowfish, and all manner of shelled creatures, among them, of course, lobsters, which can live for 200 years.

A research center staffed by students from nearby Florida Atlantic University concentrates on studies of South Florida's cherished – and endangered – sea turtles.

There's also a butterfly garden where you can see 15-20 brilliantly colored species, and outdoor tanks with reefs and reef life. You can get a bird's-eye view of the grounds – as well as the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other – by climbing to the top of the 40-foot observation deck.

"The Nature Center was started by a high school marine science teacher named Gordon Gilbert in the early 70s," said Dr. Kirt Rusenko, Marine Conservationist at the Center. "Where others saw just empty scrubland here, he had a vision of a thriving nature center that would bring the community together. Now, we have 120,000 visitors a year. And Gordon Gilbert still sits on the board of directors."

The sea turtles are the stars of the show here. There's a conservation and research program, and a hospital for turtles that have been ravaged by disease, or mangled by fishing lines or, more commonly, sharks. It's poignant to come in close contact – as you will – with the patients here, many of whom are missing a limb or part of their shells.

These giant turtles – Loggerheads, Leatherbacks and Greens – have been coming ashore here for ages to lay their eggs, from March through October. As far back as 1977, the City of Boca Raton enacted a lighting ordinance to protect the turtles, which can become disoriented by city lights, causing them to wander off the beach and into harm's way. Five miles of beach across the street from Gumbo Limbo are protected nesting grounds.

In the FAU Research Center here, college students conduct ocean and climate studies and keep careful logs of growth and migration patterns in a facility with hundreds of newly hatched sea turtles. It's important because mother turtles don't have a bonding connection with their young. Once the hatchlings are out, the mother's gone. And that may help explain – along with predators such as foxes or sharks – why only one of every 10,000 hatchlings makes it to adulthood.

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center stages "Turtle Walks" three times weekly, during which you can see nesting loggerheads. In 2012, some 994 Loggerheads, 116 Greens and 35 Leatherbacks had been hatched by the end of the season in late-October. The few that make it to adulthood may live as long as 100 years. Gumbo Limbo can track them, too, by attaching satellite tags fueled by solar cells.

Interestingly, the sex of a hatchling is determined by the temperature of the sand, not genetics; the higher the temperature, the higher the percentage of females. It doesn't take a scientist to realize, with global warming escalating, this can have dire consequences for the survival of this species.

As long as there's a Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, though, the sea turtles – and a wide variety of other sea life – will have an ally in their corner. And you'll have a great place to visit.

If You Go

What: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
Where: 1801 N. Ocean Boulevard, Boca Raton
Phone: 561-544-8605
Web: gumbolimbo.org
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Closed on major holidays.
Admission: Suggested $5 donation per person

Steve Winston has written or contributed to 17 books. His articles have appeared in major media all over the world
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Continue reading Gumbo Limbo Nature Center Is Primeval Florida in Modern Boca Raton »

Photo: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center aquarium, Boca Raton

One of the aquarium residents at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.

Continue reading Photo: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center aquarium, Boca Raton »