Archive for August, 2012

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.

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Arcadia Opera House Lures Hunters of Ghosts and Antique Rarities

Arcadia – The rambling Arcadia Opera House looks like it could hide a few ghosts.

“I’ve never seen one myself, but there have been quite a few sightings,” says proprietor James Crosby, who has owned the 1906 building for two years. Indeed, a haunt-hunting team from Bravo Television stalked spirits there and a program is scheduled to air this fall, Crosby said.

Museum pieces from the turn-of-the-century theater add a nostalgic touch – or an eerie one, if the observer is particularly sensitive.

But the Opera House’s big draw is its huge selection of antiques spread over 14 rooms in the two-story building’s 9,000 square feet. Furniture from New England, clothing from decades back, tools from your grandfather’s box and glassware from all over are among the vintage items. There’s a 1923 Victrola and an RCA Victor Consolette from a later era – and there is an extensive vinyl album collection.
Madame Zoltar, a version of the animated Gypsy fortune teller once found in arcades, adds a proper touch to what Crosby calls the Bizarre Bazaar, which offers literally hundreds of items for sale.

For a quarter, customers can turn on the band organ, an old-school county-fair type of instrument that plays automatically and is designed to sound like a multi-piece band. A sign on it says: “Infamous ‘horn machine’ has driven thousands crazy since 1918. Now it’s your turn.’” 

Crosby said he takes some items on consignment and he also rents space to vendors. The charge is generally $100 to $200 for a room, depending on its size, plus 10 percent of the vendor’s take.

The Opera House, built the year after a 1905 fire destroyed most of Arcadia’s downtown, anchors the city’s historic district. About 3,400 acres containing 293 historic buildings comprise the neighborhood, which was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Several blocks of antique stores make it a picker’s paradise. The dealers association offers an “antique fair” on the fourth Saturday of each month; it sometimes draws more than 100 independent dealers.

Two bed-and-breakfast sites offer neighborhood accommodations and there are several restaurants, including the 83-year-old Wheeler’s Café with its pie specialties. (The author’s favorite was the butterscotch peanut butter.)

Arcadia itself is a trove of history. It was a focal point of the 19th century Florida cattle industry and, at one time, had a reputation as a wild and wide-open cow town. Range wars erupted and sometimes spilled across the town’s dusty streets. One historian wrote that as many as 50 fights a day took place; one is recalled as causing the deaths of four men.

The Opera House probably did not see any of the Old West-style violence. But it became a magnet after the 1905 Thanksgiving Day fire that started in a livery stable. Only two buildings survived.

Soon afterward, John J. Heard built the Opera House, establishing the second-floor theater over the Florida Loan and Trust Company. It was used for both silent movies and “talkies,” political events, school graduations, dances and a USO operation during World War II. The stage and balcony are preserved, along with theater bills and paraphernalia. None of the museum pieces is for sale.

Among other items, a circuit board for the original stage lighting remains. A klieg light dating from the early 1900s was used to provide the light needed to expose early film. The original wooden cylinder used to crank up the stage curtain still is present.

Not all the museum items are related to the theater or old movies. A metal contraption resembling a bomb is labeled as “the first guided missile.” The thing has a saddle and handlebars mounted on it, and is addressed to “the Kaiser,” a reference to the German leader during World War I.     

Perhaps the most unusual piece is a fancy surrey sitting center stage. It’s a 1902 Deere and Webber – and you can almost see the shade of John J. Heard sitting atop it.

If You Go

Arcadia Opera House
106 West Oak Street
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Phone: Call James Crosby at 941-456-5602

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The Ancient Spanish Monastery: Miami's Passageway to Medieval Europe

Miami’s known for many things. But 12th-century monasteries are not one of them.

Yet amid the urban bustle of North Miami Beach sits a piece of medieval Europe: the Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery.

Walk inside the gate to these beautiful green grounds, filled with gardens, walkways and statues, and the monastery doesn’t seem out of place at all; it’s in splendid harmony with its surroundings. Here, the 21st century seems a million miles away.

Everything about the monastery says “medieval.” Lanterns on the garden paths. Statues and fountains. Stained glass. Carved ceilings, columns and arches. Sacramental stone tables. A bell tower. Colorful coats of arms adorning the cloisters. Heavy wood strongboxes. The air of spirituality seeps from every crack in the stone and from every little alcove.

So, how did this piece of medieval Spain get to Miami?

Construction on the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux began in Sacramenia, in the province of Segovia, in 1133. It took 11 years to build and was occupied by monks for the next 700 years. In the midst of social upheaval in the 1830s, the cloisters of the church — covered passageways of arched-stone — were sold and converted into a stable.

In 1925, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst visited the monastery. Hearst — as anyone who’s been to his “castle” in California knows — was a lover of European culture and history. He fell in love with the ornate cloisters and purchased them.

The 800-year-old structures were then dismantled stone by stone. Each was numbered, packed in hay and shipped to the United States in 11,000 boxes. At the time, however, there was a serious hoof-and-mouth outbreak in Spain. Fearing the hay carried the disease, the Department of Agriculture broke open the boxes and burned the hay upon the shipment’s arrival in New York.

It took 23 men and three months to open the boxes (which contained seven tons of nails) and remove the stones. After the hay was burned, they put the stones back in the boxes — but not the matching ones.

Then the Great Depression hit, and Hearst fell into financial trouble and was forced to sell his collection. The stones sat in a Brooklyn warehouse for 26 years until 1952, when Miami businessmen William Edgemon and Raymond Moss decided to buy them and turn them into a tourist attraction in North Miami Beach.

It took 19 months to ship and reassemble the Cloisters at a cost of $1.5 million. But things didn’t work out as Edgemon and Moss had planned.

Because Dixie Highway was at the time the only way to get from Miami to the Keys, Edgemon and Moss figured the road would make the Cloisters a major draw, says Gregory Mansfield, who ministers to the congregation at the attached St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church. But when U.S. 1 was built, “suddenly they were stuck with a tourist attraction on a road with no tourists.”

They lost their shirts on the deal and sold the Cloisters to the Episcopal Church for pennies on the dollar.

Now, the structures are studied by everyone from artists to historians to writers to architects. The latter, in particular, are fascinated to find two architectural styles.

Construction began in Romanesque style, but some monks who had traveled to France became enamored with the Gothic architecture in vogue there.

“When they returned, they asked the architects to use that style,“ Mansfield says. “But the architects weren’t familiar with Gothic, so the monks sent them to France to study it. And when they came back, they finished up the already Romanesque cloisters in a Gothic style!”

If the walls here could talk, they’d have nearly 900 years of stories. The tranquil property is popular with local artists and has become a sought-after wedding spot.

The congregation of St. Bernard de Clairvaux is reflective of Miami — one-third black, one-half white and one-third Hispanic. And the nationalities represented here include Polish, Iranian, French and Haitian.

“We feel that these grounds don’t belong only to us,” Mansfield says. “We have a responsibility to share this special place and to preserve it for future generations.”

If You Go

The Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery, 16711 West Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach, is open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday  and 11 a.m – 4 p.m. Sunday. Regular admission is $8, $4 for seniors and military members, free for children under 4. The monastery sometimes closes for special events, so call ahead to confirm hours at 305-945-1461. Visit for more information.

Steve Winston has written/contributed to 17 books. His articles have appeared in major media all over the world.

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Nature’s Wonders Kids Program: Be Amazed

Nature’s Wonders is the coolest kids club I’ve ever seen. Your children, ages 5 to 12, are going to have the most fascinating day – collecting coquinas to feed crabs, learning about sharks and loggerheads, taking nature and beach walks, peering into microscopes…you’re going to feel so good as a parent for sending your kids here! (And wait till your child starts telling you how that seashell got that perfectly round hole, or why that plant is vital to Florida’s sensitive ecosystem.) No kidding.

You’ll find Natures Wonder’s at the Ritz-Carlton Naples, and it’s led by certified Florida master naturalists. We had Ranger Randy, and we all fell in love with him. There are half- and full-day programs, but once you walk in, you’ll choose a full-day without doubt.

There are 11 aquariums with sharks, crabs, turtles, alligators and eels; amazingly brilliant and hands-on displays; Nature Vision Theater; kids’ size lab with microscopes…do I have to leave? Can I join the fun? It’s that good. In fact, Nature’s Wonders is American Camp Association®-accredited.

For more info about Nature’s Wonders and the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, log on to their website or call 239-514-6001. Tomorrow, I'll tell you all about where teens can hang out, at vue.

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Photo: Arcadia Opera House

The Arcadia Opera House was home to a department store when this photo was taken between 1984 and 1996.

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Exploring Cracker Trail Country: Where Old Florida Endures

Cows, orange groves, country roads and old-fashioned downtowns. That’s the Florida you find when you get off the highway and head into the rural area above Lake Okeechobee.

It’s not the Florida of beaches and high rises. It’s slower, quieter and older, and that’s why some seek it out. You can discover gracious hotels built 100 years ago, where rooms go for $70 a night, or explore one of Florida’s oldest state parks with trees so grand that area residents wanted it to be a national park.

To discover this part of Florida, you take the Cracker Trail, a road Florida’s pioneers used during the early 1800s to move cattle to ports along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast. Today, the Cracker Trail spans parts of State Road 66, State Road 64 and U.S. Highway 98. It runs 120 miles east-west from Fort Pierce to Bradenton. Here’s a map.

For 25 years, adventurous Floridians have brought history to life during the last week of February, crossing the state on horseback in the annual re-creation of the Cracker Trail Ride. Their ride takes days, but you can organize your own Cracker Trail tour via a day trip by car. Here are seven stops on or near the Cracker Trail that help you discover a forgotten Florida.

Stop 1: Highland Hammocks State Park near Sebring

Highland Hammocks became a park in 1931, four years before there was a Florida state park system, because area residents campaigned for the land to be preserved. Improvements were made during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the CCC story is now told in a charming small museum in the park.

Sarah Taylor, a Realtor from Port St. Lucie, finds a respite from city life by camping and hiking at Highland Hammocks State Park, which eventually became one of the four original Florida state parks.

“I love the place,” Taylor says. “You are just enveloped in nature. With the old oaks and huge towering cypress trees, it is just gorgeous.“

Highland Hammocks is terrific  for bicycling and hiking. “There is a great paved loop that winds under the huge oak hammock trees and will keep you shaded,” Taylor says.

Many short walking trails wait to be explored, but the most memorable is the Cypress Swamp Trail, which starts as a boardwalk and eventually narrows to a “catwalk” series of planks over the swamp.

“I remember going here as a kid and being scared out of my wits on this trail,” Taylor says.  “But as an adult, it seems shorter and less intimidating.”

One of the park’s more popular activities is a free, ranger-led one-hour tram tour into remote areas, where visitors will see alligators, turtles and wading birds. Tours are scheduled at 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.  Saturday and Sunday. (Availability may vary according to staffing and seasonal demand.)

Highland Hammocks State Park
5931 Hammock Road, Sebring
Four miles north of the Cracker Trail

Stop 2: Henscratch Farms Vineyard and Winery

Henscratch Farms is a funky little Southern-style vineyard and winery. The wines are sweet "country-style," from native muscadine and scuppernong grapes, and may not appeal to sophisticated palates. But it's worth having a taste and enjoying the farm's ambiance.

Families love the friendly hens and roosters — Rhode Island Reds and Barred Plymouth Rocks varieties — that wander the farm, where you also can say hello to a pig and, depending on the season, pick strawberries from hydroponic towers. Strawberries are available December to April; blueberry season is April and May. Every August, Henscratch holds a “grape stomp.”

Henscratch Farms
980 Henscratch Road, Lake Placid
About three miles south of the Cracker Trail

Stop 3:  Historic hotels in Avon Park and Sebring

Two of the small towns off the Cracker Trail have historic hotels. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places and each is reasonably priced with a unique story.

The Hotel Jacaranda in downtown Avon Park has been hosting guests and serving meals every day since it opened in 1926. It has welcomed Babe Ruth and Clark Gable as guests, housed hundreds of military pilots during World War II and was home base to dozens of St. Louis Cardinals during baseball spring training. Today, you’re likely to find members of the Ret Hat Society meeting for lunch and visitors lining up for the Sunday Grand Buffet.

One reason the Hotel Jacaranda still is going strong is that, in 1988, it was purchased by South Florida State College, which operates it and uses one wing as a dorm.

The expansive lobby is a step back in time, with paintings by the Florida Highwaymen on the walls, an old piano played daily during winter season and an antique writing desk.

The rooms — rates start at $70 a night in season — are reached by an old-fashioned elevator operated by an attendant and are decorated with quilts and feature picturesque old-time plumbing fixtures.
The Jac is a bargain for lunch, too, with a dozen choices at $6.29. (We recommend the  homemade potato chips as a side!)

Ten miles away, the Kenilworth Lodge was built in 1916 by George Sebring, who founded the town that bears his name  and that he hoped would become a utopian community. The Kenilworth was a seasonal hotel, open in winter. George Sebring was friends with the president of the Seaboard Atlantic Railway, and every train stopped in Sebring. The Mediterranean Revival-style hotel has a grand staircase and a 4,000-square-foot lobby.

Today, it offers comfortable, moderately priced rooms and has found a special niche among bicyclists, who use it as a base for several bicycle-touring events each year. Wally Vickers comes every Labor Day to join hundreds of bicyclists who stay at the Kenilworth to participate in the annual Tour of Sebring.

“I look for areas to ride that have low traffic volume and that is what first attracted me to Sebring,” Vickers said. “What keeps me coming back is the Highland Pedalers Bicycle club and the Kenilworth Lodge.”

The Kenilworth is located on Lake Jackson, and a drive or bike ride around the little lake takes you past historic buildings and scenic views.

Hotel Jacaranda
19 E. Main Street,  Avon Park
15 miles north of the Cracker Trail on U.S. 27.

The Kenilworth Lodge
1610 Lakeview Drive, Sebring
For GPS navigation systems, enter 836 SE Lakeview Dr, Sebring, FL 33870
Five miles north of the Cracker Trail on U.S. 27

Stop 4: Lake Placid’s murals

The town of Lake Placid has a novel way of sharing its history – on its walls. With a population of about 2,200 and 44 wall murals decorating its downtown, Lake Placid may win the prize for most murals per capita.

The Winn-Dixie at Route C-621 & US Highway 27 in Lake Placid, for example, is bursting with pictures of cattle and cowboys. The painting of the Florida Cracker Trail ride is 175 feet wide and 30 feet high. The Lockhart Service Center on Interlake Boulevard has a 60-foot wide mural of caladium fields because Lake Placid grows 95 percent of the world’s caladiums, a colorful landscaping plant.

The best way to see the murals is to start at the Lake Placid Chamber/Mural Gallery, located at 18 N. Oak St. and open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., except holidays. A 10-minute video answers most visitor questions. You can buy a mural tour book for $3. It provides a little history and a hint about a “hidden” feature each artist incorporated into their murals. Here’s a three-minute video about the mural project.

Lake Placid is 10 miles south of the Cracker Trail on U.S. 27.

Stop 5: A ghost town on the Kissimmee River

There’s not a lot left here except memories. Fort Basinger sat on the east side of the Kissimmee River, and all that’s left is a historic marker and the Lockett estate on the west side of the river.

Fort Basinger was settled after the Civil War, a cowboy community with hotels, stores and a post office into the early 1900s. Its heyday was when steamships traveled the Kissimmee River and stopped there.
The evocative 120-year-old Lockett estate on the west side of the river was home to the pioneer Pearce family, built by an 1870s cattleman and steamboat captain, John Mizell Pearce. Three generations lived in this grand old house, with the last being a colorful woman named Edna Pearce Lockett, a lifelong rancher and one of the first women elected to the Florida Legislature.

Stop 6: Zolfo Springs and the Cracker Trail Museum

The Cracker Trail Museum is a collection of old buildings from around Hardee County — a cabin, an old blacksmith's shop, a 1914 wood-burning locomotive, two buggies. In this part of Florida, families go back several generations and the museum is a way for residents to preserve the stories of their grandparents. Fortunately, there’s a lot to see without entering the museum, which is not open on weekends. The museum is part of Pioneer Park on the Peace River, which offers camping, boat ramps and picnic areas.

The Cracker Trail Museum
2822 Museum Drive, Zolfo Springs

Stop 7:  Paynes Creek Historic State Park

A few miles north of the Cracker Trail is a quiet park so far off the beaten path that you won't have to share it with many others.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park marks the site of a fort from the Seminole War era. The park preserves lovely little Paynes Creek, which flows into the Peace River. It's fun to walk across the bouncy suspension bridge and gaze into the clear creek and cypress forest.

The historic part of the park is a monument placed in 1895 to commemorate the deaths of two settlers at the hands of Seminole Indians. The story is told in a well-done museum that adds a modern perspective.

Payne’s Creek Historic State Park

888 Lake Branch Road, Bowling Green
10 miles north of the Cracker Trail on SR 17

The Cracker Trail itself is a two-lane road across the state — a low-key scenic route past fields of grazing cattle, moss-draped live oaks, orange groves and old wooden buildings with rusting tin roofs. The speed limit is 60 miles per hour and there are few people or houses along the route.

It’s a trip through a Florida many thought was long gone — but is still well worth seeing and experiencing..

Additional resources for planning a visit to Cracker Trail country:

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Welcome Otters! Central Fla Zoo Adds New Exhibit

My first encounter with an otter was when one jumped in our boat while we were docked at Barnacle Phil's near Captiva. The little weasel-like critter was trying to pry open our cooler (as soon as we stepped off the boat for lunch)! Well, needless to say, he got all my Fritos and I've been in love with these clever land/water characters ever since.

That's why I’m excited to tell you that the fabulous Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is opening a brand new exhibit, featuring the North American river otter – they'll have two to entertain you.

So, if you're going to be anywhere near the lovely town of Sanford or Orlando on Saturday, Sept. 1st at 10 a.m., drive over for the show! That's when the new North American River Otter Exhibit will have its grand opening.

Insider tip: wear comfortable shoes becuase there are 400 animals to see at the Central Florida Zoo (must be 402 now!), spread over a whopping 116 acres! You'll love it – and I bet you'll love these otters. I also hear the Zoo may be adding an African Safari on 16 acres of adjacent land. Stay tuned!

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Labor Day at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate

I can’t believe Labor Day is practically here. Where did summer go? If you’re looking for a last minute Labor Day getaway that’s inexpensive and great for all ages, look at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate.

They have a summer special with rates starting at only $119 a night. And you get 20 percent off a three-night stay or longer. This summer special runs through September 3, 2012 and look at just some of the activities they’re offering:

  • Weekend Splash Parties
  • Glow-in-the-Dark Wacky Golf
  • Dive-In Movies
  • Family Sushi Rolling
  • Teen Spa Afternoons
  • Frozen Poolside Treats

In addition, they have an 850-foot lazy river, Greg Norman-designed golf courses, luxurious poolside cabanas, a European-style spa, several restaurants from sushi to Italian – (parents can have quite the end-of-summer blast here, too)!

Ready to party Omni style? Call 407-390-6664 or find them online. Be sure to get in that long, lazy river and let your worries float away. Happy Labor Day!

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Curry Hammock State Park Takes Third Place In The Nation

Exciting news coming out of Marathon in the Florida Keys – Curry Hammock State Park won third place in “America’s Favorite Park” 2012 contest!

The competition was fierce with over 16,000 national, state and local parks in the running but they received more than 8.2 million votes – and a $25,000 recreation grant from the Coca-Cola Live Positively initiative. (They’ll use the money to enhance their activity areas so we can all enjoy even more!)

If you haven’t been to Curry Hammock, it’s at mile marker 56.2 in the Middle Florida Keys, and there are lots of great activities like canoeing, kayaking and hiking. You can also see tons of birds, go kite-boarding, camp or just have a picnic in one of the shelters overlooking the Atlantic.

Fall and winter are ideal to visit Curry Hammock State Park. They’ll also be the headquarters of the annual Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival, Sept. 25-30. Congrats to Curry Hammock!


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Clearwater Dolphins – Pod of 50!

Fifty dolphins in one location? Bring your camera and head to Pier 60 in Clearwater! You’ll see the most colorful, creative dolphins hand-painted and brightly decorated by local artists.

The project is brought to you by the Clearwater Regional Chamber and the City of Clearwater as a way to bring attention to these beautiful creatures, especially the most famous dolphin of all, Winter, from the major motion picture, Dolphin Tale. After you see The Pod at Pier 60, head over to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to see Winter in person!

You can view The Pod of 50 through September 4, 2012. You can see Winter year-round.

More on the painted dolphins

Each dolphin is 6-foot tall and weighs 80 pounds. They’re made of fiberglass and each work of art has a plaque with the artist’s name and the sponsor. I can’t wait to see these works of art, how about you?


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