Travel Articles

Take the Road Less Traveled

Sometimes, it is better to live life outside the fast lane. The next time you visit Florida, hop off the interstate and take the road less traveled. Among the canopy roads, scenic highways, historic districts and national parks you will find the heart of the Sunshine State, a heart that keeps the historical secrets of Florida and can only be found by those who know where to look.

The Tamiami Trail Scenic Highway begins in Naples and leads its passenger through fifty miles of Florida’s Everglades. Covering a small portion of the 275-mile Tamiami Trail, which connects Tampa and Miami, the scenic highway offers a view of the rich tropical environment of Florida. The landscape will tickle the senses of any passerby with bursts of color, fragrant breezes and warm sunshine.

Experience Florida’s wild side and stop by Big Cypress National Preserve, located along Tamiami Trail Scenic Highway. This 729,000-acre plot of land is home to cypress trees, ghost orchids and the endangered Florida panther. During the winter, visitors can enjoy wet-walks, canoe trips, bicycle tours and campfire programs. The preserve offers an exciting outdoor adventure for anyone interested in experiencing the untamed wonders of Florida.

Another adventure lingering along the path of the Tamiami Trail Scenic Highway is the Everglades National Park. Boasting the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the continental United States, Everglades National Park is home to abundant wildlife. For the active visitor, the park offers a wide range of activities including hiking, canoeing, fishing, camping and boat tours. Hit the trails and catch a glimpse of threatened and endangered species such as the Loggerhead Turtle, Southern Bald Eagle, American Crocodile and the West Indian Manatee in their natural habitat.

In northwest Florida, the Pensacola Scenic Bluffs Highway offers a different driving experience than South Florida’s Tamiami Trail. If saltwater and sandy beaches are more your style, this scenic highway showcases a panoramic view of Escambia Bay along Florida’s northwest gulf coast. Just off the highway is Bay Bluffs Park with its wooden boardwalks woven beneath beautiful canopies of oaks and pines. The beaches of Bay Bluffs Park feature soft waves and smooth sand tinted pink by the large bluffs of red clay. This 32-acre park offers scenic, recreational, and historical adventure along its beaches and boardwalks.

If you are seeking an educational experience, travel the Pensacola Scenic Bluffs Highway to the National Museum of Naval Aviation. Large displays outline the history of flight from the early days of the wooden airplane to the sophisticated technology of the Skylab module. Retired aviators offer guided tours through the museum and present the visitor with first-hand knowledge of aircraft and aviation. Experience the thrill of flying in flight simulators and aviation films at the adjoining IMAX Theater. The National Museum of Naval Aviation is an exciting trip for thrill seekers of all ages.

For some people, being confined to a car cramps their vacation. If this sounds familiar, you are invited to discover Florida on a walking tour through some of its most exhilarating attractions. Walt Disney World Resort is a 47-square-mile, foot-friendly theme park. Disney World encompasses four main parks: Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios and Animal Kingdom. Monorail systems allow you to travel from park-to-park without the hassle of worrying about driving directions and parking. So, drop off the car and point your toes toward the fun and magic of Walt Disney World in Orlando.

How about taking a stroll through a haunted village with pirates, wenches and Victorian ladies? If that’s your idea of a good time, visit the historic district of St. George Street in downtown Saint Augustine. This intriguing quarter is best experienced on foot with walking tours on the subject of ghosts, Spanish heritage and the Henry Flagler railroad era. The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse and the Colonial Spanish Quarter are sights that should not be missed along St. George Street. On your way to both of these attractions, stop in one of the many antique shops and art galleries that line the brick road. For a quick history lesson, take the sightseeing trolley or a horse-drawn carriage along the bay front and view the historic Bridge of Lions and Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. With its old Victorian homes, rich past and eclectic sights, downtown Saint Augustine offers a remarkable experience unrivaled by anything else found in Florida.

Old Town in Key West is another favorite among walkers. Enjoy the entertainment of talented street performers as you stroll along Duval Street. On foot, witness the whir of excitement that is the signature of Key West as clubs, bars and taverns create an ambiance of exhilaration and jubilation. If you need a rest from walking, rent a bike or hop on the Conch Tour Train. Either way, the enthusiasm of Key West will reawaken the jovial soul.

For your next trip to Florida, pick up a Worth the Drive itinerary at www.VISITFLORIDA.com to help you plan a vacation to the most exciting places in the Sunshine State. Worth the Drive features information on Florida’s scenic highways and theme tours so you can make the best of your vacation to Florida.

"For information on travel to Florida or to order a copy of VISIT FLORIDA’s free Vacation Guide visit VISIT FLORIDA’s consumer web site, www.VISITFLORIDA.com,"


Discover Fishing

With 1,800 miles of coastline, and thousands of inland water bodies, it is no wonder that Florida is the fishing capital of the world. Whether you’re fishing for the biggest, the tastiest or the feistiest, Florida offers a variety that has attracted anglers for centuries.
In Destin, more than 35,000 anglers enter the annual Fishing Rodeo (www.destinfishingrodeo.org) that lasts through the whole month of October. Halfway between Pensacola and Panama City, Destin’s shores offer competitors a seemingly endless variety, including amberjack, yellowfin and blackfin tuna, sailfish, marlin, kingfish, wahoo, grouper and red snapper. Moving east along the coast, try your luck with the tough but tasty Cobia off the beach in Panama City. Grilled or fried, the catch is definitely worth the fight.
For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, try one of North Florida’s most popular fishing styles - surfcasting from the beaches. Carrabelle, Mexico Beach, Gulf Breeze, Fort Walton Beach and virtually all the Florida islands offer great surf fishing so you can enjoy the feel of the sand between your toes. You can use any variety of bait, but for the best results, try live sand fleas, shrimp and pinfish. Another solid-ground option is to simply walk out to deeper water on one of North Florida’s many piers. Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, tarpon and redfish are just a few of the varieties that are drawn to the lights and pilings of Florida’s piers. For more information on Florida’s beaches and piers, visit www.VISITFLORIDA.com/experience/nature/fishing.
If you prefer freshwater fishing, North Florida offers some of the best locations for stripers in the state. Known as Morones because of their scientific family name, this category includes striped, sunshine and white bass. The Appalachicola River system, including the massive Lake Seminole, holds the record for the largest of all three types of stripers. Following in a close second is Lake Talquin, located just west of Tallahassee. Also notable in the region are Santa Rosa County’s Blackwater River and the Choctawatchee in Walton and Washington Counties.
Moving east, the Suwannee River boasts an incredibly large number of sturgeons – a rarity in the Sunshine State, but certainly a welcome surprise along the crook of Florida. For bream and a multitude of bass, visit any one of the many lakes and streams between Gainesville, Palatka and Ocala in North Central Florida. Popular bait choices are crickets, crankbaits and plastic lures. Don’t miss the sleek kingfish that seem to prefer Jacksonville, probably because of its warm water. These feisty fish seem to come in hordes when you offer trolled bait and lures.
Central Florida is the place for lake fishing, boasting some of the largest freshwater catches in the state. Bass is the catch of every day, with a multitude of lakes spanning in every direction from Orlando, including Lake Butler near Kissimmee or Lake Alfred just east of Lakeland. Also in Central Florida, Disney World is a surprising haven for an enormous bass population that has adjusted to the noise of boats and crowds. For more information on Florida’s freshwater bass fishing, visit floridafisheries.com/updates/bass2005.html.
While in Central Florida, don’t overlook the many saltwater fishing options that are available. Celebrated as the "Redfish capital of the world," the Orlando area, with its Indian River Lagoon system, holds the record for several prize redfish. The population has grown quite large in this area, due to the mud-grass bottom and the waterway that is almost totally enclosed. Tarpon are also prevalent in the middle areas of Florida, with hot spots off of St. Petersburg. Nicknamed the Silver King, this fighter fish has been known to reach 200 pounds! Also worth a fight are the sailfish that gather just a few miles offshore in Stuart. The contours of the bottom and the strong current draw hundreds of baitfish and the large sailfish simply flock.
South Florida’s salt waters include such delicacies as bonefish, grouper and snapper. Islamorada in the Keys is home to some of the largest bonefish in the country. The best approach is to look for flats with plenty of shrimp, crustaceans and worms, the prey of hundreds of hungry bonefish. Grouper and snapper are best at any of the wrecks and artificial reefs off the Miami coast. Test your strength against mangrove and yellow snapper, as well as gag and black grouper. With a little luck, you might even run into the frightening Cubera snapper, with its impressively sharp teeth, or the infamous giant grouper, weighing over 200 pounds. Either way, you won’t leave unsatisfied.
The beaches at Fort Myers and Sanibel have been named the Tarpon capital of the world, with Boca Grande giants weighing in at 150-200 pounds. Also, don’t forget the adventurous Gulf Stream, where the deep blue waters attract such challenging game fish as the blue marlin, wahoo, sailfish, dophin, kingfish, swordfish, blackfin and yellowfin tuna and massive sharks. Trolling is the best option, but in the past few years, more and more anglers are trying their hands at offshore fly fishing.
"For information on travel to Florida or to order a copy of VISIT FLORIDA’s free Vacation Guide visit VISIT FLORIDA’s consumer web site, www.VISITFLORIDA.com,





Just Champion (‘s Gate)

Having accepted the task of writing a golf review in the wake (no pun intended!) of Tim’s boat fishing review in the last Newsletter, it was difficult to know quite where to start – Central Florida has so many holes in it it’s a wonder it doesn’t sink! A golfers delight indeed. Maybe that’s why we have the villa!

The obvious starting point is the Mouse house. The 99 holes here are enough to keep any golfer amused. Home to the PGA Tour’s Disney Classic, the Palm and Magnolia courses play host to Tiger Woods and pals each October. The 6th hole on Magnolia is home to one of the largest hidden Mickeys in WDW in the shape of a mouse shaped greenside bunker. Designed by Joe Lee, both courses are very long but in common with most US courses, several sets of tees provide a fair test for all standards of golfer. Service is of the usual (superb) Disney standards.

Another (not-so-well) hidden Mickey is the putting green at the Bonnet Creek clubhouse, which is shared by the Eagle Pines and Osprey Ridge courses. Designed by the renowned Pete Dye and Tom Fazio respectively, the courses are both stunning, Osprey in particular. The first few holes are relatively easy then wham! Hole after spectacular hole awaits. One of the strong points of the Disney courses is the absence of houses. You really feel at home with nature and wildlife is in abundance. On recent visits I’ve come across plenty of deer, armadillo, alligators and a whole host of feathered friends. The Bonnet Creek clubhouse incidentally, serves delicious pre- or post golf meals.

The delightful Oak Trail offers two unusual golfing offerings for Florida. One is that the course is just nine holes and the other is that walking is allowed. A perfect place for a quick nine and a great course to let beginners or less experienced players play for fun.

The US27 area is also a happy hunting ground for golfers. Champion’s Gate isn’t just Publix! Home to two distinctive Greg Norman courses and the David Leadbetter Academy, Champion’s Gate oozes class. The experience starts at the bag drop and continues on at the manicured range where Callaway balls await, stacked neatly in pyramids ready to be launched away into blue Florida sky. The International course resembles a British links in design and the National a more typical US style layout. Both have a GPS system on the golf carts with more information presented than your brain can process (hole diagrams, yardages, pro tips etc) but come into their own when approaching the 9th holes. A food and drink menu appears on screen for the hungry golfer to select items ready to be collected on their way past the clubhouse!
The Leadbetter Academy is state of the art. Lessons here are not cheap but are worth every cent. The worlds best professionals come here to be taught by David Leadbetter himself and you can be lucky and see one or two at the Academy practising. A friend had a lesson scheduled last January and found himself hitting balls next to Lee Westwood! The piece-de-resistance at Champion’s Gate comes at sunset - sit on the veranda with a cold Bud and a Scottish piper complete with kilt will play as the sun dips over the horizon. Stunning.

The Orange County National complex exists to the north of the 192, at the US27 end. Home to a teaching academy, it also has two courses that are good enough to have played host the 2nd stage and Final Qualifying tournaments for the PGA Tour in the last two years. Very long courses if you want to play them as the pro’s do but equally playable from the forward tees. Some picturesque waterside par 3’s and elevation changes unusual for Florida make these courses special. Look out for the good value 36 hole package of greens fees that includes lunch.

North of the 192 on the US27 at Clermont is The Legends course. Reasonable green fees and hilly for Florida, the course enjoys great views in many places. Building work is ongoing but the course has great potential. It used to be a good spotting point for space shuttle launches.

South of the 192 on the US27 at Haines City is Southern Dunes. Unusual in having little water on the course, it makes up for this in its bunkering. A good test of golf with large greens, the cheap green fees make the house lined fairways more tolerable. A bizarre green at the end of the par 5 16th makes for an interesting challenge!

Next time, hints and tips for getting the (cheapest) best golf Orlando has to offer, star spotting opportunities, when to play and when not to play and more.

Jeremy Thompson



Just Champion (‘s Gate) 2

The last piece on golf explored some of Central Florida’s best places to play. This piece will hopefully give a few hints and tips on when to play, how to play cheaply and more besides.
When to play? – Good question! Florida knows full well that while most of the rest of the US and the UK freeze, it still has weather usually good enough to play in shorts and shirtsleeves. The high season is therefore January through April. March also sees the PGA Tours’ ‘Florida swing’ – a run of four weeks of tournaments in the state (Doral in Miami, The Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, The Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando and the TPC at Sawgrass, Jacksonville). The green fees are highest at this time of year but the courses are in their best condition. Expect them to be crowded too. Try twilight rates, usually after 1pm but you’ll need to play quickly to get 18 holes in before a rapid dusk sets in. To give you an example, Disney rates are $179 a round at this time of year but after 1pm are roughly $56.
Summer (May through September) is the cheapest for greens fees but the heat and humidity mean that there is every chance of you being called off the course for chance of lightning. Greens fees are dearer before 9 or 10am so you can get finished before the hottest part of the day but again twilight rates offer good value if you pick a day when the afternoon storms aren’t forecast.
In the fall, prices rise again but not as high as winter rates. Some good golf in good weather can be had this time of the year. One thing to watch out for though is overseeding – Florida’s climate lends itself to the native Bermuda grass that goes dormant once the weather cools. Courses will therefore re-seed the greens, tees, fairways and even rough with rye grass varieties early in November. The courses are thoroughly raked and scarified, heavily seeded then watered. As you will imagine, the courses are no fun to play at this time! It will take 2-3 weeks before the overseed takes and the grass is mown, so try and ask courses if and when they plan to overseed before making tee time reservations. If they are, play somewhere else!
Other times to avoid? – The obvious (US) public holidays but beware late January. The whole golf industry comes to town for the PGA Merchandise show. This four-day golf-fest takes place at the Convention Center on I Drive. All that’s new in golf is showcased and naturally, all the conventioneers want to play! Therefore the local courses are jammed and discount coupons will exclude this period for cheaper play. Blag a ticket if you can (it should be trade only) as it’s a serious golfers heaven – 12 miles of aisles of golf gear make it my idea of a Magic Kingdom!
The tournaments mean that there are opportunities to see the world’s best players in action. I was lucky enough to watch Tiger Woods play and follow him closely simply by being in the right place at the right time. How? Tiger always plays practice rounds early morning at sunrise. Buy a practice round ticket and get to Bay Hill before the sun comes up on the Wednesday before the tournament starts and you might just be lucky. Also at Bay Hill through the winter, you may just bump into the owner, Arnold Palmer. He spends his winters here and will always be about the property. If you don’t see him, ask for his office; see his secretary and a signed photo will find its (free) way to your home. How to actually get in to Bay Hill other than buy a tournament ticket? – stay in the Lodge, play the course and take in the atmosphere of one of the best private clubs in the US. Lodge rates are actually reasonable considering the quality of what’s on offer.
October sees Disney play host to the Funai Classic. Tiger will again be present as he lives in Orlando at Isleworth, so he can go home each night! Palm and Magnolia are the courses used. Disney also does a little known annual golf pass. $50 gets you a years worth of discounted greens fees, good for the holder and up to 3 guests – well worth it for a foursome on a golf trip or if you plan on playing the 99 holes at Disney a lot.
Another way of paying less for golf is to use the discounts available to Florida residents. If you have a driver’s licence or an ID card, use them! Always ask the pro shop for resident rates – they are always cheaper than the rack rate. If you plan on playing more than one round a day, try for replay rates where you’ll get a second round often for just the cart fee. (As a rule, all greens fees are inclusive of the cart and many are inclusive of pre- round range balls too).
Pick up a Golfers Guide leaflet at one of Orlando’s four Edwin Watts golf stores for discount coupons good for local courses.
More later!!
Jeremy


Boca Grande

Boca Grande is a small town on Gasparilla Island, two barrier islands north of Captiva on the Gulf Coast. It is approached by only one toll road/bridge and is described in all literature as very laid back. We found it laid back to the point that locals stand and chat in the road and you have to drive around them!!
We decided on a two nights and three day stay during our last trip to Florida in May, timed to coincide with the start of the Tarpon fishing season in the Boca Grande Pass. The pass is a three to four hundred meter inlet between Gasparilla and Pine Island to which tarpon historically migrate year after year to breed. Boca Grande Pass is THE tarpon fishing capital of the world.
The fishing was not our only reason for the trip, we wanted to take our sons to the beach and found that Boca Grande is not your typical Captiva, Sanibel or Siesta Key. It has the beautiful white sands and enough shells and sharks teeth to keep us all occupied, but not the crowds and commercialism. We could have easily gone into the sea had we wished, but we were rather conscious of the sharks that follow the tarpon into the pass! We decided to make do with the tropical plunge pool at our accommodation for swimming.
We found our accommodation using the internet. The Anchor Inn was described as quaint, laid back, old worldly, in the middle of town and as close to bed and breakfast as you will get without the breakfast! It was $150 a night for a 1 bedroom studio apartment. As we were a party of 5 we called to double check the sleeping arrangements with the very laid back owner, and were satisfied with a double bed, double sofa bed and a rollaway for two nights.
On arrival we were disappointed with the Anchor Inn. The inside and outside needed a coat of paint, the balcony outside complete with rocker was screened for insects all around but without a door to complete the protection! The kitchen area largely resembled a shabby caravan and was stocked with all the old china, cutlery and utensils that had been upgraded in the main house. The furniture reinforced the appearance that the apartment had been stocked from thrift sales and throwaways. We later found there was not enough bedding for all the rollaways etc, the sofa bed was missing several of the springs which hold the webbing to the frame and even worse – there was a plumbing problem with the toilet. When we did complain about it we were handed a plunger which we had to use for the duration. It really begs the question – What do you expect for $150 per night? – In Orlando a lot more than we got! There were other minor problems and we did get a hefty refund. If we were to be a little uncharitable we might say that for ‘Laid back’ you could read ‘lazy’.
But Boca Grande was beautiful, low, wooden, traditional beach style buildings were the feature of the town centre. There were great drifts of sand and shells around lamp posts and traffic lights reminding one of the ferocious potential of the weather. The standard mode of transport is the golf buggy which we hired from The Pink Pony. It was raining on our first arrival, but we still enjoyed riding down to view the pass on our buggy. The children spent many an hour sitting on the buggy having adventures in the driveway!
Breakfast for the town is served in Loons on a Limb. This is a local meeting place for the Deputy Sheriff and all the men in the town. It was like eating in someone’s kitchen, and the boys were deputised as Junior Deputy Sheriffs on the way out much too their pleasure. Lunch was then available at The Loose Caboose which is within the old train station. For dinner there were several good choices, but my personal favourite was “Jams” a small Italian style eatery where we sat outside and could have been in a small Italian Village if it was not for the Golden Oldies playing in the background. Highly recommended if you get the chance.
We also had a lovely evening at the local marina in O’Bannons Anglers Grille. In honour of our location we chose fish and it was very very good. We watched as the fishermen went in and out of the marina, and a flock of pelicans slowly took off to find their dinner. If that wasn’t enough to keep us all captivated our evening was made when the most enormous yacht we had ever seen arrived to moor at the marina. Called the ‘Diana’ we speculated for days as to who could have been on board.

Elle Hubbard


Tips For Crossing America

Experience is sometimes won the hard way, and we are no exception. We had thought through many things in planning our trip across America but inevitably we learned a few lessons along the way. So for any of you that aspire to make such a trip, here are a few pointers.
First of all when planning your trip use any resources you can obtain for nothing. We are members of AAA and their free Travel Guides and maps were invaluable. I am told that if you are a member of the AA in the UK you can also get the AAA’s guides and maps for nothing, but don’t hold me to that. State tourist offices in the UK will happily also mail you brochures and maps. In addition to the AAA Travel Guides, which contain a wealth of information on hotels, we also made a point of picking up a copy of the hotel discount coupon books in each state. The Florida Homes and Travel website has a link to websites where you can print off coupons or order the books. We also always stopped at State Welcome Centers to add to our collection of free maps, guides and hotel discount books.
However a cautionary tale. Don’t get too obsessed by low hotel prices in either the AAA guide or the discount coupon books. Neither wish to upset their advertisers, so they give no hint that would alert you to hotels in questionable areas. We made this mistake in Montgomery, Alabama on the second night of our trip. The Day’s Inn looked fine and the immediate area didn’t look run down, but as soon as we were unloading our things to put them in our room we were accosted by a black man whose opening words were " Don’t worry I’m not going to rob you". He was a beggar and $5 sent him on his way, but we kicked ourselves for letting our guard down and for missing the obvious signs. What signs? We soon worked out that the better restaurant chains are never on the wrong side of town. First find the likes of Outback, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, etc., and then look at the hotels in the vicinity. We discovered that the hotel chains own guides usually list adjacent restaurants, so as we gathered them on our travels it got easier to find the right side of town. It’s like a secret code, but no one had told us.
From our earlier articles you will know that we were taking a big coolbox with us complete with our breakfast cereals, as we can’t stand a cooked breakfast every day. It proved to be unnecessary and we wouldn’t do it again. A free continental breakfast was provided by all but 4 of the 24 hotels that we stayed in. It seems to be a very common thing now. Mind you the breakfasts certainly varied, some being little more than a muffin or doughnut and a coffee, while others were lavish spreads. Including taxes we spent an average of $52 a night on a hotel, equating to about $45 a night before taxes. Apart from Monument Valley, which cost us $157 in the only hotel there, the highest we paid was $84 and the lowest was $33. In general we found that we got a much better room and a far better breakfast in a three star hotel such as Hampton Inn or Comfort Suites than in a two star property such as Ramada or Super 8, though we had good examples of both. Our worst experience was in a supposedly three star Ramada.
We preferred to make an early start so that we arrived mid-afternoon and could explore a place in daylight and be relaxed enough to search out an acceptable hotel and not worry if it took us a while. We always insisted on seeing the hotel room before we committed.
While we wouldn’t take our big coolbox again, our small one was invaluable. That and our electric kettle and mugs, etc., ensured that we could make ourselves a hot drink in our hotel room when it suited us. In the sparsely populated dessert areas our Thermos flask was also a lifesaver. We filled it with hot water before leaving each morning so we could stop and make ourselves a coffee or tea if we couldn’t find anywhere to buy one, as surprisingly often proved to be the case, even on Interstate highways. It can be a long distance between places out west and some rest areas have no toilets let alone food or drink machines. By the way it is essential to carry plenty of water or other drinks in case you were to breakdown. Police patrols are almost non-existent in the dessert so we were grateful for our trusty Tracfone that never once lost a signal. How else could you call for help if you broke down? I guess you would have to raise your car’s bonnet and hope someone stops.
We organised our clothes into three groups. With good weather an emergency set of cold weather gear stayed in the holdall in the car boot the whole trip. We had a smaller suitcase that we used for the clothes we planned to wear for the next three days. We found the weather forecasts remarkably accurate! The other case held all our other clothes. That way most nights we only needed to take one suitcase into the hotel. The dirty washing accumulated in a plastic bag in the car boot between a once a week wash. When that was due we ensured that we chose a hotel with a guest laundry. To keep the car boot reasonably tidy we also had a bin for spare shoes, and another for storing the collection of maps and travel guides that we accumulated.
We preferred to have a cold lunch, such as a sub or a salad and then have a cooked meal in the evening once our day’s travels were completed. Dinner cost us an average of $35. Lunch costs are buried in the $24 a day we spent in cash. Petrol for the 7,827 miles cost us $371 an average of less than $8 a day, something of a contrast to UK prices! The show we went to in Las Vegas, entrance fees to various things and the odd souvenir added a further $14 a day to make an average daily cost for the whole trip of $133. Owning our own car meant we didn’t have to hire one, so anyone renting would have to allow for this additional expense.

Keith Harpham