Travel and outdoors product reviews and trips


FLORIDA (Cities & Towns Follow the News)

News
Amelia Island
Apalachicola
Apopka
Aventura
Barberville
Boca Raton
Bonita Springs
Bradenton
Cape Coral

Cape Haze
Captiva
Celebration
Clearwater
Clermont
Coral Gables
Crystal River
Cypress Gardens
Daytona Beach
DeLand
DeLeon Springs
Delray Beach
Destin
Dunnellon
Estero
Flagler & Flagler Beach
Florida Keys
Fort Lauderdale
Fort Myers
Fort Myers Beach
Gulf County
Hollywood
Homosassa
Jacksonville
Jupiter
Key West
Kissimmee
Lake Buena Vista
Little Torch Key
Longboat Key
Maitland
Marco Island
|Marathon
Miami Area
Naples
New Smyrna Beach
Ocala
Orange City
Orlando
Ormond Beach
Panama City Beach
Palm Beach
Palm Coast
Pensacola
Pine Island
Polk City
Ponce Inlet
Port Orange
Port St. Joe
Port St. Lucie
Punta Gorda
River Ranch
Sandestin
Sanibel Island
Sarasota
Singer Island
St. Augustine
St. Joseph Bay
St. Petersburg
South Beach
South Walton
Stuart
Sunrise
Tallahassee
Tampa
Tierra Verde
Titusville
Vero Beach
Weston
West Palm Beach
Winter Haven
Winter Park

NEWS (Cities & Towns Follow the News)

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club Announces “SummerJazz On The Gulf” 2017 Concert Dates

New Hotel -- Alfond Inn at Rollins) Package Offers Guests an Art Immersion Experience

Check Out the Events & New Exhibits at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

The AAA Four-Diamond The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
In Southwest Florida Offering 3rd Night Free June 1 – Sept. 30, 2017

Check Out The Events at Selby Gardens

Enjoy Hiking Along the Joe Kenner Nature Trail - and Much More - at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach

DeLeon Springs State Park is A MUST year-round

Marching Across North America: Sisterhood of Aboriginal Women Artists' New Museum tour Redefining Contemporary Visions through May 7 at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum FIU

17 Big Events for Panama City Beach in 2017

Florida's Great Birding Trail

Florida's Birding Hot Spots

Do You Love Driving? Free Florida Driving Guide

Martins Restaurant at Flagler Beach a Must

Rainbow Springs State Park is a delight to visit

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is for all Ages - Especially Those who Love Mermaids and Want to See Them Perform Amazing Ballet Beneath the Water!

Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve and Recreation Center - Fantastic Place to Canoe/Kayak along the pristine Spruce Creek

Blue Spring State Park Has Everything for Everyone

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is fantastic!

DeLeon Springs State Park Is Always a Delight for Paddling, Pancakes & More

ADVENTURA

Where to Stay

Turnberry Isle Miami

Tucked away on 300 tropical acres between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Turnberry Isle Miami is a Mediterranean-style retreat with a culture of authenticity, spirited service and enriching experiences. The property is renowned for its two championship golf courses redesigned by Raymond Floyd, Celebrity Chef Michael Mina’s award-winning Bourbon Steak restaurant, three-story Spa & Fitness Center, the elite Cañas Tennis, three relaxing pools, 40,000 square feet of meetings space, beach club on the Atlantic and engaging kids camps all within reach of 408 spacious guest rooms and suites. An Autograph Collection property, Turnberry Isle Miami has a reputation for excellence.

For more information or for reservations, call 1-866-612-7739 or visit www.turnberryislemiami.com.

AMELIA ISLAND

About Amelia Island

Northeast Florida's coastal treasure, Amelia Island is a barrier island rich in colorful history and breath-taking natural beauty. Consistently ranked in the top 10 North American Islands by the readers on Conde Nast Traveler, Amelia Island offers long, beautiful beaches, abundant wildlife, and pristine waters. Upscale resorts with world-class spas, championship golf and exclusive dining blend effortlessly with a captivating collection of bed and breakfast inns and historic districts. The island is home to Fernandina Beach, once a vibrant Victorian seaport village, and now a charming downtown district of eclectic shops, attractions and eateries. Forget the everyday getaway; Come make memories on Amelia Island.

For visitor information and online planning, visit www.ameliaisland.com.

Where to Stay

The Addison--

on Amelia has received Green Lodging Certification from the State of Florida, becoming one of only a few bed and breakfast inns in Florida to obtain the certification. The 14-room Addison on Amelia maintains eco-friendly practices such as widespread use of compact fluorescent bulbs and LED lights, recycling centers in guestrooms and common areas, and a kitchen garden for herbs, greens and garnishes used at the inn. Read more about the Addison on Amelia‚s environmental policies at www.AddisonOnAmelia.com/environment. For information about the Florida Green Lodging program, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/greenlodging.

Go Yoga Goes Green

Amelia Island's Go Yoga is eco-friendly, and offers a relaxing Oxygen Bar and Lounge. For the recent renovation, Go Yoga used eco-friendly products, including low VOC paints, sustainable and renewable bamboo flooring and recycled furniture from Tibet, Vietnam and Mexico. Additionally, the new Oxygen Bar and Lounge offers visitors the revitalizing benefits of 80 percent pure oxygen combined with aromatherapy. For more information, visit www.goyogainc.com.

Elizabeth Pointe Lodge

was honored with the Donal A. Dermody White Glove Award from the Florida Superior Small Lodging Association (SSL). The White Glove Award is the SSL's highest recognition for housekeeping achievement and requires that accommodators receive a 100 percent total housekeeping score in their annual review. The 25-room oceanfront inn is one of only 80 properties in the state to earn this year's award. For more information, visit www.elizabethpointelodge.com.

Amelia Island Plantation

recently received two distinctive honors. The resort has been recognized for its commitment to excellence in the meetings industry with the 2009 Planner's Choice Award by the readers of Meetings News. Based on quality of service, Amelia Island Plantation was chosen among the best in the industry by more than 40,000 meeting, convention and incentive travel planners. Additionally, the Amelia Inn and Conference Center has been ranked a AAA Four-Diamond property, which they have received every year since 1980, making it one of the longest consecutive recipients of the prestigious award. For more information, visit www.aipfl.com.

Ritz-Carlton Completes Renovation

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island has completed construction on its $22 million ballroom expansion. The new facility brings a state-of-the-art design and 11,000 square feet of additional meeting space to the luxury property, making it one of the largest conference hotels in the region. The expansion increases the resort's available conference space to 35,000 square feet, including two sizeable function areas and a variety of smaller meeting rooms. Additional information can be found at www.ritzcarlton.com/ameliaisland.

What to See & Do

Amelia Community Theatre

The new Amelia Community Theatre, 144-seat theatre includes an outside walk-up box office, a catering kitchen, event space and a concession area. For more information, visit www.ameliacommunitytheatre.org.

Golf Club of Amelia Island

Adjacent to The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island and Summer Beach Resort, the Golf Club of Amelia Island at Summer Beach was designed by PGA Tour professionals Mark McCumber and Gene Littler. The Golf Club of Amelia Island at Summer Beach is the only PGA Tournament course on Amelia Island, and offers guests 6,696-yards of challenging, beautifully landscaped golf that winds water and marshland. For more information, visit www.golfclubofamelia.com.

Geocaching on Amelia Island

The Amelia Island Geocaching Challenge, created by the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, gives visitors a great way to explore many of the island's most popular sites by way of a high-tech, GPS-based treasure hunt. Upon check-in at any of the eight participating hotel and lodging partners, visitors can pick up an official entry form and start searching for six CVB-approved geocaches hidden in various locations around Amelia Island.

Geocaching involves the use of a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) to search for hidden containers, or geocaches, with only a set of coordinates. According to geocaching.com, there are more than 971,000 active geocaches and an estimated four million geocachers worldwide.

Visitors can start the Geocache Challenge when they stay at any of eight participating inns, hotels and resorts on the island. The entry form they receive includes coordinates for the six Amelia Island CVB geocaches, which contain coupons and other discounts they can use during their visit. Once they complete the challenge, they can return the form to receive an official certificate of completion at the Amelia Island CVB (102 Centre Street) and be registered to win a four-night stay at the Addison on Amelia, a luxurious 14-room bed and breakfast inn in downtown Fernandina Beach.

For additional information about the Amelia Island Geocaching Challenge, please visit www.geocacheamelia.com.

Where to Eat

Patty Cakes Bakery & Pastry Shop

New to Amelia Island, Patty Cakes Bakery and Pastry Shop along 4th Street in downtown Fernandina Beach is open seven days a week. With items ranging from $1 to $8, Patty Cakes Bakery offers everything from coffee and cookies to much more intricate dishes. Specializing in Italian pastry, they are known for their Cannoli and Sfogliatelle, a shell-shaped filled pasty. For more information, visit www.pattycakesflorida.com.

APALACHICOLA

As one of Florida's oldest cities, it is surely a spot for true romantics. Couples can tie the knot in one of several historic bed and breakfasts in this fishing town. The Gibson Inn, The Coombs Inn, The Consulate, Witherspoon, House of Tartts, Raney Gues Cottage ad The Bryant House, all of which provide true southern character and are a short walk from the shops, restaurants and old time soda fountain downtown. There are also five churches from the 1800s and an outdoor gazebo in Lafayette Park.

For more information check web site www.apalachicolabay.org.

APOPKA

What to See & Do

Wekiwa Springs State Park

Forty-two million gallons of crystal clear water flow each day from Wekiwa Springs into Wekiwa Springs Run. The run joins with Rock Springs Run to form the beautiful upper Wekiva River. Creeks, later known as Seminoles, are the most recent Native Americans to have lived here. Wekiwa means "spring of water" and Wekiva means 'flowing water' in the Creek language.

Within the park's 7,800 acres, 19 distinct and diverse plant communities sustain an abundance of wildlife. A meandering walk from the low, wet river swamp up to the dry sandy ridges allows visitors the opportunity to experience several aspects of natural Florida. The Wekiva River basin is home to more than 50 species of plants and animals that are listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern. the largest recognized population of the endangered star anise flourishes here. A myriad of trails through tall pines and majestic oaks allow visitors to observe some of the park's more unusual plant life, such as red buckeye, witch hazel and flowering dogwood. Also found is goldenrod, passion flower or beautyberry in bloom. Thirty-two species of fish, including largemouth bass, blue gill, pickerel, gar, sunfish and mullet thrive here. You may also see great blue herons, Florida scrub jays, ibis, egrets, moorhens, warblers, ospreys, kingfishers or limpkins - or a Florida black bear or alligator and even an American bald eagle. Don't be surprised while hiking if you come across white-tailed deer, gopher tortoises, wild turkeys or Sherman's fox squirrels.

This lovely park is definitely worth visiting, especially via canoe or kayak which my partner and I have done numerous times. Rentals are available. Immediately upon entering the park, you'll be in a world of natural beauty and can experience the same scenic wild Florida that existed when early Indians speared fish in the spring-fed creeks and stalked deer in the uplands. Swim or snorkel in the crystal clear waters of Wekiwa Springs, a constant 72 degrees year round. If you decide to paddle, you'll pass by banks edged with sabal palms, purple astors and an occasional orchid, among a myriad of other plants - in addition to alligators, river otters, turtles and gorgeous birds.

Picnic tables, grills and a playground are in a shady area east of the springhead beneath stately live oak trees. Two covered pavillions may be reseerved, and a 15-mile hiking trail winds through the flatwoods and past a backpacking campsite while a 2-mile trail links the springs and Sand Lake, a quiet fishing spot, and intersects the eight-mile horse trail. Approximately nine miles of multiuse trails can be used for bicycling, but do ask at the ranger station for a trail map before venturing out.

The Sandhill campground has 60 sites for RVs and rents and visitors can hike or canoe to primitive campsites. The primitive youth camping area may be reserved by youth organizations. Also, a Nature Center provides park information and animal displays.

The park is located at 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka; 407-884-2008. For more information contact FloridaStateParks.org.

Kayaking/Canoeing & More at Kings Landing on the Rock Springs River

My husband and I brought our kayaks to Kings Landing Loomis Adventures and once launched, had an exciting adventure throughout the 8-mile trip downstream. After paying a $10 fee for each boat, we took off from the easy but kind of smelly and muddy put-in. In less than two minutes of paddling, we were enjoying the scenery, numerous birds - including a Great blue heron, ibis and Great white egrets. Paddling was easy for about the first 4 miles as we meandering along the narrow river that is so clear you can see right to the bottom. At 4.8 miles, we came to Big Buck Campsite where we wanted to get out of the kayaks to stretch, but due to the fast current in this area, went right past it - but in time to spot a huge alligator sunning itself. At 5.4 miles - wanting to stop again - we came to Indian Mound Campsite. Alas, the current pushed us onward. After 6 miles we came to a concrete bridge, passed beneath, and, at this point, were on the gorgeous Wekiwa River and arrived at King's Landing take-out point at 8.5 miles.

Yes, our arms hurt from paddling such a long distance, but we were happy to have made the entire trip. The take-out could definitely be improved, especially for seniors like me afflicted with bad knees and arthritis - because to land, you have to either be nimble enough to place your boat verically to the ramp or be lucky enough, as we were, to have strong young men who finished the trip minutes before us to grab onto our arms and actually pull us up onto the ramp, boat and all. I'm very grateful that they were there.

The bus taking everyone back, including those of us who took their own boats, arrived promptly at 4 -- the only pick-up time of the day. The driver was courteous and lifted all the kayaks onto the trailer. Everyone was tired, but quite happy after going down river, spotting large and small alligators (we spotted 5), hearing the birds, and paddling in absolute seclusion except for a few houses at the beginning of the river.

Put-ins are free with kayak/canoe rentals as is the pick-up. To put in your own boat is $10; to be brought back to King's Landing is $10 extra. Shuttle times for pick-ups are weekdays 4 p.m.; weekends and holidays 2:30-4-5:30 p.m.

King's Landing also rents full bait & tackle, bait buckets, fishing poles, & stand-up paddle boards.

For more information contact King's Landing at 407-886-0859.

You can also opt to spend the day fishing.

AVENTURA 

The Pritikin Program

Nathan Pritikin founded a nutrition and fitness program that revolutionized the way Americans viewed healthy living.  This year, the Pritikin Program is celebrating decades of helping the world achieve better health through optimal diet and exercise.   

Nathan Pritikin defied all odds with his own life, creating his food-and-fitness plan to lower cholesterol at a time, in the late 1950s, when doctors told him it was impossible to lower cholesterol with lifestyle changes.  With his program, Nathan gave the world the ability to increase their chances of living a healthier, happier life.  The proof is in the numbers, and after 50 years, the Pritikin Program is still growing strong and out-achieving all other lifestyle-change plans on the market today.

More than 100,000 have visited the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa, now located in Aventura, Florida, where they immerse themselves in the renowned Pritikin Program of diet, exercise and education. This program offers a sound, science-based integrated approach that combines lifestyle education, structured exercise, and healthy eating that focuses on natural, nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods. The goal of Pritikin is to instill visitors with the education on how to live a healthy lifestyle on an everyday basis.

The Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa offers a number of specially-crafted packages and specials in addition to its standard week-long program. The rate for an all-exclusive 7-day stay at the Spa starts at $5,100 for a single occupancy and $3,850 per person for a double occupancy.

More information about the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa can be accessed at www.pritikin.com.

About the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa:

Today, guests can receive the full benefits of the Pritikin Program at the Pritikin Longevity Center® & Spa, a full service waterfront health resort located in Aventura, Florida, where people attend sessions led by Pritikin’s health, nutrition and fitness experts. Based on decades of scientific research, and validated in more than 110 clinical studies, Pritikin has had more than 100,000 people visit to lose weight, prevent health problems, and improve their health.  For more information, please visit www.pritikin.com.

BARBERVILLE

more soon

BOCA RATON

What to Do & See

Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum

The Boca Raton Historical Society & Museum is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to preserving the past to enrich the future. Now in its 42nd year, the Historical Society & Museum actively promotes historic preservation and education through its archival services, guided tours and educational programs. For more information or to become a member, go to www.bocahistory.org.

Boca Raton's Largest Spa - The Maui Spa & Wellness Center -

Enter a soothing Hawaiian oasis at The Maui Spa & Wellness Center. Be greeted with genuine flower leis and exotic herbal tea upon your arrival. Valued at over $3 million, this idyllic 7,000 square foot, standalone spa will become Boca Raton's paradise escape, providing patrons with authentic, holistic wellness therapies true to the island of Maui to foster total mind-body healing and pampering from within.

This state-of-the-art spa and wellness center combines eastern and western influences, offering guests 10 private spa treatment rooms, a Hana hydrotherapy room, a Kipahulu relaxation room, a full-service salon, spa retail, and a private, Asian-influenced rooftop garden amidst a Feng Shui balanced environment," explains Wentworth. The wellness aspect offers visitors the complete healing experience with the professional services of an acupuncturist, chiropractor and psychotherapist.

The Maui's exclusive Hana Room, named after the rainforest area of Maui, is a water-focused retreat inspired by the 7 sacred pools found on the Island. Two private copper soaking tubs, two wet tables for exfoliating body treatments, Deluge waterfall showers and Swiss needle showers, steam and state-of-the-art infrared saunas provide deep healing and detoxification of the body and senses. A Feng Shui designed cold plunge pool is featured in the Hana Room to refresh and awaken the body post-treatment.

Rooftop at The Maui will offer an inviting, Asian-themed garden providing a private space for guests to enjoy energizing fitness classes such as sunrise/sunset Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, and cultural Hula. A Tea Bar will also be housed here, supplying spa guests with whole leaf signature tea elixirs, combined with a light Spa cuisine menu, to complete the ultimate escape and revive the mind, body and spirit. Rooftop at The Maui presents a unique and serene backdrop for private events, spa party bookings and corporate functions.

Located at 2100 NW Boca Raton Boulevard in Boca Raton, The Maui Spa & Wellness Center is the aspiration of Gayle Wentworth, a former resident of the Island of Maui. She believes the influence of east meets western philosophy will find a balance right here in Boca Raton, Florida.

To request a current spa menu call 561-750-3500

BONITA SPRINGS

More soon

BRADENTON

The Bradenton Area is a Soaring Wildlife Destination

Want to get up close and personal with wildlife? Then check out the Bradenton Area including Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. This destination is emerging as “king of the jungle” with many family-friendly opportunities to (safely) see some of the planet’s most majestic creatures and create memories to last long beyond next winter. From turtles to manatees, gators to birds, the Bradenton Area is crawling with opportunities for families to unleash their wild sides and enjoy superb weather, nationally recognized beaches, accommodations, shopping, dining and more.

What to See & Do

The Bradenton Area on Florida’s West Coast is one of the country’s top vacation spots, popular for its sandy white beaches and Old Florida feel. However, what might come as a surprise to visitors is the rich history still ever-present throughout the destination.

From the spot Hernando de Soto landed (leading to the exploration of America more than 80 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock), to the last standing antebulleum plantation house remaining in South Florida, historic parks providing a snapshot into the past and the continued practice of the area’s most important trades: commerical fishing, The Bradenton Area takes great pride in its roots.

In springtime there are countless activities celebrating the Bradenton Area’s heritage and history are in full swing, please consider a story highlighting the Bradenton Area. The destination is the perfect spot for families in search of history, culture and reminders of Florida’s (and the South’s) past that they cannot pass up.

Undiscovered Bradenton, Florida - The Ultimate Outdoor Sporting Guide

In just a few short weeks (in a destination that is quick a non-stop flight from (LGA / GFK) away), Florida’s Bradenton Area will be gearing up for the year’s top outdoor sporting events, for which many of the world’s top professional athletes, teams and coaches will flock to Florida’s West Coast to take advantage of the world-class sporting facilities, events and training opportunities the area is becoming known for.

Racing at Andersen RacePark: Those looking for an adrenaline rush should look no further than the area’s premiere karting facility, Andersen RacePark. The 18-acre facility is a world-class karting track offering Arrive & Drive concession rental karting for ages five and up. It is also home to Andersen Racing, an international karting team that operates a racing academy that develops young drivers, enabling them perform at their highest potential. Located trackside is Andersen Promotions, owners and operator of the Mazda Road To Indy - the ladder series to the Verizon IndyCar Series! The Andersen brand has a long history of training and nurturing future IndyCar stars in the junior ranks. In fact, 20 of the 33 IndyCar drivers who started in the 2015 Indy500 are graduates of the Mazda Road To Indy program.

De Soto National Memorial

(which was authorized in 1939 by Franklin D. Roosevelt) commemorates the 1539 landing of Hernando de Soto. From here, his four year, four thousand mile journey would form the history of the United States. Its natural setting allows the public to experience the coastal mangrove environment that confronted the Spanish upon arrival.  From December through April at Camp Uzita, a living history camp, rangers and volunteers dressed in period clothing share the stories of the De Soto Expedition and Florida's Native Americans, with weapons and craft demonstrations and opportunities for visitors to try on armor or paint a Native mask. Additionally, each March, visitors of all ages can experience 500 years of Florida history in one afternoon when reenactors from all over the state portray the Spanish conquest to the present day.

The South Florida Museum

provides the perfect opportunity to learn about Florida’s rich history. It is the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast and home to 67-year-old Snooty, the world’s oldest-known manatee (and the city’s mascot), fossil evidence of Florida’s earliest mammals and marine species, the Montague Tallant collection of prehistoric and early post-contact archeological artifacts and the Bishop Planetarium.

The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park --

which preserves the historic Gamble Mansion, is the last standing antebellum plantation house in South Florida. The plantation itself was home to Major Robert Gamble and headquarters of an extensive sugar plantation. It is believed that Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin, took refuge at Gamble Plantation after the Confederacy fell, until his safe passage to England could be secured. Each March the ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy don costumes reminiscent of the era of the 1840’s through 1870’s and provide a narrative of the Gamble Mansion’s history.

Historical Parks

like Manatee Village Historical Park and Palmetto Historical Park  provide opportunities for people of all ages to learn about the history of the Bradenton Area. At the Manatee Village Historical Park, history buffs can visit a collection of restored buildings from the area’s settlement history including: 1903 Wiggins General Store, the Settlers House constructed in 1912, a “Cracker Gothic” pioneer farmhouse, a restored church, farmhouse, steam engine and more. At Palmetto Historical Park, visitors can tour the Carnegie Library built in 1914, check for mail at the 1880 Post Office, write on slates in the 1930’s Schoolhouse and try on pioneer clothing in the Cottage Museum built in 1910.

The Fishing Village of Cortez --

provides an opportunity for visitors to take a walk through the historic fishing village of Cortez, visit the old fish houses and listen to locals tell the tale of yesteryear fishing in the bays and waterways of the Gulf of Mexico. This commercial fishing community is also home to the Florida Maritime Museum, which is the perfect spot to learn more about the history and development of boatbuilding, from its simples origins to practices used in Florida today, and experience a unique culture, celebrating the traditional life of Florida’s west coast.

These are just a few of the things the Bradenton Area has to offer year-round).

Turtle Season:

Visitors to the Bradenton Area have the opportunity to share beautiful beaches with Florida’s abundant wildlife. Families visiting from May through November are able to experience “turtle nesting season.” At Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch families are welcome to shadow federally permitted volunteers on Nesting Beach Tours, by reservation only (in June and July only). After nests have hatched (in July and August), the organization also hosts nest excavation tours during which visitors observe staff analyzing nests, hatched shells and unhatched shells.

The World’s Oldest Living Manatee:

Born on July 21, 1948, Snooty was the first recorded birth of a manatee in captivity. Today, he is the world’s oldest living manatee and he resides at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, serving as the area’s mascot. Snooty’s life history has made him one of the most renowned stewards for endangered species and the environment. He is a one-of-a-kind “sea cow.” If visiting in July, visitors can join locals to ring in Snooty’s 67th birthday, an area-wide celebration! In addition to being Snooty’s home, the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum is also a second stage rehabilitation center for injured manatees.

Bird Watching: Robinson Nature Preserve in Bradenton

is an exquisite nature preserve that is a popular destination for wildlife photography and bird watching. Tucked into the corner of northwest Bradenton, it includes 487 acres of coastal saltern, marsh, and mangrove habitat. Visitors can scale the 40-foot tall observation tower for a unique bird watching experience. This habitat attracts a variety of rare wildlife: roseate spoonbills, wood storks, white pelicans, bald eagles, and least terns in their natural environment. For those wanting to learn a little more about conservation and preserving the wildlife habitat, Felts Audubon Preserve offers educational programs for children and adults and also leads advocacy efforts and participates in land conversation programs throughout Manatee County.

Air Boat and Tours:

At Myakka Park, families can climb aboard one of the world's two largest covered airboats, the "Myakka Maiden," or the "Gator Gal" for a scenic cruise on the Upper Myakka Lake. Passengers will discover what makes the Myakka unique among America's freshwater lakes and hear stories about the alligator, anhinga, and sandhill crane as they become acquainted with the variety of creatures that make their home here.

Dolphin Watching Catamaran Tours:

Kathleen D Sailing Catamarans located on both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key are a great way to catch the sunset while enjoying up close views of dolphins in their natural habitat! It’s truly the “perfect getaway.” For those wanting a little extra thrill, true sailing and adventure (sailing, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking) tours are also available.

CAPE CORAL

What to See & Do

Sun Splash Family Waterpark in Cape Coral

Will remain open seven days a week during summer break. Contact: 239-574-0448 or website www.sunsplashwaterpark.com.

Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve

Sign up for the Alligator Creek kayak trip for 40 minutes; the Caloosahatchee River paddle for 1 hour/30 minutes or the Four Mile Cove paddle for one hour/40 minutes. Please note that many of the trails start out wide and become very narrow at the end. You'll pass beneath overhanging branches in some spots to duck under and large roots to go around. The trails are feeding grounds for wildlife.

The Offshore Sailing School at South Seas Island Resort

at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island has lowered its entry level age from 12 to 9 for family units that “buy the whole boat” and offers them a discount of 18 percent off the total package cost. “Buying the whole boat” means families of up to six sail and learn privately together with a certified sailing instructor. For more information, check web site www.offshoresailing.com.

CAPE HAZE (near Tampa)

Where to Stay

Palm Island Resort

Experience old-Florda here and relax as the Palm Island Resort's wedding specialists handle all the details of the special day, including planning wedding showers, rehearsal dinners and bridesmaid's luncheons. A professional catering team is on site with a large choice of menu items, sit-down or buffet-style. One-hundred Sixty Old-Florida style villas accommodate guests who will also enjoy the five pools or spas, planned guest activities and two miles of secluded sandy beaches.

For more information call 813-630-2774 or check web site www.palmisland.com.

CAPTIVA

Where to Stay

South Seas Island Resort

On top of endless activities, warm weather and pristine white-sand beaches, South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island offers travelers great resort services and amenities, from rounds of seaside golf and island cruises, to relaxing spa services, cabana rentals by the pool, and more.

Framing two-and-a-half miles of shell-strewn beaches in Southwest Florida, South Seas Island Resort is a 330-acre resort destination village and wildlife sanctuary with boundless opportunities for adventure and relaxation. A renowned beach vacation, guests of all ages delight in on-site recreation from guided kayak tours, interactive children’s programs and sea-based educational programs, to an 11-court tennis complex, a 9-hole seaside golf course, three swimming pools, new painting and photography classes, and more.

For package reservations, please visit www.southseas.com/special-offers-en.html. For more information on South Seas Island Resort, please call 1-800-533-5553 or visit www.southseas.com.

About South Seas Island Resort:

Seemingly set adrift off the Florida Gulf Coast, South Seas Island Resort is an unspoiled haven, encompassing a wildlife preserve and two-and-half miles of shell-strewn beaches, lapped by turquoise tides. Recently recognized by MSNBC as a “Top 10 Best Place in the World to Experience Local Wildlife,” South Seas Island Resort is set on 330 unspoiled acres with a rich variety of wildlife and boundless opportunity for adventure and relaxation. The resort boasts a “Family, Nature, Comfort.” approach to hospitality, which is why generations of families have made the resort village the destination of choice for sharing treasured moments and making lasting memories. The resort offers a variety of accommodations including villas, condominiums, cottages and homes. Guests enjoy world-class shelling along the beach golf on a 9-hole executive course, the H2Whoa! Water Slides, an engaging ScoutAbout exploration program for families and a list of family-oriented water sports, activities and interactive educational programs through the Sanibel Sea School.  Ideal for events, this resort features a variety of venues and over 31,000 square feet of flexible function space.

CELEBRATION

Where to Stay

Mona Lisa Suite Hotel

The Mona Lisa Suite Hotel features 93 one- and 147 two-bedroom suites ranging in size from 704 to 1,267 square feet. The hotel's luxurious suites are elegantly furnished with comfortable living areas, fully equipped kitchens, and spacious balconies that overlook the property's spectacular infinity pool and lush Florida landscape.

Suites include a modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances, solid-quartz counter tops, nine-foot ceilings and neo-classical lighting. Using a neutral color palette of crisp whites and textured creams, the interior design concept features elegant, dark cocoa-colored furnishings with contemporary lines and stainless steel finishes. All beds are fitted with crisp, 350 thread-count, 100-percent Egyptian cotton Frette duvets and linens.

The Galerie Restaurant and Bar

at Mona Lisa seats 150 guests in a bi-level environment with outdoor terraces available on each level. The main floor bistro serves three meals daily, offering casual dining in a relaxed atmosphere. The upstairs restaurant serves dinners prepared with local ingredients and introduced with an artistic presentation. Led by Executive Chef Leon Teow, the Galerie menu offers guests an introduction to Eden Cuisine, a blending of traditional cooking methods, fresh ingredients and infused flavors.

The clean simplicity of the hotel's unique "S-shape" design is reminiscent of a Caribbean oasis, featuring light and airy color hues, lush landscaping of palm trees, greenery, floral gardens and attractive water features. The overall design concept of the public areas includes rich textures, polished wood and glass, and burnished metals that create an eclectic blend of modern and contemporary design.

Perhaps the most striking design elements of the Mona Lisa Suite Hotel are the oversized interpretations of well-known masters' artwork that have been meticulously recreated by professional artists in China. The paintings are showcased on each floor, providing an abundance of color and beauty throughout the hotel and creating a gallery-like feel. Each room features a hand-painted artist interpretation of the master work, including the property's namesake, Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, which sits in dramatic fashion in the hotel lobby.

For meetings, the Da Vinci Room

provides an intimate setting with warm wood tones, dramatic artwork, plush executive chairs and state-of-the-art technology. The hotel's experienced staff is available to assist with technology and/or food and beverage catering requests. The space comfortably accommodates up to 40 people.

For guests seeking to minimize their environmental footprint while on vacation, the luxury hotel was constructed to operate in an eco-friendly manner. Environmentally friendly aspects include energy-efficient lighting fixtures equipped with automatic photosensitive controls that are used throughout the property, in addition to dual-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads designed to reduce overall water usage while ensuring adequate water pressure. The hotel's 12 tropically landscaped acres use reclaimed water for irrigation.

Guest suites are equipped with energy-saving kitchen appliances and in-suite recycling containers as part of a hotel-wide recycling program. L'OCCITANE en Provence personal care amenities are offered in the guest suites. These products are made from plant-based ingredients derived, whenever possible, from organic agriculture.

The hotel uses neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) to provide guests complimentary local transportation, and offers preferred parking spaces available for those driving hybrid or electric vehicles. Guests and staff who prefer to bike to the hotel have access to bike racks and courtesy showers.

Mona Lisa Suite Hotel is a member of WORLDHOTELS, a leading global hotel group for independent hotels and regional hotel brands. More information is available regarding the hotel at www.monalisasuitehotel.com.

CLEARWATER

Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce:

Established in 1922, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce set out with the vision to be the premier Voice of Business in the Clearwater region. Representing more than 1,000 member businesses, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce (CRCC) is one of the largest chambers in the Bay area and has become a large and powerful voice for its members through its ability to partner with other agencies and advocate on behalf of business and its members. CRCC's mission is to enhance the business environment and promote economic health and growth in the Clearwater region. Visit www.clearwaterflorida.org.

What to See & Do

more soon

CLERMONT (Near Orlando)

Coming soon!

CORAL GABLES

Where to Stay

Hyatt Regency Coral Gables Has Undergone a Transformation

The Hyatt Regency Coral Gables has undergone a $10 million transformation of its guest accommodations, full service restaurant Two Sisters and Alcazaba nightclub. The new look of the rooms is inspired by the Spanish Alhambra appearance of the hotel. The lobby, lounge and pool area exude European elegance while the guest rooms emote dark wood and rose colored tones with furniture that has a Moorish style. Call (305) 441-1234 or visit www.coralgables.hyatt.com for more information.

What to See and Do

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Visit the tropics at one of the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden events. www.fairchildgarden.org.

The garden offers coral rock staircases, the waterfalls in the Rainforest and Sunken Garden, the columns of the Vine Pergola or the architecture of the Ampitheater are among the many backdrops for those perfect wedding day photos. A wedding registry service is also available here through The Shop at Fairchild, which offers a variety of uniquely tropical plates, glasses, furniture, pots, silverware and more.

CRYSTAL RIVER

Where to Stay

Plantation on Crystal River-

*Based on double occupancy. Rate includes Sunday-Thursday stays. Call for weekend pricing. Water view, patio rooms, Junior suites and golf villas are available for an additional charge.  Additional nights and people sharing room are available for additional charge.

Plantation Golf Resort & Spa's Couples Aquatic Getaway

Couples are invited here for an aquatic getaway. Located along the Crystal River inlets, the Resort offers a unique opportunity to observe native Florida manatees in their natural habitat. The Winter Manatee Snorkel Package includes one night’s accommodations, breakfast, guided boat tour, wetsuit, mask, fins, snorkel, tax and gratuities. The package rate during midweek is $142 per person per night based upon double occupancy and $209 per person single occupancy; weekend rate is $147 per person per night based upon double occupancy and $220 per person single occupancy.

Note: Rates Are Subject to Change

For more information call (800) 632-6262 or go to web site www.plantationinn.com.

What to See and Do

Coastal Heritage Museum

You'll learn about the area in this small but informative museum. Here, you'll find an array of exhibits, artifacts, furniture and photographs of the early history of the west side of Citrus County. Unique features include a 1927 diorama of downtown Citrus Avenue, a fish house facade, and one of the original jail cells. Built in 1939 by the Work Project Administration (WPA) labor, the exterior is constructed of natural limestone quarried locally, and the interior ceilings are made from magnolia wood. It served as the first permanent home for the Crystal River City Government and was used by the city until 1970. It has housed the City Manager Office, the Police Department, the jail and the fire truck. 

Admission is free. Hours are Wednesday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Location: 532 N. Citrus Avenue, Crystal River, FL 34428; phone 352-795-1755.

Winter Months Prime Time to Swim with Manatees at Plantation on Crystal River

The Plantation on Crystal River – a hidden gem along Florida’s Nature Coast, just 80 miles north of Tampa -- invites you to swim withg the West Indian Manateers. Crystal River is the only location in Nortgh America where you can legally swim and interact in the wild with the endangered West Indian Manatee.  Manatee tours are offered year-round, but in the winter time guests are guaranteed to see these gentle giants. This winter, the newly-renovated Plantation on Crystal River is offering a chance to swim with the manatees, and fully experience the resort, with prices starting at just $224* for two people.

This special manatee package includes:

·       One-night stay in a renovated garden view room

·       Welcome bag with plush manatee toy, fun facts and manatee interaction guidelines

·       Manatee snorkeling tour for two from the Plantation Adventure Center

·       Breakfast for two at West 82⁰ Bar & Grill

·       All equipment needed (mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit)

·       Hot Chocolate and Coffee on boat

·       Enclosed boats for warmth

·       Hot shower facility

During prime manatee season, guests will experience the truly unique travel adventure of swimming with up to 350 manatees as they play, eat, and socialize with one another in the year-round 72 F waters of Florida's second largest spring system – relatively warm considering manatee season is in the winter. An experienced tour guide provides fun facts about manatees, as well as the history and natural surroundings of Kings Bay and Crystal River. Tours leave directly from the dock at Plantation’s very own Adventure Center. Snorkeling gear and wet suits are provided.

Prime manatee viewing season usually runs from Oct.1-Mar. 31, but depends on the Gulf and Crystal River water temperatures.  Package is available year-round.

  The eco-friendly Plantation on Crystal River is surrounded by the natural springs of King’s Bay and pristine lakes and rivers, as well as wildlife refuges and state parks.  On site, the Plantation features a full-service marina, 18-hole golf course, 9-hole executive course, Aveda spa, delectable dining and inviting accommodations.

Guests have the unique opportunity to swim with manatees, rent a pontoon or Jon boat, relax by the riverfront pool, enjoy a game of croquet, or hire a guided fishing charter.  With more than 1,600 feet of seawall, overnight guests can tie up their boats at any of over 80 spaces. 

For reservations and information, call toll-free (800) 632-6262 or visit www.PlantationonCrystalRiver.com

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

At Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, federally endangered manatees not only luxuriate in seven sanctuaries where no human swimmers are allowed, but also have an on-call rescue service to give them medical attention.

The 16-member Manatee Rescue Team is comprised of refuge staff and volunteers, two of whom are veterinarians. Three or four the mammals, which can weigh over a thousand pounds, are rescued each year. In August, a manatee became tangled in the line of an anchor holding a sailboat. Rescue crew members untangled the line and just when they thought their work was done, the manatee turned over to reveal a crab-trap line wrapped around a fin.

For more information contact Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex Public Use Specialist Ivan Vicente, 352-563-208

Where to Eat

Grannie's Country Cooking (I ate here)

I ate here for the second time and wasn't disappointed in the varied menu and everyday specials. You have to come for lunch early or late, or you won't find a parking space and will be standing on line for at least 15-20 minutes. Once seated, service is fast and pleasant. I ordered their Monster Melt for $6.49 that is a 1/2 lb. ground beef smothered with onions and served on grilled rye with Swiss cheese or your choice. It's served with a choice of French Fries or Homefries or one vegetable. It was absolutely delicious - but their coffee was kind of on the weak side. There are also breakfast specials served all day Mon-Fri from 5 am-11 am, a variety of sandwiches, sweet treat desserts, plates with tuna or vegetables, homemade soups, homemade chili, and salads. There are also good buys for seniors and kids. The decor is plain, but the place is clean and the food really good.

Grannie's is located at 1712 S.E. Highwaty 19, Crystal River, FL 34429. For more information call 352-795-8884.

CYPRESS GARDENS

Lush green lawns blanket this lush botanical park and everywhere you turn, the vista is sure to awaken all the senses. Animated sculpture can be found amid twinkle-lighted live oaks, shrubs, landscaped stream beds, and a signature waterfall, while frogs, hummingbirds, butterflies, rabbits, and more critters liven the area with their antics. Cypress Gardens, encompassing 200 acres, is a tropical theme park noted for its beautiful plants and flowers and its world-famous water ski shows.

Located off U.S. Highway 27, just 22 miles south of I-4 between Orlando and Tampa on the shores of Lake Eloise and Lake Summit near Winter Haven. For hours and fees, call 1-800-282-2123.

DAYTONA BEACH & DAYTONA BEACH SHORES

What to See & Do

Halifax Harbor Marina

Even if you don't own a boat, it's worth a visit to this Marina that provides year-round facilities for boaters seeking a permanent slip, along with seasonal or overnight accommodations. It's located right at the Intracoastal Waterway and a short ride to the open ocean. Walk around the pleasant walkway, admire the yachts, watch a variety of birds, and even go fishing off the fishing dock. There are many benches to rest on, and there's easy access to shoppingm restaurants, and entertainment minutes from Daytona International Speedway, the b each and the downtown waterfront.

Location: Halifax Harbor Marina, 450 Basin Street, Daytona Beach, FL 32114; 386-671-3601 or toll free at 800-343-2899.

3D Lounge

A distinct change in Daytona's nightlife is now open. This electrifying new club experience has something for everyone. Big D's Hollywood Nights at the exclusive 3D Lounge, brought to you by beg4it entertainment.. located at the world famous Diamond Dolls Complex in Daytona at the corner of US1 and Madison Avenue. Where style meets high energy!

Mondays are Muy Caliente Noche Latina Nights. Featuring the best in Latin and Salsa.
Tuesdays are EDM Tuesdays, with the best in electronic dance music.
Wednesdays are for Wild West with the best in Country music, line dancing and drink specials
Thursdays Start your weekend early on Throwback Thursdays featuring rock music from the 70's, 80's and 90's.
Weekends Rock your weekends with this areas most acclaimed bands every Friday and Saturday night.
Sundays
Top it off with Service Industry Night every Sunday.
Plus...it's ladies night, every night from 8 PM to 10 PM.

Big D's Hollywood Nights in the 3D Lounge at Diamond Dolls Daytona is open 5 PM-3 PM Daily. 301 Madison Avenue at the corner of US1 and Madison.

For more information call 386-481-8783

The Peabody - Central Florida's Premiere Performing Arts Center

I had visited Daytona Beach numerous times, but couple of years ago was the first time I had the good fortune to take in one of the shows - Cirque D'or. It was absolutely fantastic watching the precision and beauty of the first-class performers. The gorgeous costumes and backdrops alone were worth the price of admission and, combined with the music, the acrobatics were breathtaking.

The Ocean Center parking deck with 1,300 parking spaces, located on Earl Street one block north of the Peabody just off A1A, is always open during Peabody performances.  It’s a very short walk from the parking garage to the Peabody for patrons attending performances there. And, the Peabody does offer valet parking for only $10.

About the Peabody

The historic Daytona Beach Peabody Auditorium, completed in 1949, is the areas premiere performing arts center with renowned acoustics and 2,521 seats, all with an excellent view of the stage. Touring Broadway shows, music and dance, concert artists, civic programs, and juried competitions are held here, as well as the Peabody having served as the summer home to the London Symphony Orchestra for over 35 years and the Daytona Beach Symphony Society for the past 58 years. In 1949, the U.S. Navy Band performed the inaugural show, and the 60th anniversary of the Peabody Auditorium occurred during the 2008-2009 season. It is the largest indoor performing arts center, and one of the few in existence in Florida, making it the permanent showplace for international and national artists as well as community and civic programs. Famous performers have left their mark here, including Liberace, Red Skelton, Liza Minelli, Shirley MacLaine, Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett, George Carlin, Jerry Steinfeld and scores more. Acclaimed Broadway musicals and touring productions have included Cats, A Chorus Line, 42nd Street, Chicago, Evita, and many others. The blockbuster offerings for the 2011 season include Legally Blonde, Fiddler on the Roof, Pink Floyd Experience, and others.

Tickets

Details: The Box Office for ticket purchase is open Monday-Friday 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Call 386-671-3460 for information. Or purchase tickets from Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000.

Parking (self-parking) is plentiful within two blocks of the Peabody. Two operate on the west side of the Peabody and a high rise parking garage is one block north on A1A. Fees range from $5-8. Valet parking is available in front of the Peabody.

Wheelchair seating may be purchased on both levels within the theater. Assistive listening devices are available in the box office. Restrooms on both levels are equipped with accessible stalls and an elevator will transport patrons between floors.

Backstage Cafe: A Light Bite Menu is offered at the Peabody's Backstage Cafe and starts serving 1 1/2 hours before show time. Check www.PeabodyAuditorium.org to see gthge bill of fare for your next visit.

Rose Room Art Exhibits: The Peabody Rose Room showcases works by regional artists throughout the year. Exhibits appear for a period of weeks to months to allow the public ample time to view and enjoy these original works. Access to the Rose Room and exhibits if Free Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and prior to all performances. Contact Mary McBride, Curator, at PeabodyExhi bit@gmail.com or 386-736-3039 for information.

Location: Peabody Auditorium, 600 Auditorium Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL

Phelps Candy

If you like chocolate, you'll love the kind made here. Take a free tour, learn how chocolate is made, and then be treated to free samples. After, browse the shop and, if you wish, buy various kinds. For details check website www.angellandphelps.com. The store is located at 154 South Beach Street in downtown Daytona Beach. .

Daytona Playhouse

I had never been to the Daytona Playhouse before January 2013 -- but I know, after seeing "Love Letters" there the other night, that I'll be going there again and again -- for the theatre, although compact, has comfortable seats where one can see the stage clearly no matter which row you're in. The actors who appeared in "Love Letters" were top-notch, and unlike the highway robbery prices of New York City theaters, everything here is perfect - including the fund-raising candy and drink bar offering soda and a variety of candy for only one dollar, clean rest rooms, and a huge parking lot on the premises that's easy to enter and exit from. Tickets are nominal - from $16 for adults (seniors $14), and youth age 18 & under only $5 - for non-musical performances. If you attend musical performances, the tickets are only $21 for adults (seniors 55 & up, $19) and youth 18 & under $10. You can also save a lot by buying a season subscription (6 Main Shows) for $83 adults (Seniors $77) or for group rates, a 10% discount is offered for 10 or more people, adults or seniors.

For more information and upcoming plays, contact the Daytona Playhouse at 100 Jessamine Blvd., Daytona Beach, FL 32118; 386-255-2431 or go to web site DaytonaPlayhouse.org

DELAND

What to See & Do

Hontoon Island State Park

I've returned many times to this excellent park - reached by crossing the river via private boat or the free electric ferry that runs back and forth as necessary from 8 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset. A parking area is provided on the mainland at no charge. There is no vehicle access to the island and overnight campers must arrive no later than 7 p.m.

The park offers a quiet retreat on the St. Johns River in Volusia County. You can either explore the park on a bicycle or hike the 3-mile roundtrip self-guided trail that begins at the Ranger Station and follows the Hontoon Dead River to the large Indian mound at the southwest corner of the island.

Canoes and kayaks can be rented or if you bring your own boat (leaving from the parking lot opposite the island), enjoy going around the island. When my husband and I were there in January, we met only 2 other boats on Hontoon Dead River - but saw lots of birds, an alligator and river otters. Bring a picnic lunch if you go on the island and have it beneath huge Live Oak trees, let the children enjoy the playground, or use one of the cooking grills available at the picnic tables. If you like fishing, try catching largemouth bass, bluegills and speckled perch along the banks of the St. Johns River or, just watch the boats and large houseboats ply the water.

Campers can reserve a site at the primitive campground with 12 tent sites in the shady hammock. Each site features a picnic table, ground grill and water. Boat slips are available for overnight boat camping. There are also 6 rustic cabins for rent. Each one-room cabin has bunk beds, a ceiling fan, overhead lighting and one electrical outlet. Each cabin has a screened porch with table and chairs with picnic tables and ground grills available outside. A community restroom and showers is shared by all overnight visitors. Bring your own linens.

Bikes can be rented for $6 for one hour, or canoes/kayaks for $20 for two hours or $40 all day.

History of Hontoon Island

Native American Indians gathered shellfish from the St. Johns River more than 2,000 years ago. the discarded shells accumulated over the years and can be seen from the hiking trail at the southwest corner of the island. Artifacts found on the island are displayed at the Visitor Center. Replicas of totoms, carved from logs, stand in the picnic area, paying tribute to the history of the island. The island has also been a pioneer homestead, a boat yard, a center for commerical fishing and a cattle ranch. Wildlife on or near the island is plentiful. West Indian manatees may be spotted during the winter months. Wading birds such as the Great blue herons, ibis and egrets can be seen foraging in the shallows along the shore while ospreys can be seen soaring overhead searching for a meal of fish or carrying their catch to the tree tops at feeding time.

Location: Hontoon Island State Park, 2309 River Ridge Road, Deland, FL 32720; 386-736-5309.

Details: Campground Reservations may be made by phone through Reserve America at 1-800-326-3521 or online at reserveamerica.com. There is a two night minimum stay on weekends and holidays. Checkout time is 2 p.m.

Clean restrooms with hot showers are available. The Island Store provides basic needs as well as ice and firewood. Collecting fire wood within the park is not allowed.

There are also boat slips with 30 amp electric and water available for overnight docking available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Restrooms and showers are open all night for your convenience and there are picnic tables and cooking grills nearby. The fee is $18/night plus tax and $7 dayuse if using water or electric.

DeLEON SPRINGS

What to See & Do

DeLeon Springs State Park

No matter how often my family visits DeLeon Springs State Park, we never tire of kayaking here or admiring the natural beauty. Named for the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon who sought the Fountain of Youtgh in the 1500s, it offers visitors the opportunity to swim in the beautiful tranquil spring, rent canoes, kayaks and paddleboats, fish for bass and bream from the shore or from the fishing pier, hike the half-mile paved nature trail or the 4.2-mile Wild Persimmon trail. Or, you can simply picnic under oak and pine trees near the spring at tables with picnic benches, grills or in one of the five large pavillions.

The park consists of 625 acres with nearly 19 million gallons of water per day flowing from an underwater cavern. The year-round temperature is 72 degrees and the spring pool is artificially maintained for swimming with a wall and bulkhead.

If you're a bird watcher, this is the place to be - for wading birds including herons, egrets and ibis stalk their prey downriver, while coots and ducks dive for dinner and bald eagles and ospreys are frequently spotted. You might also see alligators, otters and manatees. In fact, while kayaking near the Old Mill area, we were surrounded by 10 manatees!!! Very exciting.

One sight that will grab your attention as soon as you enter are the Live Oak Trees covered with Spanish Moss. Just the size of the trees alone is awesome. According to park naturalists, there are legends about the age of the Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana). Some of the trees are said to be hundreds of years old, and live oaks can grow 25 feet in the first 20 years. However, they are seldom over 250 years old. In one old photo of the Sugar Mill taken in 1910, live oaksl appear to be about 25 feet tall. Today they are about 125 years or so old and, write the park people, corresponds with descriptions about land use here in the 1800s. The uplands were planted in cotton during the Spring Garden Plantation period during the early 1800s-1860s. George Norris had extensive citrus groves in this area when he owned the property from 1872 to around 1900. The oaks may have become established naturally or were planted as the citrus groves disappeared. Whatever the actual facts, seeing the Live Oaks in this park is simply a sight to remember, always.

A special treat is having breakfast or lunch at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant. It features breads and cook-you-own pancakes made from stone ground flours. You'll be cooking at your own table with a grill in the center. Within the restaurant is a small gift shop with books and items available for purchase. The park also offers interpretation of the natural and cultural history thrugh kiosks and exhibits in the visitor center and special events such as a Civil War encampment and annual reenactment of an 1835 Second Seminole War skirmish.

History & Nature of DeLeon Springs State Park

The outstanding feature of DeLeon Springs State Park's 600-acres is the headspring, with some 19 million gallons of water per day flowing from an underwater cavern at a constant year-round temperature of 72 degrees. The spring pool is artificially maintained for swimming. Wading birds, such as herons, egrets and ibis stalk their prey down river, while coots and ducks dive for dinner and ospreys soar overhead. Alligators, otters and manatees are common.

Above the spring is a hydric hammock, trees that flourish in wet conditions. Trails wind thrugh a forest of red maples, sweet gums, magnolias, cabbage palms and water hickories that is filled with the sounds of woodpeckers and songbirds. Ferns wildflowers and vines cover the ground. The endangered yellow anise tree is abundant here. Non-native ornamentals such as azaleas and various palm species were planted between the 1930s and 1960s near the trails and in the parking lot. The azaleas bloom throughout the park in early spring. A paved walkway leads to "Old Methuselah," a huyge bald cypress that is more than 500 years old.

There is an abundance of white or gray snail shells in the ground that is evidence of centuries of occupation by Native American groups who came to the spring to gather food. They would cook the snails and discard piles of shells. Two dugout canoes found in the spring are among the oldest canoes in America - dating 5,000 and 6,000 years old.

Rumor has it that Ponce DeLeon discovered his famed Fountain of Youth here. Maybe partly true or maybe not, but evidence does show that Native Americans inhabited this area more than 5,000 years ago. On one of the history talks, you can find out more about the legends, facts and the folk history.

For a great Eco/History Tour, board the M/V Acuera and enjoy the preserved eco-system of the St. Johns River, on Spring Garden Run, and learn the history of how this shaped this incredible part of Florida.l The narrated tour is 50 minutes and no doubt you'll see alligators, manattee, osprey and much more. It's said that Ponce DeLeon discovered his famed Fountain of Youth here, but although this story might not be 100% accurate, evidence does show that Native Americans inhabited this area more than 5000 years ago.

Location: DeLeon Springs is off US 17 between SR40 and SR44. Take I-4 to Exit 114; follow the access road to US17/92 in DeLand, and look for state park signs. Turn West on Ponce DeLeon Boulevard and proceed one mile to the park.l Call 386-386-985-4212 for more information.

The park hours are 8 a.m. until sunset, 365 days a year. An entrance fee is required.

Where to Eat

Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Griddle

I've personally eaten here many times and going for pancakes or other goodies at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Griddle House within DeLeon Springs State Recreation Area is unique. Here, patrons make their own eggs, pancakes and more at large tables with a center grill. The pancake batters and oven-baked natural grain products are prepared from grains stone ground on the restaurants own French buhr millstones. A server will turn on your individual electric griddle, give directions on how to know when it's ready, and everything that you make will be pipin hot and just as you like them. I love my pancakes made with blueberries, while my husband prefers chocolate chips. The delicious food and restaurant is an unusual experience - but be sure to sign in at least an hour before you're ready to eat because this place is packed. Bring a swim suit and before or after, dip in the natural spring; stroll through the park; rent a canoe or kayak; or just sit outside near the working grist mill.

Location: DeLeon Springs State Recreation Area, DeLeon Springs; 386-985-5644.

DELRAY BEACH

What to See & Do

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

This gem is not to be missed. Plan on spending an entire day here -- and even that won't be enough time to absorb all the beauty.

Since its opening in 1977, The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens has been a center for Japanese arts and culture in South Florida, with rotating exhibitions in its galleries, tea ceremonies performed monthly in its Seishin-an tea house, an educational outreach program with local schools and organizations, and Japanese traditional festivals celebrated for the public several times a year.

The original building, named the Yamato-kan, is modeled to suggest a Japanese villa. It features a ring of exhibition rooms embracing an open-air courtyard with a dry garden of gravel, pebbles and small boulders. The Yamato-kan offers a permanent exhibit chronicling the history of the Yamato Colony, a Japanese farming community in South Florida 100 years ago.

The principal museum building opened in 1993 to meet a popular demand for more programming, more versatile facilities, and to satisfy the needs of a growing community. The museum’s architecture is inspired by traditional Japanese design. The building features exhibition galleries, 225-seat theater, authentic tea house with viewing gallery, library, classrooms, museum store, cafe and lakeside terrace with Japanese courtyard garden.

The Morikami Museum Collection houses 5,000 Japanese art objects and artifacts, including a 500-piece collection of tea ceremony items, more than 200 textile pieces and recent fine art acquisitions. The 200 acres that surround The Morikami’s two museum buildings include expansive Japanese gardens with strolling paths, resting areas, tropical bonsai collection, small lakes teeming with koi and other wildlife, nature trails, pine forests and park and picnic areas.

In 2001, The Morikami completed a major garden expansion and renovation. The new gardens reflect major periods of Japanese garden design, from the eighth to the 20th century, and serve as an outdoor extension of the museum. The Morikami Gardens consists of shinden islands, paradise garden and contemporary garden. According to the garden designer, Hoichi Kurisu, each garden is intended to express the character and ideas of a unique counterpart in Japan without attempting to duplicate those gardens, and seamlessly flow together as one garden.

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, with its unique gardens and collections, is one of Palm Beach County’s most treasured cultural attractions. Located in a tranquil natural setting, The Morikami invites visitors to explore its many facets and to discover Florida’s heritage and its connection with Japan.

Also plan on having lunch at the Cornell Cafe. Sitting on the terrace - or inside - and gazing down upon the gardens is an absolute treat - as is the food. It's open Tuesday-Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Also plan on exploring The Museum Store; it carries a variety of Japanese and Asian-inspired accessories for the home and garden. The Museum Store is open during regular museum hours. Call 561-405-0233, Ext. 202 for more information.

Hours & Admission: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 pm. Closed Mondays and national holidays. Fee charged, but members and children under 6 years are free.

Location: 4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach, 33446.

/b>Picture perfect afternoons lunching at the Café. Indulge in Pan-Asian cuisine, including seasonal kabocha (pumpkin croquettes) and sparkling jelly sake!

History Uncovered

Get an inside look at a photograph accessioned into the permanent collection. Not only does this image depict our very own George Morikami at age 19, but it also offers a rare glimpse into the history of the Yamato Colony.

Lantern Festival

Held in the Fall

For more information contact Morikamimembers@pbcgov.org or send to Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Road, Delray Beach, FL 33446

Shop the Online Museum Store

Featuring a one-of-a-kind product assortment, constantly changing to include authentic items from Japan, Asia and America. Find the perfect gift for someone special… or even yourself!

The Perks of Membership

Ever considered becoming a museum member? Explore the benefits of various levels of membership. Enjoy countless benefits like free admission to festivals, and savings on programs, shopping, lunch at the cafe and more!Join today and take advantage of exclusive new summer offerings!

Location: Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens
4000 Morikami Park Road
Delray Beach, FL 33446

nReagan Spa Is Open - and Fantastic!

The 11,000 square foot facility is comprised of 12 treatment rooms, salon, fully equipped fitness facility, steam rooms, locker rooms, consultation area, pool, Jacuzzi, his and her lounges and ocean view terraces.

nReagan Spa features award-winning services such as hair design and coloring, signature skin treatments, microdermabrasion, revitalight, massage therapy, body exfoliates and polishes, manicures, pedicures, custom make-up and makeovers, and facial and body waxing. In addition to traditional spa options, unique choices like the nReagan Green Tea & Cucumber Signature Facial and the "Wassage" waterbed massage are offered. The Spa now provides a variety of fitness classes including Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, Aqua-fit and Beach Fun and Fitness. Personal trainers are on staff to provide private fitness instruction catered to your body's needs. Examples of nReagan Spa's personalized fitness programs, include 'Fit to a Tee' and 'Love to Ace' conditioning that focus on exercises designed to improve your tennis and golf skills. Guests may sign up for individual classes or enroll in a Spa or Fitness membership.

Founded in 1995, nReagan Spa goes the extra mile to provide the area's finest skin treatments, massages, technologically advanced skin care and cosmetics. Located in a two-story, 11,000 square foot facility inside the Delray Beach Marriott, nReagan Spa has 12 treatment rooms, a salon, a fully equipped fitness facility, locker rooms, steam rooms, his and her lounges, ocean view terraces, a consultation area, a pool, and a Jacuzzi. nReagan Spa serves clients seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Where to Stay

Marriott Delray Beach Hotel:

Located on Florida's Gold Coast, overlooking the sandy beaches on Ocean Drive, the Marriott Delray Beach is midway between the excitement of Fort Lauderdale and the glamour of Palm Beach. The Hotel is within easy walking distance to Atlantic Avenue's shopping boutiques, bistros, outdoor cafes, art galleries, restaurants and nightlife. With 268 rooms including 88 suites, its amenities include a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and health club with spa services, as well as a selection of restaurants and lounges.

For reservations or more information on the Marriott, call 877-433-5729 or 561- 274-3200, or check web site www.delraybeachmarriott.com, or contact your travel professional.

For more information on the Spa, check web site www.nreaganspa.com.

DESTIN

Where to Stay

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort

  

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is home to 30 charming neighborhoods featuring 1,300 condos, villas, town homes, and a wide-variety of hotel accommodations. The resort has more than seven miles of sugar white beaches and pristine bay front; four championship golf courses; 15 world-class tennis courts; 19 swimming pools; a 113-slip marina; children's programs; fitness center and spa; 65,000 square feet of meeting space; and a pedestrian village featuring a host of boutique shops, casual and fine dining restaurants and nightlife. Sandestin is part of Intrawest Hospitality Management, a world leader in destination resorts.

Guests stay in one of Sandestin’s 1,300 condos, villas, town homes, or the resort’s hotel. In between rounds, golfers can visit The Village of Baytowne Wharf, an assortment of casual and fine-dining restaurants, bars and nightlife, and boutique shopping. Beach access, a marina, fitness facilities and numerous organized activities are also available on-site.
  
For more information check web site www.sandestin.com; (888) 801-4388.
 
 Getting There: Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) offers direct flights from Houston, Baltimore/Washington DC, Atlanta, Orlando, Nashville, and Memphis. Northwest Florida Regional Airport (VPS) offers direct flights from Dallas, Houston, Charlotte, Louisville and Atlanta.

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa Completes Meeting Space Expansion, Serenity by the sea Spa Transformation

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa -- one of the South's premier beachfront meeting destinations and the largest full-service beachfront resort hotel on Northwest Florida‚s Gulf Coast -- now offers a third, 7,500-square-foot ballroom, and has expanded and enhanced the award-winning Serenity by the sea Spa for meeting and leisure guests to enjoy, as well as a larger space for bridal parties to take on complete relaxation for the big day.

Completed in March 2015, the Coastal Ballroom addition included expansion to pre-function space, current restroom facilities and permanent registration areas. The additional space now provides meeting planners with more than 23,000 square feet of ballroom and event space on a single level, with approximately 10,000 square feet of additional pre-function area to support the three ballrooms. Now with nearly 40,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, and 20,000 square feet of outdoor event space, the resort can now accommodate larger conferences and events and provide additional flexibility for group activities and breakouts.

The award-winning Serenity by the sea Spa has completed a major overhaul involving the footprint of the space and upgrades throughout. The spa was expanded by 3,000 square feet, providing more space for individual guests and groups in the women‚s locker room, lounge facilities and new group relaxation area. The spa also now offers a separate and expanded salon for hair and makeup, as well as a separate nail salon with four manicure and four pedicure stations. The new area totals 14,500 square feet and also includes an all-new fitness center offering 24-hour guest access, updated reception area, retail area and new tile/paint accents throughout the spa. Over the last three years, Hilton Sandestin Beach has spent more than $30 million on transformations touching every aspect of the property, from award-winning meeting space and guest rooms to public areas and restaurants.

Set against a beautiful backdrop of the sugar-white sand and emerald-green water and an ideal location for any event, in 2014 alone, Hilton Sandestin Beach has received top honors from some of the country‚s most prestigious meetings publications including Smart Meetings, Meetings & Conventions, Corporate & Incentive Travel, ConventionSouth, Meetings Focus and Successful Meetings. The resort masterfully accommodates groups from 10 to more than 2,000 with a combination of luxury resort amenities, deluxe accommodations, award-winning meeting facilities, fabulous beachfront setting and professional staff ˆ all under one roof.

For more information about Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, visit the new HiltonSandestinBeach.com website or call 850-267-9500. For more information about Serenity by the sea Spa, visit SerenitybytheseaSpa.com or call 850-622-9595

Location: Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa
4000 Sandestin Blvd. South, Destin, FL 32550
1-800-367-1271 | 850-267-9500
web site: www.hiltonsandestinbeach.com

What to See & Do

Bass Pro Shops first Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill in Florida opened in Destin Commons

Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl and Grill features a truly unique atmosphere and design geared for family fun and dining. Casual family dining will be available in the Grill, which is capable of seating 139 in the main dining room. Two private rooms can host up to 32 people and is the perfect spot for a special lunch, dinner, seminar, or even a fun birthday party. Customers can select from a menu featuring a variety of appetizers, sandwiches, salads and burgers.

An island-theme bar area, which has seating for 42, offers visitors the experience of feeling like they are underwater exploring the skeletal remains of a sunken ship. Above, visitors can see the battered, barnacle- and coral-encrusted wooden hull; an old, rusted iron chain and rail surround the bow. A host of exotic fish ‘swim’ in and around the wreck while dorado and sharks, suspended from the ceiling, appear to swim overhead.

The bar features a center island with a record size 1,200-pound blue fin tuna and a 250-pound yellow fin tuna that were caught by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris and his son John Paul. Morris developed the unique and fun Fishbowl concept named after his uncle. Another special display is a shark cage with two hammerhead sharks, each more than seven feet in length.

Visitors approach a wooden ship-like desk to obtain shoes and a lane. Sixteen lanes, divided into two separate areas of 8 lanes each, offer customers the chance to feel like they are bowling in the ocean with custom bowling balls that bear the likeness of octopus, mermaids, fish, bobbers and more. Lanes feature underwater scenery of sea turtles, sharks, stingrays and other saltwater species that will also glow in the dark during cosmic bowling. Hand-painted murals depicting oceanic life line the walls and fish mounts hang suspended from the ceiling. An additional 80 seats are available at the bowling lanes with 16 seats behind the lanes for dining.

About Bass Pro Shops®
Bass Pro Shops®, which specializes in outdoor fun, operates 85 retail stores and Tracker Marine Centers across America and Canada that are visited by more than 116 million people every year. Bass Pro Shops stores, many of which feature restaurants, offer outdoor gear while their catalogs and website serve shoppers throughout the world. The company’s Tracker Marine Group® www.trackermarine.com), which has produced the number one selling brand of fishing boats for more than 35 years, manufactures and sells a variety of boats for fishing and cruising. Family fun is on tap at Bass Pro Shops resort Big Cedar Lodge® www.bigcedar.com, voted number six by Travel + Leisure Magazine as World's Best Hotels for Families.

For more information, visit www.basspro.com. To request a free catalog, call 1-800-BASS PRO. Follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bassproshops.

DUNNELLON

Rainbow Springs State Park

The Timucua people lived here at the time of European contact, and pioneers first settled the headsprings in 1839. About 75 people lived in this agricultural community by 1883 and had a railroad station, sawmill, hotel, stores and a post office. According to park offiials, in the 1920s, Blue Springs and Blue Run were favorite vacation spots for tourists and locals. As the attraction gained popularity, the river was dredged for glass bottom boat tours, and waterfalls were built on piles of phosphate tailings. There was also a zoo, rodeo, gift shops and a monorail, but in the mid-1970s, when larger theme parks lured the tourists away, Rainbow Springs was closed in the mid-1990s. Fortunately, it was later reopened as a state park and in 1972, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated Rainbow River as a National Natural Landmark. It is also, today, an aquatic preserve and an Outstanding Florida River.

Here, along the river, you'll find abundant wildlife, including otters, alligators, turtles and fish, and lots of water birds. You'll hear and see osprey, hawks and swallowtail kites soaring along the river while smaller birds and animals hide in the lush vegetation, If you're lucky, you may even spot a gopher tortoise, Florida pine snake, indigo snake, squirrels, and more.

We enjoyed kayaking here (rentals are available) and, on another day, had fun hiking the trails.. There's also a gift shop filled with numerous items, a food concession, and several waterfalls. Wear good walking shoes, and bring lunch to enjoy it on the vast lawn or at one of the picnic sites shaded by wood canapies.

Interesting scheduled events, include:

Cracker Days (Last week in February)

Art Shows and Sales (March and October)

Wood Turners' Show and Sales (October)

Santa Over the Rainbow (December weekend evenings)

A variety of programs is offered at the headsprings and campgroun, including ranger-guided walks, snorkeling expeditions and canoe trips at different times of the year. The campgroun is located about 6 miles from the headsprings and provides access to the river. More nature trails wind through the sandhill and oak hammock communities. Campground activities are for registered campers only, and the camp store offers further amenities for overnight guests.

For more information, contact the park at 352-465-8537;/ e-mail at FOR5331@att.net or go to web site www.friendsofrainbowsprings.org

ESTERO

What to See & Do

Koreshan State Historic Site

I enjoyed exploying this park with its 19th century structures and gardens remaining from a religious community that settled here. The park offers a self-guided tour of the historic grounds. In addition, visitors can hike the nature trail, picnic, canoe or kayak along a lovely, quiet river, or camp in this 200-acre park that is rich in history and culture.

Both fishing and boating are available in the park, with a boat ramp located near the picnic area. A Florida saltwater fishing license is required for persons 16 years of age or older.

The 60-site campground features well-buffered sites.Ranger guided tours and interpretive programs are available upon request and according to seasonal demand. A schedule of programs and fees is posted at the ranger station and in the camping area restroom.

Learn about the founding of the Koreshan Unity Settlement -- the continuation of a movement started in Moravia, New York in 1880 led by Dr. Cyrus R. Teed. Over 200 followers came to join his religious utopian community. They frequently had to contend with an unfriendly and hostile society because of their religious, scientific and cultural believes. Here, industrious Koreshans built and operated a printing facility, boat works, cement works, sawmill, bakery, store and hostelry. However, when Dr. Teed died in 1908, membership of the religious group began to decline and, in 1961, the four remaining members deeded these 305 acres of their land to the State of Florida as a park and memorial.

Pick up a free self-guided tour booklet of the Koreshan Unity Settlement Historic District as you enter the settlement.

The park is located in Estero. For more information and directions, check web site www.FloridaStateParks.org or write to Koreshan State Historic Site, P.O. Box 7, Estero, FL 33928; 239-992-0311.

Estero's Great Happenings

Artistic things are planned for Estero in coming years. Two developments intend to include galleries and performance venues in their multi-use residential schemes. The Art District at Rapallo will incorporate galleries, artist studios, a small amphitheater, and an 18,600-square-foot performing arts hall. It is planned at the corner of U.S. 41 and Williams Road. Estero on the River, on U.S. 41 at Corkscrew Road, hopes to build Gulfshore Playhouse, containing a 550-seat auditorium and 150-seat theater, along with its residential units and stores. The latter development awaits county approval.

Gulfshore Playhouse

A developer has teamed up with theater director Kristen Coury to plan Gulfshore Playhouse, a 35,000-square-foot, $20 million theater they hope to open by 2008 in a new urban-style village called Estero on the River.

For more information, check web site www.gulfshoreplayhouse.org.

Coconut Point Town Center

Recently opened in Estero, the 1.2 million-square-foot shopping center features movie theaters, luxury restaurants, a 1,000+-square-foot castle-themed children’s play area, wireless Internet access, a fountain court with turtle pool, and outdoor performances.

For more information, check web site www.simon.com.

Miromar Outlets

Miromar Outlets in Estero recently celebrated the opening of Phase 5 with more than 140 new stores. They include Aeropostale, ecko unltd., Eddie Bauer, Lacoste, Pacific Sunwear, and more. The complex hosts free concerts every Friday from 6 to 8 p.m.

For more information contact Jeff Staner (jstaner@miromarfl.com), 239-948-3766, or check web site www.miromar.com.

FLAGLER & FLAGLER BEACH

Where to Eat

Golden Lion Cafe

This is one of Flagler Beach's Favorite Beachside Restaurant & Bar! The Golden Lion Cafe is located just steps from the ocean in beautiful Flagler Beach, Florida along the nationally designated Scenic A1A Coastal Highway. With spectacular ocean views, delicious food, amazing mixed drinks and an awesome tropical atmosphere, it has received awards numerous times. When I ate there, I couldn't believe the size of the fish sandwich I ordered - and couldn't finish the huge portion. Our lively server brought boxres so we could take home the leftovers which we enjoyed the next day. Plus, the newly expanded upper decks and tiki beachside-style bar are great, too. On certain days, enjoy the live music while sippig a margarita, watch the dolphins playing in the ocean, see pelicans diving, and during winter months, spot whales.

If you love fresh seafood, check out the new Seafood Bar that's open and serving all winter. The menu consists of freshly shucked oysters served raw or steamed. Fresh deliveries are made each day with Stone crab from Florida, Lobster, Clams and much more.

You can also opt to hold weddings, birthdays, rehearsal dinners, family Reunions and more here.

Located at 500 N Scenic Highway A1A, Flagler Beach, Florida 32136.

Martins Restaurant

Friends recommended this restaurant to me and my husband and I weren't disappointed in the service or food. The atmosphere left a lot to be desired; it looked tired, lacking color, and the tables and furniture were old. However, the food more than made up for it and, if you're fortunate to get a front table facing the ocean, the view is lovely. The place was jammed when we walked it but fortunately we were given the last table. I ordered what the restaurant is famous for - Prime Rib, while my husband ordered shrimp and vegetables which was the day's special. I ordered the 'small' 8 oz. Prime Rib - and was certainly glad I did because it filled the entire place, was thick, made exactly as I ordered it (pink inside), with creamy horseradish (regular can also be ordered), baked potato and a salad. The special didn't come with a salad, but mine was so huge that I used the butter dish to share some with my husband. He loved his dish as well - several large shrimp that were done perfectly and tasted great. The Prime Rib comes in 3 sizes, and the server was ready with a take-out box. Prices were very reasonable, and went we walked out, absolutely satisfied, there was a long line waiting for tables. Would I eat there again? For certain.

Get there before 6 to be seated. Better yet, around 5 because we got there at 5:30 and got the last table!!

Location: 2000 South Ocean Shore Blvd., Flagler Beach, FL; 386-439-5830. For more information check web site www.martinsrestaurantfl.com

What to See & Do

Joe Kenner Nature Trail

This is an easy trail for taking leisurely strolls through maritime hammock and coastal scrub communities of "the Real Florida." Located in Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach, it's a one mile scenic loop almost flat with gentle ridges now and then.

Joe Kenner, according to a park brochure, was a "successful and well respected member of the Florida Park Service family and a native of Dalton, Georgia, but moved to Deland, Florida. He joined the Florida Park Service as interpretive naturalist in 1968 and was an accomplished nature photographer. Many of his images are still used in interpretive programs, publications and exhibits." Later in his career, he focused on protecting themanatee and helping to establish the Florida scrub jay population using prescribed burning. He worked for the Service until his death in 1996.

While on the trail passing through the Maritime Hammock that occurs on old coastal dunes that have been stabilized long eough for the growth of a forest, you see how the ocean's salt spray has pruned and flattened the foliage. Common plants alog the trail include red cedar, sand live oak, myrtle oak, chapman oak, magnolia, red bay, yaupon holly, wax myrtle, purple passionflower, and much more. You may even spot bobcats, deer, racoons, box turtles, rat snakes, woodpeckers and gray squirrels. Bird watchers will enjoy migrating birds who depend on these forests for food and shelter.

The Coastal Stand occurs on deep, wind-deposited sands that have been wind-sorted and wave washed. The coastal dunes are vegetated with a dense thicket of salt tolerant shrubs and is excellent cover for small mammals, rodents, reptiles and birds. Common plants include sand live oak, myrtle oak, cabbage palms, tough holly, saw palmetto and coral bean. You may even spot an eastern diamondback rattlesnake, indigo snakes, gopher tortoise, hawks and six-lined racerunner.

After the hike (or before) you can also enjoy birding, picnicking, wildlife viewing, fishing, canoe/kayaking, launch your motorboat, or camp. There's also a restroom near the butterfly garden.

Regular guided hikes are scheduled by a naturalist and are very interesting and a way to identifty what the surroundings have to offer. The admission fee (now $5 per car) also allows visitors to gain entry to the beach opposite the park.

For more information contact Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach, 3100 South Oceanshore Blvd, Flagler Beach, FL 3l2136; (386) 517-2086 or go to web site www.floridastateparks.com.

Flagler Auditorium

More soon

FLORIDA KEYS

more soon

FORT LAUDERDALE

Where to Stay

About Bonaventure Resort & Spa

Situated in the heart of the affluent Fort Lauderdale neighborhood of Weston, Florida, Bonaventure Resort & Spa delivers an unparalleled resort experience that offers guests well-appointed accommodations, gourmet culinary options and a world-class spa. The AAA Four Diamond Resort, which became part of Benchmark Hospitality International's portfolio of hotels and resorts in September 2012, features 500 spacious guestrooms and suites, four swimming pools, fitness center, the full service aLaya Spa, a championship PGA golf course and multiple dining options, including the acclaimed AAA Four Diamond Ireland's Steakhouse. Conveniently located just west of Greater Fort Lauderdale, the resort is just a short drive from Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood International Airport and offers guests easy access to area attractions, including the Sawgrass Mills Mall, Florida Everglades eco-adventures, and the BB&T Center home of NHL hockey, concerts and events , as well as nearby beaches. For more information or reservations, please visit www.BonaventureResortandSpa.com

Starwood Opens W Fort Lauderdale Hotel and Residences

The $205 million W Fort Lauderdale Hotel and Residences, a Starwood Luxury Collection property, is a 346-room hotel and its 171 luxury residences are located on a 4 1/2-acre site offering views of both the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway. Amenities at the 23-story, dual-tower property include a signature Stephen Starr restaurant, an inviting Living Room lobby, a state-of-the-art SWEAT® fitness center, the renowned Bliss® Spa and a one-of-a-kind oceanfront infinity-edge pool. (954) 462-1633. www.wfortlauderdaleresidences.com.

What to See & Do

Riverwalk A&E Offers Adventures into Local History via Heart of Fort Lauderdale Segway Tour or Segway to the Riverside Hotel Package

Taking a Segway tour is a great way to explore the history and beauty of Fort Lauderdale,and now, visitors and locals alike can enjoy rolling through the city on a special Heart of Fort Lauderdale Segway tour, or the Segway to the Riverside Hotel package, including a delightful overnight stay at the historic Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Blvd.  

Heart of Fort Lauderdale Segway Tour

It takes only a few minutes for Segway Fort Lauderdale representatives to train guests to ride, and then they’re rolling through Fort Lauderdale’s scenic waterfront and charming neighborhood streets. Guests enjoy fun facts and stories of a bygone era while riding the fun and easy-to-use vehicle, perfect for any age. The 1 ½ -hour tour includes many scenic spots for photo taking, including:

·      Historic Stranahan House

·      Riverwalk Historic District

·      Rio Abreu Park & Mediterranean Revival architecture

·      Cooley Massacre site

·      Sailboat Bend and Lewis Landing

·      Many other beautiful stops

Tours are scheduled every Saturday and Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. and include the guest’s choice of a self-guided or docent tour of the Fort Lauderdale History Center campus, including the Historic New River Inn. The cost is $89.95 per person for adults and children aged 12 or older. To book the Heart of Fort Lauderdale Tour, please call Segway Fort Lauderdale at 954-304-5746 or visit www.enjoytheriverwalkae.com.

Segway to the Riverside Hotel Package

For a memorable overnight getaway, the historic Riverside Hotel, located on lively Las Olas Boulevard, offers the Heart of Fort Lauderdale Segway Tour and overnight escape for two through its Segway to the Riverside Hotel package. It’s ideal for adventure lovers or those seeking to tour the charming neighborhoods and views of the city’s New River on a Segway. 

Guests check into the chic Riverside Hotel, which boasts beautiful marina views and world-class amenities in a relaxed and charming Florida-style setting. With two restaurants, a beautiful lobby bar, vintage pub, heated tropical outdoor swimming pool, fitness center and on-property boat dockage, the Riverside is only minutes from the beach and limitless cultural activities.

The Segway to the Riverside Hotel package includes:

·       Double occupancy accommodations in a deluxe room

·       Heart of Fort Lauderdale Segway Tours for two

·       Two drinks of guests’ choice at the Riverside Hotel

·       Complimentary overnight valet parking

Package rates start at $259, per night, based on double occupancy, excluding taxes and service charges (a savings of $130 per night over booking package items separately). To book the package, visit www.enjoytheriverwalkae.com.

“During either a daytime adventure through the streets of historic Fort Lauderdale or an overnight retreat at the Riverside Hotel, guests can enjoy the beauty of the city, as well as learn about its history through our Segway tour or package,” said Carmen Ackerman, Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District project manager. “It’s truly the best way to discover Fort Lauderdale.”

About Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District
Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District is a unique partnership of arts and entertainment organizations located along the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale with the express mission of promoting cultural tourism in South Florida. Presenting over 1000 individual events each year, The District attracts well over 1 million visitors annually. Partners of The District Consortium include Broward Center for the Performing Arts, NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Florida Grand Opera, Fort Lauderdale Historical Society, the Historic Stranahan House Museum and Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. It is supported by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. For more information about The District and its partners, visit www.riverwalkae.com.

FORT MYERS

What to See and Do

Bowditch Point Park

Small but excellent, this 17 acres park is locaed at the northern tip of Estero Island, and is a dual use facility. About 7 acres are a developed park for passive recreation use, and the remaining 10 acres a restoration/preserve area. Little known to visitors, it is where my husband and I spent hours photographing osprey almost at eye level as they sat patiently waiting to spot fish. The backbay offers quiet waters, peaceful surroundings and a good look of boats entering and exciting the bay.

The gulf front is very active but still produces a relaxed atmosphere for walkers, swimmers and sunbathers. Walking trails go through the restoration/preserve area and continue through a variety of environments. It's great for bird watching or for those who just want panoramic views of Estereo Bay. There are also tables and grills for those who wish to picnic in the shade; a concession area with a variety of food.

Restrooms and changing facilities are available, and there is access to over 75 parking spaces within the park for a small fee (but come very early because they are filled quickly). Trailer or vehicle trailer parking is permitted up to 20 feet.

This is the only undeveloped property left on Estero Island with shoreline on both the Gulf of Mexico and the back-bay - known as Matanzas Pass. Named after Nathaniel Bowditch - the man who perfected celestal navigation still used today - it previouosly was used for spoil piles - the material dredged from the sea floor in order to make navigable channels for vessel use.

Imaginarium Science Center

has begun hosting Kidding Around programs at Bell Tower Shops every first Tuesday throughout the year. Each two-hour program has a different science- or animal-related theme and features hands-on activities, experiments, and more. Contact: Helena Finnegan (hfinnegan@cityftmyers.com), 239-321-7409, www.imaginariumfortmyers.com.

Broadway Palm Theatre

Don't miss an evening at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. You'll love the performances AND the buffet dinner. Evening productions are from Tuesday thrugh Saturday with dinner beginning at 5:30 PM and the show starting at 7:30 PM every night. Sunday twilight performances will start with dinner at 5:30 and the show at 7 PM --- lots of time to have a leisurely dinner, watch the show, and still get home early.

Featured are nationally selected performers, dazzling sets and costumes, and a live orchestra. The show is just part of the package as the chefs put their own talents to work to create a classic American buffet that changes with each production. And I have to say it is delicious and plentiful!

NOTE: The Broadway Palm dinner theatre in Fort Myers has refashioned its dining room set-up and food and stage fare to celebrate its 20th anniversary this season. Changes include more intimate dining tables, Saturday night table service, and a new bar. www.broadwaypalm.com.

Latest Broadway Palm Theatre Events

Tickets can be purchased through Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre by calling (239) 278-4422 or visiting www.BroadwayPalm.com

Dinner and show ticket prices are $47 - $51 for adults.
Show only seats are available for $27.
Student dinner and show tickets are $25.
Rush student (show only) tickets are available 30 minutes prior
to each performance for $15 per person.

Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
1380 Colonial Boulevard
Fort Myers, FL 33907
(239) 278-4422

Off Broadway Palm Theatre

1380 Colonial Boulevard
Fort Myers, FL 33907
(239) 278-4422

Theatre Conspiracy
In the Foulds Theatre at Alliance for the Arts
10091 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers

Tickets are only $18 and can be reserved by calling
(239) 936-3239 or online at www.theatreconspiracy.org. --
1380 Colonial Boulevard
Fort Myers, FL 33907

For more information check web site www.BroadwayPalm.com

The Children's Theatre

The children's theatre has become a favorite for all ages with the special price of $15 for lunch and the show. Shows include full-scale sets, costumes and lighting. This season includes Alice in Wonderland, The Emperor's New Clothes and Cinderalla.

All ages are charged just $15 for lunch an the show.

Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre is presenting the Children’s Theatre

Individual tickets are on sale now! For reservations visit
www.BroadwayPalm.com, call (239) 278-4422 or stop by the box
office at 1380 Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers.

Broadway Palm Concert Series

For more information contact the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers, FL 33907; (239) 278-4422 or web site www.BroadwayPalm.com

Southwest Florida Yachts

Southwest Florida Yachts has added a 37-foot, twin-engine fiberglass trawler to its charter fleet. Avocet, a Great Harbour N-37, features two cabins, a gourmet galley and a shallow-draft zest for exploring Southwest Florida's celebrated inland waterways.

Berths? Six, including a queen bed in the forward cabin, two double beds in the mid cabin, and a double and a single in the salon. Headroom? 6 feet, 6-inches. Engine room? Walk right in. Head? Stand up shower. Two Yanmar 54-hp diesels deliver exceptionally meager fuel consumption, 2.2 gallons per hour even at a speedy cruising clip of 7.5 knots.

For comfort and relaxation, Avocet features air conditioning and heating, AM/FM Stereo with CD player matched to an Onkyo 600-watt home theatre system, and a 26-inch JBL color TV. The skipper can employ an array of controls and instrumentation including depth sounder, GPS, autopilot, VHF radio, hour meters, including GPS and autopilot.

Avocet is one of nine power yachts from 32 to 50 feet in the Southwest Florida Yachts fleet. Fleet headquarters at Marinatown Marina in N. Fort Myers just off the Caloosahatchee River gives charters quick access to the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway along scenic mangrove island rookeries and relaxing ports of call on Sanibel, Captiva, Pine and Useppa Islands. Visitors have scored the barrier islands tops for their beaches, ambiance, friendliness, restaurants and scenery.

Manager Barb Hansen said Avocet is economical to operate and charters for only $3,273 for seven days in the summer and $4,090 in the winter. Avocet charters also qualify for free cruising days leading up to Southwest Florida Yachts thirtieth anniversary celebration in 2014. Summer season charters of three days or more earn two extra days of free cruising. Cruises of three days or more from Dec. 15 to April 30 earn one free day of cruising

For more information about Southwest Florida Yachts and Florida Sailing & Cruising School visit www.swfyachts.com , www.flsailandcruiseschool.com, www.swfyachtsales.com, and Facebook.com/SWFYachts. Mailing Address: 3444 Marinatown Lane, N.W., N. Fort Myers, FL 33903. Telephone: 800-262-7939 or 239-656-1339, or email info@swfyachts.com.

Florida Sailing & Cruising School & Southwest Florida Yachts Annouce a Three-Year Promotion for Boating Courses and Yacht Charters

Going on 30 years in business, Florida Sailing & Cruising School and its sister division, Southwest Florida Yachts, have announced a three-year promotion for boating courses and yacht charters.

Most courses at Florida Sailing & Cruising School last three days and are limited to four students. Instructors are Coast Guard-certified captains. By day students learn by doing -- steering, plotting, casting-off, docking, selecting and trimming sails, tacking, operating the marine radio, anchoring and more. Evenings, students study textbooks and prepare for the big test.

Today, the company's five-vessel sailing fleet base is Burnt Store Marina in Punta Gorda on beautiful Charlotte Harbor. The firm maintains 11 power yachts from 32 to 50 feet at its headquarters at Marinatown Marina in N. Fort Myers for live aboard courses and cruising famous and scenic Gulf of Mexico barrier islands like Sanibel, Captiva, Useppa and Cayo Costa.

For more information visit www.flsailandcruiseschool.com, email info@swfyachts.com or phone 800-262-7939 or 239-656-1339.

Tanger Factory Outlet Center

recently announced the opening of a LOFT Outlet store, part of the Ann Taylor Stores Corporation. Contact 239-454-1974, www.tangeroutlet.com.

Five new retailers have opened at Gulf Coast Town Center

Yogen Früz, Forema, Mini’s Puppies Boutique & Grooming, V Boutique, and All that Glitz. Contact: 239-267-5107 ext. 239, www.GulfCoastTownCenter.com.

Historic Burroughs Home

The Historic Burroughs Home in downtown Fort Myers is hosting one to two tea classes throughout the month. Lady Katherine’s Art of Tea introduces novices and connoisseurs to the world of whole leaf tea. Her Cup Meets Plate pairs tea and food and teaches how to cook using tea.

Call for the current month’s schedule at 239-337-0706, or web site www.uncommonfriends.org.

Southwest Florida Museum of History

Southwest Florida Museum of History in downtown Fort Myers is holding a year-long series of celebrations for the museum’s 25th anniversary.

For more information contact Helena Finnegan (Hfinnegan@cityftmyers.com), 239-332-5955, www.cityftmyers.com/museum.

Upcoming major events/festivals: (For details, access the online calendar at: www.FortMyersSanibel.com.)

Shell Factory & Nature Park

Shell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers has added a new feature of mammoth proportion. Twelve life-size dinosaur models tower over the attraction’s nature park, including dinosaur eggs into which kids can climb and emerge for photo opportunities. The tallest dinosaur, a T-Rex, will measure 27 feet high.

For more information, contact Pam Cronin (pam@shellfactory.com), 239-995-2141, ext. 116, or check web site www.shellfactory.com.

Art of the Olympians Museum New Exhibit

Olympic discus gold medalist and artist Al Oerter along with fellow artist and Olympic athlete Lin Bochette move forward on an Art of the Olympians Museum in downtown Fort Myers. The exhibit featuring sculpture, photography, and abstract works by Olympic athletes debuted at Lee County Alliance for the Arts last March and traveled to the United Nations in November.

For more information contact Al Oerter (olympicart@earthlink.net), 239-332-5055, or check web site www.artoftheolympians.com.  

The Shell Factory

in North Fort Myers has debuted a new interactive attraction called the Pirate’s Grotto. The cavern-like display, located inside the main building, features animated scallywags that interact with visitors as they enter the grotto. The attraction also has plenty of treasure and booty trinkets for sale.

Contact239-246-8120, www.shellfactory.com.

Imaginarium Hands-On Museum & Aquarium

On Oct. 25, 2009, Imaginarium Hands-On Museum & Aquarium in Fort Myers celebrated its millionth visitor just 14 years after its opening.

Contact 239-321-7409, or web site www.imaginariumfortmyers.com

Art Walk

Eleven art galleries and venues in downtown Fort Myers’ historic River District have united to present Art Walk, a free downtown art celebration on the first Friday of each month, from 6 until 10 p.m. Restaurants and other businesses will also support the monthly event. Many of the galleries will hold opening receptions with refreshments and music. Friday Night Live, a weekly concert series in the Patio de Leon, will provide entertainment  between 5 and 8 p.m. Contact: Greg and Jessamin Knezevich, 239-313-5607.

Calusa Nature Center

has announced plans for a 23-station ropes course. On the Ropes at Calusa (On-TRAC) will be environmentally friendly and accessible with low-to-the-ground and up to 45-feet-tall activities for all ages and abilities. Contact: Jo Ellen Keller (ontheropes@earthlink.net), 239-939-3270, www.calusanature.com.

Lee County Parks & Recreation’s Web site--

www.leeparks.org, sports a new look and improvements that include a monthly “Spotlight” section featuring news of community interest, a “What’s New” column for up-to-date happenings, quick links to current weather and beach conditions, and easier ways to register for programs or order passes.

Contact: www.leeparks.org.

Revolution Cable Park

Revolution Cable Park in North Fort Myers employs 1,864 feet of motorized cable to pull wakeboarders across a 19-acre lake with ramps, rails, and jumps.

Contact: Nick Dimasi, 239-656-3000, www.revolutioncable.com.

Trailhead Park

Fort Myers’ newest recreational facility, Trailhead Park at 3600 Veronica Shoemaker Blvd. links Lee County’s Ten Mile Linear Park in the east with the Six Mile Linear Park in the west, creating an integrated bicycle/pedestrian system exceeding 30 miles. The Trailhead facility has picnic pavilions, restrooms, a playground, and fitness equipment stations.

Contact: Jennifer Hobbic (jhobbic@cityftmyers.com), 239-461-7162.

Tarpon Bay Explorers

Tarpon Bay Explorers, the recreation concession for J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, has a $1.6 million concessions building containing the rental operation for kayaks and tours, plus an expanded gift shop. Contact: Wendy Erler-Schnapp (EcoErler@aol.com), 239-472-8900, www.tarponbayexplorers.com.

Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve

Lee County Parks $2.1 million preserve opened in May 2008, the first of its Conservation 20/20 projects where it built recreational facilities. Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve in North Fort Myers offers a canoe launch, more than 2,700 feet of trails, three observation decks, restrooms, and picnic facilities. Conservation 20/20 is funded by a special property tax that Lee County residents voted on specifically to preserve environmentally critical land.

Contact: Peter Winton (PWinton@leegov.com), 239-533-2777.

New leg of Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail opens

The ribbon has just been cut to open the third leg of one of southwest Florida’s most acclaimed nature-based attractions, the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail – nearly doubling the size to 190 miles. This latest phase will introduce paddlers to the Caloosahatchee River’s creeks and meandering waters.

The Blueway has been a boon to Lee County tourism since its inception five years ago. The Fort Myers/Sanibel Island area has been recognized as one of the best kayaking destinations in North America by both Paddler and Canoe & Kayak magazines. The trail itself has garnered National Recreation Trail designation and is part of the evolving Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.

The original 100-mile trail wanders from Bonita Springs north through Estero Bay and Pine Island Sound to Charlotte County. The new leg up the Caloosahatchee River and its tributaries adds 90 miles to the trail, extending it from San Carlos Bay to the Hendry County line. As with the Estero Bay portion (Phase 1) and the Pine Island Sound section (Phase 2), put-in sites are designated along the trail, as are other amenities such as campsites, restaurants, marinas and cultural and historic sites of the Calusa Indians, for whom the trail is named. The new Caloosahatchee leg (Phase 3) now offers a lush, green, Old-Florida dimension to the Blueway, complete with moss-draped oaks along shores dotted with expansive preserve land.

On the trail, novice to experienced paddlers can get up close with outstanding flora and fauna while exploring back bays, aquatic preserves, wildlife refuges, creeks, bayous, rivers, and mangrove forests. Many of the trails follow the course charted some 2,000 years ago by the area’s earliest residents, the Calusa Indians. 

History buffs explore archaeological dig sites and ceremonial shell mounds found on Mound Key, an island inhabited by the tribe from about 100 – 1750 A.D. Another notable stop for paddlers interested in the past is the Koreshan State Historic Site. This unique utopia features remnants of a religious sect established in 1894. Nature-lovers enjoy the plentiful wildlife, such as common to rare birds, Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, and a host of other marine life.

According to Betsy Clayton, waterways coordinator for Lee County Parks and Recreation, “Kayaking the Blueway is great for combining wildlife viewing, adventure, and recreation into your vacation. It’s wonderful exercise with little impact and you can get to places where motorized boats cannot go.”

The trail is also user friendly with well marked signage and Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates. In addition, detailed maps are available to aid in navigation. “One of the most complimented aspects of the Blueway is how it is designed with a variety of stopping points with a variety of dining and overnight lodging options,” Clayton emphasized.

With some of the best year-round kayak waters in the eastern U.S., both kayaking and kayak fishing have grown in popularity with visitors to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Outfitters offer guided trips (including starlight and full-moon excursions) or boat rentals are available for those who prefer to paddle on their own.

From outings lasting a few hours to week-long adventures, the educational and entertaining Great Calusa Blueway delivers a variety of experiences.

For information on the trail, log onto www.GreatCalusaBlueway.com. For information on planning a vacation to the Fort Myers/Sanibel Island area, visit www.FortMyersSanibel.com .

Cayo Costa State Park Beach One of the Best! --

The beach at Cayo Costa State Park was recently named among the world’s best “hidden beaches” by prestigious Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s Web site, www.Concierge.com.  The site described the beach on Cayo Costa island, which is accessible only by boat: “soft white sand, chill-out serenity, and nary a high-rise at the tide line.”

Contact web site www.leevcb.com.

Sun Splash Family Waterpark

in Cape Coral reveals a new look and feel. Construction is underway for three new power slides, which are set to open later in the season. Contactwww.sunsplashwaterpark.com.

Lakes Regional Park

A new 4,000-square-foot water feature recently opened at Lakes Regional Park in south Fort Myers. The 3,800-gallon water play area includes misting palm trees, a cool bench and dew drop umbrella, a ship’s mast, two water cannons, a large and small water arch, two foam geysers and two mini and one large popcorn jets. The deck is surrounded by a four-foot high fence for the children’s protection and is fully automated with strike guard lighting protection.

Contact: Betsy Clayton (bclayton@leegov.com), 239-433-3855, www.leeparks.org.

Eastwood Golf Course Re-Opened

After six months and $1.4 million of renovations, city-owned Eastwood Golf Course has fully reopened all 18 holes. Improvements include 84 new bunkers, 54 new teeing grounds, new irrigation, resurfaced cart paths, a new driving range, and a new $2 million clubhouse. For more information contact Jennifer Hobbic (jhobbic@cityftmyers.com), 239-461-7162, www.cityftmyers.com/attractions/golf.aspx.

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

The $3.5 million, 11,000-square-foot interpretative center at the Fort Myers park is certified “green” (environmentally correct).

For more information contact Mary Rude (rudeme@leegov.com), 239-432-2004, or check web site www.leeparks.org.

Manatee Park

Manatee Park in Fort Myers opened its new Ethnobotany Trail. The trail features plants used by the Calusa Indians and later by the Seminoles and early settlers.

For more information contact Nancy Kilmartin (nkilmartin@leegov.com), 239-690-5030, or check web site www.leeparks.org.

Southwest Florida Museum of History

Southwest Florida Museum of History in downtown Fort Myers is holding a year-long series of celebrations for the museum’s 25th anniversary.

For more information contact Helena Finnegan (Hfinnegan@cityftmyers.com), 239-332-5955, www.cityftmyers.com/museum.

Upcoming major events/festivals: (For details, access the online calendar at: www.FortMyersSanibel.com.)

Shell Factory & Nature Park Adds New Feature

Shell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers has added a new feature of mammoth proportion. Twelve life-size dinosaur models tower over the attraction’s nature park, including dinosaur eggs into which kids can climb and emerge for photo opportunities. The tallest dinosaur, a T-Rex, will measure 27 feet high.

For more information, contact Pam Cronin (pam@shellfactory.com), 239-995-2141, ext. 116, or check web site www.shellfactory.com.

Art of the Olympians Museum New Exhibit

Olympic discus gold medalist and artist Al Oerter along with fellow artist and Olympic athlete Lin Bochette move forward on an Art of the Olympians Museum in downtown Fort Myers. The exhibit featuring sculpture, photography, and abstract works by Olympic athletes debuted at Lee County Alliance for the Arts last March and traveled to the United Nations in November.

For more information check web site www.artoftheolympians.com.  

Where to Stay

Best Western Fort Myers Waterfront

The Best Western Fort Myers Waterfront on the Caloosahatchee River in North Fort Myers has completed a million-dollar renovation. The hotel now features Best Western’s Uptown Collection with plush carpeting and deluxe bedding and furnishings. The hotel also added a business center, sports bar and grill, exercise room and meeting room seating up to 60 people theatre style. For more information or to make reservations, call (239) 997-5511 or visit www.bestwesternwaterfront.com.

Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande

Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande has been named to The National Register of Historic Places, a select group of historically noteworthy sites and properties throughout the country that have been identified and documented as being significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, or culture. The resort, also designated a National Historic Landmark, has been in business over 95 years. Contact: 941-964-4631, www.gasparillainn.com.

Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa

Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers, which recently earned its AAA Four-Diamond rating , offers a ladies-only weekend escape, Let’s Hear it for The Girls!, starting at $781.40 per person. The package includes accommodations for four, a spa credit of $200 each, dinner aboard the Princess for four, a reserved poolside cabana and pitcher of adult beverage of choice, and a private limo for a day of shopping on Sanibel Island. Contact: Autumn B. Mayfield (autum@proofcreative.com), 850-443-2212, www.sanibel-resort.com.

Embassy Suites Fort Myers-Estero

The Embassy Suites Fort Myers–Estero was named No.1 in quality for the Embassy Suites brand during the first half of 2007. Embassy Suites, as part of the Hilton brand, surveys guests via an online tool known as SALT, the Satisfaction and Loyalty Tracking survey. For more information check web site www.fortmyersembassy.com.

FORT MYERS BEACH

Ft. Myers Beach Places I've Eaten At

Reese's Restaurant (I ate here)

(1661 Estero Blvd., Ft. Myers Beach, FL 33931 at the Key Estero Shops -- 239-463-3933)

Great Home Cooking with huge size portions. Omelets with everything in them imaginable to your exact order and delicious home-fries. Serving Breakfast and lunch from 7:30 am-1 pm. Daily specials; carry out available, including beer and wine. And, if you like cows, you'll love it here. Besides the good eats, the restaurant is decorated with cows everywhere - on the tables, walls, etc.

Nervous Nellie's Crazy Waterfront Eatery

The menu is so large that it will probably take you 15 minutes to decide what you want to order - whether it's Sunday Brunch, lunch, dinner, snacks or just a drink. The restaurant is open all day and late at night, there's live music (sit ouside to hear well), and is right on the water. Free marina dockage is offered with a dock attendant's assistance, and take-out food is available by calling 239-463-8077. This is a favorite spot with the locals. Hint: Bring your glasses. There's so much on the menu, that glasses are necessary to read the small print - or a magnifying glass!

Where to Stay

Casa Playa All Suite Resort

What a joy it was staying at this all-suite resort. From our spacious unit, we looked right onto the beach because it IS on the beach! I went outside early each morning to fish, while my husband took an hour's stroll along the surf.

Casa Playa All Suite Resort is located on the exclusive north tip of Estero Island, and the beachfront resort, with its distinctive and unique Mediterranean falir, has been designated a Superior Small Lodging Property and is perfect for a weekend getaway or extended family vacation. Pets are allowed in suites on the first two floors - a definite plus for us since we love to travel with our cat, Buddy, who is always well behaved.

Each of the accommodations feature screened balconies with a patio table and chairs, large remote color cable T.V., and individually controlled heat and air conditioning. Units with full-sized kitchens offer self-cleaning oven, refrigerator with ice maker, dishwasher and microwave. The unit we occupied had a large kitchenette, refrigerator, microwave, sink, drip coffee maker and toaster. We particularly enjoyed barbequing steaks at the beachfront picnic area, taking dips in the large Gulf-front heated swimming pool, and doing our laundry right on the premises.

At night we relaxed on the screened-in balcony watching the sun go down and the pelicans flying by, and just enjoying the sound of the surf right beneath us, and it was just a short hop over to a wonderful park where we could hike, birdwatch, fish, or simply sit and watch the boats go by.

For more information, contact Casa Playa, 510 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, Florida 33931; 800-569-4876, or check web site www.casaplayaresort.com

What to See & Do

Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival & New Events Slated this Fall

Lee County is set to take the Calusa Blueway Paddling Festival – a longtime Southwest Florida autumn event – and spread it throughout the year. Instead of an annual three-day happening, the festival’s activities have been segmented to offer canoeists, kayakers and SUPers more to do in various months.

Returning to the slate of events are the annual catch-and-release fishing tournament and an SUP race. New happenings include a monthly speakers’ program.

Stay tuned for events and further details. Find Calusa Blueway on Facebook or CalusaPaddle on Twitter. Trail information is at www.calusablueway.com or www.leeparks.org/blueway. Visit the iTunes store or Google Play to download the free smart-phone app. Visitors can find information at www.fortmyerssanib

Mound House in Fort Myers Beach

recently announced the soft opening of its Stories Beneath Our Feet exhibit. Visitors can visit an underground room and feel as though they’re inside a Calusa shell mound dating back 2000 years. Tours of the exhibit take place Wednesdays from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Other archaeological and environmental exhibits and features are in progress. Contact: moundhouse@fortmyersbeachfl.gov, 239-765-0865, www.moundhouse.org.  

Lovers Key State Park

Lovers Key State Park in Fort Myers Beach has more than romantic appeal. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says it also has economic appeal. It rated #1 income generator among Florida state parks, having contributed $40 million to local coffers. Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin and John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo rank second and third.

For more information, check web site www.floridastateparks.org.

Imaginarium Hands-On Museum Exhibits

The Imaginarium Hands-On Museum in Fort Myers unveiled a new permanent exhibit titled The Sporty Science Exhibit. A collaboration between the Florida Everblades hockey team, the Fort Myers Miracle baseball team, and the Imaginarium, it illustrates, using interactive elements, how science affects sports. For more information, check web site www.cityftmyers.com/imaginarium.

Bass Pro Shops/Outdoor World

Bass Pro Shops/Outdoor World Fort Myers is a fantastic place to shop - or browse at its newest location at Gulf Coast Town Center.

For more information on this great store, check web site www.basspro.com.

Lynn Hall Park

Right next to Fort Myers Beach Sky Bridge, this park and pier provides a full day's activities for all ages. It's great for fishing or being content in the sea breeze, sun bathing and swimming. The 560-foot pier stretches into the Gulf of Mexico and you'll have fun watching hungry pelicans trying to snatch an angler's fresh-caught fish. Walk along the gorgeous beach, check out the wreck line - sea debris left on the beach during high tide, where you can find parchment worm tubes, whelk egg cases and lovely sea shells.

Bring your own lunch to have on the beach or visit the snack bars and restaurants next to the pier.

GULF COUNTY

About Gulf County

Located in Northwest Florida, Gulf County boasts 43 miles of natural shoreline. Here, where water surrounds, there aren't high-rises or busy highways and never will be. There are white-sand beaches facing westward into spectacular sunsets -- on the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay. There are beckoning bayous, unexpected wildlife encounters and the mysterious Dead Lakes. There are also seaside bike trails, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and snorkeling, and genuine places, like the historic Indian Pass Raw Bar and flavors like Tupelo Honey. Learn more about this 'no worry, no hurry' destination at www.visitgulf.com.

"Live Unpacked" in Gulf County‘

2017 is still new, and yet New Year’s resolutions are old news. By mid-February, 80 percent of resolutions have failed, according to U.S. News & World Report. Not in Gulf County, Florida. Here, resolutions thrive, and we see it every day. In fact, we help people keep their promises ˜  to explore, to learn, to try new things, to be the best versions of themselves.

We’re such believers in turning resolutions into reality that we’re happy to announce the expansion of our Adventure Guide and Concierge programs, which empower visitors to take that leap -- of faith and adventure -- and use our 244 miles of shoreline as their launch pad.

This commitment to adventure is at the heart of our new brand, which we’re also thrilled to announce. (See, we’ve been tackling our own resolutions.) Our new logo celebrates our diverse waters and adventures. Our new tagline ˜ “live unpacked” ˜ encourages us all to break out of our comfort zones and seize a new experience, no matter how big or small, every day.

More about our Concierge and Adventure Guide programs

Gulf County concierge staff point travelers in the right direction with a FREE online or phone session ˜ that covers lodging as well as adventures and adventure guides by waterway ˜ BEFORE visitors even get to Gulf County. Or, visitors can find them at our Welcome Center. www.visitgulf.com/article/play-more-plan-less. For Concierge service: www.visitgulf.com/article/play-more-plan-less.

Our adventure guides accompany visitors on their next adventure -- from easy-going turtle walks to full-throttle kayaking in St. Joseph Bay or touring the Dead Lakes. We now have more than 20 of these guides, and they and their tales of adventure are featured on our website -- www.visitgulf.com/adventure-guides.

Gulf County Adventures Around Every Corner for Every Season

Gulf County, Florida (GCFL) is truly a remarkable escape because there is no 'off' season for adventure. Locals, 'Adventure Guides' are passionate, insightful and know how to make visits exceptionally memorable.

Here are a few of the best, for every season.

SPRING into the Dead Lakes: 'The Dead Lakes get their name from the Cypress and Tupelo trees that stand in the water,' says Matt Godwin, owner of Off The Map Expeditions. 'If you go out early in the morning in April, the birds are all coming into nest and other critters are just showing up. The fog comes off the water. It's very still. You are in the wilderness.'

Soak up the SUMMER sun on a different beach every day: Scallop in the Bay. Shell on the Cape. Go fishing out at Indian Pass. Ms. Jeri, beach adventurer and owner of Gulf Coast Vacation Rentals, recommends Lady J Charters for the Gulf and Southern Tide Charters for the Bay. Jeri's mantra: -- You never know what the next day's adventure may bring.

FALL in love with sunset horseback riding on the beach: GCFL's sunsets are already breathtaking, but something happens in the fall that is hard to put into words: every hue of red, orange, yellow and purple you can imagine paint the sky. Take your sunset ride out on the Cape with local guides Broke-A-Toe.

Thaw out this WINTER at 'The Point' or 'Stump Hole:' A Florida 'winter' is something to experience. Everything is crisp, cool and still gorgeous shades of blue and green. David Warriner, president of Tapper and Company Properties Management, Inc. recommends renting a pontoon boat and watching the sunset from 'The Point,' the northernmost tip of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. Another favorite? Renting a bike, riding to 'Stump Hole,' climbing the rocks and watching the waves.

For details on these and even more adventures,www.visitgulf.com/adventure-guides>check out our guides.

Gulf County -- A True Eco-Adventure

It's hard to explain Gulf County, Florida (GCFL) to someone who has never visited. It's pristine, yet rugged; secluded, yet vast; indescribable, and absolutely breathtaking. GCFL is a natural playground, a real-life 'Choose Your Own Adventure' novel. Need a few examples? Let the locals, or as they're known, Adventure Guides, share their favorites.

First up, Indian Pass Lagoon. Trish Petrie, owner of the eco-friendly Turtle Beach Inn, recommends exploring the area via kayak. The water is calm, so it's an easy paddle and you‚ll see gorgeous marshes, extensive oyster beds and an occasional alligator snoozing back in the coves. Too much work? Take a personalized eco-tour in a flat-bottomed boat and let a guide show you all the hidden wildlife (but Trish suggests good shoes to safely navigate the mud and oyster shells).

And then there are the guided snorkeling trips. Debbie VanFleet, owner of Happy Ours Kayak and Bike Outpost, calls them 'eco-spiritual.' She starts in a shallow part of St. Joseph Bay with pure white sand. You'll see stingrays, whelks and horseshoe crabs and blue crabs hidden under the sand. Short turtle grass is like an aquarium, and the tulip shells are stunning. Thicker, longer grass is home to tunicates or sea squirts. These guys are filter feeders, but with a central nervous system, so they react when you touch them. These trips are a fascinating study in marine biology -- and you'll discover something different each time you visit.

In the mood for a hike? Five words: St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. And who better to recommend this locale than its manager, Mark Knapke? 'We see deer, bobcat, squirrels, raccoons -- lots of wildlife all of the time.' In the evenings, you may even get to hear the hauntingly beautiful call of a great horned owl. Oh, and did we mention the otters and baby deer?

And there are so many more adventures to choose from. Love turtles? They're everywhere in the Bay. What about a leisurely bike ride? There are trails for miles with views to last a lifetime. For details on these and even more adventures, www.visitgulf.com/adventure-guides.

About Gulf County

Located in Northwest Florida, Gulf County boasts 43 miles of natural shoreline. Here, where water surrounds us, there aren't high-rises or busy highways and never will. The white-sand beaches face westward into spectacular sunsets-- on the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay. There are beckoning bayous, unexpected wildlife encounters and the mysterious Dead Lakes. There are also seaside bike trails, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and snorkeling as well as genuine places, like the historic Indian Pass Raw Bar and flavors like Tupelo Honey. Learn more at www.visitgulf.com and on www.facebook.com/VisitGulfCounty>Facebook, twitter.com/gulfcountyfl>Twitter and /www.pinterest.com/gulfcountyfl/>Pinterest.

HOLLYWOOD (near Fort Lauderdale)

Coming soon!

HOMOSASSA

What to See & Do

Alpaca Magic USA

Just east of historic Homosassa Springs you'll find the home of about 50 Alpacas. It's a family business that was started about 20 years ago and later a store and gardens were added. The farm is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for free visits with the Alpacas.

Browse through the store; it's filled with items made from the Alpaca Fleece, including hats, gloves, sweaters and lots more. The yarn nook has many skeins of Alpaca and Alpaca blend yarns as well as coton and Merino blends. You'll also find spinning wheels and felting supplies here so you can create your own masterpiece.

Of course, the Alpacas are the main attraction, but stroll through the garden where you'll find many butterfly host and nectar plants.

Located at 4920 Grover Clveland, Homosassa. For more information check web sie www.AlpacaMagicUSA.com or send an e-mail to surialpaca@yahoo.com.

Sculpture Gallery

Specializing in copper & brass, Ryan Jenkins work is quite impressive. He creates many species of fish as both half model and full bodied fish and some are made into table lamps while others into schools of fish that he's seen while diving in the Florida Keys. You're sure to spend some time at this gallery and, on the way in, look up at some of the trees and you may spot a bicycle hanging from one of the huge Live Oak tree branches.

Location: 10844 W. Yulee Drive, Homosassa, FL 34448. Phone number: 352-364-3227. Web site www.copperfishart.com. Email: fb.me/ryanjenkinscopperfishart.

Howard's Flea Market

Reputed to be Citrus County's largest flea market, it's the largest I've ever been to. Wear closed good walking shoes, especially after a rain where some of the areas are wet and muddy. Also arrive early to get a parking space because it gets extremely crowded. However, don't go on a Friday because hardly any vendors are there.

Here, you'll find new merchandise at reasonable prices, as well as used merchandise and plain old junk. I love to look over the old stuff because it brings back memories. You'll find almost anything here, but the fruits, veggies and plants are well worth the money and there's a large selection. There are also food vendors and places to sit, but many people bring their own lunch.

Open Friday (7 am-3 pm), and Saturday and Sunday (6:30 am - 3 pm).

Location: 6373 So. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, FL (352) 628-2532.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

If you haven't visited Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park yet, GO! It's a showcase for native Florida wildlife and offers a rare opportunty to observe these animals, birds and plants in their natural setting. You can also participate in educational programs, daily, on West Indian manatees, Florida snakes and other wildlife. A huge spring, from which millions of gallons of fresh clear water bubble every hour is the centerpiece of this 210-acre park and is the headwater of the Homosassa River. Stroll along unspoiled nature trails; see deer, bear, bobcats, otters and cougar at close range. See a variety of birds, from colorful wood ducks and flamingos to birds of prey, herons, egrets and a Whooping Crane. The Children's Education Center allows hands-on experiences.

Another interesting attraction is the floating observatory where yu can go below the water's surface to view thousands of fresh and saltwater fish and manatees. This is one of the only places in the world where manatees may be observed at close range 365 days a year.

Open every day, including holidays, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The ticket counters close at 4 p.m. The Visitor Center and main entrance is located on U.S. Highway 19 in Homosassa Springs. For more information call 352-628-2311. 4150 South Suncoast Boulevard, Homosassa, Florida 34446 or go to web site www.Homosassasprings.org.

Pepper Creek Pottery

Here, you'll find unique gifts, wall art, handmade jewelry and custom work. The staff is friendly and even pointed us in the right direction for paddling our kayaks when we mentioned we were visiting the are and looking for new places to kayak. Well worth a stop and do check out the pottery displayed outside after you've finished looking around inside. All the local, handcrafted pottery and jewelry is made on the premises - featuring functional and art pieces in high fire and raku, jewelry in Lampwork Glass, and Steampunk. It's interesting, too, to watch the craftspersons working.

Open 7 days a week from noon till 5 p.m., but call before going to make certain the potters are working. It is located at 10849 W Yulee Drive, Homosassa, FL 34448

For more information check web site www.facebook.com/peppercreekpots or call 352-293-7756.

The Glass Garage Art Gallery

Whether you just want to browse or buy, strolling through this shop is a joy. The stained glalss, fused glass, dichroic jewelry and original oil paintings on wood are all a joy to behold. Here, Lori and Louise Whitney create unique one of a kind art glass p;ieces for the gallery. The colors of the glass works are mind boggling and you'll probably find this is the perfect place to purchase souvenirs for your friends - or for your home and garden.

Located at 10823 W. Yulee Drive, Homosassa, FL 34448. For more information call 352-212-3617 or 352-228-3875 or go to web site www.theglassgarage.net.

Where to Stay

Chassahowitzka River Campground

Lovely large sites, most beneath trees, very well kept and close to all activities and amusements.

Location: 8600 Miss Maggie Drive, Homosassa, Florida 34448. For more information check web site www.ChassahowitzkaRiverCampground.com.

Camp 'N' Water Campground

Located on the tree-shaded banks of the Homosassa River, this is a quiet and scenic campground that also has efficency rental units available by the day, week or month. When I visiited, the rest/shower room was spotless. If you stay for six days, one day is free. Big rigs are welcome, and each site includes a concrete pad with a full hook-up station with electric/water/sewer/cable/Wi-Fi) and pull in sites are available, too. It's golf cart friendly and the pool is heated year-round besides being handicap accessible. Estended stays may forward mail to your Florida home by reserving a mailbox and US mail is delivered to the front office daily. There's a shuffleboard court next to the office.

For reservations call 352-628-2000 or write to the campground at 11465 W. Priest Lane, Homosassa, FL 34448 or e-mail: ccampground1@tampabay.rr.com

Where to Eat

Moschello's Italian Restaurant (I ate here)

I can recommend this restaurant after having eaten here twice. The first time I ordered a large pepperoni and onion pizza for myself and my partner. It seemed larger than any other large pizza I ever got and was absolutely delicious. The friendly server distributed the first slice for us, kept coming back to check that everything was fine, and the decor of the restaurant was fine, too. The next time we were here, we ordered Chicken Parm with pasta that was served with bread and a choice of soup or salad. We felt that the chicken tasted too mushy, but you might love it.. When we were finished, the portion was so large that we asked for a take-out box and the server gladly put the leftovers into the boxes. Prices are very reasonable, and we could tell that locals prefer this place to other Italian restaurants in the area. Get here before 6 p.m. or you'll have to wait for a table.

Location: 3772 Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, FL; 352-628-7704.

Hours: 11-9 Mon - Thurs. / 11-10 Fri. & Sat. Clsoed Sunday

JACKSONVILLE & JACKSONVILLE BEACH

What Makes Jacksonville So Special

If you have ever wondered “What makes Jacksonville special? What sets this city apart?”
Did you know that…?

· The first time Europeans and Native Americans met for a meal was actually in Fort Caroline, Jacksonville in 1564.
· In the early years of the 20th century, Jacksonville earned the title of “Winter Film Capital of the World” attracting over 30 movie studios.
· Treaty Oak is Jacksonville’s oldest resident. The Southern Oak is more than 250 years old.
· With over 80,000 acres of parks Jacksonville boasts the largest urban park system in the country, almost six times the size of the island of Manhattan.
· The Mug Race is the longest river race for sailboats in the world.
· Kona Skatepark is the world's oldest operational private skate park.
· Locally own restaurants and bars on King Street in Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood offer over 300 beers on tap. Happy hour anyone?
…These are just some of the “Only in Jax” facts!

Jacksonville is a natural paradise with a thriving urban scene. Our 21 miles of serene beaches, extensive park system and our hip dinning and nightlife scene make us an electrifying tourist and business destination. For more knowledge about Jacksonville - after you've read the latest events and places to stay below, check out web site www.OnlyInJax.com which gives Jacksonville residents and local organizations the knowledge to discover a new side of Jacksonville and become ambassadors for their city, while at the same time serving as an information hub for visitors looking for the “real” Jacksonville experience.Here you'll find information on local businesses, special recognitions, restaurants, nightlife, arts, entertainment, adventure, sports, shopping and history that is unique and can only be found in Jacksonville.

Where to Stay

Homewood Suites by Hilton Jacksonville – South/St. Johns Town Center

is a winner of three awards. For details check out web site www.homewood-suites.com

TownePlace Suites Jacksonville Butler Boulevard

recently opened and is the first TownePlace Suites to open in Jacksonville and is operated by Marriott International. The extended-stay hotel has 85 suites and is convenient to the University of North Florida, Mayo Clinic, the beaches and Downtown. The hotel provides an upscale residential atmosphere for guests staying a week or more.

The property offers studio, one- and two-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens and separate living/working and sleeping areas. Other amenities include a 24-hour business center, outdoor swimming pool, guest laundry, In a Pinch Market, exercise room, free high-speed and wireless Internet in all guest rooms and public spaces and complimentary continental breakfast as well as 24-hour coffee service. www.jaxtps.com

Radisson Hotel Jacksonville

boosted its technology amenities and added LG 32-inch, flat panel, high definition LCD televisions, equipped with wired and wireless Internet, and Web TV to all 167 guestrooms, as well as adding several large, flat panel LCD televisions to public spaces throughout the hotel. The hotel’s upgrade is an effort to continue exceptional customer satisfaction. Also, continued efforts to be an environmentally conscious property, the hotel became certified under the Florida Green Lodging Program. To become a designated member of the Florida Green Lodging Program, hotels must implement a variety of green practices.

At the Radisson Hotel Jacksonville Butler Boulevard, these practices include water conservation, a linen reuse program, high-energy efficient lighting and programmable thermostats. The hotel also reduces waste by providing the opportunity to recycle, purchasing items in bulk, purchasing post-consumer-recycled materials and recycling ink and toner cartridges. In addition, the hotel uses green cleaners and high-efficiency air filters. www.radisson.com/jacksonvillefl_butler

The Renaissance World Golf Village Resort

In addition, the package includes: deluxe guest room accommodations; one World Golf Hall of Fame “Combo Ticket” per golfer, which provides a two-day admission to the adjacent World Golf Hall of Fame, the ultimate destination for the celebration of golf’s greatest players with fun interactive exhibits and historic golf artifacts. Plus, the package includes: one round on the World Golf Hall of Fame’s 18-hole championship putting course; one shot at the 132-yard Island Challenge Hole; a $50 PGA TOUR Golf Academy (World Golf Village) credit voucher per golfer; breakfast daily in the resort’s Villagio Italian Grille; and range balls.

Making the package even more appealing is that the resort also provides a complimentary shuttle for individual guests (based on availability) to and from historic downtown St. Augustine. This service enables guests to easily visit such sites in St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565 (and is celebrating its 450th anniversary in 2015), as the historic Castillo de San Marcos fort, The Fountain of Youth, and shopping on the charming, brick-paved St. George Street. Additional options in downtown St. Augustine include the Old Town Trolley Tour, The Old Jail, The St. Augustine History Museum, The Spanish Quarter, The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, Flagler College, Whetstone’s Chocolate Factory, Lightner Museum, and a variety of water activities.
Located within the lush 6,300-acre World Golf Village, The Renaissance World Golf Village Resort features an array of offerings to appeal to virtually any guest. Recreational options at the resort include the two championship golf courses, Spa, a fitness center, pool, hot tub, and full-service concierge. Guests also have access to four additional golf courses within 15 minutes of the resort, for a total of 108 holes of golf. Guests enjoy an easy walk to the World Golf Hall of Fame, IMAX® 3D Theater, and the Walk of Champions. In addition, guests can take golf lessons at the renowned PGA TOUR Golf Academy.

The resort also features the popular Villagio Italian Grille; The Resort Shop, which proudly serves Starbuck’s coffees, pastries, breakfast fare, sandwiches, soups, salads, wraps, and desserts, as well as an array of local gifts and souvenirs; a picturesque gazebo; and a dramatic nine-story atrium lobby, which features a Colonial/Asian theme with lush foliage and a colorful 7-story modern hanging sculpture that is reminiscent of open Florida skies.

When visiting the resort, guests have the opportunity to take fun eco-tours and chartered fishing trips, enjoy exceptional shopping at two large outlet malls, and explore historic St. Augustine.

For information on The Renaissance World Golf Village Resort, or for reservations, call 888-740-7020 or 904-940-8000, or visit www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/jaxbr-world-golf-village-renaissance-st-augustine-resort .

Hotel Indigo – Jacksonville/Deerwood Park

opened in January at Tapestry Park on the Southside of Jacksonville. Tapestry Park is a lifestyle center with unique shops, restaurants and residential properties. The boutique hotel features a waterfront café, as well as 2,100 square feet of meeting space that overlooks a lake. Hotel Indigo offers a relaxing and inviting environment in its public spaces for busy business travelers. This is the first Hotel Indigo to open in Northeast Florida. www.hotelindigo.com

Hampton Inn and Suites Jacksonville South-Bartram Park

opened mid-January 2009. The hotel is conveniently located off I-95 at Old St. Augustine Rd. and across from Baptist Medical Center. The hotel is a smoke-free property and features many amenities including gift and convenience shop, guest laundry, business center, complimentary hot breakfast, an inviting lobby, wired and wireless high-speed internet access, fitness center, outdoor pool and meeting facilities. www.jacksonvillebartramparksuites.hamptoninn.com

Hilton Garden Inn Jacksonville/Ponte Vedra

The Inn is characterized by an inviting, contemporary/traditional-Florida style, the six-story, 127-room hotel features 56 spacious suites — 10 of which boast private whirlpools, a unique feature amongst the Hilton Garden Inn brand of hotels. Located in the Sawgrass Village, directly across from the world-renowned Sawgrass Golf Resort and Spa, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the recently-renovated Hilton Garden Inn Jacksonville/ Ponte Vedra provides the finest-quality essential services and amenities for small groups, business travelers, weekend leisure guests and golfers, with dedication to guest comfort and exemplary service. Call (904) 280-1661 or visit www.jacksonvillepontevedra.stayhgi.com.

The Holiday Inn Express

in Jacksonville Beach is just a simple complimetnaryshuttle drive away from the ocean and the Mayo Clinic Hospital, and boasts some luxurious amenities like large-flat-panel televisions in every room, rooms with hot tubs and kids’ suites which feature bunk beds, a divider wall for privacy as well as a Sony PlayStation 3 video game system. The hotel also has a large state-of-the-art meeting room that can accommodate up to 100 people as well as many other luxurious features. Call (904) 435-3000 or visit www.hiejaxbeach.com

Microtel Inn & Suites

Northeast Florida welcomes the area’s newest property to the area – the Microtel Inn & Suites-Jacksonville Airport, opened in June 2008, is designed, over the 77-room property with a contemporary and streamlined, yet practical environment, with unexpected enhancements that guests would not ordinarily expect to find in an economy hotel. All guestrooms feature a 32-inch flat-panel LCD HD television, sleek granite countertops, micro fridge and microwave (in doubles and suites), and spacious desk units equipped with easily accessible power and data ports. The hotel’s bold color palette known as “Cappuccino” (one of the brand’s six new palettes) integrates rich, deep colors to create a comfortable, inviting atmosphere and a consistent theme throughout. Suites, with Microtel’s new signature MicroKitchen™, are divided into four zones – with ample space to work, eat, sleep and relax.

The three-story hotel offers single, double and suite accommodations, all with free local and free long distance phone calls anywhere within the continental United States. and free WiFi; 32-inch flat-panel LCD HD television; hairdryer; coffee maker, and iron and ironing board. In addition, there is an on-site fitness center, business center, outdoor swimming pool, meeting room, and guest laundry. Guests can enjoy Microtel’s new complimentary Get Up and Joe™ continental daily breakfast and 24 hour coffee and tea. Free airport shuttle service is available. Call (904) 771-7171 or visit www.microtelinn.com.

Omni Hotel

Downtown Jacksonville's four-diamond hotel boasts beautiful ballrooms, an award-winning culinary team and luxurious amenities. The hotel can accommodate an intimate gathering or coordinate an elegant dinner for 400 in the Florida Ballroom. The hotel's 354 rooms overlook either the city lights or the St. John's River and are sure to please.

For more information, call 904-355-6664 or check web site www.omnihotels.com

Hyatt Place Jacksonville Airport

The suite-style rooms at the Hyatt Place are designed with comfort in mind, featuring separate living and sleeping rooms with a Hyatt Grand Bed and a large flat screen TV. Continental breakfast is available daily and there are selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner from an onsite restaurant. For small meetings, there is 1,200 sq. ft. of flexible meeting room space. For guests’ convenience there is a complimentary shuttle, taking guests anywhere within a three-mile radius of the hotel.

Where to Eat

Black Sheep --

· A visit to the newly open Black Sheep at Riverside’s historic 5 Points neighborhood will leave you breathless and satisfied. A new project from owner and Chef Jonathan Insetta, Black Sheep’s menu features Chicken and Dumplings, Georgia Peach Chutney, Short Rib Poutine and sides like Fried Green Tomatoes with warm Maytag Blue Cheese Fondue and Cheddar Grits with Smoked Bacon, simply spectacular! Ingredients for Black Sheep’s menu are all locally grown and meats come from local organic farm. Black Sheep also has Jacksonville’s only rooftop bar and restaurant, with spectacular views of the Downtown Skyline.

Maple Street Biscuit Company

New option in town is Maple Street Biscuit Company. Its menu revolves around flaky and fluffy biscuit sandwiches and southern flavors with a modern twist. Try the Loaded Goat, a biscuit with fried chicken and fried goat cheese.

King Street Beer & Food District --

is an emerging hotspot in town. Located in the historic Riverside neighborhood, this 5 block district offers visitors different and local options for dining, dancing and drinking. On King Street - next to local famous hotspots Kickbacks Gastropub and Carmines Pie House- are now a new wave of locally owned restaurants giving this strip new life and flavors. Visit Lola’s Burrito Joint and try their Yucky Yucca Fries or the Chicken Curry Empanadas, then walk over to Pele’s Wood Fire and try one of their handmade pizzas that cook in just 90 seconds! Another new option is Soup’s On with vegetarian soups that include the savory Cream of Plantain and the unexpected Cherry Almond Soup. The Garage is a bar/restaurant with a long list of grilled cheese sandwiches and the famous Red Velvet Cupcake Burger, a truly decadent dessert! A new addition to the strip is The Salty Fig Southern Gastropub, that opened its doorsin December 2012. The Salty Fig started as a Food truck combining Creole and American flavors. Breweries are also thriving on King Street, led by two popular craft breweries –Bold City Brewery and Intuition Ale Works, visitors can tour both breweries and enjoy beer tastings. Bars on the strip offer anything from 25 beers on tap to 85 beers on tap!

Derby on Park

Located in Historic 5 Points neighborhood, Derby on Park  is a new diner with old-school charm offering what some consider the “best burgers” in Jacksonville. The restaurant opened in the fall of 2012 after an extensive renovation.

San Marco Dining District

San Marco Dining District is an elegant and unique Jacksonville dining option including some of the city’s best restaurants and chefs. It is composed of Chef Matthew Medure’s Matthew’s Restaurant, Chef Tom Gray’s Bistro Aix, Chef Sam Efro’s Taverna, bb’s Restaurant and Bar and The Grotto Wine and Tapas.  All these exceptional options are in the same neighborhood offering fine dining, outstanding service and an extensive wine selection.

What to See & Do

Community First Saturday:

Downtown Jacksonville is the place to go every first Saturday of the month for a Riverwalk festival behind the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every first Saturday of the month, there’s live music, food vendors, eco-tour and fitness classes.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens --

The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens --

has a new face. The Museum's renovation project gave its campus a new look in a more green and welcoming way. The project encompassed the restoration of the Olmsted Garden -a riverfront garden that dates back to 1931- as well as the renovation of the entire Riverside Avenue portion of the Cummer’s campus that now includes an outdoor café, an outdoor statue garden and more spacious sidewalks. The Museum's parking lots are now more environmentally friendly and a better space for visitors.

Shopping Expansions:

· The St. Johns Town Center, Jacksonville’s premiere upscale outdoor shopping mall continues to grow. In 2014 Neiman Marcus will anchor a new wing of the already 200-acre center. This expansion will be about 30,000 sq ft adding more stores yet to be named. Underway right now is also a project that will bring 225 luxury apartments to the complex. There are over 100 stores at the Town Center. It is located just minutes from Jacksonville Beach and houses stores like Louis Vuitton, Lululemon, West Elm, Tiffany, Target and Dillard’s.

A new shopping destination is coming to Jacksonville’s Northside; construction is underway for a new 96,000-square-foot shopping center at the intersection of Interstate 95 and Airport Center Road. The new shopping center will be across from the River City Marketplace, which is on the Northside near the Jacksonville International Airport.

Visit Jacksonville is the marketing organization contracted by the Duval County Tourist Development Council (TDC) to champion the growth of business and leisure tourism in Northeast Florida. Along with its nearly 400 tourism partners, Visit Jacksonville stimulates economic impact, quality of life and recognition for the Northeast Florida region. For a closer look at all there is to see and do in Jacksonville, go to www.VisitJacksonville.com.

Jacksonville’s Riverside Arts Market (RAM) --

the largest free weekly arts and entertainment venue in the state of Florida, has returned for its second year. Located under the Fuller Warren Bridge just minutes from Downtown, RAM is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through December. The family-friendly market boasts freshly baked bread, paintings, fresh local produce, sculpture, honey, pottery, great food from local restaurants, wood carvings, herbs, cut flowers, jewelry, plants, cheeses, woven baskets and more. There is also live entertainment on the riverfront stage and kids activities to enjoy each week.

Alahambra Theatre and Dining

continues its 2010 season with 42nd Street, the quintessential backstage musical with a show about a show. The recently re-vamped Alahambra features new paint, new carpet, new restrooms, new theatre walls and new table dressings. A new menu, with food service directed by award-winning chef, Matthew Medure, features selections including Braised Beef Short Ribs, Miso Glazed Chicken Thighs and Seafood Newburg.

Jacksonville Is Always Set For Fun

Don’t miss out on festivals and fun in the fantastic Florida weather! For more information call Visit Jacksonville at (800) 733-2668 or log on to www.visitjacksonville.com.

Budweiser Brewery Tour

Discover the beer brewing process at the Budweiser Brewery tour (www.budweisertours.com) where guests of age can sample spirits created in this city.

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens

Create your own masterpeice at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens (www.cummer.org) hands-on-area-Art Connections as the museum welcomes complimentary admission each Tuesday evening.

First Wednesday Art Walk

(www.downtownjacksonville.org) in Downtown -- feauring a self-guided tour of art galleries, restaurants and local hotspots all featuring artwork from local artists.

Fort Caroline National Memorial

(www.nps.gov/foca) - Brush up on your French history at the Fort Carolina National memorial memorializing the 18th century French effort to establish a permanent colony in Florida.

Jacksonville Landing

Dance the night away along the St. Johns River with your special someone at the Jacksonville Landing with live music every Friday and Saturday night.

Jacksonville Transportation Authority

Travel through Downtown in style with free trolley service from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. (www.jtaonthemove.com).

Jacksonville Beaches

Dip your feet in one of the 22 miles of Jacksonville's beaches

Fort Clinch State Park

Every Saturday Fort Clinch State Park invites visitors to the historic site for nature walks. A park ranger leads guests on a hike, whiles discussing Northeast Florida flora, fauna and wildlife.  Also, on the first weekend of each month, the park recreates accounts of daily life of a Civil War fort garrison. Activities include artillery and medical demonstrations and soldier drills. Daily life activities like laundry, kitchen duty and carpentry work are re-enacted by living historians dressed in period costume.  www.floridastateparks.org/fortclinch

Ripley’s Sightseeing Trains

The tour takes visitors on a 90-minute narrated tour through the streets of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, with on- and off-privileges. www.sightseeingtrains.com

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has two okapi, a male and female, on exhibit. The Zoo also has a permanent Magellanic penguin exhibit, Tuxedo Coast. Magellanic penguins come from South America and can be found off the coasts of Argentina, the Falkland Islands and Chile. They are one of the few species classified as “temperate-weather penguins.” There are five males and three females and range in size from 24 to 30 inches tall.

Adventure Landing

the First Coast’s premiere family fun park, includes miniature golf, go-karts, laser tag, batting cages and arcades. Adventure Landing’s location in Jacksonville Beach is also home to Shipwreck Island Waterpark, a seasonal attraction offering mild to wild waterslides, a wave pool and a lazy river.

JUPITER

Where to Stay

Jupiter Beach Resort


The 168-room AAA Four-Diamond Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa with direct access to 1,000 feet of secluded Florida coastline; and Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated an Outstanding Natural Area, one of only three in the United States

Located at 5 North A1A in Jupiter, Florida, the Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa is ideally located just 12 miles from downtown West Palm Beach, with direct highway access to I-95 and the Florida Turnpike.  

KEY WEST

Where to Stay

Waldorf Astoria’s Casa Marina Resort

Nestled on the largest private beach in Key West, Casa Marina Resort, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, introduces its new “Taste of Waldorf Astoria”package featuring access to a specially curated three-course dinner experience for two served beachside. Highlighting locally inspired cuisine, the toes-in-the-sand dinner includes Florida Warm Water Lobster Bisque with Sherry Herb Oil & Horseradish Foam; Plantain Crusted Snowy Florida Grouper served alongside a Key West Pink Shrimp Yucca Risotto topped with Mango Habanero Emulsion, Grilled Key Lime & Blistered Tomato; and Coconut Pie and Mango Tart Tatin Duo with Vanilla Crème Anglaise and Spiced Rum Glaze. A bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne is also included.

Under the helm of Casa Marina’s Executive Chef Alex Beaumont, the new culinary experience joins the delicious array of fine dining options already available at the resort which allow guests to explore the freshest local seafood and locally grown produce. Taste of Waldorf Astoria is offered at the brand’s 26 properties worldwide as a testament to their ongoing commitment to innovative culinary excellence.

From arrival to departure, guests of Casa Marina are welcomed by True Waldorf Service – a service initiative that assigns a personal concierge to each qualified guest who acts as their primary contact, before, during and – an industry first – after a stay, to guarantee every want and request is met.

Casa Marina participates in Hilton HHonors®, the only guest rewards program that allows members to earn Points & Miles® for the same stay and redeem points for free nights with No Blackout Dates at more than 4,100 hotels worldwide.

Package rates start at $264 per night. Now available for booking, the dinner costs $150 per person with the package. To learn more about Taste of Waldorf Astoria, please visit www.tasteofwaldorfastoria.com. For reservations or more information about Casa Marina, please call +1 888.303.5717 or visit www.casamarinaresort.com. For more information about Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, please visit www.waldorfastoria.com or news.waldorfastoria.com.

About Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts:
Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts is a portfolio of more than 29 landmark destinations, each being a true reflection of their surroundings in the world’s most sought after locations. Unified by their inspirational environments and unparalleled guest service, Waldorf Astoria creates unforgettable moments through the delivery of True Waldorf Service. Personal Concierges deliver unparalleled, bespoke service from the moment a guest books through check out. Waldorf Astoria is part of Hilton Worldwide, a leading global hospitality company. Experience Waldorf Astoria by booking at www.waldorfastoria.com or www.waldorfastoria.com/offers. Learn more about this expanding portfolio by visiting news.waldorfastoria.com.

Parrot Key Resort--

For more information go to web sitewww.parrotkeyresort.com

Beachside to fly the Marriott Flag and is now known as the Key West Marriott Beachside Hotel

The Marriott Beachside Hotel's beachside’s fine dining option, Tavern N Town has become one of Key West’s most notable restaurants, while Blue Bar is the resort’s casual chic waterfront bar and grill. Beachside offers comprehensive meeting space with 9,653 square feet of indoor/outdoor event space including Key West’s largest ballroom and an exquisitely designed waterfront pool and lounge area.

Beachside is situated on seven waterfront acres along the Gulf of Mexico with 222 elegant rooms; including 93 king bedroom accommodations and 129 one, two and three-bedroom suites. All suites feature full-gourmet kitchens, private balconies and marble flooring throughout. Many have staircases leading to direct pool and beach access or a private rooftop sundeck.

Please visit www.beachsidekeywest.com; Marriott.com or call (800) 228-9290 for rese
rvations.

What to See & Do

Latest Events -- and Beyond -- in the Florida Keys & Key West

The Florida Keys & Key West provide year-round entertainment for visitors, from festivals focusing on the area's colorful history, artistic culture and eccentric ambiance to events celebrating the Keys' underwater paradise and culinary offerings.

Florida Keys visitor information: www.fla-keys.com or 1-800-FLA-KEYS (1-800-352-5397)
Social: www.facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywest>Facebook · twitter.com/thefloridakeys>Twitter · instagram.com/thefloridakeys>Instagram · www.youtube.com/user/FloridaKeysTV>Youtube ·keysvoices.com/>Keys Voices

KISSIMMEE

What to See & Do

Medieval Times

Those seeking a little something different can say their vows in the Medieval Life Village Courtyard of this central Florida attraction. During daily shows, guests are transported back 900 years and treated to pageantry, 100 costumed characters, horseback stunts, sword fights and more, all set within an 85,000 square-foot European-style castle. Ceremony-only wedding packages are available, as well as packages that include a reception, dinner and show.

For more information call 1-888-935-6878 or check web site www.medievaltimes.com.

Where to Stay

Red Lion Hotel Orlando – Kissimmee Maingate Opens in Florida near Walt Disney World® Resort

RLHC (Red Lion Hotels Corporation) (NYSE: RLH) announced that the company has officially opened the 516-room Red Lion Hotel Orlando – Kissimmee Maingate, located near the Walt Disney World® Resort. The conversion of this property makes it the first Red Lion branded franchise location in Florida.

The Red Lion Hotel Orlando – Kissimmee Maingate, 7300 W Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, is located near Magic Kingdom® Park, Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park, Epcot®, Disney Hollywood Studios®, Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park, Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney SpringsTM, and other area attractions.

For more information check web site www.redlion.com/orlando.

About RLHC:
Red Lion Hotels Corporation is a hospitality company primarily engaged in the franchising, management and ownership of upscale, midscale and economy hotels under the Hotel RL, Red Lion Hotel, Red Lion Inn & Suites, GuestHouse International and Settle Inn brands. Established in 1959, the company has 125 hotels system wide and also owns and operates an entertainment and event ticket distribution business. For more information, please visit the company's website at www.redlion.com.
Social Media:
www.Facebook.com/RedLionHotels, www.Twitter.com/RedLionHotels, www.Instagram.com/RedLionHotels, www.LinkedIn.com/company/red-lion-hotels

Gaylord Palms Resort

Getaway to Gaylord Palms Resort for an all-inclusive package, including everything from the invitations to the dinner menu. Couples are promised an 'outdoor wedding' rain or shine in their 4.5 acre glass atrium.

For more information call 407-586-0000 or check web site www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylordpalms.

Celebration Hotel

The Celebration Hotel combines traditional beauty, turn-of-the-century Florida charm and the modern amenities of a luxury boutique hotel for a romantic and luxurious experience. It was named one of the top 10 spots for lovers in The Best Romantic Escapes in Florida, and its golf course was awarded four-stars by Golf Digest magazine. The 155-room hotel offrs guests complimetary transportation to area attractions and access to the hotel's golf course, health center, and other amenities.

For more information call 407-566-6000 or check web site www.celebrationhotel.com.

LAKE BUENA VISTA (near Orlando)

Where to Stay

more soon

LITTLE TORCH KEY

Where to Stay

Little Palm Island Resort and Spa

Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is an intimate and romantic tropical hideaway.
The resort's 30 thatched-roof bungalows are discreetly nestled throughout the island and offer private sundecks and ocean views. This secluded hideaway, nestled amid hundreds of Jamaican coconut palm trees, provides the ideal location for guests to completely detach themselves from everyday life. The resort offers an Indonesian-inspired SpaTerre, a private marina and acclaimed dining. Little Palm Island provides guests with complete privacy and luxury.

Andrew Harper's Hideaway, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and others
have rated Little Palm Island as one of the top resorts in the United States.
The resort has been recognized in the Zagat "Top 50 Small Hotels in the US"
and "Top Hotel in Florida" and is a member of Virtuoso and American Express
Fine Hotels & Resorts.

Located three miles off-shore in the Lower Florida Keys, Little Palm Island is only accessible by boat or seaplane. For more information or to make reservations, call (305) 872-2524, (800) 3-GET-LOST or your travel professional (Chain Code NC) or visit the hotel online at www.littlepalmisland.com.

What to See & Do

Martin County Ranks As One of the Most Productive Sea Turtle Nesting Areas on Florida's East Coast

Loggerhead sea turtles begin crawling up Martin County’s beaches this month to lay their eggs. Martin County secures some of the most productive sea turtle nesting areas on Florida’s east coast.

Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission’s sea turtle expert, Megan Conti, says, “Martin County is doing a great job providing habitats for threatened and endangered species.” In about two months, hatchings emerge from their nests at night, making their way to the ocean using light from the moon as a guide.

For help planning an extended trip to Martin County for these events and more, check out Martin County’s Visitors Bureau website: www.martincountyfla.com

Bathtub Beach

TripAdvisor chose Bathtub Beach in Martin County, Florida, as one of the 10 Best Beaches in the U.S. for families. Chosen for its soft sand, and calm, temperate waters—Bathtub Beach features a shallow ocean lagoon formed by an offshore reef that creates a magnificent safe haven for children and a perfect environment for snorkeling. Located on the southern end of Hutchinson Island, Bathtub Beach has lifeguards, picnic areas, free parking and other family friendly amenities.

For a complete listing of participating hotels, visit: martincountyfla.com or call (877) 585-0085

LONGBOAT KEY

Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and the Bradenton area --

are inviting summer visitors to extend their vacations with FREE nights at 10 properties.  As part of this new “Your Summer, Your Way” program,  other island and mainland accomodations are also offering a variety of discounts, including 25 percent off weekly rentals, Florida resident rates and even cash discounts.  All the FREE fun continues with several summer events and activities for the entire family, including a monthly ArtWalk in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts and Snooty’s™ 64th birthday party at the South Florida Museum.

Visitors can spend their additional free time lounging on the white sand beaches, enjoying the many award-winning independent restaurants or cycling around the islands.  Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key’s “Your Summer, Your Way” program offers irresistible options for a one-of-a-kind, budget-friendly vacation experience.  Visit www.AMILBK.com/Deals for all offers and complete details.

Third Night Free

Bridgewalk, A Landmark Resort

Silver Surf Gulf Beach Resort

Wingate by Wyndham

Fourth Night Free

Tradewinds Resort

Tortuga Inn Beach Resort

Hilton Longboat Key Beachfront Resort

Fifth Night Free

An Island Getaway at Palm Tree Villas

Sixth and Seventh Nights Free

Florida Vacation Connection

A Tropical Breeze Beach Club On Anna Maria Island

Seventh Night Free

A Paradise Vacation Rentals

About Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key        
Located between St. Petersburg and Sarasota on Florida’s west coast, Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key, and their coastal companions, Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, are treasured for their authentic Old Florida charm, breath-taking scenery, funky dining and shopping districts, and 16 miles of sugar-white sands. The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is the official destination marketing organization for Manatee County, Florida. Tourism is Manatee County’s leading industry, employing more than 18,000 residents and generating a direct annual economic impact of more than $511 million in the local economy.  For more information, call (941) 729-9177, ext. 243 or visit www.AMILBK.com. Also follow on Facebook at “Anna Maria Island & Longboat Key” and Twitter @VisitBradenton.  

MAITLAND (near Orlando)

Maitland Art Center

Focus and relax the mind, body and soul through eco yoga. The Maitland Art Center offers beginning and intermediate yoga classes with a specific emphasis on nature. Performed in the Center’s gardens under large shade trees draped with Spanish moss, the classes will run for eight weeks meeting Saturdays at 8 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. The cost is $55 for non-members and $50 for members. (407) 539-2181. www.maitlandartcenter.org.  

MARCO ISLAND

More soon!

MARATHON

What to See & Do

Immersive Marine Life Experience Premieres in Marathon

Visitors to the middle Florida Keys can enjoy an immersive experience with reef fish, invertebrates, stingrays and even sharks -- without entering the ocean -- at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, a marine life attraction that opened July 1 in Marathon.

The signature feature of the multimillion-dollar facility, located at the foot of the Vaca Cut Bridge at 11710 Overseas Highway, is a coral reef exhibit and shark habitat housed in a massive 200,000-gallon interconnected saltwater aquarium for viewing. As a hands-on interactive learning center, the unique attraction strives to inform visitors about the importance of marine conservation while they discover the complex underwater habitats of the Florida Keys.

Following an instructional presentation, participants in the flagship 90-minute encounter immerse themselves in the tank to hover over a mock coral reef structure and interact with tropical reef fish, rays and other reef-dwelling marine species that are part of the in-tank ecosystem.

The encounter utilizes tethered diving technology, enabling individuals without any prior scuba experience to enjoy the in-water opportunity with supervision from trained professional dive instructors. A large fortified Plexiglas window divides the coral reef tank from a shark and predatory fish tank, and participants can hand-feed these creatures through underwater feeding ports in the wall.

Other interactive aquarium encounters include shallow touch tanks that feature starfish, conchs and horseshoe crabs, and allow feeding de-barbed stingrays and docile baby nurse sharks. At each encounter, a staff marine biologist provides educational introduction and guidance.

Visitors also can snorkel in a shallow protected lagoon, enjoy refreshments from an on-site concession café, browse the open-air gift shop and even purchase a video of their experience. Classroom space is available for school groups, special events and corporate retreats.

Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with planned extended or special-event hours during summer months. General full-day admission rates are $20 per adult, $15 for children age 12 and under, and free for kids 3 and under. Florida residents, active military and online ticket purchasers receive a 10 percent discount.

Annual park admission passes are available for $75. Interactive in-water experiences are priced from $25 to $150 depending on the age and number of people in a group.

Aquarium Encounters information:

www.floridakeysaquariumencounters.com
Marathon visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/marathon or 1-800-262-7284
Social: floridakeysandkeywest>facebook.com <twitter.com/thefloridakeys · www.keysvoices.com · www.youtube.com/floridakeystv

MIAMI & MIAMI BEACH

Where to Eat

Turnberry Isle Miami's Cascata Grill

Turnberry Isle Miami, the legendary South Florida resort & club, introduces an exciting new dinner menu concept at its restaurant, Cascata Grill. Designed in collaboration by the resort’s Executive Chef, John Sexton, and Chef de Cuisine, Vinny D’Amato, dishes align with the restaurant’s Mediterranean-inspired cuisine with island influences, fusing fresh ingredients from the property’s onsite chef’s garden.

“Our new menu at Cascata Grill marks the first of many to be introduced throughout 2013,” said Monti Felaya, Director of Food & Beverage at Turnberry Isle Miami. “The revamp of the food and beverage program at Turnberry Isle Miami is part of our ongoing effort to provide guests with unique, authentic experiences through deliciously classic cuisine, served with an innovative, fresh twist.”

Guests will delight in a menu designed to excite the palate and appeal to the resort’s diverse clientele through classic favorites presented with a masterful twist. Choose from Cascata Grill’s Caprese, featuring buffalo mozzarella, long-stem artichoke, roasted roma tomatoes and watermelon drizzled with orange basil reduction, and an assortment of savory flatbreads for Starters & Small Plates ($8 - $18). Enjoy enticing entrees including a Veal T-Bone served with potato root vegetable hash, sauteed escarole and marsala hash, Black Grouper presented with clams, shrimp and chorizo conch chowder, New York Sirloin Oscar with Yukon potato puree, grilled asparagus, jumbo lump crab and merlot demi citrus béarnaise, or Scallop served over paella cake with sangria reduction and micro cilantro - popular choices from the Large Plates menu ($24 - $42).

Cascata Grill’s warm and relaxing atmosphere offers casual décor in earth tones that overlooks a scenic outdoor terrace, providing an ideal place for guests to enjoy picturesque views of some of South Florida’s most diverse tropical vegetation, as well as the resort’s acclaimed Miller golf course. Unwind with a cocktail at the restaurant’s dark wood accented bar, located in a cozy alcove off the main entrance of the dining room, or embark on a journey through the bar’s first-class assortment of spirits while you tour the photographic “wall of fame” that lines the entry walls.

Cascata Grill is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For reservations, please call (786) 279-6800.

About Turnberry Isle Miami
Tucked away on 300 tropical acres between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Turnberry Isle Miami is a Mediterranean-style retreat with a culture of authenticity, spirited service and enriching experiences. The resort is renowned for its two championship golf courses redesigned by Raymond Floyd, Celebrity Chef Michael Mina’s award-winning Bourbon Steak restaurant, three-story Spa & Fitness Center, the elite Cañas Tennis, three relaxing pools, 40,000 square feet of meetings space, beach club on the Atlantic and engaging kids camps all within reach of 408 spacious guest rooms and suites. An Autograph Collection property, Turnberry Isle Miami has a reputation for excellence having most recently ranked amongst Travel + Leisure’s ‘World’s Best.’.

For more information or for reservations, call 1-866-612-7739 or visit www.turnberryislemiami.com.

Andu Restaurant & Lounge

Located in Upper Brickell, downtown Miami’s booming financial, residential and nightlife neighborhood, Andú Restaurant & Lounge opened in late December 2007 as the hot new locale for sultry style, luscious libations and cutting-edge cuisine. Owned by entrepreneurial brothers Antonio Viejo and Juan Pablo Viejo, Andú features an eclectic menu of Mediterranean cuisine with international influences. The Viejo brothers brought in a team of designers specializing in architecture, lighting and artistry to create Andú’s stunning decor. Modern and comfortable, the restaurant boasts high vaulted ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows adorned with flowing silver curtains. In the center of the room sits the wrap-around, marble-topped bar that divides the chic lounge area, seating 60, with low- slung tables and comfy chairs from the main dining room, seating 90. For more information, call 786-871-7005. 

Bonefish Grill

Located in the Bank Atlantic Building in the heart of Coral Gables, this restaurant features a tantalizing menu of market fresh fish and seafood, Bonefish Grill also offers a wide selection of fine hand-cut beef and pork tenderloin, as well as pasta and chicken dishes. The 6,092-square-foot Coral Gables restaurant features a spacious dining room with an open kitchen and a large, energetic bar area with two community tables. The interior’s sleek design features beautiful golden hardwood and hand-blown glass amber lamps throughout the restaurant. For more information, visit www.BonefishGrill.com.  

Bourbon Steak

a Michael Mina Restaurant at Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club, is where elebrated chef, Michael Mina, the culinary innovator behind a string of critically acclaimed restaurants throughout the United States, brings his signature cooking style and unique culinary vision to the restaurant, the first at Fairmont Turnberry Isle that will be open to the public. Mina’s upscale menu is modeled after his successful Las Vegas venture, STRIPSTEAK at Mandalay Bay. The chic 250-seat space, designed by the renowned Tony Chi, features a 12-foot-high glass box entry that protrudes into the hotel lobby. The 7,600-square-foot restaurant also includes The Tavern, a casual dining space fed by the energy of an adjacent bar, a wine cellar and lounge, a large glamorous dining room with glittering mirrored walls and a “glass box” private dining room. There will also be an additional Tasting Room with a private garden. For more information, visit www.Fairmont.com/TurnberryIsle.

Dogma Grill

one of South Florida’s hippest and most original hot dog stands, will open a new North Miami branch – the hot dog empire’s fourth location – in December 2007, right across from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). One of the few places in South Florida where a delicious quality $6.00 lunch is still a reality, Dogma Grill rated a #1 “Top Bangs for the Buck” from the 2007 Zagat Guide. With seating for 15 indoors and 30 outside, the new Dogma Grill will be housed in a free-standing 1,400-square-foot building that sports classic 1950s architecture. Specialty dogs tempt taste buds with more than 20 creative combinations such as the Cali – freshly sliced avocado, grilled bacon, sour cream, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Dogma also scores points for its home-style potato chips and French fries, served either plain, tossed with garlic or topped with cheese or chili cheese. For more information, visit <www.DogmaGrill.com.

Enoteca Spiaggia

opened at The Fairfax Hotel on Collins Avenue. Enoteca Spiaggia with an elegant wine bar at the beach helmed by James Beard Award winner Tony Mantuano of Chicago’s Spiaggia fame. The restaurant will offer many new Italian and Mediterranean varietals, including many Italian sparkling wines making their U.S. debut. Enoteca Spiaggia will also feature a mozzarella bar among other Spiaggia signature dishes. Chef Tony Mantuano is partnering with Larry Levy and designer Todd Oldham on the project. For more information, visit www.FairfaxSouthBeach.com.

Ishq

a new restaurant by Sham and Kavita Kamlani, opened recently in South Beach. Translated as “love,” Ishq features food from north and east India and adds influences from Persia, China, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and England to its dishes. Guests may sit outside in the courtyard or along Ocean Drive, or in the dining room, which features a 14-person community sharing table, gold interior, carved marble slabs, and a bar inlaid with semi-precious stones. For more information, call 305-532-4747.

Conrad Miami

has recently reintroduced the newly configured space as Level 25, a sophisticated new dining and entertaining destination. Boasting dramatic Miami skyline views, Level 25 offers an all-new global menu created by executive chef Michael Gilligan. While at The Bar, guests can enjoy an impressive raw bar display featuring market shellfish or pintxos (tapas). For more information, visit www.ConradHotels.com.

Talula

Award-winning husband and wife chefs Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Frank Randazzo are joined in a labor of love with Talula, their inviting restaurant on Miami Beach, and Creative Tastes Catering, their recently launched, full-service catering and special events company. At Talula, which was dubbed “the place to be now” by The New York Times, the duo dazzle with their eclectic American cuisine, drawn from their shared Italian-American upbringing and training in some of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants. Encompassing 5,000 square feet with seating for 75 in the rich, wood-toned dining room and another 55 outdoors on a romantic al fresco garden patio, Talula offers a thoughtful wine list and a well-appointed bar. For more information, visit www.Talulaonline.com or www.CreativeTastes.com.

Texas de Brazil-Miami Beach

will bring its unique combination of Texan generosity and Brazilian cuisine to a gorgeous new location, encompassing 750 seats at the Miami Beach Marina.  The fixed price menu features a wide selection of perfectly grilled meats served “rodizio-style” by roaming servers carving all-you-care-to-eat portions tableside. Named “one of the best in the country” by Wine Spectator magazine, Texas de Brazil’s wine bar encompasses more than 700 wines. A lush and elegant interior design elevates the dining experience with rich Brazilian cherry wood floors and soaring ceilings with eye-catching chandeliers. A lounge will feature teak beds.  At the bar, guests will be able to enjoy a caipirinha, the famed signature cocktail of Brazil, while watching the grill masters practice their craft behind a glass wall. Guests also can purchase hand-rolled cigars and socialize on the outdoor patio while taking in breathtaking views of the crystalline waters of Biscayne Bay. A private party room seats 250. For more information, visit www.TexasdeBrazil.com.

Crazy Piano Hits Cocowalk

Crazy Pianos, a unique and wildly popular dueling piano bar, restaurant, and late-night club venue, is hitting South Florida's entertainment venue, Cocowalk. The restaurant/bar is investing nearly $5 million in preparation for its grand opening including expansion of the space. The Crazy Pianos menu features a wide variety of International and Americana fare, Pan Asian, and French-American bistro style cuisine, with a full-service bar, where the bartenders are as much a part of the fun as the Crazy Pianos entertainers. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. At 10:00 p.m., Crazy Pianos morphs into a late night club venue for adults 21 and over featuring live performances from entertainers specializing in a variety of musical genres including oldies and classic rock hits from the 70's, 80's, and 90's. For more information, visit www.crazypianos.com.

Meat Mark Opens on South Beach

Meat Market, the much anticipated South Beach dining destination by restaurateur David Tornek and acclaimed chef Sean Brasel, both formerly of Touch, is officially open. Located at 915 Lincoln Road, the 4,400 square-foot, 180-seat eatery is a truly contemporary steakhouse. It boasts a sophisticated ambiance sizzling with New York City style energy and a savvy menu featuring generous prime cuts of beef, wonderful fish dishes, seafood and poultry, an inviting bar and a wide range of price points geared to draw both locals and visitors. The duo closed Touch after receiving an amazing offer on the building and plan to re-locate the concept elsewhere in the future; for now they are concentrating their energies on Meat Market and the catering operations. For this venture, Brasel has created a menu that embraces the staples of a classic steakhouse - a variety of prime cuts, amazing sides and appetizers, a top notch wine list - but infuses it all with an artful, contemporary spin; a prime example being Meat Market's posh Crudo Bar, an indoor/outdoor lounge that is the perfect perch for people watching, imbibing and nibbling on a delightfully light nosh.

Where to Stay

The Hotel Croydon: The Epicenter of Miami Beach’s Art Basel 

The newly renovated boutique Hotel Croydon’s refined aesthetic and modish style is eye-catching to anyone who steps in even artists can appreciate. The Hotel Croydon is the optimal choice for those who are attending this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach celebration as one it is close to all the action, but far enough to catch one’s breath and settle back after a day browsing enthralling galleries, boutiques, murals, and restaurants.

This whimsical hotel is located in Miami’s Mid-Beach off of the world-famous Collins Ave and features 104 beautiful guest rooms, each of which drawn in the radiant South Florida sun. If a guest wishes to explore Miami’s Wynwood Art Basel, the hotel is a fast car-ride away just over the causeway. Upon request, Hotel Croydon also provides E-Cars with drivers that provide guests transportation to and from all the action in South Beach. Flight-bound travelers can call ahead to book a complimentary shuttle ride for a pick up from the airport straight to the hotel. Convenient accommodations include seamless service, Tempur-Pedic beds, C.O. Bigelow bath products, in-house restaurant The Tavern, complimentary cocktails nightly from 7:00-8:00 PM, a pool, yoga classes, and of course, Hotel Croydon’s rooftop deck with panoramic views of the ocean and city.

Hotel Croydon is located at 3720 Collins Avenue Miami Beach, FL 33140 (38th & Collins Ave.)

About Hotel Croydon
South Beach Group Hotels is pleased to announce its expansion into Mid-Beach with the Hotel Croydon, a fully-renovated boutique hotel located steps away from the ocean. The 7-story luxury Hotel Croydon dazzles with 104 guest rooms including a sprawling Penthouse with ocean views, meeting room and banquet space, a gym, an outdoor pool, a spa, an on-site restaurant and bar, and a rooftop sun deck with 360 degree views of the ocean and Miami.

For more information visit www.hotelcroydonmiami.com

Thompson Miami Beach

Close to South Beach and its vibrant daylife and nightlife. Bask in the Florida sun around two heated pools or beachside. Recharge in the open-air spa, savor Floridian cuisine by James Beard Award-winning Chef Michelle Bernstein in Seagrape. Sip on artisan cocktails in the 1930s House and Crown Room. Rates starting at $399.

With so many pleasures at hand, you'll definitely want to keep that swimsuit on a little longer-so accept your fate and take advantage of saving more with each sublime day.

Stay 2 nights, save 10%
Stay 3 nights, save 15%
Stay 4 nights or longer, save 20%

DIVE INTO SPRING

Kick off your Choos and stay awhile. Relax by the pool. Hit the spa. Reconnect with friends in our intimate cocktail dens and taste Michelle Bernstein's cuisine, locally sourced from land and sea.

$100 nightly credit
Complimentary use of beach umbrella once per stay

STAY & REJUVENATE

Stay three consecutive nights at our Best Available Rate, and enjoy the fourth night on us, plus complimentary continental breakfast for two daily.

*Restrictions apply. Offers subject to availability and 13% tax. Not combinable with other offers.

Menin Hospitality Opens Gale Suites at Kaskades Gale South Beach Unveils Multimillion-Dollar Extension, Offers Five-Star Accommodations in Miami

Accommodations and Unique Amenities:

In-Room (*some or all features are included in each room)
· Spa-inspired, marble-clad wet room with rain shower that double as an aromatherapy steam room with customizable scent options
· Spa bathtub for two
· Double sinks
· King-size bed or 2 double Queens
· Hands-free Toto Washlet Toilet welcome the user by automatically opening its lid upon entering the bathroom and also serves as an electronic bidet with seat and water temperature control and more
· Custom outdoor Japanese Soaking Tub utilizing chromatherapy treatment and water jet massage, available in select suites
· Chamomile-infused tranquility gel mattress
· 17” LED TV within the vanity mirror that disappear when not in use
· 55'' LED TV in the living area
· Control4 Portable Touch Screen becomes the hub for controlling the temperature, lights, automated window shades and 55'' LED TV
· Expanded 90 channel HD lineup on the latest IBAHN system that can be transmitted to the guests wireless device for viewing throughout the hotel's common areas
· Ample closet space
· Private balcony in most suites
· Sitting area with writing desk
· Complimentary high-speed wireless internet access
· Room service available between 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.
· Nightly turn-down service 

Hotel

· 25 suites / 4 floors
· 1,000-square-foot meeting space with wraparound terrace and sliding doors for indoor/outdoor options
· Full catering kitchen
· 3,400-square-foot rooftop terrace with pool and outdoor kitchen
· Mobile front desk agent utilize an iPad to check guests in with ease while escorting them to the hotel’s exclusive access point
· Menin Hospitality application to allow guests to select their room, check in and enter the accommodations with the use of a compatible Apple® device
· Two reserved beach or lounge chairs at Shelborne Beach Club
· Access to Gale South Beach’s fitness center as well as dining and entertainment options including Rec Room, Dolce Italian and Regent Cocktail Club
· Full-service concierge team

Design & Décor:

Gale Suites at Kaskades’ restoration, led by local design visionaries Urban Robot Associates, will be carried out with the utmost sensitivity to maintain the boutique hotel’s historic relevance and charm, as originally designed by famed architect Melvin Grossman in 1953. The design of Gale Suites at Kaskades preserves the distinct materials, color palette and sentiment of Gale South Beach, but reinterprets the scheme, amenities and standard of luxury. Deep blue leather-paneled walls and contemporary floor rugs offer an accent of color against the warm grey hardwood flooring and grey-stained expert millwork inbespoke wood manufactured in Amsterdam by Oscar Ono. In-room accessories are sourced from Italian icon Alessi and loose furniture pieces are imported from renowned Italian design houses Flexform and B&B Italia.

For more information go to web site www.kaskadesopening.com

Turnberry Isle Miami

Tucked away on 300 tropical acres between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Turnberry Isle Miami is a Mediterranean-style retreat with a culture of authenticity, spirited service and enriching experiences. The resort is renowned for its two championship golf courses redesigned by Raymond Floyd, Celebrity Chef Michael Mina’s award-winning Bourbon Steak restaurant, three-story Spa & Fitness Center, the elite Cañas Tennis, three relaxing pools, 40,000 square feet of meetings space, beach club on the Atlantic and engaging kids camps all within reach of 408 spacious guest rooms and suites. An Autograph Collection property, Turnberry Isle Miami has a reputation for excellence having most recently ranked amongst Travel + Leisure’s ‘World’s Best.’.

For more information or for reservations, call 1-866-612-7739 or visit www.turnberryislemiami.com.

Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club Opens Laguna Pool

With the newest addition of its lagoon pool, The Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club now offers something for everyone making it a favorite vacation spot for families looking for the ultimate summer escape. The only one of its kind at a South Florida resort, the Laguna Pool is its own paradise featuring a 180-foot long, 35-foot high waterslide that gently winds around into a splash pool supervised by a water safety attendant, an 800-linear-foot lazy river with single and double inner-tubes, a separate hot tub and toddler wading pool, plus a nearby Laguna Grill offering tropical island fare so parents can keep a watchful eye on their children.

While children play, parents can relax by the lagoon-style heated zero-entry swimming pool on one of the plush lounges or round cushioned beds, or rent a private cabana for a day where fine furnishings, a 32-inch LCD flat screen television, a refrigerator, ceiling fan, locker, changing room and premier service provide the ultimate escape. A menu of cabana spa services from the resort’s award-winning Willow Stream Spa is the perfect way to unwind and renew energy after a sun-filled day. The Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club recently put the final touches on its $100 million transformation. Located midway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale on 300 tropical acres, the luxurious Mediterranean-style retreat features 392 deluxe guest rooms and suites, and is renowned for its world-class golf facilities, award-winning Willow Stream Spa, stellar dining options, tennis, kids program and Ocean Club. www.fairmont.com/turnberryisle

Sagamore Hotel's Exclusive "Lox & Botox" Package

The Sagamore Hotel in South Beach, Miami has just launched their exclusive, "Lox & Botox" package. A new alternative for Bachelorette Parties, Bridal Showers, Divorce Parties or even as just a fast convenient way to rejuvenate.

How this party works: Dr. Lee Gibstein, leading cosmetic plastic surgeon comes to the Penthouse suite at the Sagamore Hotel and provides his secret beauty weapon for the ladies ˜ shots of Botox! And what goes better with Botox than LOX! 'Social at the Sagamore' provides a huge spread of bagels, lox, cream cheeses, and flowing champagne.

In addition, this package provides Beach Body Ready Scrubs, Mojito Manis + Pedis, Caviar Pearl Facials, Brazilian Waxing and other fun beauty treatments. Champagne, Bikini-tinis (to numb you before your wax). The price is on a per-person basis, and varies based on which services your party requests.

About Sagamore Hotel:

Sagamore Hotel, located at 1671 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, Florida, adjacent to Lincoln Road, is an upscale and intimate collection of 93 boutique accommodations, featuring one and two-bedroom suites, 16 two-story oceanside bungalows all with either terrace or balcony, plus the three-bedroom Sagamore Suite with it‚s 1600 sqft private terrace overlooking the pool and the ocean. Each guest suite enjoys all porcelain and marble flooring, state-of-the-art in-room technology including two or more cable TV‚s, stereo, VCR and DVD/CD player, dataport and high speed internet access. The suites have recently been upgraded to include new contemporary furniture and soft-goods, as well as plasma screen TVs and new mini bars with wine coolers. Luxurious king size pillow-top mattresses are found in every suite along with designer fixtures, oversized whirlpool bath-shower and fully-equipped kitchenette and mini-bar among others. To provide additional relaxation and reprieve, Sagamore offer both indoor and outdoor spa and wellness treatments.

For questions or booking info, please call 305-535-8088 or check web site
www.sagamorehotel.com

Fontainebleau Resort Opened Again

The Fontainebleau Miami Beach resort's new 1,504-room luxury resort includes nearly 700 studio and one-bedroom suites in the resort’s two new luxury towers. In addition, the guest rooms and suites in the original Fontainebleau buildings are undergoing extensive renovations. (866) 548-5670. www.BleauMiamiBeach.com.

Four Seasons Hotel Miami

has installed four deluxe poolside cabanas, representing a total investment of $100,000. Each cabana features a 26-inch Samsung LCD television, a private refrigerator, an iPod docking station, a day bed and a private dining area. The cabanas are available for full- or half-day rentals and are offered as a site for private dinners.   For more information, visit www.FourSeasons.com/Miami.

Bentley Beach Hotel

has been renamed the Hilton Bentley Miami/South Beach and has opened a new restaurant called VIVI Ristorante and new lounge called Jack's. The acquisition of an attached hotel expanded the number of guest rooms by 10 and new meeting space is also now available. For more information, visit www.Hilton.com.

Hyatt Regency Miami

is offering the newest luxury guestrooms in downtown Miami, following a $20 million renovation. All rooms are furnished with the Grand Hyatt Bed, ergonomic work stations and flat-screen televisions, along with all-new furniture, carpeting and fixtures. A prime place for sun-worshippers thanks to the hotel’s uniquely cast tropical palms and landscaping, which allow for unobstructed views of the clear skies above, it boasts the most hours of sun from sunrise to sunset than any other hotel along the beach. Mitchell’s array of daytime activities includes beach yoga in the mornings, National holiday activation, cocktail classes with the hotel’s resident mixologist, and “Fun Runs with Chase.” See more at www.surfcomber.com/events/#/2016/9.

Chase has been with Kimpton Hotels for more than five years, starting out in guest services at the Hotel Rouge in Washington, D.C., and later promoted to Supervisor of Front Desk Operations within two years. Prior to joining Kimpton, Chase served as a Front Desk Manager and Event Coordinator for Weddings and Banquets at The Inn at Claussen. His love of the hospitality industry took him as far as Dublin, Ireland, where he served in various guest services positions across three hotels.

ABOUT KIMPTON’S SURFCOMBER MIAMI, SOUTH BEACH
Situated at the Atlantic Ocean’s edge along 200 feet of oceanfront property on historic Collins Avenue in the heart of Miami Beach’s Art Deco District. The hotel’s “backyard bliss” -inspired design makes for a distinctively relaxed atmosphere, while its pool deck, with full cabana service, offers some of Miami Beach’s best daylife—think nightlife under the gorgeous Florida sun. For reservations and information visit www.surfcomber.com or call (855) 523-5455 or 1-800-KIMPTON.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Visiting this park is a must for all ages. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about spending time at "the City of Mermaids," but friends highly recommended it. It turned out that we were glad we stopped here, because both my husband and I had an enjoyable time. Upon arrival we rushed to the 400-seat submerged Riverside Theater to watch the live mermaid show. There was already a long line waiting for the doors to open, but with numerous peacocks walking along the lawn and walk area, we were happy to keep clicking photos of them strutting their gorgeous feathers. Once inside, an announcer explained how the underground theater was built, how deep the water is where the mermaids swim, how they breathe through the long hoses which allows them to rise up or go down, depending on whether they breathe in or out, and many more facts. The 'mermaids' put on a top performance and to our surprise, we returned to see another performance of a classic fairy tale a couple of hours later.

In between shows, we strolled over to the dock area and waited a few minutes for the next river boat cruise promising a gorgeous view of the Weeki Wachee River. The ride was most relaxing and exciting -- especially when we saw an eagle perched high up in a tree, alligators sunning themselves, and osprey, Great blue herons and other birds hunting for food or cleaning their feathers. While slowly cruising along, our captain gave the history of the river and, at one point, we noticed kayakers paddling downstream. It looked so relaxing that we planned to go kayaking on the same river the next day -- and did!

Weeki Wachee, meaning 'little spring" or "winding river" was named by the Seminole Indians. Here, more than 170 million gallons of water flow from the subterranean caverns daily. The spring's base is 100 feet wide with limestone sides, and 16 to 20 feet below the surface, the current runs a strong five miles pere hour which definitely poses a challenge for the mermaids to stay in one place.

In 1946, Newton Perry purchased Weeki Wachee and hired and trained the mermaids to perform synchronized ballet moves underwater using hidden air hoses. Later, in 1947, an 18-seat theater was built into the limestone six feet below the spring's surface. This allowed viewers to see the natural beauty of the ancient spring. It's heyday began in 1959 when the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) purchased the springs, built the current theater and developed themes for the shows with elaborate props, music and story lines. In the 1960s, girls came from as far away as Tokyo for tryouts to become a mermaid, and performed eight shows each day to sold-out crowds, entertaining approximately a half million people annually.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park's Water Park, Florida's only spring-fed water park, opened in 1982. In 1997, former mermaids returned to perform in the Mermaids of Yesteryear shows. In 1966, the City of Weeki Wachee incorporated, and with a population of nine, it's still one of the nation's smallest cities. The mayor of Weeki Wachee is a former mermaid. Weeki Wachee Springs became a state park on November 1, 2008.

Park hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, 365 days a year. An entrance fee is charged. The water slides at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park's Water Park operate on a seasonal basis, generally open weekends from April to early June, daily from June-August nd weekends through September. Pets aren't permitted although service animals are welcome in all areas of Florida's state parks. Scuba diving and snorkeling are permitted in the main spring area by reservation only, and if accompanied by a park-authorized dive shop or organization.

For more information contact Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, 6131 Commerical Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606, 352-592-5656 or go to web site WeekiWachee.com.

NAPLES

Where to Stay

The AAA Four-Diamond The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
In Southwest Florida Offering 3rd Night Free June 1 – Sept. 30, 2017

If a relaxing getaway to a beachfront resort in Southwest Florida sounds appealing, you should head to The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. Featuring a truly beautiful setting on the pristine soft white-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, the AAA Four-Diamond resort recently completed the dramatic renovation -- almost reinvention -- of its championship golf course. Completed in November 2016, the $9 million total redesign of the resort’s course was done by golf icon and acclaimed course designer Jack Nicklaus in collaboration with renowned course architect John Sanford.

Not a golfer? Certainly not a problem. Set on 125 lush acres, the picturesque beachfront resort also features an impressive array of other on-site recreational options. In fact, the resort is Southwest Florida’s only beachfront resort with a championship golf course, a world-class spa, and an award-winning tennis center all on-site.

Want more reason to visit? The resort is offering the 3rd night free for stays June 1-September 30, 2017. Making it even more appealing, the resort has spent more than $50 million in impressive renovations and enhancements over the last few years, in addition to the golf course. Among the many enhancements was the replacement of the brick balconies in its main Tower Building with beautiful glass balconies in November 2015 to showcase the gorgeous Gulf views. In addition, guests always benefit from no resort fees, complimentary valet parking and self-parking, and complimentary access to the resort’s fitness center.

For more information or for reservations, call (800) 237-7600 or (239) 261-2222 and ask for the special “Summer In Paradise Promotion.” Or, visit  NaplesBeachHotel.com, specifically the “Specials” section on the website. Note that the offer is based on availability, with holiday weekends excluded, and blackout dates may apply. The promotion may not be combined with any other offer, and is not applicable to groups.

Taking advantage of this appealing offer is a great way to experience the resort’s beautifully redesigned par-71 golf course. Featuring five tees, ranging from 4,800 yards to over 6,900 yards, the course was redesigned to challenge the best players but also be enjoyable for all golfers. In addition, the resort added a 300-yard practice and teaching range, and has new golf carts with GPS tracking systems to aid golfers with yardages on each hole, thus helping pace of play.

If golf is not your game, there are many other appealing options on site. This includes the resort’s world-class spa, which offers an impressive array of relaxing massages, refreshing body treatments, restorative facials, manicures, pedicures, and salon services. Featuring nine individual spa treatment rooms, The Spa has separate women’s and men’s relaxation areas and locker rooms, saunas, steam rooms, whirlpool baths, a fitness center, an aerobics studio, and a full-service salon. Among the many enticing services offered are the Signature Medley Massage, Aroma-Reflexology, Hot Stone Massage, Essential Facial, Express Mud Detoxifying Body Wrap, Lemon Verbena Body Polish, and Tropical Glow Sugar Scrub.

Complemented by seven miles of pristine white-sand beach, the resort also features a beachfront pool complex with two pools, whirlpools and locker facilities; the Mary C. Watkins Tennis Center with six Har-Tru courts; Beach Kids Club, a complimentary daily recreational program for children ages 5 to 12; beach rentals; and retail shops.

In addition, the resort also offers multiple restaurants and lounges. This includes: the signature beachfront restaurant HB’s on the Gulf, featuring indoor and outdoor dining; Broadwell’s restaurant, overlooking the golf course, with comfortable new furniture and multiple TVs, open daily from 7 a.m.-sunset; and the Seminole Store, which offers deli sandwiches, ice cream, gourmet coffees and a variety of freshly baked pizza, pastries and desserts in a café atmosphere. The popular The Sunset Beach Bar & Grill has been recognized as the “Best Place To View A Southwest Florida Sunset,” and was named “Naples’ Best Beach Bar” by Travel Channel.

The resort’s 319 guest rooms and suites feature cool tropical color linens, fabrics and carpeting; flat-panel televisions; patio or balcony (with a view of the Gulf, golf course or the lush resort interior); coffee maker; and refrigerator.

Situated just blocks from Naples’ renowned shopping districts of fashionable 5th Avenue South and historic 3rd Street South, the resort is also within minutes of shopping at Venetian Village, Waterside Shops, Bayfront and Tin City. Guests can also experience the area by taking tours of the Everglades, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, Corkscrew Swamp, The Botanical Gardens, or the Conservancy Nature Center. Boat and fishing trips also can be arranged at the hotel. Other leisure time activities can include Naples’ outstanding museums, theatres, and art galleries.

“The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club is perfect for a relaxing vacation,” said Jason Parsons, general manager of the family-owned resort. “The weather is great, and it is absolutely beautiful here. Plus, there is something at our resort to please almost anyone. Whether you wish to play a round on the newly redesigned championship course – which is terrific for golfers of every skill level -- relax on the beach, lounge by our two beautiful beachfront pools, enjoy a relaxing service at the world-class Spa, play tennis, shop at Naples’ famous shopping districts just blocks away, or watch a gorgeous sunset, you just can’t beat the offerings or incredible setting of The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club. The special ‘Summer In Paradise Promotion’ simply provides even more reason to visit.”

Providing a comfortable, friendly atmosphere, the resort is an exceptional tropical getaway, which is rich in hospitality and tradition. Owned and operated by the Watkins family for three generations, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club is located at 851 Gulf Shore Blvd. North in Naples, Florida. Contact the resort at (800) 237-7600 or (239) 261-2222, and visitNaplesBeachHotel.com .

What to See & Do

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club Announces “SummerJazz On The Gulf” 2017 Concert Dates

A popular Southwest Florida tradition continues, as The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club will host its annual “SummerJazz on the Gulf” concert series. This will mark the 32nd consecutive year of the fun, free concert series, which combines a diverse selection of Jazz entertainment with picturesque views of the Gulf of Mexico, gorgeous sunsets, refreshing breezes, and a relaxing atmosphere. Each concert is held on the AAA Four-Diamond resort’s scenic Watkins Lawn overlooking the Gulf. “SummerJazz on the Gulf” will take place one Saturday evening per month June-September, and each concert will be from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. This year’s concerts will be on Saturday, June 17; Saturday, July 8; Saturday, August 19; and Saturday, September 16, 2017.

The entertainment lineup is not yet set, but last year’s entertainment included performances by Pocket Change, Vodkanauts, The Betty Fox Band, and Late Night Brass.

Those interested in staying at the resort during “SummerJazz on the Gulf” weekends can contact the resort’s reservations department for best available rates and packages by calling (800) 237-7600 or (239) 261-2222, or online at NaplesBeachHotel.com .

Each concert will be held from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. on the Watkins Lawn. Hotel guests will receive complimentary parking at the resort. For those not staying at the resort there will be parking just north of the hotel at Lowdermilk Park, with free parking provided to those with a Naples beach sticker, and free trolley service to the resort and back. Guests may bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating, however no outside food and beverage is allowed on resort grounds. Call (239) 261-2222 for additional information and directions.

Guests attending “SummerJazz on the Gulf” should consider dining at the resort’s signature restaurant H.B.’s on the Gulf. Offering indoor dining with magnificent views of the Gulf and sunsets, as well as an outdoor patio overlooking the white-sand beach and sparkling water, HB’s on the Gulf specializes in fresh regional seafood, great steaks, and American cuisine. Concert goers also can enjoy a specialty drink at the popular The Sunset Beach Bar & Grill, named Naples’ “Best Beach Bar” by the Travel Channel. All concerts feature full bar service in several locations and a food concession with a selection of snack items and freshly grilled burgers, hot dogs, and grilled chicken sandwiches.

Rich in family hospitality and tradition, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club has resided on the Southwest coast in Naples since 1946. Owned and operated by the Watkins family for three generations, the 125-acre resort has completed more than $50 million in impressive renovations and enhancements over the last few years, which included the dramatic renovation of its championship golf course by golf icon Jack Nicklaus and noted course architect John Sanford, which was completed in November 2016. Prior to that, the resort installed beautiful glass balconies in its main Tower Building in November 2015 to showcase its incredible Gulf views.

Offering an incredible setting on the pristine white-sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, the resort features 34,000 square feet of meeting space plus many picturesque Gulf-side outdoor event venues. Additional offerings at the 319-room resort include a world-class spa, an award-winning tennis center, an array of dining options, a beautiful beachfront pool complex with two pools, multiple bars, retail shops, and beach rentals.

In addition, guests always benefit from no resort fees, complimentary self-parking and valet parking, and complimentary access to the resort’s fitness center.

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club is located at 851 Gulf Shore Blvd. North in Naples. For additional information, call (800) 237-7600 or (239) 261-2222, and visit NaplesBeachHotel.com .

PALM BEACH GARDENS

PGA National Resort & Spa Unveils Four Warm-Weather Escape Packages

PGA National Resort & Spa – south Florida’s world-class golf, spa and vacation destination – has unveiled a slate of packages perfect for warm-weather getaways to the Sunshine State’s enviable climate.
 
The resort’s most popular offering, the Gold Golf package, features a daily round of golf on any of its five award-wining courses. Starting at $339 (per person, per night, double occupancy) through April 30, it also includes luxury accommodations, daily breakfast, club storage and unlimited range balls.
  
For spa enthusiasts, the “Waters of the World” package features the choice of a relaxing, 50-minute daily treatment, unlimited use of spa amenities, and access to the Sports & Racquet Club and Waters of the World mineral healing pools, full breakfast daily and luxury accommodations. Until April 30, the offer starts at $289 (per person, per night, double occupancy).
 
For guests seeking the best of both worlds, the “Dual Delights – Spa and Golf” package features one 50-minute treatment (such as a massage or facial) and one round of golf on either the Palmer, Fazio, Squire or Estates courses (surcharge for The Champion). Through April 30, the offer starts at $320 (per person, per night, double occupancy) and also includes accommodations and daily breakfast.
 
“There are ample reasons why the world’s best golfers love to come here every year for the Honda Classic,” says Greg Saunders, Vice President, Managing Director. “From the challenging Champion Course to the relaxing spa, variety of dining options to social activities, there is something for everyone at PGA National Resort & Spa.”
 
For more on PGA National Resort & Spa: www.pgaresort.com, 561.627.2000.

About PGA National Resort & Spa  

Fresh off its comprehensive multi-million dollar revitalization, PGA National Resort & Spa is a world-class golf, spa, vacation and meetings destination. The South Florida locale offers 90 holes of championship golf on five courses including the famed Champion Course, home to the popular PGA TOUR Honda Classic and legendary “Bear Trap.”
 
A distinguishing highlight at PGA National is its new 33,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Sports & Racquet Club (SRC). The impressive new facility features the latest exercise equipment, indoor racquet ball court, three aerobics studios with new sound systems, five-lane saltwater lap pool, spin room with video road mapping, indoor volleyball court, two Pickleball / POP tennis courts, and19 Har Tru tennis courts (11 lit for night play). PGA National is also home to the new Johan Kriek Tennis Academy, a world-class training facility run by two-time Australian Open champion Johan Kriek. Elite junior- and high-performance programs focus on stroke production, point construction, match play, video analyses, fitness, gym and mental training.
 
PGA National offers customized suites ideal for weddings, golf “buddy trips” and spa aficionados. Its numerous multi-use settings include a permanent, lakeside wedding venue with stunning vistas; scenic Lakeside Lawn perfect for receptions; iDeck – a new 3,000-square-foot terrace ideal for indoor / outdoor dining and entertaining; “Bar 91” 19th hole bar and grill; 40,000 square feet of self-contained conference and event space; and eight on-site restaurants and lounges including its acclaimed chef-driven Ironwood Steak & Seafood.
 
The Spa at PGA National is a 40,000-square-foot oasis of tranquility featuring 32 treatment rooms and areas with 100 diverse treatments, the exclusive “Waters of the World” outdoor mineral pools, full-service salon and relaxing lounge areas.
 
Conveniently located within easy driving distance of major Florida population centers, the AAA Four Diamond resort is 15 minutes from Palm Beach International Airport (PBI), one hour from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) and 90 minutes from Miami International Airport (MIA).

PORT ORANGE

What to See & Do

Cracker Creek

Great for camping, kayaking, taking the Gamble Building Tour (for groups of 10 or more), or the grounds only, self guided tour for the Gamble property.

We kayak here a lot, first going to the right after the put-in, where we feel we're in the jungle and have spotted snakes, deer, Sand-hill cranes and more. Then we go back to the put-in, pass it and continue on the river as far as we wish. it's a great way to spend an hour or longer.

The launch fee for indiviual canoe/kayak/SUP is $5, while other boats can be rented. Or, another way to enjoy this area is by taking the Eco-History Pontoon Boat Tour, a one hour, regularly scheduled (Fri & Sat. at 11 am and 2 p.m., Sun at 2 pm tour. Fee charged. Cracker Creek also offers Pavillion Use by reservation for $100 per hour; sunset cruises, catering, educational programs, themed parties and group camping.

For details contact Cracker Creek at 1795 Taylor Road, Port Orange, FL; 386-304-0778 or check web site www.crackercreek.com.

SARASOTA

What to See & Do

Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams continues at Selby Gardens 

This celebration of Chagall’s love of nature along with the beautiful weather to be enjoyed in Florida this spring have combined to make a trip to Selby Gardens a must-do in the area. Visit for exciting performances, classes and concerts, in addition to our daily tours. And while you’re here, share photos of your own experience by including the hashtag #selbygardens or #colorofdreams in your social media posts.

Latest Events

Member Mondays

Remember, the Gardens opens at 9 a.m. on Mondays throughout April. This opportunity is for members to enjoy the exhibition and grounds ahead of our regular 10 a.m. opening.

Location: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
900 S. Palm Avenue
Sarasota, FL 34236

ST. AUGUSTINE

There's always something going on in St. Augustine, America's oldest city -- and, no wonder, because it offers something for all ages.

NEW: St. Johns County residents with a valid ID now receive FREE admission to the Oldest House in St. Augustine.

For more information on events and activities in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, go to the Visitors and Convention Bureau website at www.FloridasHistoricCoast.com or call 1-800-653-2489

What to See and Do

NEW THRILLS AND FUN AWAIT VISITORS TO FLORIDA'S HISTORIC COAST

 Florida's Historic Coast has been welcoming vacationers for more than 125 years, but as any recent visitor will tell you "Our History Is Not the Same Old Story". Located midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, spring visitors to these special 42 miles of northeast Florida coastline will quickly find there is much that is new and exciting to experience. Whether visiting the nation's oldest city of St. Augustine, playing the world class golf courses of Ponte Vedra or soaking up the sun at one of the Historic Coast's beach communities, exciting new attractions and amenities await.  

For example:

El Conquistador - now even more thrills!

Debuting last year on Matanzas Bay, El Conquistador will soon be offering passengers even more thrills! The high-speed tour boat with the distinctive conquistador helmets mounted above its twin exhaust stacks will feature a new 30-minute thrill ride that is more "thrill" than "tour". More donuts, figure eights and high speed turns, plus louder music and engines, this exclusive El Conquistador tour is sure to get the adrenaline pumping. www.elconspeedboat.com   

Freedom Trail Audio Tour

In 2014, St. Augustine celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the pivotal role the city played in the passage of this landmark legislation. Today, visitors can follow a self-guided Freedom Trail and hear audio descriptions of what happened at 31 key sites throughout the area. Sponsored by Northrop Grumman and produced by the 40th ACCORD, Inc., the audio tour tells of tragedy and triumph during the summer of 1964 and many of the recordings feature the voices of actual participants. These include the voice of Dr. Robert Hayling, a young dentist in St. Augustine who played a key role in the local civil rights movement and was beaten for his efforts (even his dog was killed). Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young were also present at many of these sites that will always be remembered as important stops on the trail to human equality.  For more information, go to www.accordfreedomtrail.com

Lost Ships

For the first time, a new tour at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum will give participants a close-up and personal experience with many of the artifacts from the 18th century "Storm Wreck". Conducted by a professional underwater archaeologist from the Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program (LAMP), the tour demonstrates both the methods used by marine archaeologist to excavate sites and the process they follow to identify and date what they have found. www.staugustinelighthouse.org 

Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth

For decades, visitors to St. Augustine's Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park have been entertained and enlightened at this ever-popular attraction. Not only do they learn about the fascinating archaeological discoveries made there, they also hear the story of Ponce's quest for the Fountain of Youth and get to taste a sample of the fabled water! This spring, visitors will find a new, 600-foot observation deck that gives a close-up look at the tidal salt marsh and leads to an authentic 16th century boat yard where a replica caravel, much like the ship that carried Ponce on his voyage of discovery, is under construction. Plus, there are lots of opportunities to interact with authentic re-enactors portraying Timucuan Indians and Spanish conquistadors. For more details, including upcoming special events, go towww.fountainofyouthflorida.com

St. Augustine City Walks --

is known for their original, entertaining and educational walking tours of the Nation's oldest city. This spring, the waiting list for these highly-popular tours will be considerably shorter - that's simply because more tours are being scheduled daily. Choose from The Plaza Stroll that introduces participants to the history and secrets of the Plaza de la Constitucion - now twice daily! Tour de Chocolate is a new tour offering two full hours or decadent chocolate tasting in a city famous for its chocolates. History, Mystery, Mayhem and Murder - not for the faint of heart, this 90-minute tour looks at the darker side of St. Augustine and now you can experience it four times weekly. Savory Faire-A Food Tour With Taste features two-and-half-hours of tasting delicious foods that reflect the 450-year old culture of St. Augustine (yes, the tour includes walking too). Now available daily except Sunday. And to wash it all down there's the St. Augustine Pub Crawl offered daily and twice daily on Friday and Saturday. And finally, for those who want a good scare (and some great beer) don't miss the infamous Creepy Crawl tour of four haunted pubs. www.staugustinecitywalks.com

Sail Away to Romance

Just when you think the Inns of Elegance couldn't possibly be any more romantic, they come up with another addition that is sure to make any getaway one for the memory books. Beginning this spring, guests at any of the Inns of Elegance will have an opportunity to go on a romantic sailing trip aboard the beautiful Schooner Freedom. Two 2-hour cruises are offered daily and each comes with a complimentary bottle of champagne! For details on these outstanding inns and this unique sailing opportunity, go to  www.innsofelegance.com

Following are some upcoming events that commemorate Ponce de León and other Spaniards who came to Florida and first brought European culture to what would become the United States:

      

St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum

My family and I were very impressed with this museum and spent several hours going through all the displays. No doubt we'll go back the next time we're in the area because not only does it appeal to children, but adults as well who want to learn the history of pirates in the St. Augustine area. According to museum officials, the nation's oldest city - St. Augustine - was founded by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. That was 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth! Pirates have always played a roguish role in the cultural and historical development of St. Augustine and Florida, their legends fascinating and sparking the imaginations of all who have heard their tales of discovery, plunder, adventure and anarchy. Through the city's history and archaeological evidence, St. Augustine is proof that stories of pirates, including Robert Searles and Sir Francis Drake, were more than mere legend.

Here at the Pirate Museum, you'll find real treasures, including Hollywood movie memorabilia and much more. Its collection consists of over 800 authentic pirate artifacts dating back to 1563, maritime memorabilia, and priceless treasures, coupled with interactive technology. In addition, the museum's exhibits include the only surviving treasure chest in the world, one of only two Jolly Roger flags in existence, the original journal of Captain Kidd's final voyage, and shipwreck treasures on loan from the Florida Division of Historical Resources. There are also many interactive exhibits -- including the touchscreen Book of Pirates and Below Deck laudio chambers created by Disney Imagineers.

Board the Main Deck and feel you're right on the pirate vessel; go Below Deck for a spine-tingling surround-sound chamber so that you can experience Blackbeard's last battle and breath. Hear and feel violent explosions, cannon shot and the breath of a killer in your ear. Or, through the Map of Pirate Strongholds, explore the world from a pirate's point of view with an intelractive touch-screen map featuring 16 hotspots that were key to the lives of pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy. Each pirate stronghold features high-energy narration by founder Pat roce.

Or, go on the Gun Deck to fire real cannons, grab the electronic match, light the fuse and feel the world explode and rumble beneath your feet. I loved wandering through the section of Hollywood Pirates with movie memorabilia, including Captain Jack Sparrow's sword and cursed Aztec coin from the Pirates of the Caribbean (2003); Captain Hook's hook from Peter Pan (2003), a macabre memento of the day Hook's real hand disappeared down the mouth of the crocodile during a run-in with Peter Pan and friends.

You might also like, as I did, Captain Thomas Tew's Treasure Chest - a 17th century treasure chest - the only authentic pirate treasure check in the world. The exterior carvings are intricate complete with an elaborate hidden lock mechanism. It is 400-years old and weighs 150 lbs empty and was acquired in 2000 at a Christie's auction in New York and is insured for $1 million. Or see one of the only surviving pirate wanted posters in the world -- an original poster from the Kind of England dating back to 1696 that demands the capture of the pirate Henry Every. Every was dubbed the Arch-Pirate for the vast wealth he so violently seized from the ships of the Great Mogul of India in the Red Sea. The 300 + year-old poster offered L500l pounds - a LOT of money in those days. But he disappeared with his treasures and was never heard of again.

Our family, including our grandchildren ages 15 and 10, loved checking the authentic shipwreck treasures featuring 18th century barshot and grenades, salvaged gold and silver ingots, intricate pieces of jewelry, the barrel of a Queen Anne-styled pistol and an Arawak pottery vessel dating back to the late 17th century, all recovered off the coast of Florida.

So, the next time you're in St. Augustine, do visit this special, unique museum. New exhibits are frequently added. It's fun for all ages. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; closed on Christmas day. Admission is charged, but children under 5 are free, with discounts for AAA members, military and seniors. Annual passes are available as well. Educational tours, scouting troops and birthday parties can be held here.

Location: 12 S. Castillo Drive; 877-467-58653. . .directly across the street from the Castillo de San Marcos fort and a short walk from the Historic Downtown Parking Facility. For more information, go to web site www.ThePirateMuseum.com.

Annual Events

Night of Lights - Mid-November through January (Over 2 million tiny white lights illuminate St. Augustine during the holiday season.

Florida's Birding and Photo Fest 2nd week in April (Birding and photography workshops, field trips plus tours for nature enthusiasts.

Gamble Rogers Folk Festival 1st weekend in May. (Live performances celebrae the music, tories and dance of the legendary troubadour.

The Players Championship 1st week in May (The strongest field in golf turn out for this major tournament.

World Golf Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 2nd week in May (Annual induction of the games greatest contributors into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Fourth of July Celebrations in July (Live music and fireworks over Matanzas Bay and World Golf Village.

City of St. Augustine Birthday Celebration August/September ( A multi-day series of events celebrating the 1565 settlement of St. Augustine.

Greek Festival in October (Enjoy a delicious assortment of Greek foods, pastries and beverages along with live, Greek music.

British Nightwatch and Grande Illumination the 1st Saturday in December. (Military encampment and torchlight parade that celebrates the 18th century British occupation of St. Augustine.

Faver-Dykes State Park

Off the beaten track, this park is noted for its natural condition, and borders Pellicer Creek as it winds along the southern boundary of the park. The peaceful setting offers an opportunity to relax, reflect, explore, discover, fish and boat. Kayak and canoes are available for rental, and there are also nature trails, wildlife watching, camping and picnicking. There are two half-mile loop nature trails, and many people come to birdwatch; over 100 bird species have been spotted during spring and fall migrations.

Anglers can launch into the Pellicer Creek for both saltwater and freshwater species like spotted sea trout, common snook, large mouth bass and bream. Licenses are required and do check the tide. A boat ramp in the park allows small boats and canoes access to the Creek which is a designated state canoe trail. Along the hike, you may spot otters, deer, wild turkeys, woodpeckers and sometimes bald eagles.

The campground is available for overnight stays and I was impressed by the huge sites. Each has water, electricity, a picnic table, grill and fire ring. Sites are in a shady hardwood hammock and natural vegetation buffers are located between most sites. The picnic area contains two covere dpavilions with tables and grills, and the primitive youth camping area provides facilities for up to 100 people.

History - Pellicer Creek was named for settler Francisco Pellicer who received a land grant from the King of Spain and then built his homestead along the banks of the creek around 1800. The Creek, an aquati preserve, is the main body of water in the 6,045 acre park.

Faver-Dykes State Park was originally part of the Buena Suerte Plantation granted in 1817 by Spain to General Joseph Hernandez. During the Second Seminole War the area was occupied by U.S. troops. In 1950, Hiram Faver, a former longtime Clerk of the Court in St. Johns County, donated the land to the Florida State Board of Parks and Historic Memorials. The park is named for his parents, Alexander Hall Faver and Florida Dykes Faver.

Here, you'll also find long leaf pines and cool hammocks. Wildflowers and ferns are highlighted by rays of sunshine filtering through the canopy. In early morning, wild turkeys may file through. Little has changed here since the Timucuan Indians called this their home.

Faver-Dykes State Park is located at 1000 Faver Dykes Road, St. Augustine, FL 32086; 904-794-0997. For more information go to web site www.FloridaStateParks.org.

Adrenaline Alligator Adventures:

  For the ultimate adrenaline rush, go hands-on with nuisance alligators - in the wild!  Spend the day with a licensed alligator trapper and go along on a mission to subdue and remove nuisance 'gators - each of which must be more than four feet in length. The 'gator hunt may take you to a deep swamp or the fairway of a famous golf course - each day offers new challenges.  The adventures are priced at $45 per person for the "ride-along" featuring a scout for alligators and observing the live capture of these prehistoric predators.  Or choose the Full Gator Hunt priced at $145 per person and get right in the middle of the action and assist in the snaring, subduing and taping the big gator's deadly jaws firmly shut!  For more information, go to: adrenalinealligators.com  or call 904.607.6399.

San Sebastian Winery

The winery staff have been working diligently to make sure that its wines are available at your favorite supermarket or wine shop throughout both Florida and Georgia. Be sure to make a request for these wines to your local Store or Beverage Manager, who will be more than happy to request the wines for you.  Otherwise call 1-888-352-9463 to see if the wines can be shipped into your state, as some restrictions may apply.

Have fun at San Sebastian Winery offering complimentary tours and wine tasting, seven days a week.

Monday - Saturday 10 - 6  p.m.
Sundays 11 - 6 p.m.
(last tour starts one hour before closing).

The Cellar Upstairs Wine, Jazz & Blues Bar

Order On-Line - simply ask for discount in comments section. Extra discount will not appear on your on-line order - but will be when payment is run via Winery retail system.

San Sebastian Winery | 157 King Street | St. Augustine | FL | 32084

City Walks Guided Tours: 

Known for their popular pub crawl and their history, murder and mayhem tours, City Walks now offers two new tours with far less sinister themes - food and shopping!  The Savory Faire tour is a two-and-a-half hour walking tour exploring the historical and cultural influences on the tastes of St. Augustine.  From tapas to desserts, participants journey from the First Thanksgiving (Sept. 8, 1565) to the present-day culinary offerings of the Oldest City.  Lots of tasting adventures along the way - plus, each participant receives a special heritage recipe gift.  Shop St. Augustine is a three-hour tour that leads to the most unique and off-the-beaten-path shops in the city.  The tour is accompanied by a cart that will hold and deliver your shopping treasures to your inn or vehicle.  For details on these and other special City Walks Guided Tours, go to www.staugustinecitywalks.com or call 904.540.3476.  

St. Augustine Eco Tours: 

This highly-successful eco-tour company has a new vessel for taking guests on a thrilling and silent ride to see manatees, sea turtles, dolphins and countless bird species.  Called the Sirenia, the new 27-foot catamaran sails noiselessly into the remote and wild backwaters, creeks and estuaries - all under the guidance of outstanding naturalists.  For more details on guided tours aboard the Sirenia and other waterborne nature tours offered by St. Augustine Eco tours, go to: www.staugustineecotours.com or call 904.377.7245. 

Ripple Effect Eco Tours: 

Known for their outstanding kayak tours at Anastasia State Park and Marineland, this popular guide and outfitter now offers Hobie Mirage pedal-drive kayaks - perfect for nature photography!  The nearly silent pedal-drive eliminates the splash of paddles that can startle the subject into flight, provides a stable, hands-free platform for photography and insures a drip-free and dry experience that protects camera equipment.  To find out more, including a full listing of available guided tours, go to http://rippleeffectecotours.com or call 904.347.1565. 

Villa Zorayda Museum: 

For those who enjoy art, architecture and the eccentricities of a by-gone era, there's no better place to visit than St. Augustine's Villa Zorayda.  Built in 1883 as the winter home of Franklin Smith, it was the first edifice in St. Augustine built of poured concrete.  An outstanding example of Moorish Revival architecture, the Villa is a replica of a section of  Spain's famous Alhambra.  Within its solid concrete exterior is an amazing collection of Middle Eastern art and antiquities including the world's oldest carpet - made of cat fur!  New this summer is an original Felix de Crano oil painting dated 1900 and titled "Alhambra Beauty."  De Crano was one of several famous artists brought to St. Augustine by Henry Flagler in the late 1800s and early 1900s to create works of art that would appeal to his wealthy guests staying at his magnificent Ponce de Leon Hotel located directly across the street from Villa Zorayda.  Also new this summer is a French-language self-guided audio tour - a companion to the popular Spanish and English language audio tours.  For more details on Villa Zorayda, go to http://villazorayda.com  or call 904.829.9887.

World Golf Hall of Fame: 

New is "Voices From the Hall," a museum-wide audio tour featuring over two-and-a-half hours of exclusive content from more than 35 Hall of Fame members, including personal stories and anecdotes.  Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Tommy Bolt, Ben Crenshaw, Pete Dye, Sandra Haynie, Hale Irwin, Tony Jacklin, Carol Mann, Larry Nelson, Curtis Strange and many more tell their stories and even describe the items visitors can see in each immortal's locker.  There's also a new exhibit devoted to special "Bob Hope: Shanks for the Memory" exhibit continues to be a favorite with visitors.  Another new addition to the Hall is the All Access Pass - a two-and-half hour private tour featuring stops in the collections where items are stored before going on exhibit.  This special tour is provided to the public by the research, curatorial and exhibition staff each Friday at 9:30 a.m. by reservation only.  This special tour is priced at $60 per person.   The Hall of Fame is also offering a round of golf on the 18-hole putting course, with the admission. Enoy putting on an 1800s style green or take a 'drive' on a world-famous course in a state-of-the art stimulator.

While here, learn the history of the game, explore the growth of one of the world's most revered sports from its birthplace in Scotland to its current global presence. Through the Wall of Fame, member Locker Room, and the Inductee Exhibits, you'll learn about the World Golf Hall of Fame's celebrated members. The Locker Room Tour is very interesting and follows chronological order by class from the first in 1974 to present day. There's much, more, too.

Hours are Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Closed Christmas & Thanksgiving. Admission is $19.50 for adults with discounts for seniors, students and military, and includes complimentary admission to the 18-hole naltural grass Putting Course and one shot on the Challenge Hole. Plan on spending half a day here or longer and bring your camera because photographing is allowed.

For more information about the World Golf Hall of Fame and its two championship courses, go to www.WorldGolfHallofFame.org. It is located at One World Golf Place off I-95, Exit 323; phone 904-940-4123 .

 Ripley's Believe It of Not: 

Journey deep into the domain of blood-thirsty pirates in this major new exhibit - Pirates: Predators of the Sea.  This colorful exhibit is featured in the St. Augustine Ripley's - the first and oldest of Robert Ripley's odditoriums.  For more information, go to:staugustine.ripleys.com .  

Battle of Bloody Mose:  

  Established by the Spanish in 1738,Fort Mose was the first legally sanctioned free black community in the continental United States.  This commemoration of the 1740 Battle of Bloody Mose features a military encampment and combined muster of the St. Augustine Garrison and the 42nd Regiment of Foot.  The event takes place at Fort Mose State Park in St. Augustine, www.floridastateparks.org/fortmose  

Even More Attractions:

With more than 60 historic sites, impressive museums, numerous opportunities for world class golf, more than 40 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches, great fishing and tours that entertain, educate and sometimes frighten, there’s never a shortage of things to do in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra &The Beaches. This fall, visitors can re-discover their favorites from years past and discover a wide array of new opportunities for fun.

For example:

Would you like to be a marine archaeologist for the day? Well, now you can aboard the schooner Momentum. Owned and operated by Outreach Sailing Adventures, outreachsailing.blogspot.com,  the schooner takes marine archaeology enthusiasts offshore from St. Augustine to gather real-time data on sunken ships by using a side-scan sonar. Participants even get a digital copy of the recorded sonar data.

SA GPS Adventure Tours also uses new technology to tell the story of the Oldest City. Participants on their walking tours use a handheld GPS to trigger the delivery of innovative experiences, on-site interpretations, compelling narratives, musical soundtracks, photographs and maps that bring the history of St. Augustine to vivid life in both English and Spanish. www.sagpstours.com.

For those who prefer a faster-paced look at history, Run St. Augustine Tours, www.runstaugustine.com, offers a morning, three-mile jog through nearly 450 years of St. Augustine history. Led by a licensed tour guide, joggers enjoy history and physical fitness in the ancient streets of the Oldest City.

If you like history on the move, but would prefer to remain seated, Solano Cycles, www.solanocycle.com, now offers two-seater scoot-coups equipped with GPS units that deliver entertaining tales about the Oldest City  when the motorized two-seaters pass the relevant location.

At the St. Augustine Lighthouse, www.staugustinelighthouse.com, visitors will now be able to tour the grounds of this beautiful and historic light station while listening to English or Spanish audio presentations linked to 20 stops. For those, who prefer not to make the 219-step climb to the top of the tower, the handheld audio device will provide a “virtual” climb.

Want a behind-the scenes look at history?   AdLib Luxury Tours, www.AdLibTours.com,  is now offering private tours of museums, historic houses, and the St. Augustine research library where participants can view authentic items that influenced history.

There is little doubt that visitors to Marineland’s Dolphin Conservation Center, www.marineland.net, will be enthralled by the antics of Tocoi, Aqe, and Tomo -- three dolphin calves born there in June and July. The calves and their mothers (Betty, Dazzle and Roxy) provide visitors with an entertaining and educational look at these fascinating marine mammals.

For more information call 904-808-8395 or check web site www.claudeschocolate.com.

Regularly Held Events

Uptown Saturday Night

A favorite end-of-the-month event, Uptown Saturday Night takes place from 5 to 9 p.m. in the Uptown San Marco Shopping District, St. Augustine. Galleries, antique stores and unique shops between Ripley's Museum and the Mission of Nombre de Dios remain open during this special time. Meet the artists, book signings, live music, refreshments and other events contribute to the party-like atmosphere. The Mission of Nombre de Dios provides FREE PARKING for Uptown Saturday Night. The event is sponsored by the San Marco Avenue Merchants Association.

Please call 904.824.3152 for more information.

Low Tide Bike Ride at Anastasia State Park

This Ranger-led 3-mile low tide bike ride and bird watch starts at 1 p.m. Participants will enjoy an ecology talk at the point of Conch Island and then start the return trip. Riders should be prepared for weather conditions on the beach which could be influenced by heat, cold, wind and sand. This program is free with paid park admission. For more information, call 904.461.2033.

Five Women of the Ages

Enjoy an afternoon tea as five remarkable women representing five time periods in St. Augustine's rich and varied history come to life through a dramatic interpretation of original paintings from Casa Monica Hotel's private collection. The tea and performance takes place 3 p.m. at the Casa Monica Hotel, 95 Cordova Street, in St. Augustine. Tickets are $35 per person and proceeds will benefit the Florida Heritage Book Festival that take place in September. For reservations, please call 904.940.0194. 

GTM Research Reserve Brown Bag Lunch Lecture

Learn about the natural history of South Africa when Research Ranger Linda Harrison presents “South Africa: A Natural History Adventure” - a photographic accounting of her recent visit to South Africa. The lecture takes place from noon to 1 p.m. Admission is free (bring your brown bag lunch). The GTM Research Reserve is located 8 miles north of Vilano Beach off of A1A at 505 Guana River Rd., Ponte Vedra Beach.

For more information, call 904.823.4500.

Historic Weapons Firing Demonstration

Take the National Park Service’s ferry to Rattlesnake Island and experience daily military life at Fort Matanzas – the 18th century Spanish fort that guarded the southern approach to colonial St. Augustine. From 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., authentically clad re-enactors will demonstrate Spanish muskets and cannons at the fort. Admission is free. Fort Matanzas National Monument is located on A1A at the south end of Anastasia Island approximately 15 miles south of St. Augustine.

For more information, call 904.471.0116 or visit www.nps.gov/foma.

Bird Migration Program at Washington Oaks Gardens

Learn how to identify fall migrating birds, their habitat and behavior when rangers at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park present this fascinating program. A limited number of binoculars will be provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their own along with drinking water and field guides. The walk will be departing from the Visitors Center at 8:30 a.m. The program will be included in the regular park entrance fee of $5 per vehicle, up to eight people. Washington Oaks Gardens State Park is located approximately 15 miles south of St. Augustine at 6400 North Oceanshore Blvd. in Palm Coast.

For more information, call 386.446.6780 or 386.446.6783.

Arts Alive!

Dance the night away at the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach while enjoying creative spectacles including a live sculpture garden, a dramatic art demonstration by a national artist, and an interactive drum café. A DJ will provide pulsing dance music while Allen Alday offers dance lessons! The Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach is located at 50 Executive Way in Ponte Vedra Beach.

For more information on tickets, call 904.280.0614 or log on www.ccpvb.org

New Discoveries Await Visitors to St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches

St. Augustine is the Nation’s oldest city, but visitors to this historic destination and the luxurious resorts of Ponte Vedra will find plenty that’s “new” to enjoy for fall and winter. In addition to rediscovering the Old World charm and seaside elegance found in this unique destination on northeast Florida’s sunny shores, visitors will be adding lots of new discoveries to their “must-do” lists

For more information on events and activities in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, go to the Visitors and Convention Bureau web site at www.FloridaHistoricCoast.com or call 1.800.653.2489.

Launching of Macanudo 1968 Cigar

Enjoy a good cigar at the launch of the new Macanudo 1968. Enjoy snacks, refreshments, sample cigars and have a chance to win a grand prize of a Macanudo 1968 humidor and a box of Macanudo 1968 cigars. Festivities take place at the St. Augustine Tobacco Company located at 123 St. George Street in downtown St. Augustine from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call 904.827.1510.

Discovering Henry Flagler

Enjoy an extraordinary afternoon of history and entertainment as Paul J. Jellinek portrays Henry Flagler in this one-man-play in two acts. Directed by Anne Kraft, this play explores the myths and facts about "the man who invented Florida“. All proceeds go toward the children's education programs at the Whitney Lab. The show begins at 2 p.m. at The Center for Marine Studies, Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, 9505 Oceanshore Blvd. (Marineland). Admission is $10 per person. For more information, call 904.461.4000, or visit www.whitney.ufl.edu. 

GTM Research Reseve National Estuaries Day

Bring the family for a fun and educational day when the GTM Research Reserve celebrates National Estuaries Day! Included in the festivities will be live animal presentations, touch tanks, kayak tour (reservations required), nature crafts for kids of all ages, estuary games and activities, and presentations throughout the day – some with live animals! Admission is $2 per person.  National Estuaries Day is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the GTM Research Reserve Environmental Education Center, located at 505 Guana River Road, 8 miles north of Vilano Beach at the Guana Reserve. For more information, call 904.823.4500 or visit www.gtmnerr.org for a schedule of presentations.

St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park

Visitors will be greeted by an array of new residents that are sure to impress--in addition to hundreds of alligators. Walking on the long, curving boardwalk and looking down upon them swimming is a fantastic experience!

One of the largest snakes in the world – a female python nearly 22 feet in length!  Nearby, a Komodo dragon – the world’s largest lizard—and a crocodile monitor---the world’s longest lizard -- will thrill visitors. Adding to the excitement at the new exhibit will be deadly king cobras and a Cassowary – a large and colorful flightless bird found in Australia and New Guinea. In addition, the park’s daily educational programs will be enhanced with new opportunities for school groups – including overnight sleepovers in the only place in the world where every species of crocodilian can be found.  www.alligatorfarm.com

The Farm opened in 1893 and entertained visitors with numerous alligators and reptiles not seen in many places around the world. People flocked from everywhere to gaze at the amazing creatures displayed here and, today, it is basically the same and well worth an entire day. See 23 species of crocodillian, rare albino alligators, a wonderful rookery where I bet you'll spend at least an hour or two photographing the gorgeous birds, a long boardwalk where it's exciting to look down upon hundreds of alligators. Don't miss entering the underground Maximo display to see a huge crocodile swimming (or sleeping) in his viewing pool. Maxmo weighs 1,250 pounds and is 15 feet long! If you're here at the right time, watch a park ranger walk up on a wooden perch overhanging the big gator pit and toss rats (dead ones) into the alligator pit only a couple of feet away from some of these scary beasts.

When I was at the Farm, I paid a small amount to pet a baby gator and the feeling was one I'll long remember. This is a place you won't forget and will return to year after year.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not Facelift

Believe it or not, the first of Robert Ripley’s famous museums is undergoing a facelift. One of the most-recognized symbols of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Castle Warden is a Moorish Revival mansion in St. Augustine that has been the flagship of Ripley’s museums since the early 1950s. The museum will remain open throughout the renovation process that, when completed, will provide visitors with a fresh look at the collection of oddities that has thrilled millions for more than 50 years. Much of the effort will focus on Castle Warden’s exterior, including a replacement of the roof, restoration of window moldings, and a piece-by-piece refitting and restoration of the museum’s beautiful stained-glass ceiling. Even the giant, bronze Chinese statues will be getting a makeover before returning to their guardianship of the main entrance when the work is completed in early spring.  www.staugustine-ripleys.com

Vilano Beach Town Center

An entirely new Town Center greets visitors to Vilano Beach, the picturesque seaside village just across St, Augustine inlet from the nation’s oldest city. A $12.5 million testament to the imagination, determination and hard work of local residents, the new Town Center will show off its art deco-style buildings from the heyday of its tourism era of the 1940s and ‘50s. Plus, there will be new elements including a tower at the entrance, mosaic-tiled sidewalks, seating areas, a fountain and impressive Florida landscaping. Already in place is a lifelike sculpture of three dolphins cavorting above the entrance to the fishing pier. The sculpture spans 27 feet across the old drawbridge roadway and arch 20 feet into the air. Nearby, two bronze, programmable bells in the Town Center Tower will soon greet each beautiful sunset with musical renditions.  www.vilanobeachfl.com  www.scenica1a.org/VilanoBeach.aspx  

Villa Zorayda

Closed for nearly a decade, the magnificent Villa Zorayda reopened to the public in early 2008. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Villa Zorayda was built in 1883 as the winter home of eccentric Boston millionaire Franklin Smith. An exact copy of a portion of the Alhambra castle in Granada, Spain, the building represents one of the first examples of poured concrete construction in the United States. A popular gambling casino in the 1920s, the villa has also served as a movie location. Today, its Arabian Nightsl interior houses an impressive collection of art – including furniture carved from tropical hardwoods, treasures from the Middle East and Egypt, sculptures and artifacts from the villa’s storied past – including a more-than-two thousand year-old carpet made of cat hair. For more details, staugustine.com/stories/020808/news_txt01_002.shtml

Black Raven Adventures -- Thar Be Pirates!

  St, Augustine’s long history as both a target for pirate raiders and a haven for seagoing desperados will come to life once more when Black Raven Adventures sets sail from the oldest city and cruises along Matanzas Bay. For more details, go to: www.blackravenadventures.com .

Conrad van Wyk -- New Gallery Brings Exhilarating Point of View

 The latest addition to the more than 50 art galleries located in the St. Augustine area serves as the studio of Conrad van Wyk, noted international architect. Located on ancient Hypolita Street in the Casa del Hidalgo, built by the Spanish Government, the gallery presents Van Wyk with the perfect setting for creating his special reflections on everyday life in the Nation’s oldest city. The new gallery enhances the city’s distinction as one of the America’s best small art towns. For more information on the local art scene, including the popular Art Walk held on the first Friday or each month, go to www.staugustinegalleries.com and www.staaa.org .

Claude's Chocolate Room in Ponte Vedra

Chocolate Anyone?:  Claude Franques, one of America’s finest French chefs, and his wife Nicole have opened the Chocolate Room in Ponte Vedra. Their St. Augustine shop on Hypolita Street is a masterpiece of handmade, fine European chocolates and a popular gathering place for Friday evening wine and chocolate tasting. The new Chocolate Room located on US 1 brings Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville the same personal attention and flawless Belgian chocolates that are enjoyed in St. Augustine. Call 904.808.8395.

NOTE: Claude's Chocolate Shop in St. Augustine is a must stop.

The delicious chocolates are hand made by Claude Franques, renowned chef for many years, who has turned his culinary talent to the art of chocolate making. The product contains only the finest natural ingredients, without any additives or preservatives and, for this reason, must be eaten within 3 weeks of purchase. I can assure you that after tasting these delicious chocolates, you won't have a problem devouring them within this time frame! The shop is located on Hypoita Street in the heart of St. Augustine's historic district. Claude's wife, Nicole, will be happy to guide you through the available varieties. Also, stopping here for a cup of unique hot chocolate is a real treat.

Shopping:

Shoppers stopping at St. Augustine’s outlet centers located at I-95’s exit 318 will discover new and exciting changes. For instance:

On November 7, 2008, the face of shopping in Northeastern Florida was changed forever when Prime Outlets-St.Augustine, opened the doors on a new, upscale shopping experience. The $35 million, 90,000 square-foot expansion includes 25 stores – and the names read like a Who’s Who list of the world’s most exclusive retailers – Hugo Boss Factory Store, Michael Kors, Kenneth Cole, Cole Haan, Juicy Couture, and many others including a new 28,000 square-foot Off 5th – the outlet for upscale retailer Saks Fifth Avenue. The stores will offer shoppers savings of 25 to 65 percent off the regular prices. Combined with the nearly 50 high-quality retailers already located at the shopping center, the newly expanded Prime Outlets-St. Augustine will undoubtedly be ranked among the top Florida destinations preferred by discriminating shoppers everywhere. www.primeoutlets.com

Savvy shoppers know that a trip to St. Augustine Premium Outlets not only saves money but insures finding high quality brands.  Plus, the St. Augustine Premium Outlets recently welcomed new stores including Ann Taylor Factory Store, Anne Klein, Crocs, Ecko Unltd and Levi's & Dockers Outlet by Most. The center has a total of 85 designer and name-brand outlet stores offering 25 to 65 percent savings every day, including Banana Republic Factory Store, Brooks Brothers Factory Store, Calvin Klein, Coach, Gap Outlet, J. Crew, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store, Reebok, Tommy Bahama, Tommy Hilfiger and more.  Shoppers can also enjoy additional savings during the After Thanksgiving Weekend Sale and by signing up for the VIP Shopper Club - there's no cost to join and members receive exclusive savings and deals!  www.premiumoutlets.com/outlets

Where to Stay:

Historic Casablanca Inn Awards ‘Blanca Bucks’

The Casablanca Inn,  one of the most admired historic boutique hotels in Florida, is awarding ‘Blanca Bucks’ for guest referrals through the coming months.

How to earn ‘Blanca Bucks’

Send a friend to stay at the Casablanca Inn and earn ‘Blanca Bucks’. By referring your friends, the Inn will say THANK YOU by giving you a $25 credit toward your next stay if the guest uses your name when making the reservation. You can accumulate ‘Blanca Bucks’, giving you an even larger discount on your future visit. So, spread the word and watch your ‘Blanca Bucks’ pile up!

With its prominent position on the bay front of St. Augustine, the Casablanca Inn is one of the first historic hotels that visitors encounter when arriving in America’s oldest city (circa 1565). St. Augustine, listed in the Top 10 Prettiest Cities by Forbes Magazine in March, the publication made their selection based on natural beauty, a unique identity or a combination of the two. “The town’s picturesque historic district is full of old-world atmosphere, historic homes and easily explored on foot”.

THUMBNAIL Inn DESCRIPTION:
The Hotel is an oasis of lavish accommodations, luxurious linens and baths. Southern Living quotes “We like Casablanca Inn on the Bay”, Atlanta Journal Constitution names Casablanca in their “Ten Great Inns of the Southeast” and Frommer’s Travel Guide says “What Divine Decadence”!  One of the most photographed boutique hotels in Northeast Florida, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this graceful 20-room luxe Mediterranean revival beauty transports you to a gentler time of gracious Southern hospitality:

Two course served Breakfast overlooking the expansive Matanzas River
Lemonade and homemade chocolate chip cookies
Happy Hour Hors D’oeuvres
Private Free Parking
$15 credit each night to the Tini Martini Bar that's on the Bay Front

The Inn is located at 24 Avenida Menendez ~ St. Augustine, Florida ~ 904-829-0928
www.CasablancaInn.com

St. Francis Inn -- Oldest Inn in America’s Oldest City --“Growing More Beloved Year After Year”

In 1985, Joe Finnegan and his wife Margaret bought the St. Francis Inn (circa 1791) believing “If you want a successful business in the hospitality industry, everything you do is for your guest’s pleasure and comfort.” Nearly 30 years later, they still believe in their philosophy along with a dedicated professional staff, many of whom have been employed at the Inn nearly as long.

Today, there are numerous ways the Finnegan’s please their guests:

·         Comfortable accommodations on quiet residential St. George Street, two blocks from the Bayfront view of the St. Augustine Lighthouse, the famed Bridge of Lions and bustling historic downtown. Fresh flowers and sherry too!

·         Extensive culinary surprises and ‘farm to table’ Breakfast, afternoon Social Hour hors d’oeuvres, Late Night homemade baked desserts, night time snacks, fresh fruit and cookies served all day and a Specialty Coffee Bar – PLUS special attention paid to every guest’s dietary needs.

German Chocolate Cake
(Recipe below)

· Florida-inspired gardens and koi pond on the inn’s property recognized with a Wildlife Habitat Certification

·         Island beach cottages where guests can leave the inn and spend a day at the beach with thoughtful amenities at their fingertips

·         Complimentary amenities for which the St. Francis Inn is known ~ including bicycles to tour the city, solar-heated swimming pool, admission to the local fitness club and off-street Inn parking

“We have maintained the historic ambiance of this old Inn while also providing all of the comforts expected by today’s savvy travelers” Finnegan states in 2012.

The St. Francis Inn mirrors the Old City – as a vibrant historic place that grows more beloved year after year.

**2012 Winner TripAdvisor Excellence Award

**Member of ‘Select Registry’
stfrancisinn.com/inn.html#awards

The Inn on Charlotte

The Inn on Charlotte’s eight rooms pay tribute to legendary people/celebrities who founded or lived in America’s Oldest City since the early 1800’s. They include James Audubon and ‘Diamond’ Lil, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Henry Flagler; there is a room for everyone, all elegantly decorated and appointed.

A member of the exclusive www.InnsofElegance.com, the Inn on Charlotte is enjoying welcoming guests into its privileged location in the heart of St. Augustine’s historic district. A block from the famous Castillo de San Marcos and the shimmering Matanzas Bayfront, the sunrise on the wide front porch is a perfect match for this romantic, beautifully appointed historic lady. After only five months as new owner, Rodney Holeman is settling into the leisurely pace of the city and relaxed ambience in his beautiful new bed & breakfast.

For more informatioin, contact Rodney Holeman, proprietor
www.InnonCharlotte.com
52 Charlotte Street, St. Augustine, Florida 32084
904-829-3819

Castillo Real Resort Hotel Named Hotel of the Year

Elite Hospitality’s Castillo Real Resort Hotel located in St. Augustine Beach, Florida, has been named the Clarion Collection’s “Hotel of the Year”. This prestigious designation was based on the results of guest satisfaction scores collected from all Clarion Collection hotels throughout the world. The Castillo Real received the award in recognition of its consistently “exceptional” commitment to guest satisfaction -- commitment that was self-evident from the high ratings the property received from guests.

Less than four years old, the Castillo Real is 60-room boutique-style hotel located on the ocean side of historic route A1A in St. Augustine Beach – just steps from the beach and just ten minutes by trolley from the attractions of St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city. The beautiful, Spanish Renaissance design features an impressive three-story atrium, outdoor pool and public whirlpool/hot tub, spa service, sauna, steam room, fitness center, and La Cocina – an award-winning restaurant. Guest rooms feature striking Mediterranean designs with marble, granite and solid wood furnishings, high-speed internet access, microwaves, refrigerators, robes and many other amenities. Select rooms offer balconies and in-bath whirlpools.

For details, go to www.castilloreal.com .

The Castillo Real is one of 18 properties operated by Elite Hospitality in the greater Daytona Beach, St. Augustine and Jacksonville areas. Two new properties will soon be added to their collection, including a 200-room Courtyard by Marriott in St. Augustine Beach. For details, visit www.elitehospitality.com .

Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village Renovation

The final touches are now being made on an impressive $10 million renovation of the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village in St. Augustine. Located next door to the World Golf Hall of Fame, the resort’s renovation included the complete remodeling of all 301 guest rooms, dramatic changes to the resort’s atrium, remodeling the restaurant and bar, installation of new lighting in public areas – even the addition of a new “signature scent," From new carpeting, flooring and color schemes to new furniture, soft goods, window treatments and flat screen televisions in the guest rooms, this renovation will undoubtedly make this outstanding property even more appealing to both corporate guests and vacationing families. www.worldgolfrenaissance.com

Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Spa in Ponte Vedra Gets New Look

Recently completed, a $3.3 million renovation of the magnificent seven-story lobby at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Spa in Ponte Vedra is sure to impress both new and returning guests. The new lobby features glass balconies on all floors to provide a great view of the lobby’s beautiful art deco floor. Also new is Kelly’s Bar, an authentic Irish pub located adjacent to the lobby. The lobby renovation was the final step in a $56 million improvement package completed last year that included a complete refurbishment of the adjacent THE PLAYERS Stadium golf course, the construction of a new and gorgeous TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse, and a transformation of the resort’s guest rooms – an average of $30,000 in improvements were made to each room. www.sawgrassmarriott.com

52 Charlotte Street

The Inn on Charlotte in historic St. Augustine, is honoring Honeymooners with their Historic Honeymoon package in the most romantic walking city for couples who want to experience their honeymoon in a dreamy setting.  Experience shopping along the brick-paved avenues, sitting in an outdoor café under the swaying palm trees and taking a sunset stroll along the bay front. You’ll see storybook bridges, visit world famous museums and art galleries in a city that is famous for the pageantry of Colonial America for centuries.

Owner Lynne Fairfield arranges all of the details and indulges HISTORIC HONEYMOONERS with:

Two night accommodations in the ‘Henry Flagler’ Verandah Suite featuring a private balcony overlooking brick-paved Charlotte Street.

Welcome Charlotte Roses & Claude’s Passion Fruit Chocolates in a keepsake edible chocolate box 

Romantic Carriage Ride – private horse & carriage ride through historic St. Augustine
Candlelight Dinner for 2 at Collage restaurant – a jewel of fine dining under the famous bougainvillea tree

Honeymoon Cake - Hand-decorated 2-tiered sublime Keylime confection

Gourmet Breakfast – 2 course award-winning breakfast each day

Wine & Social Hour Hors d’oeuvers – a sweet moment on Charlotte Street

His & Hers Robes

Keepsake Book – history and romance of St. Augustine

The cost per couple is $999 (Sunday thru Thursday) and $1,199. (Weekend)

For more information or reservations, call 904-829-3819 or check web site www.InnonCharlotte.com

Lodgings in Environmentally Sensitive St. Augustine Go "Green"

From the beaches, through the historic district of the Nation’s oldest city, to the golfing Mecca of World Golf Village, accommodations in St. Augustine are setting the pace for membership in the Florida Green Lodging Program. Administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the program establishes voluntary guidelines for hotels and motels to conserve natural resources and prevent pollution. Properties that meet the guidelines are recommended by the state to companies and trade organizations seeking environmentally-conscious lodging and convention facilities.

The Hampton Inn and Suites St. Augustine at Vilano Beach was one of the first properties to be inducted into the Green Lodging Program. The management and staff were so enthusiastic and successful at adopting green practices that the property was chosen last October as a host for a Green Lodging workshop. The results quickly spread throughout the St. Augustine accommodations community.

Today, eleven St. Augustine properties belong to the Green Lodging Program – an impressive number for a destination that has less than one percent of the state’s population. Most recently, four Jalaram Hotel properties in St. Augustine went green when they were accepted into the program. These newest additions were the Best Western Spanish Quarter Inn, Holiday Inn and Suites, Hampton Inn St. Augustine Historic, and the Days Inn at St. Augustine Beach.

The inclusion in the program of the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village proved that with planning and commitment, even the largest properties can become eco-friendly. Despite its size (more than 300 rooms) and the fact that a $10 million renovation was just completed, this luxurious centerpiece to one of the world’s great golfing and convention destinations was able to meet all the requirements for inclusion in the Green Lodging Program.

Hilton properties in St. Augustine have also enthusiastically embraced the goals of the program. The beautiful new Hilton St. Augustine Bayfront, was not only designed and built to meet the oldest city’s stringent requirements for historical accuracy, it also operates in compliance with the Green Lodging Program’s guidelines – as does the Hilton Garden Inn located just across the street from the inviting seaside sands of St. Augustine Beach.

The new Castillo Real Resort Hotel, also in St. Augustine Beach, emphatically proved that architecture inspired by 18th century Spain can be adapted to meet the environmental needs of the 21st century. Just a block north, the oceanfront Hampton Inn located on historic A1A has also become a member of the elite group of properties included in the Florida Green Lodging Program.

For more details on the program, including information on the water conservation, energy efficiency, clean air and waste reduction requirements that need to be met in order to be certified green by the Department of Environmental Protection, go to: www.dep.state.fl.us/greenlodging . A full listing or green-certified properties can be found here as well.

For information on vacation opportunities in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, including stays at the properties included in the Green Lodging Program, go to www.getaway4florida.com or call 1.800.653.2489.

Where to Eat: My Favorite Restaurants in or near St. Augustine

St. Francis Inn

The oldest accommodation in St. Augustine, the 18th century St. Francis Inn has been setting the standard for hospitality in the oldest city for centuries. In addition to the unforgettable rooms and impeccable service, this spring the multi award-winning inn has updated its popular menu. New offerings include Farmer's Market Vegetable Strata and a Blueberry Pecan French Toast Bake. Plus, guests can now indulge themselves with an array of specialty coffees brewed to order in the kitchen. For more on this iconic St. Augustine inn, go to   www.stfrancisinn.com

King Fish Grill

Whenever I'm near St. Augustine, I always stop in at the Kingfish Grill - one of my favorite restaurants that's situated on Camachee Island which is in the middle of the Tolomato River. Subsequent changes in the topography over the last 200 years created marsh land between the island and the mainland. The river now flows only along the east side of the island with the Intercoastal Waterway forming the main channel of the river. Kingfish Grill was originally a fish shack supporting local fishermen, providing a place to cut and distribute their catch. Now, it is a place to kick back, take in the beautiful scenery, enjoy great food and spirits and listen to some local chit chat.

The decor is lovely, the views are gorgeous and the food worth driving from anywhere for. The atmosphere is casual waterfront dining, and just about anything you desire can be found on the menu. I began with Camachee Crab Cakes that tasted great, while my partner had Fried Shrimp - 1/2 lb. with cocktail auce & lemon or, if you like hot food, try them buffalo style. The New England Clam Chowder was thick, served hot and delicious, and although the appetizer and soup filled us up, we couldn't resist ordering two of the House Specialties - Fisherman's Stew (shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels, clams and 'fresh catch' sauteed in a tomato saffron broth with garlic toast, and the Horseradish Encrusted Grouper (roasted garlic and herb butter sauce). Naturally, we couldn't pass up dessert, equally scruptous.

For the little ones, try the Minnow's Menu for age 12 & under served with beverage and an ice cream sandwich with a choice of Pizza, Chicken Fingers, Fish & Chips, Minnow Burger or Buttered Pasta with Cheese. For the adults, there's a wide choice of Wraps & Rolls, Entrees, Soups & Salads, and also a full bar, live music on the deck and docking for guests.

Hours: Open Year-Round on Sunday-Thursday from 11:30 to 9 p.m., and Friday & Saturday from 11:30 to 10 p.m.

Location: Camachee Cove Marina at 252 Yacht Club drive, St. Augustine, FL 32084; 904-824-2111 -- web site www.kingfishgrill.com or jmac@kingfishgrill.com. Tune in to VHF-Channel 68.

South Beach Grill

(located one block south of S.K. 206 on A1A next to Beacher's Lodge at 45 Cubbedge Road, St. Ausustine)

Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. Happy hour and drink specials are available Monday-Friday from 4 - 7 p.m., Ask for a table on the 2nd level; the view of the beach, ocean and birds is extraordinary --as is the food.The menu is extensive with anything from yummy appetizers and side dishes, to wraps, seafood specialties and seafood platters. Pasta, steaks, ribs and chicken is available, too, or salads. Kids have a special menu and everything is reasonable priced and served quickly. After, you can test out your car on the beach or just sit and relax while iistening to the birds overhead and the pounding surf before your eyes!

For daily specials, call 471-8700; e-mail southbeachgrill@bellsouth.net, FAX 471-6762, or check web site www.southbeachgrill.net.

619 Ocean View Restaurant

Fresh seafood, Menorcan favorites featuring the destination’s signature datil peppers, Spanish tapas and the very best in New World cuisine are just some of the culinary delights enjoyed by visitors to St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches.

For those who enjoy spectacular views with their dining, the Sawgrass Golf Resort and Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach has opened to the public its 619 Ocean View Restaurant. Located at the Cabana Beach Club, the restaurant features such signature dishes as Toasted Jasmine Crusted Ahi, Lobster Cannelloni in a sherry cream and cheese sauce, and for dessert don’t miss the Bruleed Bananas Foster Cheesecake, www.sawgrassmarriott.com/dining/ .

Georgies's Diner

I've eaten here 5-6 times and the food is always prompted served, is the right temperature and very good - except for the waffles that are too cake-like for my taste. The servers do a great job and the place reminds me of the 50's diners with the same old-time decor.

Dishes are made with guality ingredients with Frixa olive oil the only olive oil used here. In fact, bottles of olive oil and oregano are available for purchase. The gourmet burgers are 7 oz. 100% ground beef; the gyros are served on Pita bread with lettuce, tomator, onion and the diner's special sauce; there are a variety of wraps - including fish, veggie, chicken, hummus, and a few of the Greek specialties include Mousaka - layers of potato, eggplant, ground beef with herbs and baked in a special Besamel sauce; Pastitsio - layers of macaroni, ground beef with herbs and backed in a special Besamel sauce, and a delicious Spinach Pie with Feta in a puffed pastry served with a Greek salad - among many other specialty dishes. You can also order Parmesan dishes - chicken, eggplant or shrimp served with pasta, salads, soups, and numerous appetizers, from Fet cheese with tomato, cucumber pepperchinni & olive oil; fried cheese sticks, fried calamari, grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs, and lots more. Feel free to bring the kids -- For those 12 years & younger, there's pasta with marinara sauce; grilled cheese with frieds; fried chicen teners or hot dogs.

Location: 100 Malaga Street, St. Augustine, FL; 904-819-9006.

500 South, An American Grill

As part of its $10 million renovation, The Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village has introduced a new restaurant called 500 South, An American Grill. Specializing in New American regional cuisine, the upscale restaurant features such diverse entrees as Filet Mignon and Shrimp Scampi, Penne Pollo and Grilled Atlantic Salmon served in a setting of chic hardwood floors, warm wood tones, and dramatic lighting, www.worldgolfrenaissance.com/Dining/500South/.

Bistro de Leon

One of France’s young celebrity chefs has arrived in the Nation’s oldest city. Jean-Stephane Poinard’s authentic cuisine exudes a vibe of relaxation and chic dining at the new Bistro de Leon located in the heart of St. Augustine’s historic district. Local green market ingredients inspire amazing tastes for lunch and dinner. Poinard’s culinary signature is complex flavors – in the breads and pastries too. At Bistro de Leon, feasting begins with the eyes and ends in the heart. www.bistrodeleon.com .Bistro de Leon is located at 12 Cathedral Street in St. Augustine. For more information call 904-810-2100 or go to web site www.BistrodeLeon.com..

For more information vacation opportunities and special events in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, go to the Visitors and Convention Bureau’s website www.Getaway4Florida.com or call 1.800.418.7529.

Transportation

St. Augustine Welcomes Motorcoaches to Parking Facility

Tens of thousands of vehicles have used the City of St. Augustine’s new Historic Downtown Parking Facility’s nearly 1,200 spaces. Now the facility is able to welcome the thousands of motorcoaches and school buses that arrive in St. Augustine each year.

With easy access off West Castillo Drive near its intersection with San Marco Avenue, the transit reception area features loading areas where passengers will disembark under an all weather canopy. The transit reception area is located on the north side of the parking facility which is adjacent to the St. Augustine and St. Johns County Visitor Information Center. 

The Visitor Information Center, which has undergone a complete renovation, offers plenty of restroom facilities, a wealth of information on the area’s attractions, restaurants, museums, historic sites, recreation and lodging opportunities. The center also serves as a transportation hub where visitors may choose to explore St. Augustine by foot, horse carriage or motorized sightseeing tours.

After unloading, motorcoaches and buses will stage in the conveniently located bus parking area on nearby Riberia Street until their passengers are ready to depart, and then return to the transit reception area to pick-up their guests.

For more information regarding the Historic Downtown Parking Facility’s transit reception area, please call 904.825.1000. For general information about the parking facility and a map to the Visitor Information Center, visit www.vicparkingcom.

ST. JOSEPH BAY

The Scallops Are Waiting: The Season Has Begun -- Head to St. Joseph Bay for World-Renowned Scalloping with your Whole Family

WHAT: Gulf County scallop season in the warm and beautiful waters of St Joseph Bay in Gulf County, Florida.

Scallops like the clear blue waters of St. Joseph Bay and their twinkling blue eyes are easy to spot in the plentiful grass beds. Glide peacefully over the water with fins and a snorkel mask or wade easily into the shallow waters by the shore and grab them by hand. By boat, foot or fin, hunting for scallops is an underwater adventure everyone will remember.

Are you a rookie? No problem. All you need is a Florida saltwater fishing license, a mesh bag and a dive flag. Get your license ahead of time online or head to the experts at Bluewater Outriggers. They can give you a license, supplies, the local hot spots and insider scoop. Did you know scallops have one light side and one dark side?

For tips on shucking your catch or recipes on eating your bounty, head on over to the GCFL website. Or, check out these detailed instructions. And, don‚t worry. If you come up empty handed, there are always plenty of starfish, seahorses and sand dollars to see.

WHEN: Scalloping season runs now through September.

WHERE:         St. Joseph Bay in Gulf County Florida

Located in Northwest Florida, Gulf County boasts 43 miles of natural shoreline. Here, where water surrounds us, we don‚t have high-rises or busy highways and never will. There are white-sand beaches facing westward into spectacular sunsets on the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay. Also beckoning bayous, unexpected wildlife encounters and the mysterious Dead Lakes, in addition to seaside bike trails, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and snorkeling -- and genuine places, like the historic Indian Pass Raw Bar and flavors like Tupelo Honey.

Learn more about this 'no worry, no hurry' destination at www.visitgulf.com and on www.facebook.com/VisitGulfCounty>Facebook, twitter.com/gulfcountyfl>Twitter and www.pinterest.com/gulfcountyfl/>Pinterest.

MORE: For fishing rules and regulations check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. More information on www.visitgulf.com/article/the-wonders-of-st-joseph-bay>St. Joseph Bay can be found here.

ST. PETERSBURG

Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club

The Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club, located on sparkling Tampa Bay in downtown St. Petersburg, is the only luxury resort on Florida's West Coast that offers the combination of a private arina, 18-hole golf course and 12-court tennis complex.

Of Mediterranean Revival design, the resort is on the National Register of Historic Placesm, and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. The Vinoy's private Golf Club and 361 guestrooms and suites as well as Marchand's award-winning restaurant and Lobby Bar have been recently renovated and await your visit.

The bayside resort offers the finest recreational facilities and amenities. This includes golf, a 74-slip marina, heated swimming pool, four unique restaurants, full-service health club, recently renovated salon and day spa, and a 12-court Har-Tru tennis complex. The resort is central to the city's many cultural and entertainment attractions, including 6 museums, major league baseball at Tropicana Field, beautiful waterfront parks, boutiques and art galleries.

For additional information, check web site www.vinoyrenaissanceresort.com or call toll-free for reservations at 888-303-4430.

SINGER ISLAND

Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island invests $6.8 million in fresh new coastal design scheme that invites the outdoors in

The AAA Four Diamond-rated Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa has unveiled the results of a $6.8-million renovation that has infused the popular resort with a relaxed, breezy coastal style. The new design blurs the lines between indoor and out, bringing ocean-inspired colors and textures in, while encouraging guests to step out and enjoy the fresh air and beachfront setting.

A Coastal Welcome, from the Indoors Out
Dominating the lobby is the inviting, oval-shaped great room where, between soaring wood-paneled columns, conversational groupings of curved-back sofas, lounge chairs, and glass-topped tables encourage guests to gather for a drink or relax for a moment and charge their personal electronics while waiting for friends and family to arrive. Furnishings are light and airy, with upholstery in a textured, natural shade that evokes the Florida sand and accent pillows in ocean blues and greens. The undulating pattern of the great room’s new carpeting is reminiscent of ocean waves, creating a sense of movement that draws the eye outward to a monumental fountain, refinished in opalescent mosaic tiles, that serves as the focal point of the newly renovated patio. Here, guests can lounge al fresco under the Florida sun by day, shaded by patio umbrellas, and starry skies by night.

Inviting Spaces to Drink and Dine
Floor-to-ceiling windows in the great room and in the bar and lounge flood the area in natural light by day. In the evening, lights are dimmed and the ambience transformed. At the entrance to the bar and lounge is a new communal high top for up to 14 guests, creating a relaxing space to mingle while waiting to be seated for dinner at the resort’s signature restaurant, 3800 Ocean. Charging stations throughout the bar area let patrons power up their personal electronics as they relax. Under-lighting casts the entire bar in a warm glow, while accent lights on the back bar showcase the inventory of bottles. In the lounge area, banquettes are newly upholstered in a pattern of natural and blue with deep ocean blue seats, and tufted with nail head trim. Dramatic hardwood flooring – whose stripe effect of light and dark woods recalls the deck of a vintage Chris Craft yacht – extends throughout the restaurant and lounge and has been sanded and stained to restore its original beauty.

Barefoot Luxury for Living
Throughout the resort’s 193 one- and two-bedroom guest suites, thicker, more textured carpeting feels luxurious under bare feet and provides more visual interest, with a tonal effect that evokes waves and sand. Walls have been painted in clean white, and sofas and lounge chair fabrics are soft and subtle for a relaxed, coastal feel. New throw pillows with a turtle pattern are inspired by Singer Island’s resident sea turtle population. (They are also a nod to the resort’s ongoing support of the nearby Loggerhead Marine Life Center, through sales of plush turtles that are displayed in-room.) In the guest bedrooms of two-bedroom suites, beds are set against a bold photo mural of driftwood rising out of the sea. The water is tinted bright turquoise in an otherwise black-and-white scene, providing a jolt of color that carries through in the turquoise throw pillows adorning the crisp white bed linens. All guest patios retain their original teak outdoor furniture.

Perfect for sophisticated meetings, social events and once-in-a-lifetime wedding celebrations, the resort’s 3,600-square-feet of meeting and event space have also been refreshed. Spaces include the 1,631-square-foot Colonnade Ballroom, the Flagler Boardroom, Singer, Mizner and MacArthur meeting rooms. New carpeting gives the rooms a sense of depth, movement and water, and walls have been lightened to be more inviting.

For more information or to reserve a stay, interested parties can book www.marriott.com/specials online or call 561-340-1700.

About Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa

Rising 21 stories above a beautiful stretch of palm-fringed sand, Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa is the only all-suite beachfront property in Palm Beach County. Each of its 193 suites offers spacious and stylish condo-style living in surroundings that are equally ideal for family vacations, romantic getaways and business travel. The décor is sleek and contemporary, with modern furnishings and a palette that evokes the sand, sea and sky. Dining choices range from exceptional American regional cuisine to casual Caribbean fare. The resort’s award-winning SiSpa offers sea-inspired pampering and wellness therapies, while its boutique-style meeting space beautifully accommodates high-powered conferences, exquisite beach weddings, and sophisticated social events. Comfortably furnished outdoor spaces make the most of the Florida sun and sea breezes, inviting guests to relax poolside or gather for an evening of drinks and conversation by a fire pit. Operated by Urgo Hotels and Resorts under license from Marriott International, Inc. or one of its affiliates. For more information visit www.palmbeachmarriottresort.com or connect online via Facebook and Twitter.

SOUTH WALTON

What to See & Do

About South Walton

Located along a 26-mile stretch of Northwest Florida’s Coast, South Walton encompasses an unparalleled strand of 16 distinct beach neighborhoods, each with its own traditions, charm and visual style. South Walton is renowned for natural scenic beauty, turquoise waters and sugar sand beaches, and was named one of “America’s Favorite Towns” in 2014 by Travel + Leisure. An upscale, yet casual place to unwind, South Walton is the place to rejuvenate and build lasting memories. It is easy to see why the region, which enjoys a stunning 86% repeat factor, recently experienced its best tourism season to date, making Walton County the number one summer beach destination in Florida.
South Waltonfeatures 16 distinct neighborhoods along the most spectacular stretch of sugar-white sand and turquoise water. The destination boasts small-town Southern charm and experiences that extend well beyond the beach. Its upscale character stems from its large artist community, funky local boutiques, and "100-mile" radius farm-to-table dining philosophy that permeates throughout the ever-expanding, diverse culinary scene. 

Learn more at VisitSouthWalton.com

South Walton Earns Top Accolades

South Walton,continues to garner highly deserved praise for its stunning sugar-white sandy beaches, protected landscapes and for being home to some of the most diverse eco-systems in the state.
Grayton Beach State Park was just named in the 26th Annual Top 10 Beach List produced by coastal expert, Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, the professor at Florida International University who goes by “Dr. Beach.” Of awarding the accolade for the second time in his annual roundup he said, “This beach boasts of its sugar-white sand and emerald green water where development has been restrained so big sand dunes still dominate the landscape. At the same time, all the amenities of great restaurants and accommodations are close by in the old town of Grayton Beach or Seaside. Many people choose to camp in this wonderful state park that also features tidal lakes and freshwater ponds. Former Governor Bob Graham told me that this was his favorite beach."

Speaking of Seaside, last month the destination was named one of Travel Channel’s “Best Beaches for Families” in an endorsement of the area’s hiking, biking, and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as its kitschy Airstream Row – a collection of distinctive food truck trailers serving up mouth-watering fare like Meltdown on 30A’s grilled cheese, Barefoot BBQ and homemade frozen custard at Frost Bites

What to See & Do

Beyond the Beach: What's New

This spring, contemporary and signature acrylic artist Justin Gaffrey launched a new art gallery aptly named “Curate” in Rosemary Beach. This concept store is expected to evolve with each season, featuring new collections, original collaborative designs, events, and experiences. More of Justin’s work can be viewed at the Justin Gaffrey Studio & Gallery, located in Blue Mountain.

The exciting arrival of The Foster Gallery gives visitors even more of a reason to check out The Market Shops located in Sandestin. This outdoor center is the perfect place to go for some shopping, live entertainment, eating – and now, an inside look at original work by Cultural Arts Alliance (CAA) member artists, who are often inspired by the destination which they call home.

30A’s latest restaurant and event venue Trebeaché in Santa Rosa Beach has exploded onto the culinary scene with its elegant, yet coastal vibe and contemporary menu. Swing by for the nightly happy hour from 3pm-6pm featuring 75-cent oysters and drink specials, or stay for dinner to try some noteworthy entrées such as the brown butter sage gnocchi with fresh Florida lobster, crisp kale and shiitake mushrooms.  

Also new to the scene is The Craft Bar at Grand Boulevard, where you’ll find some of the most sought-after craft beers in the country. South Walton certainly has a lot brewing including Grayton Beer Company’s new 30A Beach Blonde Ale, which is now being packaged in 12oz. aluminum cans under the new name Beach Permit Blonde Ale. With new packaging and Walton County Beach Permit #2617 labels, beach-goers can finally enjoy some local craft brews on the glass-free beaches of South Walton.

The Perfect Playground; New Perks for Kids

South Walton is an appealing destination for families, with myriad activities for all ages to enjoy. This year, kids are in for an extra special treat thanks to a slew of new classes, activities and events created just for them.

A summer art class is in order at The Artists at Gulf Place. Kids can unleash their creativity in fun art workshops such as: Paint and Press T-Shirts, Footprints in the Sand, Create Your Own Starfish, Jewelry Making, Tie Dye and more. Pre-registration is not required and prices vary.

Kids interested in learning the basics of surfing or YOLO Boarding will love the 30A Surf and SUP Kids Camps. These daily, three-hour camps cost $150 and are offered now through August at four different locations including Gulf Place, Seagrove, Eastern Lake, and Lake Powell. Space is limited so be sure to register at least one week in advance.

Entertainment Ideas for Every Day of the Week

South Walton has you covered every day of the week, with endless entertainment options spanning the 16 distinct beach neighborhoods. Vacationers will be dealing with a different type of Monday blues when visiting South Walton, with the Here Comes The Sun Summer Concert Series, taking place weekly at the North Barrett Square in Rosemary Beach at 7 pm. The concerts are free, so just pull up a chair (or blanket!) and enjoy the show.

Tuesdays (and Thursdays!) in June and July are a guaranteed blast with the SunQuest Sunset, Fireworks and Dinner Cruise, taking place from 7pm-10pm. Tickets start at $72.50 for adults. The cruise aboard Solaris, the area's premier dining and entertainment yacht, departs from the Baytowne Marina at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, and features fine dining, dancing, live entertainment – and of course a vibrant fireworks display to end the evening. The cruise also sets sail on the 4th of July for the ultimate fireworks celebration.

Mark the calendar for Stories By The Sea which take place Wednesdays at 4pm. Visitors can sprawl out on the lawn of the Seaside amphitheater for a one-of-a-kind storytelling experience for children of all ages, presented by local REP actors. Each day will offer a new story and potential opportunities for audience participation! Pack a picnic and stay put for the live music Wednesday night Seaside Concert Series.

Enjoy some fresh air and the great outdoors each Thursday with the Americana Under The Stars series at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. The free concerts, featuring a mix of original Americana music, including jazz, folk and blues music, take place in the recently upgraded amphitheater.

Fridays are host to the Movie Medley-Musical Performance at 6:30 pm in Rosemary Beach, where visitors can participate in trivia alongside the rockin’ brass quintet. Each evening features some of the most popular and memorable movie songs - from “Ghostbusters” to “The Muppet Show” and “Frozen” to “Star Wars” and beyond!

Soak up the sunshine every Saturday by perusing the Seaside and Rosemary Beach farmers markets, where visitors can pick up fresh local produce and handmade goods before or after relaxing on the beach.

The Gulf Place Amphitheater has Sundays in South Walton covered with the Summer Sunday Concert Series, sponsored by ResortQuest by Wyndham Vacation Rentals. The free concerts take place from 5pm-8pm, and each week will feature a different local or regional band, ranging in genres.

For more information about South Walton's culture and happenings, please contact the Walton County Tourist Development Council at 25777 US Highway 331 South, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459; toll-free (800) 822-6877 or FAX (850) 267-3943

Get Fit with Group Classes

Is your New Year’s resolution to get fit and healthy? With no winter chill, a laidback nature scene, and perpetually sunny skies to boot, vacationers can find their fitness fix and motivation in South Walton with two new cross-training groups: 30A YOLO Bike & Beach Club and RUN/SUP

An internationally recognized brand with native roots, YOLO Board joined forces with The 30A Company to bring likeminded individuals together for a weekly heart-pumping sweat session and exploration of the 15,000-acre Point Washington State Forest. Every Saturday at 8:30am starting, the free, all-levels 30A YOLO Bike & Beach Club meets to fuel up on a cup of joe at The 30A Store, which sits next door to YOLO Board + Bike in Gulf Place, before pedaling through the forest’s Longleaf Pine Trails.

Another homegrown fitness group, RUN/SUP combines running, standup paddleboarding, and additional water-borne exercises in several different class formats from challenging high intensity interval training (HIIT) to kids classes. Held three days a week, RUN/SUP classes begin at the WaterColor Boathouse with a one to two mile trail run around the lake and over the bridges of WaterColor Resort & Inn, then segue into a core-cardio paddleboard workout on Western Lake—push-ups and squats included. Classes meet on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 8:30am and cost $25 each (equipment included) or $15 if guests bring their own board.

South Walton Boasts Diverse EcosPloring Opportunities: New Tours Discover Region's Rare Coastal Dune Lakes and More!

South Walton, renowned for its perpetual sun, 26 miles of white quartz sand and turquoise water, also boasts a vast array of ‘beyond the beach’ pursuits in the region’s great outdoors. With 40 percent of the destination comprised of diverse natural elements, the destination provides travelers a bounty of outdoor pursuits to fill their holidays. With 15 dune lakes, four state parks, a coastal forest, miles of trails, and a variety of ways to embrace the wilderness, from kayaking and biking to hiking, sailing and fishing, the region’s ecosploring opportunities are endless.

To complement South Walton’s year-round ecosploring options, the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance has launched “Discover the Roads Less Traveled,” a collection of guided eco-adventures available throughout the summer. These include:

Getting to Know the Natives – Garden & Trail Tour
Nature lovers can learn about South Walton’s local flora and fauna on a one mile, two hour guided garden and trail tour at the Native Plant Demonstration Garden and Trail at Northwest Florida State College in Santa Rosa Beach. Held every Wednesday at 3 pm in July, the tour is appropriate for the whole family. Fee is $15.

Dune Walk
Coastal dune lakes are a naturally occurring phenomenon in just a few locations worldwide including New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar and the Northwest Pacific Coast of the U.S. With 15 dune lakes, South Walton possesses the world’s highest concentration of these rare systems. And without the beach dunes, there would be no dune lakes. The Dune Walk, a four-mile hike through Morris Lake, hosted by Park Services Specialist Jeff Talbert, provides an up close and personal look at this natural phenomenon. The next hike is scheduled for July 3 with additional dates to be announced soon. Cost: $15 + park fees.

The Bayside Fishing Clinic
A hands-on fishing experience at Kellogg Park, this clinic focuses on techniques for wade-fishing in the bay then allows students a chance to put their new-found knowledge to the test. Held at 3 pm every Thursday in July, the clinic costs $35 per person, with all equipment included.

Canoe/Kayak Tours
South Walton’s four state parks and state forest are home to dune lakes and the Choctawhatchee River system that provide endless inviting settings for canoe and kayak tours. In addition to viewing stunning scenery, flora and fauna, tour guides discuss the history of the area, coastal dune lake ecology, local anecdotes, and preservation efforts to keep the area pristine. Basin Alliance sponsored tours include:
·         Western Lake Kayak Tour – July 10, 9 am; $60 per person with kayak rental
·         Canoe/Kayak Tour of Campbell Lake – July 15, 1:00 pm; $30 + park entry fee per person
·         Explore Morrison Springs Paddle – July 11, 8:30 am; $35 per person and canoe/kayak rental fee of $35
·         Chain of Lakes Tour on the Choctawhatchee River – July 25, 9:00 am; - 11:30 am; $60 with canoe/kayak rental / $45 without $45 if bring your own, $60 includes craft rental

Historical Tour – Coffeen Nature Preserve
With 225 acres of protected land, Coffeen Nature Preserve’s diverse range of natural environments include a forest, marshes and coastal dunes. Prior to its establishment in 1976, the Preserve was WWII site JB-2 missile testing and launching site. Now, it is home to the endangered Choctawhatchee dune mouse and gopher tortoise. Led by caretakers Susan and Bruce Paladini, tours of the preserve include hiking along four trails and a military history presentation with an option to explore the bunkers. Hikes occur on July 16 and July 30. Fee is $20.

Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance will be adding more tours throughout the summer, so please check the website regularly. For more information or to book call 850-200-4160.

For those who prefer to ecosplore on their own, the region offers a comprehensive list of self-guided eco-adventures, trails, and parks on their website and the Visit South Walton mobile app.

Beyond Its Beautiful Beaches, South Walton Entertains Kids during Summer With A Host of Camps, Clubs and Activities

With 26 miles of sugar white sand and turquoise waters along the Gulf Coast, it’s easy to see why South Walton, Florida is a top choice for families looking for a vacation destination. Home to one of Travel + Leisure’s “Best Beaches on Earth for Families,” summer in South Walton is all about kids. From camps and arts & crafts classes to nature excursions, tennis programs, musical theater productions, and sand castle lessons, the destination overflows with opportunities for youngsters to learn, socialize and enjoy the great outdoors.

Camp WaterColor

WaterColor Resort & Inn’s comcomprehensive children’s program is tailored for kids ages 3 to 12. Daily activities include nature walks, team sports, crafts and slip n’ slides, as well as weekly movie nights. Open to WaterColor guests, St. Joe’s Club Members and WaterSound residents, hours are 9 am to 1 pm Monday – Friday, with sessions beginning at $55 per child.

Club KZ

Whether it’s treasure hunting on Jolee Island, riding the carousel at the Village of Baytowne Wharf, braving the ropes course and zipline or stargazing, Club KZ at the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort is an adventure waiting to happen. Open Monday through Saturday, day and evening programs for ages 4 – 12 are available starting at $55 per child per session, including lunch or dinner.

Seaside Repertory Theater

Affectionately referred to as “The REP,” by locals and visitors alike, this professional theater has puppet shows, plays, story hours and performances for kids, including a number of free weekly shows along 30A in Rosemary Beach, WaterColor, Alys Beach and Seaside, throughout the summer. Hands-on kids’ workshops, improvisation and magic classes are also on offer at The Rep.

Fairy Princess Fantasy Camp

in Seaside is making little girls’ dreams come true this summer with its Fairy Princess Fantasy Camp. Combining classical ballet and contemporary dance, little ballerinas ages 3-6 will choose their favorite princess characters, create their personal fairy wings, magic wands and princess tiaras and dance to their favorite princess songs. Price is $90 for the week or $35 a day. Additional summer programs are available including musical theatre and dance camps.

Junior Tennis Camp

Sandestin offers the most comprehensive junior tennis camp and program in Northwest Florida. Ranging from USTA QuickStart Tennis (beginners ages 5 to 10), to high school tournament players as well as future collegiate athletes, the resort’s weeklong junior camps are a great opportunity for youngsters to work on their individual skills while also learning to be a team player.

SandCastle Lessons

When summering at South Walton’s white quartz beaches, a fun activity for kids and parents to enjoy together is learning how to sand sculpt. The private two-hour group lesson begins with a demonstration showing how to use the right tools and how much water to add to the sand to create a perfect mixture. Each person is mentored to create a 3- foot tall sandcastle tower masterpiece of their own.

Activities for the Whole Family
Both on the beach and off, outdoor activities abound. Beyond traditional sunning and swimming, families will enjoy standup paddleboarding, kayaking or fishing on the stunning waters of the Gulf of Mexico or one of the area’s rare coastal dune lakes. South Walton also boasts miles of biking trails winding through the 16 beach communities and four state parks, plus ample opportunities for nature hikes where a bald eagle may be spotted.

A Culmination of Artistic Focus

The breadth of talent in South Walton rivals that found in major cities across the United States. In support of cultural programming and the arts community, the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) honors a selected artist each year.  No matter the time or the place, the Artist of the Year demonstrates South Walton’s celebration of the arts, all year long.

Each fall a new “artist in residence” is chosen and honored with this distinction.  It’s at this time that South Walton reflects on the close of another year of lasting artistic memories, and looks forward to what’s sure to come in the next:  new one-time art encounters, monthly and annual artistic traditions, and ever-present art that is a way of life throughout South Walton’s 15 distinct beach neighborhoods.

Artists of the year are chosen based on their medium and how well they capture the nature, heritage and beauty of this coastal destination.  Allison Craft’s art, beautifully crafted leather and pearl jewelry, perfectly represents South Walton—a strand of cherished beach neighborhoods connected like pearls along Northwest Florida’s Coast. While Allison’s work can be found in shops throughout South Walton and the southeast, 30A Studio at Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse in Grayton Beach is home to her as well as three photographers.  To see more of Allison Craft’s work online, visit www.AllisonCraftDesigns.com.

Past Artist of the Year honorees include Allison Wickey, who recreates local scenes using a 13-step, four-day process involving Venetian plaster, acrylic paint, glazes and an orbital sander; Michael Granberry, a photographic artist from Seaside who honed his craft over the last 30 years; abstract artist Michael McCarty, who produces contemporary, modern art with acrylic on canvas; watercolorist Donna Burgess, capturing the beauty and joy of coastal life through her multi-media interpretations; wood maker Bill Stephenson, creating one-of-a-kind woodturnings in his Santa Rosa Beach studio; and, Phil Kiser, who has dedicated his life to glass art.

Art Experiences Abound

Art events and exhibits fill the calendar in South Walton, showcasing the area’s passionate artistic talent.  Developing or encouraging new ways to celebrate the arts is a focus for the South Walton Tourist Development Council, with unique and memorable events such as Digital Graffiti.  Held in Alys Beach, this outdoor projection art festival lets artists use the latest technologies to project original video art onto the resort town’s iconic white walls and rooftops.

Held every month in Seaside, the First Friday Ruskin Place ArtWalk features live music showcasing local talent and gourmet hors d’oeuvres and wine inviting guests to stroll the galleries under illuminated oak trees.  Visitors enjoy the largest collection of art galleries on the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast and view new work by diverse artists. An updated schedule of featured artists is available at www.VisitSouthWalton.com.

Each May, a week-long celebration of the arts is sponsored by the Cultural Arts Association. ArtsQuest includes gallery tours, artists at work, performances, road races, a fashion show and a champagne shopping tour.  Participating galleries and shops throughout the area showcase their own interpretation of artistic expression.  The week of festivities culminates in a vibrant two-day art festival at the Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin.  Recognized as one of the finest art festivals in the Southeast, the event promotes world-class artists and their works, and includes exciting performances and entertainment.

Rosemary Beach has the honor of playing host to the West Indies Market.  This summer-season, open-air market allows browsers to discover booths filled with paintings, pottery, jewelry, stained glass, wood carvings and other handcrafted items.

The Flutterby Children’s Art Festival in October is a unique family festival to celebrate the colorful migration of the Monarch butterfly through the region.  The Rosemary Beach event features an open-air market of talented artists coupled with children’s art, crafts booths, children’s interactive art projects and other activities.  Check www.culturalartsassociation.org for more information.

Many art aficionados punctuate their Labor Day weekend with the Baytowne Wharf Art Expo, featuring world-class art and live music under the stars.  This Sandestin event brings exceptional art from the Southeast’s premier artists and galleries together for this three-day festival.  Check www.baytownewharf.com for more information.

The Rosemary Beach Fall Writer’s Conference offers budding authors the opportunity to explore the creative writing process.  Renowned writers, such as Lynne Barrett, John Cottle, Michael Lister and Leonard Nash, offer writing exercises, craft classes, evening readings and receptions.

The Autumn Playwright Festival celebrates the works of a playwright, featuring a weekend full of play productions, poetry readings, guest lectures, social events, music and games/activities in October.  Check www.seasiderep.org for more details.

Ever-present Art
From streets to galleries and parks to stores, it seems like art is everywhere you turn in South Walton.  No matter what type of experience encompasses your perfect brush with the arts, you can find it in the always-available options in South Walton.

If you love whimsy and playfulness, you should visit Grayton Beach and its folk art shops.  In the heart of Grayton Beach, The Zoo Gallery welcomes visitors with its quirky, colorful and energetic atmosphere.  This is a hip-hop happening shop offering jewelry, pottery, sculptures, handmade furniture and a large selection of prints and framed art. Funky iron sculptures of animals greet visitors as they walk through the door and the airy layout begs art lovers to explore every nook and cranny.

Home to the 2006 Artist of the Year, Phil Kiser, Big Mama’s Hula Girl Gallery features funky outsider art, unique home and garden décor, handcrafted jewelry, art furniture, sculptures, pottery, vintage jewelry, bags and clothes.  The gallery is owned by Alabama folk artist Debbie Weant-Lane and showcases her creative use of color and design, and also the works of more than 30 regional artists.

If you’d prefer a more traditional gallery with a selective repertoire, then you can find it at Anne Hunter’s gallery in Rosemary Beach.  At  World Six Gallery, she features the work of 30A artists Allison Wickey (2011 Walton County Artist of the Year), Shantell Martin, Francisco Adaro, Steve Wagner and Andy Saczynski, with jewelry by Wendy Mignot and Mary Kay Samouce featuring 'Adorn,' and clothing by Nicole Paloma.

You could also pick up a souvenir and admire the extensive collection of hand-blown glass jewelry, lighting and art from more than 200 artists at Fusion Art Glass, located in Sandestin and Seaside.  Fusion is also home to an extensive Allison Craft collection.

If you’re looking for a true beach art experience besides swaying palms and colorful buildings, you’ll like Artists at Gulf Place in Santa Rosa Beach.  Nine local artists formed this art cooperative where they personally present their work to the public.  Potters, sculptors, painters, metal artists, candle makers, photographers, folk artists and furniture makers are among the talents represented at this lively marketplace.

For more information visit South Walton, P.O. Box 1248, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459-1248 United States

STUART

Best Western Downtown Stuart Has Been Remodeled

Best Western Downtown Stuart has just completed a remodeling of its guest rooms and public areas. All newly renovated rooms feature a mini refrigerator and microwave. Conveniently located near Stuart’s historic downtown district, shopping malls and beaches, the hotel also features a complimentary deluxe continental breakfast, fitness center and outdoor heated pool. 772-287-6200.
www.bestwesternflorida.com/hotels.

TALLAHASSEE

Plan on getting out and experience all that Florida has to offer. Every season brings exciting events and exhibits, as well as new openings and renovations. Check out www.VISITFLORIDA.com for more Florida Fall happenings.

Where to Eat

Tallahassee Dining

America’s dining history began in Florida and has continued to reach new heights of flavor in the Sunshine State. From the cuisine influenced by America’s first cowboys and rich seafood heritage of the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry to fine dining at world-class resorts and celebrated culinary events, a broad range of Florida fare awaits in 2008 to tantalize taste buds. For more information on dining options in Florida, visit www.VISITFLORIDA.com. 

What to Do & See

Zoofari

Known as one of the largest and “wildest” all-inclusive food festivals in the Tampa Bay Area, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo invites food lovers to its 21st Annual Zoofari feeding frenzy. The event features great food sampling from more than 80 restaurants, open bars, live music from The Little River Band on the main stage and the “Art Safari” wildlife art auction. Admission tickets are all-inclusive and the event is rain or shine. (813) 935-8552. www.LowryParkZoo.com.

Historic Tree Grove of the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

The Historic Tree Grove of the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) serves as a natural symbol for culturally significant happenings. Each of the 17 trees included in the Historic Tree Grove originated from a historically significant person or place from around the nation. The most recent addition is the Yaupon Holly which Florida Indians used for making tea before battles. (813) 987-6100. www.mosi.org>www.mosi.org.

Tallahassee Museum

Hold your wedding on the Bellevue Lawn or in the Bird Room overlooking Florida's natural beauty. A variety of rental spaces are available on the 52-acre property situated on the shore of Lake Bradford. Guests will receive catering service from the staff and access to the museum for after-hour events.

For more information, call 850-575-8684 ext. 117 or check web site www.tallahasseemuseum.org.

TAMPA

What to Do and See

Lowry Park Zoo --

Here, guests can enhance their outdoor adventure by hopping on “Gator Falls,” a water flume ride over a section of the Native Florida Wildlife Center. Ride a log down the “river” and explore Florida’s native wildlife by water, floating through some of the most enchanted parts of old Florida including a rare albino alligator exhibit. Watch out for falling waters as the ride plunges almost 30 feet at the splash down. 

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay presents its newest adventure, Jungala, a four-acre wildlife attraction set in the heart of the Congo. As the most ambitious enhancement to date, Jungala allows guests to discover exotic animals, explore a hidden village, monkey-around on a play area or zoom down the new zip-line experience over orangutans and Bengal tigers.

Bass Pro Shops announces new features of mega outdoor store in Tampa/Hillsborough County

The Brandon/Tampa Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World will feature a 7,000-square-foot Islamorada Fish Company restaurant, which will offer a variety of fresh seafood and steak entrees. The Islamorada Fish Company concept began in 1948 as a marina snack bar in the Florida Keys offering the freshest fish possible at a reasonable price. A full-service restaurant was added in 1994. Since then, Islamorada Fish Company restaurants have opened in several Bass Pro Shops stores.

Bass Pro Shops’ uniquely designed, award-winning stores are often considered to be part museum, art gallery, antique store and aquarium, and centers for conservation education and fun. They also offer the area’s largest selection of high-quality outdoor gear as well as a staff of dedicated professionals who promote the outdoor lifestyle and live it as well. In fact, Bass Pro Shops has been voted best in delivering service excellence two years in a row by J.D. Power and Associates.

The Brandon/Tampa Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World store will use many area artifacts, antiques, period pictures, state record wildlife mounts, and memorabilia to become a living museum of Florida’s hunting, fishing, camping, and other outdoor traditions. It will be regionally designed using local materials and will feature a grand entry lodge and fireplace.

Inside, a spacious two-story lobby reminiscent of an old Florida sporting lodge, will feature rare hunting and fishing artifacts, a large hand-painted mural depicting the ‘Tarpon Rodeo,’ and trophy mounts overlaid with an educational message particularly relevant to habitat conservation in the region. A grand fireplace in the lobby will be constructed of coral stone with pecky cypress trim and accents.

A 15,000-gallon saltwater aquarium will be a focal point of the store and will showcase the diversity of life found in the area’s shallow coastal waters, marshes, estuaries and flats. It will be stocked with approximately 100 fish native to the area. Native fish species include tarpon, bass, crappie, catfish, jack crevalle, sheepshead, and permit.

Museum quality wildlife exhibits and dioramas will be seen throughout the store. At any moment visitors could expect to come upon a bed of resting white-tailed deer, a flock of Osceola turkeys, a Florida panther, alligators, or wild hogs in a marsh.

Area waterfowl—seagulls, pelicans, quail, and ducks—all will be scattered throughout the exhibits and imagery of the store. Bass Pro Shops’ dedication to detail is evident wherever visitors look as artisans will work to create a visual style unique to that store, including handcrafted ornate metal fire screen doors, iron railings, sconces and more.

But the attention to detail doesn’t stop with store design and imagery elements. The same consideration is given to merchandise selection. Visitors will have the area’s largest array of freshwater and saltwater rods, reels and fishing accessories to choose from - all specially selected for the area.

In addition to being the world’s leading supplier of premium fishing tackle, Bass Pro Shops is also America’s leading supplier of hunting gear and the top retailer of Remington and Winchester guns and ammo as well as the top retailer of Bowtech and PSE archery equipment.

Bass Pro Shops also manufactures and sells the world’s leading brands of fishing boats--Tracker, Nitro, SunTracker, Tahoe, Grizzly and Mako factory direct to fishermen.

More than a hunting and fishing store, visitors will find items perfect for camping, hiking, outdoor cooking, bird watching or whatever their outdoor pleasures may be. A gift and nature center offers a variety of items such as:

• Artwork
• Lamps
• Bird feeders
• Furniture
• Home decorating items
• Gifts for the holidays
• Cooking accessories such as cookbooks, spices, grills, and jerky making items.

A wide selection of men’s and women’s footwear and apparel, featuring popular brands including Columbia, North Face, and RedHead, are also available.

Long History of Supporting Conservation in Florida and Beyond

Bass Pro Shops is proud to be the lead sponsor of the Florida TrophyCatch program and looks forward to continuing to partner with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida on youth education/outreach and fisheries enhancement efforts.

Bass Pro Shops’ founder Johnny Morris has made giving back to conservation a hallmark of the company since he first began selling fishing tackle in the back of his dad’s liquor store in 1971. Over the course of several decades, Johnny has dedicated himself to inspiring people, especially youth and families, to love, enjoy and conserve the great outdoors. He was recently recognized with the Wildlife Foundation of Florida’s BlueGreen Award for his conservation leadership. In addition, Morris received the prestigious Citizen Conservationist Award from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the other 49 state natural resource agencies that make up the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. On a national level Morris generously supports several conservation organizations, including being the all-time leading donor of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

A special Evening for Conservation to help benefit area conservation groups will take place the night before the official grand opening. This exciting, celebrity-packed event is free and open to the public. More details about this event, which provides fund raising opportunities on behalf of conservation, will be available closer to the store’s opening date next year. For more information regarding the Brandon/Tampa Bass Pro Shops Sportsman’s Center visit www.basspro.com

Famous for Customer Service

Nationally, Bass Pro Shops will host more than 116 million people visiting their 85 stores and marine centers across America and Canada this year. The average customer stays 2 1⁄2 hours and drives an average distance of 50+ miles. Bass Pro Shops was named by Advertising Age magazine as one of the Top 10 Hottest Brands in America along with name brands such as Old Spice, M&M’s, iPad and Droid. Also, Bass Pro Shops has been recognized numerous times for their conservation and outdoor education efforts, as well as being recognized by J.D. Powers & Associates for their customer service excellence.

To serve Brandon/Tampa area outdoor enthusiasts, the store will initially generate approximately 250 jobs, which will be offered to the many outdoor enthusiasts in the area. In addition, the store will offer free outdoor skills workshops for adults, kids and families that will help maximize outdoor fun by teaching new skills and improving existing ones. Bass Pro Shops’ award-winning, outdoor stores are known for combining retail with entertainment, conservation and outdoor education while delivering unmatched value and service to customers.

Where to Eat

Columbia Restaurant and Bern’s Steak House

The Columbia Restaurant and Bern’s Steak House, two venerable restaurants located in Tampa, Fla., have both received the “Award of Ultimate Distinction” from Wine Enthusiast magazine. Only 29 restaurants in the United States received this award in 2007, and the Columbia and Bern’s were the only restaurants in Florida to earn this honor.

This is the highest level of award given by the magazine and is earned by restaurants that excel on all measures, offering the ultimate experience in wine with imagination and passion. The Columbia has earned this honor for the third year in a row, beginning in 2005, the inaugural year for this award. Bern’s has earned this honor for the second year in a row, beginning in 2006.

Wine Enthusiast states regarding the Columbia, “4th generation co-owner Richard Gonzmart is in charge of the wine program, which features an awe-inspiring selection of Spanish wines, with an emphasis on verticals, plus wines from California with connections to Spain, and bottlings from Chile. One of the most complete collections of Torres Mas la Plana in the world, including some Torres made expressly for the king of Spain. Verticals of Vega Sicilia Unico dating back to 1960. Plus CUNE and Alejandro Fernandez’s Pesquera.”

The wine list of the Columbia has also been recognized by many of Spain’s leading winemakers as having “he most complete and the world’s best collection in the world of wines from Spain.” The Columbia's wine list contains more than 1,000 wines with an inventory exceeding 50,000 bottles.

A wine cellar seen from the Don Quixote dining room, Tampa's first air-conditioned dining room in 1935, holds over 15,000 bottles of wine -- showcasing some of this extensive wine collection.

For more information, check web sites www.columbiarestaurant.com and
www.bernssteakhouse.com.

Boizao Steakhouse

Enjoy authentic Brazilian cuisine - without the jet lag! Boizao Steakhouse serves up 14 perfectly grilled cuts of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and sausage carved tableside by their Gaucho chefs. Each premium cut is seasoned, skewered and slowly roasted over an open fire. The fixed price menu includes an elaborate appetizer and salad buffet offering fresh greens, premium and exotic vegetables, imported cheeses and traditional Brazilian accompaniments.

Offering an array of internationally acclaimed fine wines, a full bar and the notto-be-missed Caipirinha, made of Brazilian Cachaca, sugar and fresh lime, Boizao is certain to be a welcome addition to the area. Lunch weekdays/dinner each evening. Private dining for 20 – 125. Gift cards available.

Located at 4606 W. Boy Scout Blvd., across from the International Plaza. For reservations call 813-286-7100; for more info, visit www.boizao.com. Major credit cards accepted.

Where to Stay

Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel and Marina

The 717-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina has been renovated including the Grand Ballroom, 3rd floor meeting rooms, The Florida Ballroom and meeting rooms 1-7 will all undergo improvements. The property continues to provide elegant and sophisticated accommodations for convention & leisure travelers.
The Air Transport Research Society (ATRS) presented Tampa International Airport with its 2006 Top North American Airport Efficiency Award and Global Top Efficiency Award among airports with less than 20 million passengers. Tampa International Airport's rating indicated that it is 37 percent more efficient than the average North American airport.

Embassy Suites Hotel

The Embassy Suites hotel in Tampa/Brandon is open. It will be the fourth White Lodging Services hotel in the Tampa/Brandon area. Its sister properties include the Courtyard by Marriott, the newly renovated Fairfield Inn & Suites and the new Homewood Suites by Hilton. All four hotels are located on Palm River Road; exit 257 off of I-75 and the Falkenburg exit off of the Leroy Selmon Expressway.

Resort & Club at Little Harbor

Little Harbor, the biggest waterfront resort and residential living experience on Tampa Bay, has added a brand new $48 million resort/condo tower. In addition, they recently completed a $4.5 million renovation of The Resort and Club at Little Harbor.

The luxury resort/condominium called Harborside, offers a collection of 158 waterfront studios, as well as one, two and three bedroom condominiums in its vacation rental accommodation program. The renovation of the AAA Three Diamond resort hotel included the 94 hotel rooms, lobby, and meeting, convention and banquet facilities, as well as the Sunset Grill restaurant.

Interior design on both projects was done by Hallock Design Group, an interior design company that specializes in design concepts for luxury residential, resort and commercial developments.

Little Harbor is a Caribbean-style residential and island resort living experience on Tampa Bay. This one-of-a-kind seaside village presents an enchanting combination of beach, bay, river and harbor-front residential homes and resort-style residences, along with a colorful mix of amenities that evoke images of a bygone Caribbean lifestyle. The project is being developed by EarthMark Companies, a real estate development company known for creating resort-style, amenity-rich and environmentally sustainable communities.

For more information, call (800) 327-2773, visit www.StayLittleHarbor.com or drop by the resort at 611 Destiny Drive in Ruskin.

Hyatt Place Tampa Busch Gardens

A new kind of hotel that puts style, innovation and The Hyatt Touch® within
everyone’s reach. Each guestroom has a 42” flat panel HD TV and our Hyatt Grand Bed™. Free Wi-Fi is available throughoutthe hotel, a complimentary continental breakfast is offered daily and freshly prepared entrees and snacks are available 24/7 in the Guest Kitchen or Gallery Café. Business meetings, corporate events and private functions are comfortably accommodated in our 1,200 square feet of flexible meeting space.

Hyatt Place Tampa Busch Gardens and Hyatt Place Tampa Airport/Westshore
provide a contemporary and innovative hotel experience soon to be offered at more than 120 Hyatt Place locations nationwide. Discover just how perfectly a hotel can fit your lifestyle.

For more information visit www.hyattplace.com.

Wyndham Westshore

Wyndham Westshore – The newest upscale hotel in the Westshore business and
shopping district of Tampa will feature superb customer service with a contemporary and comfortable feeling, reflective of the Florida seaside, while maintaining the sophistication of a business hotel. The remodel will reflect a luxury style and will feature 323 richly appointed guest rooms and suites with over 21,000 square feet of meeting and event spaces.

The hotel was acquired by an affiliate of Lowe Enterprises Investments in March, 2006. A commitment of more than $18 million has been made by the new owners to remodel and reposition the hotel under an upscale brand.

All public areas, meeting space and guest rooms will be renovated in a sophisticated, yet casual style. Also, the hotel will offer more than 21,000 square feet of event space following the addition of 2,500 square feet of meeting space and an additional 7,000 square foot atrium venue and half of the hotel’s 17 junior suites will be upgraded to business suites with ergonomic chairs, meeting tables and outfitted for technology. The remaining junior suites will be designed for leisure travelers with comfortable living space. What’s more the lobby will receive a fresh new look while maintaining the elegant atmosphere of a fine business hotel.

TIERRA VERDE

What to See & Do

Fort De Soto Park

Lots of birds including pelicans, cormorants, osprey, shorebirds, and more! Also reptiles, including Gopher tortoises, and little critters. Directions: From I-275 in St. Petersburg take exit 17 (old exit #4), Pinellas Bayway (toll road). Bear left at light for Pinellas Bayway, SR679, to Tierra Verde/Ft. De Soto. Continue through one more toll into park.

When to go: Year Round. Peak times in September-November, and March-June during migration. Favorite time and place to shoot here: Morning at North Beach, in the surf, with a low tide and easterly wind. Beautiful landscape, too, with dunes and mudflats.

Divided into different areas, at the northwest corner is North Beach and the west side of Mullet Key. From here yuo'll find the Fort and Gulf side 1000 foot long fishing pier on the Gulf of Mexico. On the east side is the bayside pier going into Tampa Bay. East Beach is past the park offices.

For more information contact Fort De Soto Park, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, FL 33715, 727-582-2267

TITUSVILLE

What to See & Do

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is an overlay of NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center where the world's most advanced technology launched man to the moon, and today continues space exploation. But there is another kind of 'space' here that is set aside for over 500 different species of wildlife and 1000 species of plants. Contained within this 35-mile long barrier island is a rich abundance of plants and animals from both the subtropical and temperate climate zones. The Refuge is strategically located on the Atlantic Flyway, a major bird migration corridor, and it is a key resting stop for many migrating bird species. Merritt Island NWR's habitats support one of the highest numbers of endangered and threatened species found within the refuges of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The unique relationship the Refuge shares with NASA bears testimony that nature and technology can coexist.

What is there for visitors to do here? Plenty. I usually begin by stopping by the Visitor Center that's open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. (lt is closed on Sundays from April through October, and on all federal holidays). It's located on SR 402, 5 miles east of US 1 in Titusville. The center offers Refuge maps and information; wildlife and habitat displays; an auditorium for movies and programs plus a short film about the Refuge; a bookstore/gift shop; educational resources and a 1/4 mile boardwalk where you can find a number of birds and plantings. Bring binoculars.

Black Point Wildlife Drive --- From the Visitor Center is take Black Point Wildlife Drive - a one-way road with hiking trails, towers, decks and dike roads marked on the map with excellent wildlife viewing, especially during fall and winter. One of the best ways for viewing wildlife here is by canoe or kayak. The drive is 7-miles, one way through salt and freshwater marshes and is located on SR406, one mile east of the intersection of SR402 and SR 406. Pick up an auto tour brochure at the drive's entrance or at the Visitor Center. The brochure includes numbered stops describing the natural history and management of the area. Wading birds, shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, alligators, otters and other wildlife species can be observed. The Wild Bird Trail (1/4 mile round trip) is located at Stop #4. At Stop #9 is a parking lot, restrooms, observation tower, wheel chair accessible platform, and the trail head to Cruickshank Trail (5-mile loop).

Hiking is best during the fall, winter and early sprint. Seven walking trails are marked on the map and range from 1/4 mile long at the Visitor Center to Cruickshank Trail and Tower which is a 5 mile loop.

There's also a Manatee Observation Deck located 10.5 miles north of the Visitor Center off SR3 at Haulover Canal. Bairs Cove boat launch offers another viewing area.

Beach Access - Canaveral National Seashore/Playalinda Beach offers 24 miles of pristine, undeveloped beach for sunbathing, swimming, wading, surfing, fishing and hiking. Limited camping and horseback riding are permitted November 1 through April 15 by obtaining a special permit. There are no designated picnic areas, telephones, food services, beach showers or drinking water. A fee of $3 per person is charged at the fee station.

VERO BEACH

Where to Stay

Gloria & Emilio Estefan and Benchmark Hospitality International Open Costa d’Este Beach Resort

Benchmark Hospitality International and five-time Grammy Award-winning singer Gloria Estefan and her husband, producer Emilio Estefan, Jr., has opened the highly anticipated Costa d’Este Beach Resort, the 94-guestroom, luxury property located in Vero Beach, Florida. The property's signature Cuban-fusion restaurant Oriente has also opened.

Gloria Estefan stated at the opening that, "We developed this stunning resort because it made good business sense, but it was also a labor of love because Vero Beach is our home away from home and has been for six years. And we wanted to share this special community with vacationers from around the world."

From its premier Ocean Drive location to its fashionable accommodations, gourmet cuisine and discreetly attentive service, Costa d'Este - meaning "East Coast" in Spanish - will cater to the most discerning leisure travelers from around the world. The $50 million resort features 94 guestrooms including four one-bedroom suites, a signature restaurant and bar, infinity-edge swimming pool and cabana bar, full-service spa and fitness center, as well as elegant facilities for special events. World-class tennis courts, championship golf, sport fishing, snorkeling and diving are nearby.

In celebration of the Estefans' heritage, the resort's Oriente restaurant features gourmet fare as interpreted by Cuba's Oriente region. The menu draws inspiration from Spanish, Latin and Creole traditions and promises a mouthwatering adventure for guests, Vero Beach visitors and residents.

Vero Beach is located 135 miles north of Miami and 109 miles southeast of Orlando with commercial air service to Melbourne International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport, and Orlando International Airport. Vero Beach Municipal Airport, just four miles from the resort, offers full-service for private planes.

For more information and reservations, call 772-410-0104 or visit www.costadeste.com.

Vero Beach Hotel and Club's Romantic Weekend Escape

The new Vero Beach Hotel and Club welcomes couples to rekindle their love with a romantic weekend escape in suite accommodations for two nights, champagne and chocolate strawberries presented at turn-down for your first evening, sweethearts dinner for two at The Indigo Room, and breakfast in bed from room service delivered on one morning of your choosing. Packages start from $699 for two nights in Junior Suites, or upgrade to an Ocean view suite for an additional $99. Rates include resort fee and gratuities. (772) 231-5666. www.verobeachhotelandclub.com

Costa d’Este Added to Benchmark's Newest Personal Luxury Resort

International, which manages 31 resorts, hotels, conference centers and condominium resorts throughout the United States and in Japan, announces the addition of Costa d'Este to its burgeoning portfolio. Costa d'Este, Benchmark's newest Personal Luxury Resort™, will be located ocean-side in Vero Beach, Florida, an area renowned for superb white sand beaches, thriving arts community, eclectic boutiques and small town charm. The property is being developed by the internationally acclaimed singer/producer couple Gloria and Emilio Estefan.

Costa d'Este is poised to redefine style and comfort in the region. The property, which opened in January 2008, will introduce Benchmark’s Personal Luxury Resort™ concept to Florida, providing the most discerning business and leisure travelers from around the world with a refreshing alternative to mainstream brands and "boutique" hotels. From its sophisticated culinary offerings and premier beachside location to its superb amenities and discreetly attentive service, Costa d'Este has been envisioned to engage all the senses, beckoning guests to shift perspectives from bystander to active participant throughout all aspects of its offerings.

The Costa d'Este experience will begin the moment guests enter the property, traveling the lushly landscaped, tree-lined drive leading up to the dazzling “Florida mid-Century” structure. The resort will encompass 94 luxuriously appointed guestrooms, including four suites, all complemented by state-of-the art in-room entertainment and indulgent, oversized bathrooms with organic round showers and premium amenities. Wireless Internet access will be standard in public and private spaces.

Costa d'Este’s signature restaurant, Oriente, is expected to become a destination unto itself with a creative and flavorful menu unlike anything in Vero Beach and its immediate vicinity. Full-service spa and fitness facilities, including an outdoor pool, and the endless expanse of white sand beach complete the experience. Benchmark’s signature service culture will help ensure guests genuinely experience the warmth, enthusiasm and passion for living for which Vero Beach is known.

Oriente

In celebration of the Estefan’s heritage and to accommodate market demand, the resort’s intimate, 85-seat Oriente restaurant will feature Cuban cuisine, with a strong influence of Spanish, Latin, and Creole traditions as interpreted by the Oriente region in Cuba. The food’s bold flavors and textures will be mirrored in the sumptuous décor and thoughtful architecture, which will include details such as "peek-a-boo" windows for a view into the bustling kitchen. Alfresco seating will also be available with room for an additional 24 guests who wish to extend the celebration of food and friendship outdoors. A house signature will be Tapas, or “little plates,” which will be available in Oriente's restaurant, bar and pool bar. Continuous service will be provided in the restaurant throughout the day and well into the evening.

Oriente’s bar will feature selections from sought-after micro brewers, both local and international, as well as Cuban coffee specialties and a homemade sangria available by the glass or garrafa. A customized cocktail menu will highlight Cuban, Spanish and Caribbean favorites, and an extensive wine list will complement the cuisine and elevate the dining experience with an emphasis on California, South American and Spanish selections plus a secondary focus on France, South African, and Australian vintages.

Costa d'Este's 1,170-square-foot meeting and event space and adjoining outdoor spaces will retain the ambiance and culinary integrity of Oriente, while accommodating traditional expectations and requirements of social occasions, weddings and corporate functions. Guests’ vision for their event at Costa d'Este will be paramount, with the property’s culinary professionals carrying this idea forward.

The Spa at Costa d'Este

The Spa at Costa d'Este will implement a holistic approach to relaxation and the enhancement of guests’ overall well being. Spa programming will be guided in the theory that the parts of any whole cannot exist and be understood except in their relation to the whole. A variety of signature treatments and products, peaceful interior spaces plus a tranquil ambiance, established through gentle music, soothing scents and the healing expertise of spa professionals, will all be part of the orchestration of rejuvenation. The goal: to help patrons move along in their personal journey toward the continuous renewal of the mind, body and spirit.

Costa d'Este is located at 3244 Ocean Drive in Vero Beach on Florida's east coast, 190 miles south of Jacksonville, 109 miles southeast of Orlando and 135 miles north of Miami. The property is 39 miles from Melbourne International Airport (MLB), 80 miles from Palm Beach International (PBI), 110 miles from Orlando International Airport (MCO) and 4 miles from the Vero Beach Municipal Airport (VRB). Costa d’Este is easily accessed from Interstate 95 at exit 147, on to State Road 60 east, which traverses through the heart of the city to the Atlantic Ocean, and right onto Ocean Drive.

For more information about Costa d'Este, visit www.costadeste.com.

Benchmark Hospitality International’s Personal Luxury Resorts™ aim to be an extension of the guest’s own home by creating a sense of belonging. A place that extends a sense of surprise, satisfaction, fulfillment and success to everyone it touches. A Personal Luxury Resort is much more than a better destination, but a truly differentiated experience.

Benchmark Hospitality International, an independent hospitality management company based in The Woodlands (Houston), Texas, operates resorts, conference centers, hotels and condominium resorts both domestically and internationally. For locations of Benchmark Hospitality properties and for additional information, visit Benchmark's Web site at www.benchmarkhospitality.com.   

WESTON

About Bonaventure Resort & Spa

Situated in the heart of the affluent Fort Lauderdale neighborhood of Weston, Florida, Bonaventure Resort & Spa delivers an unparalleled resort experience that offers guests well-appointed accommodations, gourmet culinary options and a world-class spa. The AAA Four Diamond Resort, which became part of Benchmark Hospitality International's portfolio of hotels and resorts in September 2012, features 500 spacious guestrooms and suites, four swimming pools, fitness center, the full service aLaya Spa, a championship PGA golf course and multiple dining options, including the acclaimed AAA Four Diamond Ireland's Steakhouse.

Conveniently located just west of Greater Fort Lauderdale, the resort is just a short drive from Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood International Airport and offers guests easy access to area attractions, including the Sawgrass Mills Mall, Florida Everglades eco-adventures, and the BB&T Center home of NHL hockey, concerts and events , as well as nearby beaches.

 For more information or reservations, please visit www.BonaventureResortandSpa.com.   

About Benchmark Resorts & Hotels®

Benchmark Resorts & Hotels® represents the finest in lodging, dining, recreational and meeting accommodations. Many are certified by the International Association of Conference Centers, the leading professional organization governing the multi-billion dollar conference center industry on five continents, and many have also been recognized with the coveted Benchmark Conference Centers® certification of meeting excellence. Benchmark Resorts & Hotels deliver highly specialized service that anticipates guests’ needs and ensures a hospitality experience unsurpassed and long remembered. www.benchmarkresortsandhotels.com. 

Bonaventure Resort & Spa’s Environmental Initiatives Win Three Palm Rating from Florida’s Green Lodging Program

An array of environmental initiatives recently won the Bonaventure Resort & Spa a coveted Three Palm rating from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Lodging program.

Launched in 2004, the Florida Green Lodging Program is a voluntary initiative of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that designates and recognizes lodging facilities, which make a commitment to conserve and protect Florida’s natural resources. The program’s environmental guidelines allow the state’s hospitality industry to evaluate its operations, set goals and take specific actions to continuously improve environmental performance.

Bonaventure Resort & Spa is set on the edge of the Florida Everglades, the world’s largest wetlands. “This is an exceptional resource for the state and for the resort,” says Charles Reece, Bonaventure’s general manager. “We have an obligation to help protect that resource and use it responsibly.”

The resort has a number of policies and programs in place to maintain a sustainable, “green” environment. The grounds include a unique Nature Trail where guest can observe the area’s flora and fauna – tropical birds and fish, swans and more. Guests at the resort can participate in tours of the Everglades, conducted by tour operators committed to sustainability and protection of the ‘Glades.

The natural beauty of the Florida Everglades inspires and informs the treatment products used at the resort’s acclaimed aLaya spa. All the ingredients used in aLaya’s spa treatments are from OSEA, which stands for Ocean, Sun, Sea and Earth. Since the Everglades are fully protected, aLaya uses OSEA’s products that are based on natural plants and soil found in the Everglades but sourced from other locations around the world. These include marine ingredients and organic algae extracts, Cypress, plant and nut oils, mud, clay and natural fruit extracts, organic essential oils and botanical antioxidants.

Bonaventure Resort & Spa is also a proud participant of Clean the World®, an organization that recycles and distributes hand soap to children all over the world who are suffering from a variety of diseases that are prevented by simple hand washing. All used hand soaps are collected by the hotel and sent to Clean the World. In addition to contributing to the “World Hygiene Revolution,” this process helps to eliminate waste and reduce items going to landfills. Additionally, Bonaventure Resort & Spa has earned the “Greenleader” designation from TripAdvisor®.

For more information or reservations, please visit www.BonaventureResortandSpa.com,

WEST PALM BEACH

What to See & Do

PGA for Passover in West Palm Beach

BOOK FAST!
Enjoy Passover at the PGA Resort; a AAA 4-Diamond world-class luxury resort that has recently undergone a gorgeous $65 million renovation.
 
The Entire Hotel is Reserved for Special Guests Only. Enjoy World Class Passover Gourmet Cuisine catered by Randy Zablo and his team from Foremost Ram Caterer with 
Strict Supervision under the ORB.  

For more information contact Koshericam e-mail info@kosherica.com or go to web site www.kosherica.com

WINTER HAVEN

Where to Stay

Tuscawilla Country Club

Tuscawilla offers elegant facilities and first class service for up to 100 guests. A Southern-style Plantation building with wrap around veranda shows off the property's character and each room offers views of central Florida's rolling hills and statuesque oaks.

For more information, call 407-366-1851 or check web site www.tuscawillacc.com.

What to See & Do

Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve

The $3.5 million, 11,000-square-foot interpretative center at the Fort Myers park is certified “green” (environmentally correct).

For more information contact Mary Rude (rudeme@leegov.com), 239-432-2004, or check web site www.leeparks.org.

Great Florida Birding Trail

The Great Florida Birding Trail is a program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, supported in part by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida. This 2000-mile, self-guided highway trail unifies a total of 445 birding sites throughout Florida.

Modeled after the successful Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, this ambitious project features detailed guide booklets and special highway signs identifying Birding Trail sites. Free guide booklets contain site descriptions, directions, and maps showcasing the wonderful birding opportunities in Florida. Each Birding Trail section consists of a series of clusters, with each cluster containing 1-15 sites highlighting communities and special ecosystems like the Lake Wales Ridge.

The Great Florida Birding Trail is divided into four sections. 
• The East Florida Section of the Trail opened in November 2000.
• The West Florida Section followed in November 2002.
• The Panhandle Florida Section opened in May 2004.
• The South Florida Section opened in January 2006, completing this statewide trail. 

To better introduce visitors to the Birding Trail, the Great Florida Birding Trail designated nine “gateway” sites at exceptional birding locations. There are two or three gateways located in each trail section. Gateways have staffed visitor centers and serve as hubs for Birding Trail information. Each gateway has a special kiosk with birdwatching tips and introductory information regarding the Birding Trail. Loaner optics can be checked out for free for a day with a driver’s license or major credit card at all gateway locations. Or stop by and pick up a copy of the free trail guide booklets.

Traditionally, only local birders knew about the great birding sites in their area. Most publicity went to federal and state sites, such as J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park. The Great Florida Birding Trail groups prominent birding sites with smaller local sites to spread out birdwatchers and their eco-tourism dollars into the surrounding communities.

Broad-based support and grassroots community investment will make the Great Florida Birding Trail a success for Florida and for our feathered friends.

For more information on access points or other questions, contact GFBT@MyFWC.com

Birding Hot Spots

Honeymoon Island State Park is one of the newest birding hot spots along the Great Florida Birding Trail. This park is situated on a typical Gulf Coast barrier island with long, thin white sand beaches facing the Gulf and mangrove swamps fringing the bay side. Slash pine forests and tidal flats occur along the island's north end. There are two nature trails. You're bound to see nesting ospreys and migratory warblers from either of the two nature trails. The Pelican Cove Trail, which passes along the edge of a sheltered lagoon, affords excellent views of great and snowy egrets, herons, various shorebirds, and an occasional reddish egret. Least terns nest on the beach.

Owned by the Department of Environmental Protection, information is available by calling 727-469-5942.

To get here, take U.S. Highway 19 (Alternate 19) north of Dunedin for about 3 miles.  Turn west on Curlew Road (Florida Highway 586) and follow signs to the park entrance.

Do you love Driving? Free Florida Driving Guide

With nearly half of all visitors to the Sunshine State opting to take the car, it is obvious Florida is worth the drive. VISIT FLORIDA®, the state’s official source for travel planning, has launched its newly revised and re-designed Worth the Drive guidebook.

Worth the Drive includes 21 new self-directed driving tours. From historic forts to beach treasure hunts, the tours take travelers off the beaten path and on to
explore some of Florida’s best kept secrets. The guidebook was created through a joint effort with AAA Auto South.

Regional driving trips are designed for travelers wishing to plan a trip within a specific region, including North, Central and South Florida.

Worth the Drive tours were developed in 1998 as a series of individual brochures. Due to their popularity and success, the tours were compiled into a guidebook in 1999. This revised and redesigned guidebook contains all new tours.

To pick up a FREE copy of the newly revised Worth the Drive tours, stop by
VISIT FLORIDA’s five official Welcome Centers at I-10, U.S. 231, I-75, I-95 and
the Capitol. To view a copy online, visit web site http://Drive.VISITFLORIDA.com.

If You Love Hiking, Send for a Free Guide to Florida's Hiking Trails

If so, you'll love Visit Florida's new Hiking Trails Brochure - A Guide to Florida’s Hiking Trails. The brochure highlights the top 29 trails in Florida and compliments last year’s highly successful Florida Bicycle Trails Brochure - A Guide to Florida’s Top Bicycle Trails.

VISIT FLORIDA research shows that 68 percent of visitors to Florida participated in nature-based activities within the past year. Of those, two-thirds planned their trip so that nature-based activities would account for the majority of or some of their vacation.

The brochure was compiled through the joint efforts with the Florida Trail Association, Florida Greenways & Trails, Florida State Forests and Florida State Parks.

Distribution points include the five Official Florida Welcome Centers, VISIT FLORIDA Sales Shows, web site www.visitflorida.com.

WINTER PARK

New Hotel -- Alfond Inn at Rollins) Package Offers Guests an Art Immersion Experience

The Alfond Inn at Rollins is the only hotel in the United States that serves as the extension of a fine arts museum. The acclaimed hotel, which is owned by Rollins College, showcases rotating installations of curated works from The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art. The collection, which includes more than 300 pieces of contemporary art, was acquired by Rollins alumni Barbara and Ted Alfond, who then donated it to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College.

The collection includes paintings, photographs, sculptures and mixed-media works by established and emerging artists and is overseen by private curator Abigail Ross Goodman and Amy Galpin, Curator of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum. The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art is part of Winter Park’s cultural legacy and its century-old dedication to the fine arts. In addition to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, the city is also home to the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Garden and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which has the world’s most extensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The new “A Night at the Museum” package is an ideal way for guests to immerse themselves in an art environment inside the hotel and within the environs of Winter Park.  The package starts at $239 (per night) and includes:

Two nights in a Classic room, based on double occupancy
Two art-inspired cocktails in the Lounge
Winter Park Museum Passes: Entrance to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, and two passes each to The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art and the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Garden, all within walking distance of the hotel in Winter Park.
A self-guided tour of the current art installation at The Alfond Inn, using the hotel’s iPods with a pre-loaded tour of the collection, and QR code plaques.
Happy Hour Art Tours take place at 5:30pm the first Wednesday of each month and are complimentary and open to the public.
Sunday Art Tours takes place weekly at 1pm and are complimentary and open to the public.

Package rate starts at $239 per night, based on a two night stay and double occupancy.

Book A Night at the Museum at 407-998-8090 or visit www.thealfondinn.com

Location: The Alfond Inn at Rollins, 300 East New England Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789. 407-998-8090. www.thealfondinn.com

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