The entire state of Florida was very sparsely populated until the 1920’s when wealthy Northerners started traveling to the South in order to escape the brutally cold winters. Now the third largest state in population behind New York and California, Florida’s economy which started out as natural resource based is now fueled by tourism, real estate and retirement services.
Built around the spring fed Kings Bay, Crystal River is often called “Home of the Manatee.” Since the springs are always 72 degrees, this is the perfect environment for manatees year round. During the winter months when the Gulf of Mexico cools down, it’s not unusual to see 400-500 manatees frolicking in Kings Bay. Here, swimming and interacting with the manatees is legal and there are several prime spots for manatee watching.
Home of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, this is another great manatee watching locale. In fact, they even have a floating observatory to get up close and personal. The park is also home to river otters, black bears, American alligators…even a hippopotamus!
Tarpon Springs is both a wonderful historic and tourist destination. With one of the largest Greek populations in the country there are numerous outstanding restaurants and bakeries. Several white sand beaches surround Tarpon Springs so water sports abound! Sailing, windsurfing, fishing and boating plus dolphin watching are just a few of the more popular activities. Spend the afternoon at the Tarpon Springs Aquarium, stroll the beach and collect some unique shells, then spend the evening watching the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
Take a fun and educational spongeboat tour out into the Gulf of Mexico where you’ll see an experienced diver in a traditional dive suit demonstrate how sponge is harvested and prepared for sale. His narrative will include the history of sponge diving in the Gulf, how sponge grows, different types of sponge including the popular sea wool, used mainly for heavier jobs and the softer sea silk normally seen in cosmetic and beauty care products.
Thomas Edison Museum
The former winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford have been combined to a fascinating 20 acre estate of museums, exhibits and botanical gardens. This tour also includes access to the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory, one of the most unique and interesting experiences on the entire estate.
The largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island is home to tropical white sand beaches, fresh off the boat seafood, dolphin sightseeing tours, Everglades swamp buddy rides, unique shops, bars and restaurants.
From their priceless art museums to historical circus museums, the Ringling Museums also has the Asolo theater, an 18th century venue that was originally constructed in Asolo, Italy in 1798 to honor the 15th century Queen Catherine Corner of Cyprus. Purchased by Ringling in the late 1940’s the theater was dismantled and rebuilt in Sarasota. Moved again and completely restored, America’s only 18th century European theater now is located on the Ringling Museum estate.
X-press Passenger Service to Key West
Take the high speed catamaran ferry from Ft. Myers Beach to the southernmost city in America, Key West. Concessions are available along with a wonderful open-air deck for enjoying all the spectacular sights.
Key West Conch Tour Train
Climb aboard at the Front Street Depot for a ninety minute tour through time. You’ll see and experience Old Town Key West, the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, the Key West Lighthouse, Southernmost Point, the Key West Butterfly and Museum along with fine art galleries, unique shops and great local cuisine restaurants.
Historic Bok Tower and Sanctuary
This botanical garden and bird sanctuary located in Lake Wales, was created in 1921 by the editor of the popular ladies magazine, Ladies Home Journal. Designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., there are over 250 acres of ferns, palms, oaks, pines, azaleas, camellias and magnolias along with seasonal blooming shrubs, plants and flowers. Then the Bok Tower, a 205 foot neo-Gothic and art deco Singing Tower houses one of the world’s finest carillons. Enjoy the two daily concerts from the 60 bell carillon.
Located on the shores of Lake Dora, this quaint hundred year old village is often called the “Bass Capital of the World.” Tour the inland lighthouse or stroll the streets and wander through art galleries, antique and gift shops, fashion boutiques, restaurants and cafes.