Florida is the place to be with winter in full swing now. Whether you are a Canadian snowbird or someone who would like a brief break from the cold and snow of a Canadian winter, the Sunshine State itself, Florida, is making its clarion call to those Canadian tourists who are craving that winter escape.
And there are many Canadians who are heeding that call. In fact, they are doing it in droves. Last year, out of the 106.6 million international visitors who made Florida their vacation destination, about 3.8 million of them were from Canada, helping to contribute towards a massive tourism industry in Florida that is worth over $89 billion.
And there are many obvious reasons why they flock to Florida every year; there are the many sites and attractions, the easygoing way of life, the different regions and areas that have their own unique imprint, and of course, the multitude of sandy beaches, blue oceans, and plenty of warmth and sunshine.
The city of Tampa Bay (www.visittampabay.com) is inviting tourists to “Unlock Tampa Bay” this winter, and discover what treasures this city on Florida’s west coast has to offer, especially after it has just completed a multi-million dollar revitalization project.
For example, there’s the 4 km Tampa Riverwalk, which links many of Tampa’s popular downtown hotels, restaurants and attractions; in 2017, Riverwalk will host its biennial Lights on Tampa arts festival in February, plus it will introduce “Fourth Friday”, which will offers discounts, tours or free admission to many of its attractions. Ybor City, which made its reputation as the Cigar Capital of the World, will be celebrated with the premiere of Ben Affleck’s upcoming gangster-era movie “Live By Night”, which was filmed on location there. Also, Tampa Bay is quickly becoming a haven for those who enjoy craft beer, with such local breweries like the Cigar Brewing Company and Florida Man Beer gaining international attention for its brand of craft beer. And in 2017, Brew Bus in Seminole Heights will offer beer tasting tours on its site. For baseball fans, Tampa Bay, which is the home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays and the spring training home of the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, will be making its contribution to the sport by opening a baseball museum that will make its home at the residence of Hall of Famer and former Chicago White Sox manager Al Lopez.
Dubbed as the “River City by the Sea” and the largest city in the continental U.S., Jacksonville (www.visitjacksonville.com), offers visitors plenty of outdoor and natural wonders, which includes waterways, parks, ecological preserves, not to mention 22 miles of white sandy beaches and 85,000 acres of parks, and plenty of activities such as kayaking, kiteboarding, surfing and paddleboarding. There’s also the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (which has over 3000 rare and exotic animal and plant species), and the Fort Caroline National Memorial, which is renowned as “Florida’s Atlantis”.
And craft beer fans have something to enjoy in Jacksonville. The Jax Ale Trail gives visitors the opportunity to delve into their own brewery tour, as they can visit and sample the wares at the eight craft breweries that dot the Jacksonville landscape, such as the Aardwolf Brewing Company, the Engine 16 Brewing Co., and the Pinglehead Brewing Company. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a special passport, and get it stamped with every purchase made at any of the breweries along the Jax Ale Trail, which can be exchanged for a selection of free Jacksonville swag such as t-shirts and beer koozies.
Florida’s piece of paradise is its Paradise Coast, which is located on the southwest coast of the state, and encompasses its Gulf Coast area, including the cities of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City. This part of Florida is perfect for those who enjoy nature at its most picturesque, with plenty of beaches, resorts, islands, bays, and its unique natural wilderness. Highlights include the Naples Botanical Garden, Marco Island’s Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Collier-Seminole State Park, and the Gulf Coast side of Everglades National Park, which includes the Big Cypress Swamp ecosystem and tours by boat, canoe or kayak to the Ten Thousand Islands.
If you enjoy island-hopping, then discover Florida’s beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel (www.fortmyers-Sanibel.com). The beauty of this region is its 100 coastal islands, and its mainly unspoiled beaches, tropical wildlife and subtropical foliage that offer the perfect setting for those vacationers who want to experience a pristine, serene escape into a tropical heaven. Highlights include Estero Island, which has been deemed as one of the “world’s safest beaches”; Periwinkle Way on Sanibel Island, which offers lush foliage, shops and restaurants, and buildings that are no taller than the tallest palm tree; Captiva Island, known for its natural beauty, and was the place where Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote her best selling book “Gift from the Sea”; and Gasparilla Island, which includes the beach town of Boca Grande, which was recognized by Travel & Leisure magazine as one of the 50 best romantic getaways. And for baseball fans (especially those baseball-starved Montreal Expos fans), Fort Myers is the spring training home for the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox, and plenty of Canadian tourists flock to the team’s Grapefruit League stadiums, especially when the Blue Jays come to visit. And with newly-introduced nonstop flight service from Montreal to Fort Myers, it should be a new stop for Montreal visitors as part of their spring training vacation plans.
And on the southern most point of Florida lies the Florida Keys (www.fla-keys.com), where a whole string of new hotels, resorts and attractions have been added or upgraded to enhance visitors’ experience of this southern escape from the continental U.S. For example, the Playa Largo Resort and Spa, a 14-acre, 144-room hotel in Key Largo, has recently opened its doors as the first newly-built resort in the Upper Keys in over 21 years, and includes 10 secluded bungalows, three gourmet restaurants, 40,000 feet of meeting space, a full-service spa and a children’s activity and nature learning centre; Up the Keys Eco-Tours, which offers tours explaining the many eco-attractions of the Keys for up to 26 people at a time, which includes an all-day adventure tour that departs from Key West and goes north to Grassy Key; two new eco foodie package experiences have been recently launched at three Key West foodie sites: the Stoned Crab restaurant, the Three Hands Fish sustainable seafood market, and the Key West Legal Rum distillery; and the annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, which will take place in Key Largo next October, will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the film that is chiefly associated with Bogie: “Casablanca”.
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For more information on what else to see and do during your Florida vacation this winter, go to www.visitflorida.org.
By: Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca