Poets & Pirates: A Guide to Key West

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About

Key West lies at the end of the Florida Keys, is the southernmost point in the contiguous Unites States, and is only 90 miles north of Cuba. This small island city possesses a mystique, romantic history, and an energy all its own. From pirates to sponge divers, smuggling to shipwreck salvaging, Key West has a rich history, all of which has found its way into the local mythology, and produced a unique mindset in both its citizens and visitors. Originally named Cayo Hueso by the areas’ first Spanish inhabitants, the name meant “Bone Island.” Local legends say that a war between native tribes resulted in a boneyard on the beaches, hence the name. There is some debate over whether the modern name of Key West derives from this, as English-speaking settlers may have thought the Spanish hueso sounded like the English west. Whatever the case may have been, you’ll see many references to Cayo Hueso in various business and place names on the island.

While on the Island, you are likely to hear the residents referred to as “Conchs,” and to hear the island itself referred to as the “Conch Republic.” The term “Conch” originally referred to European immigrants who settled on the island by way of the Bahamas. In the 20th century, the term came more and more to refer to all residents of the island. In the early 1980’s, Key West declared itself the “Conch Republic,” and announced its secession from the United States. While this was simply a marketing ploy to increase tourism, the “secession” took on a life of its own. Now, every year in late April, the city holds the Conch Republic Independence Celebration (http://www.conchrepublic.com/schedule.htm), with events such as bar crawls, parades, an air show, mock battles, and more-all celebrating the island’s rich historical and cultural heritage. Be sure to pick up a Conch Republic passport while you’re there. Numerous travelers have reported that they have actually gone thru Customs in various countries and successfully presented their Conch Republic passport. We won’t be held responsible for any resulting issues, but it’s a great souvenir!

Most first-time visitors to Key West may be a bit disappointed with the beaches. As a more-or-less tropical island, most people probably conjure images of miles of palm-tree lined shoreline to get their tanning on. Unfortunately, the coral reefs prevent the wave-action necessary for beach formation. Key West’s reefs are the only living coral reef system in North America, and the third longest barrier reef in the world. Get your mask and snorkel, or break out the scuba gear, and explore this natural treasure! Most of the beaches are man-made, and on the smaller side. This should not prevent you from enjoying them for what they are. Besides, there are numerous other water-related activities to enjoy! With that said, Fort Zachary Taylor Park is one of the more popular beaches, and has all the amenities and facilities for a great day at the beach, including nature trails and bicycling. Be sure to check out the Cayo Hueso Café for lunch, and take a narrated tour of Fort Zachary Taylor, from which the park gets its name.

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Things To Do

Sight-seeing activities and recreational sports abound in Key West (http://keywestvisitorguide.com/). As one would expect of an island destination, water-related activities and opportunities are plentiful. The area is a mecca for deep-sea fishing, diving, and snorkeling. Glass bottomed boat tours, sunset cruises, eco tours, and jet-ski tours are also plentiful. For inexperienced divers, there are several operations which offer “resort certification,” and provide access to the area’s beautiful coral reefs in one afternoon. Visitors can also easily day trip to the Dry Tortugas, a series of small islands about seventy miles from the Keys. The Tortugas are a federal nature preserve, and can be accessed via boat or plane tours. The islands offer some spectacular snorkeling in their clear, beautiful waters.  We also highly recommend the Ocean Vue Adventures tour. This high-speed hydrofoil tour brings glass-bottom boats into the 21st century. Lasting approximately 2 hours, the tour typically visits wild dolphin areas, shipwrecks, and coral reefs. The boats have the largest viewing area in the industry, and it’s an awesome experience. For more info, check them out here: http://www.oceanvueadventures.com/

We must mention one other nightly event in Key West: the setting of the sun. Florida has spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The sunsets, in particular, bring out colors you truly won’t see anywhere else in the world. Every evening, there is a Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square Dock, complete with arts and crafts vendors, food stands, street performers, and thousands of tourists. Many locals attend this event nightly. Be sure to catch it at least once during your stay!

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Things To See

Along with all the water-related activities, Key West offers numerous sight-seeing opportunities. Start things off with a Conch Tour Train ride. The ride lasts about 90 minutes, and is a great way to learn the lay-out of the island, as well as hearing a lot of the local history. Be sure to hit the Hemingway House. The home was owned by Ernest Hemingway for more than a decade of his life, and he crafted or worked on at least four of his novels while in residence. The house also features the first swimming pool on the island. And, there are the cats. Hemingway had a polydactyl (six-toed) cat named Snowball, and many of the cats at the house today are descended from this mutant feline.

The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is also a great attraction. The museum features the treasures of the Atocha K, a 17th century Spanish Galleon, found and salvaged by Mr. Fisher. It is perhaps the finest collection of sunken treasure ever recovered, and well worth a visit. The Key West Aquarium also makes a fun exhibit for families and solo adults. Audobon House and Tropical Gardens is another fun and interesting tour. The house is a fully-restored Victorian mansion, with period furniture, and a large tropical garden. The star of the show is a very fine collection of original artwork by naturalist and wild-life artist John James Audobon.

Shopping, Dining, and NightLife

Dining in Key West is as easy as walking down the street. Restaurants of various flavors are everywhere. Of course, seafood is plentiful, as one would expect. Local cuisine has a Caribbean slant, but there are plenty of American, and multi-ethnic eateries, as well. You’ll also find a number of Latin American restaurants, due to the Hispanic population, and influenced by the island’s proximity to Cuba. If you’ve never been to a good bodega (steak house), here’s your chance.

Key West is justly famous for its bar scene. There are pubs, bars and clubs to suit just about every taste, from old joints featuring hand-crafted beers to more upscale night clubs, catering to the most hip clientele, and everything in between. No visit to Key West is complete without a stop at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. Made famous by Hemingway (the original owner of the bar was a close friend, and the model for Captain Freddie in To Have and Have Not), Sloppy Joe’s is virtually legendary, as bars go. The original Sloppy Joe sandwich also originated here. We highly recommend having one, because they rock. Night time brings on live entertainment, and the bar features live bands just about every night.

Old Town features numerous tourist attractions, as well quite a few shops of various stripes. You may want to stroll through Bahama Village Market, an open-air flea market, featuring lots of Caribbean flair, as well as shops and restaurants. Just watch out for free-roaming chickens (Really. They wander freely in this section of town). And of course, the Duval Street area has numerous shops.

Places to Stay

As Key West is a relatively small destination, with very high demand, rates tend to be higher most of the year. Weekends in summer, and virtually any holiday or special event weekend will be higher than average. Key West hotels and guesthouses also tend to have stricter cancellation policies than many other domestic leisure destinations. Hotels frequently require advance deposits or full payment, depending on the time of year. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, be sure to read the deposit and cancellation policies, or inquire about them when booking direct. Holiday weekends, in particular, will also have minimum length-of-stay restrictions, as well.

Key West features a number of larger branded and independent resort hotels. Unfortunately, we feel these newer developments somewhat spoil the character of the island. For a more authentic experience, we prefer the smaller guesthouses and B&B’s. One of our favorites is the Eden House, which is Key West’s oldest hotel, located just a few minutes’ walk from Duval Street. The hotel staff is great, and the property offers what we feel is a true “Key West” experience. For those of you who prefer the “big box” resorts, the Casa Marina wins rave reviews, and is very luxurious. The resort also features 1100 feet of private beach frontage.

Key West also has a thriving gay community, and is a favorite for LGBT travelers. In our opinion, the best gay guesthouse in town is the Island House. They’ve also been rated the best gay men’s resort in the world by OUT Traveler. The café and bar also regularly receive rave reviews by guests and critics alike. For another excellent gay-friendly guest house, we recommend the Mermaid and Alligator. This B&B offers lush tropical landscaping, eclectic décor, and is just three blocks from Duval.

Getting There

Key West is served by Key West International airport, offering connections from a number of Florida cities. As the airport cannot accommodate large jets, connections are via smaller jets and commuter craft. Many tourists choose to fly into Ft. Lauderdale or Miami, and drive the rest of the way. Key West is about 3 hours from Miami, and approximately 4 hours from Ft. Lauderdale, by car.  The drive down is quite beautiful, and features the 127-mile long Overseas Highway, portions of which were built over the original railway that connected the Keys to the mainland. As the highway is also an All-American Road in the National Scenic Byways program, you might want to allot more time for the drive, as there are numerous scenic stopping points and photo ops along the way. Be aware, too, that high demand periods, such as holiday weekends, can create longer traffic delays.

Key West Express offers high-speed ferry service from Fort Myers and Marco Island. The ride down is about 3.5 hours. The ferries do not accommodate cars, so if you plan to stay longer than a day, you’ll want to get a rental car. You can check them out here: http://keywestexpress.us/default.html

By rail-Amtrak offers service to Fort Lauderdale. From there, you’ll either want a rental car to complete the trip, or you can catch the Keys Express shuttle service from Fort Lauderdale or Miami International airports. For rates and info, check them out here: http://keysshuttle.com/

Of course, if you’re boater, just plot your course, and pull into an available marina slip. They’ll be happy to see you! For the pirate or the poet, Key West will steal a little piece of your heart. For the rest of us, the scenery is still breathtaking, the breezes are fine, and the water is waiting to welcome us with its warm embrace.

To Book Your Key West Vacation, Click on the Image Below:

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Miami and South Beach

Miami/South Beach-Art Deco indulgence with a jet-set international flair, and an Afro-Cuban backbeat. Miami has become an international destination, hosting tourists from all over Europe, Central and South America, and of course, the USA.

Miami, and of course, South Beach, has taken its place among top destinations in the world. While the city has been a vacation hotspot since the 1950’s, the re-development of the South Beach area catapulted the city into a jetset haven for wealthy tourists from around the world, most notably Europe and Latin America. While Spanish is now the language of the majority, it is not at all uncommon to hear accents and languages from around the globe. The tropical climate, beautiful beaches, and an average 249 days of sunshine per year, ensure the city’s popularity will continue unabated. Throw in a diverse, multi-cultural population, world-class shopping, dining, arts, and nightlife, and you have a destination that is pure magic. In fact, Miami is often called the “Magic City,” although this appellation was initially achieved due to it’s phenomenal growth rate over the course of the last century, or so.

Miami’s beaches are virtually legendary, and have led the city to be called the “Riviera of the America’s.”The proximity of the Gulf Stream, and the tropical climate, ensure mild winters, with average temperatures in the 70’s. As a result, Miami has been a favorite for “snowbirds” for decades. As with most of the state, “season” is typically considered to be November to mid-April. However, due to the gradual increase in global travel to Miami, the area has now become more of a year-round destination, and is typically less-affected by economic downturns than other destinations. Miami is also the “Cruise Capital of the World,” with the Port of Miami being the busiest cruise/passenger port in the world. Approximately one in seven cruise passengers depart from Miami.

Of course, Miami offers world-class shopping. Open-air malls, such as Mayfair in the Grove, in Coconut Grove, and Bayside Marketplace, are a great way to spend the day. Bayside Marketplace, in particular, is really awesome. Located on Biscayne Bay, you have great views of the water, and can also watch the cruise ships coming in and out of the Port of Miami. Bayside also has numerous restaurants, as well as charter and sightseeing boats. You can also catch the watertaxi here. CocoWalk, also in Coconut Grove, is a great complex for shopping, dining, and entertainment. If shopping is your bag, you’ll certainly want to head over to Lincoln Road. This 10-block district offers over 170 stores, shops, and restaurants. Antiques, bookstores, high-end boutiques, and everything in between can be found here. Seven blocks of this little district are closed to automobile traffic, so it’s great for pedestrians. People-watching can also be particularly rewarding here. There are also numerous restaurants and bars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Miami area has numerous attractions, perhaps too many to mention. But, we have a couple of favorites that we feel are worth special mention. Firstly, if you are into historic homes, architecture, spectacular antiques, along with beautiful gardens, then Vizcaya (http://www.vizcayamuseum.org/) is an absolute must-see! Vizcaya, built as a Renaissance-era Italian villa, is located right on Biscayne Bay. The views of the Bay from the rear of the estate are sweeping and magnificent. Originally the winter home of industrialist John Deering. Mr. Deering sent buyers all over Europe, purchasing antiques and furnishings for the estate. Every room features a different historical period, with a number of unique furnishings you are unlikely to see elsewhere. The gardens surrounding the home feature Italian and French elements, with statuary and fountains abounding. There is also a museum shop and restaurant on property, so you can do lunch in the garden areas. It’s a great way to spend a lovely afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another of our favorite, and certainly most unique attractions, is the Coral Castle (http://coralcastle.com/). Composed entirely of huge coral limestone blocks, most averaging 15 or more tons, Coral Castle is one of the most intriguing monuments to be found anywhere in the world. Built by Latvian immigrant Edward Leedskalnin, between the 1940’s and 1950’s, the site was his monument to unrequited love. The site has huge megalithic blocks carved into various shapes, such as furniture, an accurate sundial, Polaris telescope, a water fountain, etc. No one knows how Mr. Leedskalnin completed his giant carvings, or managed to erect them alone. He was careful to never work with anyone watching. When asked how he did it, his usual reply was that he had discovered the secrets of the pyramids. He used only hand-made tools, many of which are still on site, for his carvings, and erected them with a simple system of ropes and pulleys. The site is absolutely fascinating, has great photo ops, and will certainly leave visitors scratching their heads in awe. Well worth the trip.

No visit to Miami can be complete without checking out South Beach. Now one of the trendiest spots on earth, South Beach is famed for its Art Deco hotels and architecture. The area is also justly famous for its nightlife. During the day, the area is great for watching “the beautiful people,” shopping, and dining. High-end boutiques abound, as well as exceptional restaurants and cafes. Just do be aware that South Beach is expensive. A night out will set you back quite a bit, and parking can be an issue. But sightseeing in this area is wonderful, and free! If you want to be really pampered, South Beach is also home to a number of excellent spas and spa resorts. Have a body wrap, massage, and a spa lunch, then, hit the boutiques for that special night out.

Beaches, nightlife, culture, unique attractions, shopping, architecture, dining-what doesn’t Miami offer? We know this is just a small taste of a magnificent city, but we’re sure it whets your appetite. So, what are you waiting for? Miami is calling!

To book your Miami beach vacation, click on the image below:

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Pensacola

Pensacola is known by a number of appellations. Often called “America’s First Settlement,”it was the first site to be settled by Europeans. Unfortunately, due to a series of disasters in 1561, the site was abandoned for several years, hence St. Augustine being America’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Pensacola is also known as the “City of Five Flags,” as it has been governed, at differing times, under the flags of Spain (Castile),France, Great Britain, the Confederate States of America, and the United States. The city is also home base to the navy’s Blue Angels. A stroll or drive through downtown, especially around Seville Square, may very much remind one of New Orleans’ French Quarter, due to the prevalence of wrought iron on many buildings. Downtown is also home a major art festival every November, drawing artists from all over. If you plan to visit in fall, this is a great time to go. If you are staying in accommodations with a kitchen, it’s also worth looking into some of the local fish markets. There are several close to downtown, and you can buy fish fresh off the boat, quite literally. If you’re buying, please be nice enough to send me a batch of fresh jumbo Gulf shrimp. I hear gumbo calling!

As with many Florida beaches, the actual beach is situated on a barrier island (Santa Rosa Island) across the bay from the city itself. If you’re staying in Pensacola proper, be prepared for a bit of a drive. And if you are there during the summer, leave EARLY. Locals hit the beach as much as the tourists, and the bridge crossing over to the island can become very backlogged with traffic. Pensacola is also known for having the ‘World’s Whitest Beaches,” and for good reason. The “sugar sand,” so-called because of its fine, white quartz crystals, looks just like table sugar. We don’t recommend putting it in your coffee, tho’. Pensacola has done a marvelous job of restraining actual construction on the beach. You can still walk along a beach filled with sand dunes, and native sea oats. In fact, much of the island is comprised of National Seashore, administered by the National Park Service. It is truly beautiful, and well worth a trip, just for the beaches.

If you like to camp (sorry-but my idea of roughing it is a Holiday Inn without a hairdryer), you might want to check out the Fort Pickens campground, also located on the island. The fort itself opened in 1834, and was in operation until World War II. There are daily tours. Camping is primitive-meaning bring your own water, and do not expect much in the way of amenities. However, the area is a natural wonderland, so bring your camera.

As a destination, Pensacola has a great deal to offer. Do some research, and plan accordingly. You’ll be glad you did!

Gay Days Orlando 2012

Gay Days will be occurring May 29-June 4, 2012. This year’s host hotel is the Doubletree at Hilton Orlando at Seaworld. As always, this annual gathering promises numerous events, parties, and good times for all. What started in 1991, as a single day at the Magic Kingdom, with about 3,000 attendees, has grown into a week-long event with over 160,000 attendees from around the world. The “Main Event” is still spending Saturday, June 2, at Magic Kingdom. As the event has grown, so has the fun. Here are some of the highlights:

Pool Parties-there will be pool parties daily at the host hotel, with world famous DJ’s. See the calendar link below for details. 

Parliament House-Orlando’s premier gay resort, will be hosting numerous events, as always. This year, they are promising the biggest laser light show in their history. Additionally, Sonique, Chaka Khan, and Mya are scheduled to perform Fri-Sun. All that, along with performances by the Footlight Players, drink specials, and parties! Check out their line-up here:  http://m.parliamenthouse.com/2012/03/18/erotica-32412/

Riptide-the mega-party at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon waterpark. Friday, June 1. 8pm-2am.

Gay Days Expo, at the host hotel- May 31-June 3, 2012. Tons of vendors featuring travel, business, and entertainment for the LGBT community.

For the ladies, check out the Girls In Wonderland site, at http://www.girlsinwonderland.com/gay-day-at-disney-orlando-florida-events/. Pool parties, concerts, comedy shows, and more!

Helpful Links:

Full Calendar of Events: http://gaydays.com/Calendar/Main/

Event Tickets: http://gaydays.com/index.php?option=com_jumi&view=application&fileid=8&Itemid=64

Theme Park Tickets:

http://gaydays.com/index.php?option=com_jumi&view=application&fileid=6&Itemid=65

Gay Days Ticket Office Location and Hours: http://gaydays.com/Gay-Days-Ticket-Center/gay-days-ticket-office.html

Break out those red shirts, and book NOW! Click on the image below:

Star Wars Weekends 2012

For all of us major Sci-Fi fans (yes-we here at Booking Dude are major geeks and nerds. We own it!) in the world, Walt Disney World Resorts’ annual Star Wars Weekends is back for 2012! Running every weekend from May 18-June 20, this event will feature celebrity autograph sessions, parades, photo ops with various characters (be advised that fans dress up, also), exhibits, and attractions. The events run every Friday-Sunday, on the dates above, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Park admission is required.

Some highlights of the weekend celebrations include:

Star Tours-The Adventures Continue: an interactive 3-D experience, with several possible missions. Board a new Starspeeder, with C-3PO as your pilot! Using a variety of effects, including a flight-motion simulator vehicle, digital 3D video, Audio Animatronics characters and in-cockpit special effects, this attraction is sure to take you to a galaxy far, far away…

Carbon-Freeze Me: For only $99.95, attendees will have the opportunity to have their 3-D image scanned and captured in carbonite, just like Han Solo.  This offering will be located inside Sounds Dangerous.  It will take 3-4 weeks for your carbonite copy to arrive via mail. Reservations are required. Call 407-939-8324 (407-WDW-TECH), for further information and advance reservations.

Padawan Mind Challenge: This one is for the younger fans, ages 12 and under. Test your Star Wars knowledge when you appear in front of the Jedi Council.

Autograph sessions: There will be three one hour autograph sessions each day, with various celebrities affiliated with the entire Star Wars saga. Guests must have a Fast Pass for these events. It’s one pass per guest, and no saving spaces in line, etc. For more info, go here:

http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/guides/mgm/events/st-starwars-weekend.htm#celebs

Jedi Training Academy: Although this attraction is open all year, it is especially popular during Star Wars Weekends.Groups of children are chose from the audience, and get to participate in training exercises with a Jedi master, including light saber training. The young Padawans then get to test their skills against the Sith. The session concludes with congratulations from Yoda. Great fun!

Hyperspace Hoopla: taking place toward the end of each day, this live show event takes place at the stage in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat. It is a dance-off show featuring Star Wars characters competing in groups against each other in a dance competition. Have your cameras ready, as there are numerous photo ops!

Some helpful links:

Star Wars Weekends Dates
Star Wars Weekends Frequently Asked Questions
Star Wars Weekends Touring Tips

To book you Star Wars Weekend getaway, click on the image below:

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale, known as the “Venice of America,” for its many canals, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in America. Few cities conjure up so many mental images as Fort Lauderdale. Once the Spring Break capital, the city booted this annual gathering of college students, starting in 1986, and successfully morphed itself into a very high-end destination. While still not quite as high-tone as South Beach, the area caters to the more high-end traveler, and younger people with money to burn. This is not to say that families cannot have a great time here, just that it’s a bit more on the expensive side. Hotel rates can be very high, especially in “season,” November thru April. If you choose to stay a little further north, in Pompano or Deerfield, for instance, or just a bit further south, in Hollywood, even beachfront hotels are quite a bit cheaper, on average.

 

The area is home to 23 miles of beaches, most designated as “Blue Wave” beaches. This designation is provided by the Clean Beaches Coalition, and is the only program currently to certify beaches as clean, healthy and environmentally well-managed. As with most Florida metropolitan areas, Fort Lauderdale is only one of several municipalities, each of which runs right in to the other. North, you will find Pompano Beach, Hillsboro Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Lauderdale By-The-Sea. South, you will find Dania Beach, Hollywood Beach, and Hallandale Beach.

 

Lauderdale By-The-Sea is one of the few locations in the state with a natural coral reef that is close enough to shore that one can swim out and snorkel it easily. The town is also very charming, and has an old-Florida look and feel to it. Dania Beach is actually home to our favorite beach in South Florida: John U. Lloyd Beach State Park. The park sits on approximately 314 acres, and is beautiful. There is actually beachfront forest, with nature and hiking trails. Beaching it here, you can almost believe you are on a deserted island. You can also rent canoes and kayaks, go surf fishing, picnic, rent bikes, etc. It’s great for families, or those who prefer more natural, undeveloped beaches. There is another coral reef a few hundred yards offshore, for divers and snorkelers.

 

For shopping in general, Fort Lauderdale is a great destination. For more high-end boutiques, definitely hit Las Olas Blvd. Las Olas also has excellent restaurants and cafes. For a combination of high-end, middle of the road, and bargains, Sawgrass Mills Mall is the place to be. It’s huge. Wear sneakers. ‘Cuz you’ll walk your feet off. The parking lot is so big, they actually have trams to shuttle you to and from your car. Use them. As for flea markets, there is only one place to be: The Thunderbird Swap Shop. Many cities have flea markets that claim to be the biggest. Don’t waste your time on any of them. The Swap Shop is the end-all, be-all, granddaddy of ALL flea markets. You can literally furnish a house in a day if you needed to. Deals abound. A few tips: go EARLY. You really want to be there by 9am, as parking goes quickly. Wear comfortable shoes, bring bottled water, and don’t be afraid to haggle, especially early in the day. Many of the vendors consider their first sale of the day “lucky,” so they want to get it out-of-the-way. There is also a very large indoor market. Prices inside are a lot higher, so stick to the open air market for the best deals. There is also a full circus inside. If you bring the kids, make a day of it.

 

If you like to eat, and most of us do, Fort Lauderdale has over 4000 restaurants. With a large, multi-ethnic population, you’ll find restaurants catering to every palate. And for nightlife, there are well over a hundred nightclubs, catering to every taste and scene. Grunge, live band, country and western, alternative, dance, R&B, etc. if you want to party, you’re covered. For the younger crowd, try a bar-hopping tour or party bus. The Riverwalk Arts and Entertainment district, downtown and just off Las Olas, houses bars, clubs, restaurants, museums, theaters, the Performing Arts Center, galleries, and more, all within a few blocks (more or less).

 

Fort Lauderdale also caters to gay and lesbian travel. In fact, Advocate Magazine has named the city the 4th Gay-Friendly city in the USA. There are numerous gay guest houses, and smaller boutique hotels and resorts where you can feel right at home. The city has a thriving gay community, with restaurants, clubs, bars, and various businesses catering to the gay community. And with South Beach about an hour away, there is even more for the LGBT traveler. Areas such as Wilton Manors, Oakland Park, and Victoria Park have  significant gay populations , businesses, and clubs.

 

As one might expect for the “Venice of America,” Fort Lauderdale is also a major cruise port. Port Everglades is, in fact, the country’s third busiest port. The area is also a major yachting and yacht-manufacturing center. There are over 100 marinas and boatyards. If you own a yacht, you’ve either been here, or will be. The city is a major jumping off point for many yacht owners to the rest of the Caribbean, and is home port to over 42,000 registered vessels. The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is considered to be the third largest in the country, and has become a tourist attraction in its own right. If you’re there near the end of October, make sure to catch it.

 

For families, there are numerous parks, eco tours, museums, beaches, and other attractions. Butterfly World, in Coconut Creek, is a wonderful attraction, featuring thousands of species of butterflies, birds, tropical gardens, waterfalls, and other botanical gardens. Swamp tours and airboat rides in the Everglades are fun and educational. There are children’s museums and theaters, surf schools, boat rides, go-karting, and more.

 

So, as you can see, Fort Lauderdale has so much to offer, it’s impossible to cover in one article. As we mentioned in our first post, we want to give you suggestions, and some ideas for further investigation. Fort Lauderdale is a special place: vibrant, full of energy and passion, natural beauty, and a wonderful melting pot of cuisines, cultures, and influences. The arts scene here is thriving, in all media and forms of expression. We know that, once you experience it, the city’s rhythms and pulses will seep into you. And you’ll be back.

Naples/Marco Island

Naples, and nearby Marco Island, situated along Florida’s Paradise Coast, are about three hours south of the Tampa area, and are also justifiably famous for their beaches. Like much of the west coast, the beaches here sport the “sugar sand” so popular in other areas. The beaches here are also frequently listed in the top ten lists of TripAdvisor, the Travel Channel, and various magazines and television shows. The area is also major gateway for eco-tourists, due to its close proximity to the Everglades, and is home to a number of nature preserves, state parks, and wildlife refuges. The city is also the self-styled “Golf Capital of the World,” boasting that they have more holes of golf, per capita, than any other municipality in the world. There are about 90 courses in the area, catering to every skill level.

Naples is also a well-to-do community, with a fairly wealthy population of seasonal and full-time residents, including rather famous residents from all endeavors-writers, pro athletes, former astronauts, musicians, real estate developers, etc. The area is home to numerous art galleries, theaters, and upscale shopping and dining. Naples does, in fact, have some of the best shopping in the state, including major designer stores such as Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Co., and Hermes. The art galleries, auction houses, and antique stores of the Third Street South area house exceptional collections of everything from 17th century English porcelain to modern glass sculpture. If you like art, antiques, collectibles, or historiana, this area is a must-see.

Naples’ beaches are  justly famous, and were again voted in the Top 25 Traveller’s Choice Awards on Tripadvisor for 2011. Areas such as Delnor-Wiggins Pass-State park, Lowdermilk Park, and Bonita Beach are great for families, offering concessions and picnic areas. Vanderbilt Beach is the area for resort stays. Barefoot Beach Preserve, an undeveloped barrier island, is great for hiking, guided tours, and canoeing. Wildlife is abundant, and makes for a great nature outing. Naples Beach, and its pier, are great for fishing, sunbathing, or dolphin watching.

Along with the beaches, another major draw to the Naples area is ecotourism. There are numerous parks for hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. Airboat tours, and various guided nature tours can be found quite readily. Dolphin-watching here is perhaps easier, with much more abundant sitings, than anywhere else in the state, especially in the Ten Thousand Islands area. Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary are among the wildlife and habitat sanctuaries to be found in the area.  The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is a nationally accredited zoo, and is another major local attraction. The zoo houses over 70 species of animals, as well as a botanical garden, and has a long history, dating back to 1919, in one or another of its various incarnations.

Once you’re tired of the beaches, nature trails, ecotours, golf, and shopping, Naples offers great nightlife, dining, museums, and a variety of food and arts festivals throughout the year. The Seminole Casino in Immokalee is about an hour away. As with most Florida beach towns, there is an abundance of hotels from which to choose, from very high-end resorts (especially in Marco Island), to smaller mom-and-pop operations. In season, from November to mid-April, rates tend to be fairly high. Summer weekends will also be higher. Hotels book up early for the weekends, so for better deals, look for Sunday-Thursday stays, if your plans are flexible.