Busch Gardens

We decided to throw the traditional Thanksgiving day traditions out the window and go to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Our plan was to enjoy the day at the park when it surely would not be crowded and then return home to a scaled down Thanksgiving day feast. We were a bit surprised to learn that Busch Gardens had raised their admission price to $64.95 per person. We were pleased that they offered a $10.00 discount off each ticket if they were purchased online, which we did.

Tickets in hand, we traveled to Tampa via interstate I-275 which was unusually void of vehicular traffic. The nice thing about Busch Gardens is that it is easy to find from all points in Florida. We traveled from the South so we exited off I-275 at the Fowler exit (exit # 51) and then we traveled East on Fowler to the park which is extremely monstrous and it cannot be missed as you drive down Fowler Avenue. There is a McDonald’s and a Dunkin Donuts on Fowler, right across from the park in case you need to stop for food or coffee before embarking on your adventure.

Another really nice feature of Busch Gardens is their parking lots. The lots are close to the park entrance and they have a steady flow of trams to and from the main gates. The $9.00 parking fee is a bit excessive. Why not include free parking with the increased park admission? Some would argue that the $9.00 fee enables them to have the employees and trams needed to get the visitors to and from the park with little wait time.

Having bought the tickets online paid off because we entered the main gates quickly by showing our printed tickets and scanning them at the turnstile. I was a little surprised at the large crowd at the front gates at 10am. I had imagined the park void of all but a handful of visitors. We did as most park visitors do, we made a dash for the roller coasters.

Busch Gardens is renown for it’s beautiful animal exhibits and it’s out of this world roller coasters. These roller coasters are not for those with queasy stomachs or fear of heights. The Montu, Kumba, & the Shiekra are fast, high, and scream-inducing roller coasters like many have never seen before. I personally do not like roller coasters so I usually do not ride them when I go to Busch Gardens. I have ridden the Kumba, Montu, & Gwazi in the past and I have to admit that they are exciting and awe inspiring.

We went to Montu first and I gladly waited down below while my thrill seeking family members waited in a very short line. Here is how Busch Gardens describes the Montu – one of the tallest and longest inverted roller coasters in the world. Experience the thrill of an inverse diving loop and a 60-foot vertical loop while you endure speeds of over 60 miles per hour and a G-force of 3.85. That makes my stomach queasy just by reading their description of the ride!

My family rode the Montu and when I encountered them afterwards, two of them were not as steady on their feet as they had been minutes earlier. I always get a kick out of watching people as they exit the roller coasters.

Next we walked the short distance to the Edge of Africa exhibit which gives you an up close view of African animals in enclosures that closely resemble their natural habitat. These are not cages or pens, but rather very large and open air areas for them to roam. We were very pleased to find out that arriving at the park early in the morning meant more than beating the crowds, it allowed us to see the feeding of the animals. We arrived and found 2 park employees sitting on the ground inside the meerkat exhibit. The 2 meerkats were quite amusing as they scurried to and from the park employees who were feeding them. For those of you have forgotten, the meerkat is the cute animal (Timon) from The Lion King who is best friends with Pumba the Warthog.

The park employees then told us that they were heading over to the lion exhibit and we should come along if we wanted to watch the feeding. I always enjoy a theme park more when I encounter warm and friendly employees. The African Lion exhibit was totally impressive. I love wild life and being able to walk up to a huge glass wall and stare face to face with 2 huge lions was exciting. The male lion walked up to the glass and was examining the small crowd of visitors as if he was trying to decide which of us was to be his morning meal. I had seen lions in zoos before but seeing one this close gave me a better understanding of why they are called “king of the jungle” The lion is a big, muscular, and obviously powerful beast with large fangs and enormous paws. I was fully expecting the park employees to throw the lions full slabs of steaks but they only dropped in small pieces one at a time.

The rest of the Edge of Africa exhibit consisted of scenic habitats of hippos, hyenas, vultures, a Nile crocodile.

Next we boarded the Skyride for a scenic trip over the park to Stanleyville. The Skyride takes you high above the Serengeti Plain where you can look down upon zebras, water buffalo, and an array of other African animals. This view gives an impressive view of the vast area that is the Serengeti plain. The Skyride dumped us off at Stanleyville which is home to SkeiKra, Stanley Falls Flume, and Tidal Wave.

This area is the lair of Busch Gardens most feared roller coaster, The SheiKra. Here is how Busch Gardens describes the ride – The name SheiKra evokes the power and speed of an African hawk as it twists and plunges – giving riders a 70 mph, adrenaline-pumping experience like no other. At 200 feet, SheiKra takes the crown as Florida’s tallest roller coaster. What blows me away about the SheiKra is that the ride takes you 200 feet up and then drops you 90 degrees straight down.

Busch Gardens recently renovated the ride and now the cars that you ride in have no floors so your feet and legs dangle in the air. I took one look at this ride and knew that it was not for me. The SkeiKra has to be the most impressive roller coaster that I have ever seen. Only 2 members of my party had the nerve to ride the SheiKra and one of them admitted that he had his eyes closed during the entire ride.

Next we visited the hospitality house where we sat by the lagoon and enjoyed 2 free beers. The weather was cool and breezy which made the day that much nicer. The wooden roller coaster, Gwazi is nearby so we headed there. Here is Busch Gardens description of the Gwazi -Gwazi is Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s mammoth double wooden coaster. It is also the Southeast’s largest and fastest double wooden roller coaster boasting more than 1.25 million board feet of lumber and over 2 million bolted connections. Named after a fabled lion with a tiger’s head, Gwazi races riders through almost 7,000 feet of track and is two distinct coasters intertwined: I actually rode this roller coaster and it was a lot of fun. It is a lot faster than it looks and it was a rougher ride than I had expected.

We were not able to see everything that the park has to offer because it is too much to do in 1 day. Busch Gardens has something for everyone to enjoy. Thrill seekers can spend the day riding some of the world’s best roller coasters and other rides, kids can enjoy the Land Of The Dragons, animal lovers can enjoy the many beautiful animals and exhibits, and anyone will marvel at the endless array of beautiful gardens and flowers. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on this Thanksgiving day trip and we will return soon.

Enjoy a Bit of History at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

Edison and Ford Winter Estates
When I go to a vacation destination I enjoy learning about the history of the area. On my recent trip to Sanibel Island and Fort Myers, I decided to take a tour of the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. It was a great experience to learn about two of the most influential inventors and businessmen in American history. This is a worthwhile Florida attraction to visit if you are in the area. Tourists can see their homes, botanical gardens, museums and laboratories. We spent about 4 hours there, but how much time you spend there will depend on how much you want to take in.

The History
I really did not know that much about the relationship of these two men. I learned that Henry Ford had worked for Thomas Edison when he was a young man and Edison befriended him and became his mentor. Thomas Edison encouraged him to pursue his aspirations of developing and mass producing his ideas for automobiles. The stayed friends throughout the years and Thomas Edison persuaded him to eventually buy the home next to his Edison's winter estate, which he built in Fort Myers it in 1886. He began using it that year with his new bride Mina.

The Banyan Trees
When you first arrive in the parking lot, you will see some huge banyan trees. They are an amazing sight to see, with the branches of the tree grow horizontally and re-rooting they get very large. They have four banyan trees that were given to them by Harvey Firestone, the largest tree is one acre in diameter! There is a statue of Thomas Edison in front of it. Firestone liked these trees because their sap was used to make the tires that he produced.

The Winter Homes
Both the Edison and Ford winter homes were modest and quaint houses. The Edison's lived there until 1947, when Mina deeded the property to the city of Fort Myers. The Edison home still has the original furnishings. Henry Ford purchased the home next to him in 1906. Ford last visited his estate in 1934. The homes are right on the riverfront of the Caloosahatchee, they had a nice view of the river and Edison's pier from their back porches. The estates have a number of buildings that you can see, including caretaker's cottages. The front and rear of the homes are lined with majestic royal palm trees.

The Botanical Gardens
We went in early March 2012 and we had perfect weather. The estates have a botanical garden and the flowers were in full bloom. You'll see some large bamboo's growing, a fountain, a swimming pool and a Lily pond. Edison used the filaments from the bamboo on some of his first light bulbs. There is a statue of his wife Mina in the gardens behind the gift shop and museum entry. There is also a water garden with colorful flowering plants behind it. There is a double row of mango trees along the road. The Estate's Garden Shoppe offers a wide variety of unusual plants including heritage plants, orchids, bamboo, bromeliads, fruits, vegetables, roses, edibles and gift items for sale. We bought an avocado tree to grow at our home in Florida.

The Museums – Edison Inventions
It is mind numbing when you see and read about all the inventions and patents that Thomas Edison created. There are seven gallery rooms filled with his inventions and many videos and educational exhibits. You can also tour the Botanic research lab which Edison, Ford and Firestone worked on developing quick growing plants and natural rubber.

Ford Auto exhibit – Henry Ford Garage – Model A and Model T
You get to see some historic Ford vehicles like Model T's and Model A's. They even have a canteen vehicle that they used on hunting trips. It's really amazing to see these old vehicles and how different they are compared to the cars we drive today.

Tour Information
They offer both self-guided audio tours and tours with historians who will tell you about the history as you walk the grounds. We chose the self-guided tour, where the give you a hand set that you press the button at certain locations. You also have the choice of just seeing the museum or doing the full tour.

All in all, it was a nice day. I learned a lot of history and saw some very beautiful gardens and homes. I'd definitely recommend that you visit the Edison and Ford estates if you are in the Fort Myers area.
If you are planning a trip to Florida you should visit Florida Vacation Plans for great Florida travel ideas .

A Tourist Guide to Pensacola, Florida

Located in northwest Florida, ten miles from the Alabama state line on its panhandle, Pensacola is rich in historic, military aviation, and natural sights, all with Florida’s signature sun, sand, seafood, and water aspects.

Pensacola:

Although St. Augustine, on Florida’s east or Atlantic coast, is considered the oldest US city and took root after Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles sailed to it and established a colony, Pensacola, on the state’s west or Gulf of Mexico side, could have claimed the title if its own settlement had lasted.

Six years earlier, in August of 1559, Spanish explorer Tristan de Luna dropped his own anchor in an area local tribes named “Panzacola,” for “long-haired people,” with the intention of carrying out Luis de Velasco, the Mexican viceroy of Spain’s order of establishing a settlement on the bay.

Well provisioned and prepared, he was equipped with 11 ships and brought 1,500 would-be colonists, among whom were African slaves and Mexican Indians. But history was forced to take the wrong fork in the road when a fierce hurricane decimated eight of de Luna’s vessels on September 19.

Nevertheless, in an effort to salvage the expedition, he sent one of them to Veracruz, Mexico, to elicit aid, leaving the immigrants to eke out an existence on shore and survive by draining the supplies they had brought. Yet, instead of re-provisioning the colonists, the ships, arriving a year later, only rescued the survivors by taking them to Havana and leaving little more than a military outpost by the spring of 1561. By August, the handful of soldiers abandoned the new land site and returned to Mexico, deeming it too dangerous for settlement.

Although it was beyond knowledge at the time, a claim-to-fame as the oldest, continuous US city it would never be able to make.

It would be almost 150 years, in 1698, in fact, that foreign forces would once again seek to gain a foothold-in this case, Spain established a more successful garrison in what would become modern-day Pensacola and toward that end laid out a colonial town.

As has so often occurred throughout history, land, once claimed, became the prize others sought, often by military means, and Pensacola proved no exception. Spaniards initially surrendered to the French in May of 1719, but it was hardly the end of its ownership. France, Spain, Britain, and Spain once again would take possession over the next century, until the latter finally ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. Because the Confederacy also “took up residency,” Pensacola is considered the “City of Five Flags.”

A significant portion of its almost 500-year history has been preserved and can be experienced in the Pensacola Historic District, which is managed by the UWF Historic Trust, itself an organization supported by the University of West Florida, and it consists of 27 properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

Admission, only purchasable for a week, includes guided tours and visitor entry, and tickets can be obtained at Tivoli High House.

Important structures are many. Seville Square, for example, is the center of the old settlement and served as one end of the British route’s parade ground, ending at its twin, Plaza Ferdinand VII. It was here that General Andrew Jackson accepted the West Florida territory from Spain in 1821 and first raised the US flag.

A small, preserved section of Fort George, a target of the American Revolution’s Battle of Pensacola, is symbolic of British occupation from 1763 to 1781.

Original houses abound, including the Julee Panton Cottage, the 1805 Lavalle House, the 1871 Dorr House, and the 1890 Lear-Rocheblave House.

The Old Christ Church, located on Seville Square and built in 1824 by slave labor, is the oldest of its kind in the state to still occupy its original site.

There are also several museums: the T.T. Wentworth, Jr., Florida State Museum, which was constructed in 1908 and originally served as the City Hall, the Pensacola Children’s Museum, the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center, and the Museum of Commerce.

Although not technically part of the Pensacola Historic District, the Pensacola Grand Hotel is located on the site of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad’s passenger depot, which itself was constructed in 1912 to replace the original 1882 L&N Union Station that served Pensacola for 58 years. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Restored in its original splendor and transformed into a hotel with a 15-story glass tower, it retains much of its early decoration, including a French clay tile roof and a ceramic mosaic tile floor, and is adorned with period pieces, such as a solid, drop-cast bronze light and antique furnishings.

Its opulent “1912, The Restaurant,” located on the ground floor, features entryway Biva doors from London, a cast-bronze French-style chandelier from Philadelphia, 1885 beveled glass from a Victorian hotel in Scranton, and scalloped-shaped grill work from Lloyd’s of London.

Naval Air Station Pensacola:

There are several significant attractions on Naval Air Station Pensacola, which can be accessed by the visitor’s gate and requires identification, such as a license, to enter

Located itself on the site of a Navy yard that was erected in 1825, it began as an aviation training station at the outbreak of World War I with nine officers, 23 mechanics, eight airplanes, and ten beach-propped tents, and was considered the first of its kind.

Dramatically expanding because of the Second World War, it trained 1,100 cadets per month, who collectively flew some two million hours. After its Naval Air Basic Training Command relocated its headquarters from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Pensacola, pure-jet aircraft were incorporated in the syllabus. Today, 12,000 active military personnel, 9,000 of whom receive aviation training, are assigned to the station.

The world-renowned National Naval Aviation Museum, also located here, is the largest and one of Florida’s most-visited attractions. It began not as a tourist sight, but instead as a means of including naval aviation history in cadet curriculums, for which there was neither sufficient time nor funding for the traditional book-and-study modality.

The facility, initially housed in an 8,500-square-foot wood frame building that hailed from World War II, became the locus of selection, collection, preservation, and display of aircraft and artifacts that represent the development and heritage of the service branch. It opened its doors on June 8, 1963.

Ever-expanding, it currently has 700 airplanes in its collection that are displayed in its 11 other official Navy museums throughout the country, but some 150 pristinely restored ones are still exhibited here after a new facility with 37 outdoor acres and 350,000 square feet of indoor space was completed. Admission is free.

Subdivided into the South Wing, the West Wing, a second-floor Mezzanine, and the separate Hangar Bay One, it traces the evolution of Navy aviation and the aircraft it operated from its inception to the latest Middle East conflicts.

The A-1 Triad, for example, was so named because if operated in the three realms of air (wings), water (floats), and land (wheels). The Nieuport 28, in the World War I section, facilitated aircraft carrier experimentation, while the mammoth Navy-Curtiss NC-4, at the threshold of the Golden Age exhibit, was the first to traverse the Atlantic from Trepassey, Newfoundland, to the Azores Islands off of Portugal.

Speed from jet fighters during the Cold War is represented by such types as the McDonnell F2H-4 Banshee, the North American FJ-2 Fury, and the Russian MiG-15.

Centerpiece of the West Wing is the “USS Cabot” island and a replica of its carrier deck, which is surrounded by an extensive collection of mostly World War II aircraft, including the Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, the Vought-Sikorsky FG-1D Corsair, and the General Motors (Grumman) TBM Avenger.

Of the numerous exhibits on the museum’s mezzanine, which itself overlooks both the South and West Wings and can even be accessed by airliner ground stairs, there can be none that offer a greater contrast to each other than those devoted to lighter-than-air aviation and space exploration.

Evolved from the spherical balloon first successfully flown by the Montgolfier Brothers in 1783 in the first case, airships were large, controllable balloons which attained lift by the buoyancy principle themselves, but incorporated engines for propulsion and rudders and elevators for, respectively, yaw (steering) and longitudinal (pitch) axis control. Suspended gondolas housed the crew and passengers. Rigid types featured internal frameworks, which were not required by the non-rigid ones, such as blimps.

Gondolas or control cars from the Navy’s L-8 and World War II-era K-47 airships are on display. The latter, delivered on May 19, 1943 at Moffett Field, California, had a 425,000-cubic-foot internal volume.

In the second, or space, case, a replica of the Mercury Freedom 7 space capsule, the original of which was launched at 116.5 nautical miles and was air/space borne for 14.8 minutes, represents Naval Aviation’s contributions to the Space Program, because Naval Aviator Alan B. Shepard became the first American to enter that realm on May 5, 1961.

Also on display is the original Skylab II Command Module, which orbited the Skylab space station during 28 days between May and June of 1973. Operated by a three-member, all-Navy crew, it set several records, including the longest manned spaceflight, the greatest distance traveled, and the greatest mass docked in space.

Visible from both the mezzanine and the main floor is the 75-foot-tall, 10,000-square-foot Blue Angels Atrium that connects the South and West Wings and features four Douglas A-4 Skyhawks in a diving diamond painted in the aerobatic team’s dark blue livery.

Hangar Bay One, with 55,000 square feet of exhibit space, features such aircraft as the Sikorsky VH-3 Sea King, which transported presidents Nixon and Ford during the 1970s; the Douglas R4D-5L Skytrain, which became the first to land on Antarctica’s South Pole in 1956; and the Grumman F-14D Tomcat, the supersonic, swing-wing fighter that logged the last combat mission.

Visitor services include complementary tours, a laser-powered giant screen theater showing multiple daily films, two gift shops, and the Cubi Bar Café.

Practice flights of the famed Blue Angels flight demonstration team can be viewed at the Museum Flight Line, north of the museum itself.

Another historic attraction on Naval Air Station grounds is the Pensacola Lighthouse.

Because of the strategic importance of Pensacola Harbor, Congress appropriated $6,000 in March of 1823 to construct a lighthouse, choosing an appropriate site in June, but temporarily substituting a floating alternative, the “Aurora Borealis,” until construction was completed. Transferred from the mouth of the Mississippi River, it was positioned behind the western end of Santa Rosa Island.

The permanent structure, a 40-foot-wide, white brick tower with ten whale oil lamps, each of which was strengthened by a 14-inch reflector, was first lit on December 20 of the following year and enabled sailing vessels to steer toward it and then enter the harbor.

Although it proved more useful than the floating boat it replaced, it began to reveal its deficiencies by 1850: it was obstructed by trees on Santa Rosa Island and its light was too dim to serve as an effective navigation aid, prompting the newly-established Lighthouse Board to recommend a replacement that would rise at least 150 feet in height.

Responding to its request, Congress allocated $25,000 in 1854 and an additional $30,000 two years later. Construction of the new facility, located a half-mile west of the original, was completed in 1858. Rising 159 feet from a 30-foot-diameter base and tapering to a 15-foot top, it was first lit on New Year’s Day, 1859, by Keeper Palmes. It featured the most powerful lens then available, a first-order Fresnel one.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Pensacola Lighthouse offers the visitor a glimpse into mid-19th century light keeper life, with a Visitor Center and Museum Shop located in the 1890s Carriage House, the Richard C. Callaway Museum in the 1869 keepers quarters, and the 177-step lighthouse itself, which can be climbed for views of Pensacola Bay.

Yet another historically important attraction on Naval Air Station Pensacola is Fort Barrancas.

“Situated on the bluffs overlooking Pensacola Bay, Fort Barrancas was built to protect the United States from foreign invaders,” according to the National Park Service. “Once considered vital to national defense, today Fort Barrancas illustrates the evolution of military technology and America’s values.”

Shortly after Spain ceded Florida to the US, the United States Navy selected Pensacola Bay as its main Gulf Coast Navy yard and concurrent with the decision was the dispatch of Army Corps of Engineers officers to survey the coastline with the intention of constructing fortifications to protect the Navy yard itself.

Built over the ruins of the 1798 Spanish fort designated Fort San Carlos de Barrancas-“Barrancas” being the Spanish word for “bluffs”-it was the third such fortification on the bay. The existing, 1797 Batteria de San Antonio was retained and modified.

Taking form between March 21 and September 21 by the hands of enslaved laborers, who worked from sunrise to sunset, it incorporated significant armament, including ten 24-pound cannons.

Although it was built as a defensive structure, it only engaged in combat during the Civil War.

Because of new developments to cannons and naval war vessels, the US government began evaluating proposals for new coastal defenses in 1885 and after the curtain closed on World War II, it was declared surplus in 1947.

A trail leads from the Visitor Center to the actual, kite-shaped fort, whose prominent features encompass a scarp and counterscarp, a ditch, a drawbridge, a sally port, a guard room, an open parade area, and a water battery. A tunnel connected the latter two. Cannon projectiles fired from the water battery itself were intended to ricochet off of the bay and hit ships at their water lines.

The fort’s four-foot-thick by 20-foot-high walls, comprised of six million bricks, features archways and valued ceilings.

The nearby Advanced Redoubt, constructed between 1845 and 1870, protected the northern side of the peninsula, location of the Pensacola Navy Yard.

Pensacola Beach:

Bridge- and causeway-linked, via Gulf Breeze, to the mainland, Pensacola Beach, eight miles from downtown Pensacola and accessed by Interstate 110 South, is a narrow stretch of sugary sand on the barrier island of Santa Rosa, overlooking emerald waters of the bay and the Gulf of Mexico and offering ocean-related activities, such as swimming, sun tanning, fishing, snorkeling, sailing, and diving. Fiery red, chartreuse, and purple sunsets regularly paint the sky.

Beach-fronted hotels are numerous, such as the Surf and Sand, the Margaritaville Beach, and the Portofino Island Resort, along with known names like the Hampton Inn, Hilton, Holiday Inn, SpringHill Suites, and Days Inn. Florida-indicative seafood restaurants, with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the water, include those such as Hemingway’s Island Grill, Flounder’s Chowder House, the Grand Marlin, Shaggy’s Pensacola Beach, and Peg Leg Pete’s.

Stretching 1,471 feet into the water, Pensacola Gulf Pier affords fishing for bluefish, pompano, redfish, Spanish mackerel, and spotted sea trout. Flounder is not to be ruled out.

The self-guided Footprints in the Sand Eco Tour, marked by informative signs, affords the opportunity to learn about local plant and animal life, including dolphins, sharks, turtles, birds, fish, and flowers. Each one explains a different ecological topic.

Pensacola Beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which itself stretches 160 miles from Fort Walton Beach, Florida, to Cat Island, Mississippi, and includes barrier islands, maritime forests, bayous, marine habitats, and historic forts. The park headquarters, offering orientation films and exhibits about the Live Naval Oaks Area, is located in Gulf Breeze, the island between the mainland and Pensacola Beach.

Shaped by the Gulf of Mexico the national seashore preserves pockets of American history and culture and encapsulates the visitor in Florida’s flora and fauna. In the void formed by the water and sky, for instance, dolphins surface, starfish swim, and pelicans and seagulls allow the breeze to carry them across the panorama.

One of the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s historic preservations is Fort Pickens, located on the western end of Santa Rosa Island directly across the Pensacola Bay Harbor entrance from Fort Barrancas. Named after Brigadier General Andrew Pickens, a patriot who fought with distinction in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War, it was once the largest brick structure on the Gulf of Mexico.

Tracing its origins to 1821, when the Third System of coastal forts was extended to include protection of Pensacola Bay and its mainland shore communities, it adopted a secondary purpose four years later when legislature to establish a Navy yard and depot was passed. As part of the trio of defenses, it was intended to guard the western end of Santa Rosa Island in cooperation with fortifications of the bluffs north of the channel and on the eastern end of Perdido Key.

Its construction, under the supervision of US Army Corps of Engineers, commenced in 1829 after the government acquired 998 acres of land and the pentagon-shaped structure, built up of more than 21.5 million bricks and equipped with more than 200 cannons, was completed five years later.

“(Workers) used construction materials such as lime, water, and sand to mix mortar; lumber for grillage and to build wharves, scaffolding, and support buildings; lead sheets to waterproof casemate arches and for gutters and drains; granite for steps and traverse stones; copper sheeting, bars, and fixtures for use in powder magazines; (and) brick for the main work and counterscarp,” according to the National Park Service.

Requiring a garrison of 500 men during wartime, but able to accommodate double that number in emergencies, the five-bastion structure, consisting of a single tier of casemates and a barbette tier, was capable of unleashing a ring of fire from its seaward-facing walls.

In the event, the only combat it ever experienced occurred during the Civil War.

Today, visitors still enter Fort Pickens through its original sally post, the main entrance secured with heavy oak doors. The plaster-lined quarters served as both residences and hospital rooms. The arched casemates provided protected artillery positions and a base for the second level cannons. Three main chambers, each holding 1,000 pounds of gunpowder, were connected by a tunnel system. The powder magazines, storing the fort’s black power supply, were wood-lined to keep them dry and necessitated the slipper-covered boots of soldiers who entered them to prevent potential ignition from sparks. The generator room was the location of the steam-powered generators installed in 1903 to provide electricity for searchlights and other modern equipment.

The counterscarp formed a dry mount to protect the fort from land-based assaults. Rain water was collected and stored in cisterns for drinking. And the tower bastion, pointing directly across the channel, ensured the harbor’s protection.

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Itching To Get Away? Go For a Florida Beach Adventure!

When planning the ultimate getaway, most travelers envision a beach adventure. This is only natural of course, as nothing beats feeling the sand between one's toes, breathing in the fresh sea breeze and getting a sun-kissed look. When choosing the perfect haven of sand and sea, there's no better option than the best beaches Florida could offer.

The Florida Option

Being the Sunshine State of America, Florida features warm pleasant weather and miles upon miles of beaches. As a matter of fact, it serves as the home state of two national sea shores, the Canaveral National Seashore situated on the barrier island along the Atlantic Coast of the state, and the Gulf Island National Seashore, which is located in northwest region of Florida , near Mississippi. Attracting over 60 million visitors each year, it's no surprise that Florida ranks among the top vacation destinations in the United States.

When it comes to naming the most idyllic beaches Florida could offer, Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach instantly come to mind. These West Florida beaches boast of white-sand shores and pristine blue waters, two paradise destinations that await tourists who want to experience only the best beach vacation they could ever have.

Play with nature at Navarre Beach!

The great thing about touring Navarre Beach is that there are many diverse activities to do. Tourists could either grow butterflies at the Panhandle Butterfly House, or catch some big fish at the Navarre Pier. Spotting some sharks at the Souvenir City and Shark Museum is also a great option, especially for children.

This tourist destination is an ideal getaway not only for those who want a relaxing time away from a busy life, but also for families who want to make most out of their time together. Navarre Beach is located on Santa Rosa Island, and was the primary setting of the 1978 film, “Jaws 2.”

Attend a Music Party at Pensacola Beach!

Located near Navarre, Pensacola Beach is popular for having exceptionally white sand and an ideal climate. In the winter, the Pensacola temperature is comfortably warmer than most regions, while summers are breezy cool. The rich military history of the Pensacola area makes it a fun and educational tourist destination. Tourists may relive American history at Fort Barrancas and at the Veterans Memorial Park / Wall South. They may explore and learn about marine life at the Gulfarium, and afterwards head to The Pensacola Lighthouse for a good dose of ghost stories. Apart from these scenic and entertaining tours, Pensacola Beach offers great times at Chumuckla's Farmer's Opry House, where sumptuous American dinners are served with great country and gospel music. There's nothing better to punctuate a day except for great company and the right combination of musical notes and delicious drinks, so that dropping by this laid-back Florida joint is definitely necessary for any tourist.

It's hard to imagine a Florida vacation without Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach topping the list, especially when these two tourist destinations are the best spots where to shake off stress gain newfound energy.

10 Most Romantic Getaways in Florida

If you would like to experience an unforgettable seaside getaway, you really do not have to travel outside the US since you can embark on one of the Florida romantic vacations.

Let us be your guide in touring some of the most romantic hot spots found in Florida.

1. Orlando, Florida is perhaps the most perfect place you can pick for your romantic journey or simply a family trip. You will never be bored if you come to Orlando, FL since there's just so much to do here. Universal theme park in Orlando is the ultimate destination for any Florida romantic vacation where you will take heart stopping rides, see incredible performances and indulge in world class dinner experiences. One of the top hotels to stay at is Royal Pacific Resort that is within walking distance from the Universal theme park, or you can take a boat ride to reach the famous park. Do not miss the unforgettable Blue Man Group interactive performances. Another unique attraction that simply must be seen in Orlando, FL is Cirque du Soleil, top notch circus artistry that words can not describe.

2. Plan your Florida romantic vacation to include Augustine historic location and immerse yourselves in the experience you will not forget for years to come. St. Augustine is a lush and affordable journey that will include horse drawn carriages to take you through old brick-laid street, antique shopping, famous Lighter Museum and spa indulgences that can not be missed. Here you can enjoy kayaking, swimming, fishing, golfing and admiring the natural beauty of this gorgeous place.

3. Amelia Island is conveniently located just off the coast of Florida and allows you to spend fantastic romantic time off within the US. Amelia Island in Florida boasts 13 miles of unaltered naturally beautiful Atlantic beaches where you can escape the everyday troubles with your loved one. High end restaurants combined with fantastic golfing, spa experiences and lovely bed and breakfast places make Amelia Island one of the most appealing Florida romantic vacations.

4. Key West is without a doubt the most romantic and magical getaway spot in Florida and must be experienced with your own eyes to believe. Key West opens endless opportunities for the water lovers like fishing, swimming, boating, kayaking and real dolphin encounters. Key West also has very rich cultural and historical heritage fully displayed in many of local small museums, art galleries and antique shops. Take a sunset cruise around the island for a magical journey for you and your loved one.

5. Naples. Gulf Pointe Resort in Naples, Florida is a small romantic hot spot for couples and people simply seeking some time off in warm Florida Gulf coast. Here you can fully embark to explore the coast by means of free kayaks that are offered to their guests. The hotel is very small and provides a very personal type of service unlike the more main stream one offered at major chain hotels. Downtown area is blooming with multiple shopping areas where you can buy all kinds of fare like stained glass, pottery and souvenirs you can bring back home for your friends and family. Naples, Florida is a well kept secret paradise people come back to year after year.

6. Pick Miami as your next romantic escape that combines the luxury and affordability at one place. Explore some of the main historical and art attractions in Miami, FL as Museum of The Contemporary Arts, Miami Art Museum and Historical Museum of the Southern Florida. Do not miss the Vizcaya museum and Natural Gardens that attract many visitors every year. Once you grow tired from sightseeing, take a bite at many Miami restaurants that offer a variety of fine dining options. You can embark on Moonlight canoe tours for an unforgettable night with your loved one that is sure to reawaken your senses. Finally, many local beaches allow you to walk hand in hand along the mesmerizing waters of Miami and take in warm Florida sun.

7. West Palm Beach is an exclusive and upscale community that is one of the most sought after places for any romantic getaways. West Palm Beach, FL offers many places a true nature lover will be delighted to visit. Visit McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary to see some of the most unique species of animals or embark on Lion Country Safari to witness cageless animals freely roaming the grounds of the facility from your vehicle. Do not forget to include Clematis Street situated in the downtown area of ​​West Palm Beach that includes a myriad of boutiques, nightclubs, restaurants and historical points of interest.

8. Fort Lauderdale, FL is a stunning water lovers paradise that you can enjoy without having to travel outside the US. Here you can choose among a variety of both affordable and luxury accommodations. You can hire a sea taxi and cruise around the Venice of America as it is sometimes referred to due to the intricate canal system. Take a dive at the local Hollywood Beach or take a stroll along a Riverwalk. Spa and gaming experiences are like nowhere in the United States.

9. Panama City Beach offers a variety of activities for young and older couples seeking to embark on a Florida romantic vacation. You are not going to have a single dull moment during your stay in Panama City Beach, FL due to a boatload of fun for young and old like endless sunny beaches, water parks and museums, high-end dining and nighttime entertainment. Visit Ripley's Believe it Or Not Museum or Gulf World Marine Park. Helicopter rides provide magic experience to view the majesty of the city and fall in love with this great vacation hot spot.

10. St. Petersburg, Florida vacation is a fine choice since this city has so much to offer and see. Museum of Fine Arts in St. Gallen Petersburg displays a large collection of art works by French impressionists, while the Salvador Dali Museum holds amazing pieces of this eclectic artist. St Petersburg Pier is a well-known tourist attraction that is perfect for hand in hand strolls to admire this unique romantic getaway. St. Petersburg, FL is perhaps the most perfect mix of vacation pleasure and cultural exploration any vacation has to offer.

Disney Villa Rentals – A Holiday Like Home

If you are planning on taking a holiday or vacation in the sunshine state of Florida then you will be making a wise choice. Florida and Orlando play host to an amazing number of attractions and experiences from Disney World to the Florida Keys and Miami Beach.

If you are travelling with a large group of friends or family you may want to consider rending a villa near Disney World. Why? Firstly, renting a Villa near Disney offers huge cost savings as opposed to staying in a Disney hotel. This is because when you rent a villa near Disney you pay for the Villa, not for the number of people staying it. Most holiday villas sleep between 8 and 10 people.

The best thing about staying in a villa is that you are staying in someone’s home, so it feels like a home and not a hotel room. This means that villas tend to me more relaxing and convenient, as they will have their own kitchen and dining areas. As Disney isn’t that close to a beach most villas will also come with their own private pool to help you cool off in the Florida heat.

If you are travelling with pets you might find that Orlando holiday villa owners even let you take your pets into the villa. This is ideal for US citizens who travel to Florida to catch the sun. An Orlando holiday villas is often located on a small estate or community. This means that you are not staying in a resort full of tourists, but around a mix of holiday makers and villa owners. The villa communities tend to be less intense than the Disney Resort hotels.

Holiday Villa bookings are often taken through a booking agent and you can view the property through their web site before you visit. I advise that you check out the condition of the property via photos on the Internet if you get chance. So there you have it. Staying in a holiday villa near Disney is not only convenient and cost effective, but its like staying in a home just down the road from the resort.

Has Disney and Universal Studios Priced Themselves Out of Business?

Not too many years ago, Orlando, Florida used to be the travel destination of the world, but recently it has been showing signs of just the opposite. Restaurants are empty, gift shops are closing down and the biggest sign of all is the lack of attendance at the theme parks. With international travel at an all time low, you would think that the parks would take aim at domestic travelers to fill that void in attendance. But quit the contrary, they seem to be building more attractions and raising prices at their gates. The logic has perplexed many in the tourism industry for the past few years.

As tickets sales to the park decrease, the prices for tickets have gone up for some odd reason. Take for instance Walt Disney World . Back in 2000 the price for a 1 day Disney ticket was $ 42.14. Fifteen years later that same ticket is $ 103.31 and a Magic Kingdom ticket now is $ 111.83. That is over a 50% increase in little over 15 years. Universal Studios Orlando was the same price as the Disney parks and now their gate price for a 1 day ticket is $ 108.63.

At the writing of this article gas is down to an all time low of $ 104 a barrel making an average gallon of gas around $ 1.89. You would think mom and dad would throw the kids in the back of the car and do a road trip like our parents used to do, but that is not the case for some reason. When I look at the trends of what has happened over the past 5 to 10 years, a pattern emerges that many have been complaining about for quite some time.

Is it possible that the Orlando theme parks are pricing themselves out of business? The average middle class American has found it unattainable to travel to Walt Disney World anymore and have started visiting local destinations instead of taking that yearly trip to Florida. It has gotten so bad that travel leaders have coined the phrase, “Staycation”. Sounds horrible if you ask me!

I truly think that when the theme parks crossed over that $ 100 1 day ticket line, they inflicted the damage to themselves. In business, we call that the “Psychological Price Tag” dilemma. The price of an item that makes us cringe when we see it. Think about planning your family vacation and then seeing the cost of a 1 day ticket to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or SeaWorld. The cringe factor times 10 set in and now you are contemplating staying home, visiting family or going to a national park.

Has the bench mark been set so high that the parks cannot return from? I wonder what it will take before they realize that nobody can afford to travel to their playgrounds anymore. Can a once world renown destination become the tourism capital of the world again? Only time will tell. But I hope they smell the biscuits soon as there may be nothing left if they wait to long.

The one good thing to come from all of this is that there are still a few companies out there that offer discounts to the parks.

This Is What No One Tells You About Florida

Florida is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. Its sandy beaches and theme parks are always brimming with tourists. Be it college students eager for scary roller coaster rides or newlyweds looking for a romantic dinner on a moonlit beach, everyone's dream place is Florida. But you'll be surprised that there's more to Florida than that.

Here are some facts and magical places in Florida which I bet this is no one told you about:

1. Florida has a rich cultural heritage: Florida is home to America's oldest city – St. Louis Augustine and the Native American Seminole tribe. Guess where the Kennedy Space Center is? Florida! “The Greatest Show on Earth” – the Ringling Circus is also based in Florida. St. Augustine has an alligator farm which opened in 1893!

2. Is summer the best time to be in Florida? Turns out, it's the worst time to do touristy things in Florida. May to September is really hot and humid but unfortunately, that's where everyone heads to Florida. What's the best time, you ask? The ideal weather is either mid-October to late November or March to early May. So plan your trip over Thanksgiving or spring break.

3. Wild Life, anyone? Here's a safari park with walking and cycling trails. Spend time with alligators and bisons and head onwards to an introspective stroll. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Micanopy (near Gainesville) is a National Natural Landmark.

4. What can one man do? Visit Solomon's Castle in Ona, FL to witness a legendary architecture created single-handedly by one man. Great place to find some inspiration to follow your own dreams.

5. Floridan etiquette: Along with your dirving license, don't forget to carry your rental car contract to avoid running into police. If you're taking a taxi or dining out, don't the tip fall below 15%.

6. Looking for friends? Good news is that Florida is one of the friendliest states in America. Odds are against rude encounters and unhelpful passersby.

7. In search of spirituality? Visit the 12th-century Spanish monastery with a very interesting history. In the 1920s, it was purchased by William Randolph Hearst who tried to move it to California but failed because of shipping complications. A successful attempt was made again in the '60s when the monestry was moved piece by piece to North Miami Beach.

8. Forget the beach, let's explore some caves: Explore some air-filled caves in the Florida Caverns State Park, Marianna. The limestone caverns were formed over time, as water seeped into and dissolved local bedrock. Once you're done with the caves, the park also offers hiking and horse trails, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, camping and dancing to the tz anthem! It's like hitting a holiday jackpot.

9. Swimming underground? Everyone swims in lakes and pools but few venture to swim underground. This underground swimming hole in Williston, is a gift of nature. Best part: it's open for scuba diving and snorkeling.

Discover Port Canaveral in Cape Canaveral Florida

Across the Banana River from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island and just north of Cocoa Beach is the city of Cape Canaveral, Florida. In the city of Cape Canaveral you will find, on a protected channel just off the Atlantic Ocean, Port Canaveral.

Port Canaveral, which not too long ago was a small cargo port is now, in addition to being a major international cargo hub, one of the, if not the, busiest cruise ports in the Western Hemisphere. It is also a fun filled recreational area.

Board a cruise ship for a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 7 day cruise to the Keys, the Bahamas or the Caribbean, on the 855 'Carnival Fantasy, the 952' Carnival Glory, the 964 'Disney Magic, the 964' Disney Wonder, the 880 'Royal Caribbean International Sovereign of the Seas, the 1020' Royal Caribbean International Mariner of the Seas, the 916 'Royal Caribbean International Grandeur of the Seas or one of the other cruise ships that are in port. Take a 2 day gaming cruise on the Sterling Casino Lines Ambassador II with it's 26,000 square feet of casino space, or take an afternoon, evening or full day gaming cruise on the smaller SunCruz Casinos' SUNCRUZ XII.

Go fishing off the 1200 'Malcolm E. McLouth fishing pier, launch your own boat from the public boat launching ramps at Port's End Park and Freddie Patrick Park or take a half, full day or night fishing excursion charter, on the Atlantic Ocean or the Indian River Lagoon, from one of the three marinas at the Port.

Go camping at the 35 acre Jetty Park with it's 150 lighted camp sites, ranging from tents to full hookup for RVs, it's four and one-half-acre family beach with designated areas for water-related activities, such as swimming and surfing, covered pavilions and picnic tables, restrooms with showers, refreshment stand, fishing pier and fish cleaning tables. Call (321) 783-7111 for reservations and rules.

Check out the Cove with it's more than a dozen dining establishments, most serving fresh seafood fresh from the boats. There are also numerous shops and boutiques.

Strech out on the clean well tended sandy beach and watch the fishing boats and cruise ships go by. The sky is blue and the water is clear. Watch a rocket launch from the nearby Cape Kennedy Space Center.

Stay at one of the nearby resort hotels in Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, Merritt Island and Palm Bay. Take a 45 minute drive to Orlando and visit Disney World or one of the other theme parks. Visit nearby Cape Kennedy and tour NASA's launch headquarters, see the towering launch pads, huge rockets, history-making technology, explore the Apollo / Saturn V Center and the Vehicle Assembly Building, walk through a full-size Space Shuttle mock-up, see IMAX space films on gigantic five-story screens, and see an actual Gemini program capsule on display in Early Space Exploration. Visit one of the many other area attractions.

There is plenty for the whole family to see and do, in and around Port Canaveral.

For more information about the city of Cape Canaveral see http://capecanaveralfl.usacitydirectories.com , a directory of links to city of Cape Canaveral guides and directories listing hotels, restaurants, attorneys, real estate brokers, information, resources, services, things to do, places to go and more.