Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park

Pick up an inner tube ($5) at the roadside bar about a half-mile before the entrance to the park and float the shallow 1 mile stream formed by Rock Spring.  (400 E Kelly Park Rd, Apopka).  $5 a vehicle open 8am -8pm Mar – Oct and then 8am – 6pm Nov – Feb, the water closes 1 hour before the park closes.

The trip takes about 25 minutes at a leisurely float. There are exits from the river along the way, and an excellently maintained network of boardwalks (with flooring designed to protect the barefooted) lets you carry your tube back to the beginning for another go. You can also go down without a tube but, for most adults at least, the stream is too shallow for swimming during most of its course. At the middle of the tubing course, the stream blossoms into a series of lagoons and pools that form the centerpiece of the park. This is the place to come for a cooling, if somewhat crowded, swim. Or join the sunbathers thronging the shores and islands.

At the weekends and during the summer the park fills with locals creating a party atmosphere, but during the winter your only company might be t148481_487112114084_775511_nhe otter swimming along beside you, the turtles lounging on the rocks and the deer grazing along the creek’s edge.  Kelly Park is about a 40 minute drive northwest of Orlando, a quarter mile east of County Road 434 on Kelly Road

Florida Strawberry Festival

If you are in Florida between February 28 and March 10, you might want to consider visiting the Strawberry Festival.  It features agricultural shows, fun contests, rides, parades, great country entertainment and strawberry delights in one place all at an affordable price.  The festival celebrates the area’s biggest crop and typically includes all things strawberry — from vendors offering everything from berry-themed crafts to flats of the red fruit.

I’ve never attended the festival, although it comes highly recommended.  I have tasted the wonder Plant City strawberries on several occasions and they are absolutely delicious.

The Florida Strawberry Festival was born in the 1930s when the newly organized Plant City Lions Club had the idea to unite communities through the celebration of the strawberry harvest. The Lions Club and other civic organizations have participated in the festival throughout its long history. The American Legion Post #26 is also recognized for its effort in getting the Florida Strawberry Festival reactivated in 1948 following a six year hiatus during and immediately following World War II. Now “The Florida Strawberry Festival Association” is governed by a board of directors from the local community and a small staff who work year round to make the Strawberry Festival one of the top 30 of such events in North America.

The festival is a family-oriented event featuring arts, crafts, horticulture, livestock, agriculture, fine arts, rides, entertainment and much more. Here are just a few of the highlights:

The Mighty Bluegrass Show’s Carnival features over 60 thrilling rides in the Midway. For younger festival-goers there is also the Strawberry Patch Kiddy Corral with age appropriate  rides.

The agricultural shows and exhibits are a great way for children to learn how farming communities function. Some children get to see animals they’ve only seen in books, so it is a great educational experience too.

Perhaps almost as famous as its strawberries, is the Florida Strawberry Festival’s entertainment line-up. Year after year, the Festival draws some of the finest rock and country music performers for its toe-tappin’ concerts.

If you go, expect a lot of traffic, especially on the weekends and plan your travel accordingly.

General advance admission ticket prices are $8 for adults, $4 for children ages 6-12 and children 5 and under are admitted free with a paid adult. Concert tickets are $15 to $55, depending on the artist and date. Advance admission tickets will go on sale at Sweetbay Supermarkets beginning in mid-February and continuing throughout the festival. Regular gate admission prices apply at the gate once the festival is open — prices are $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Special festival days are:

  • Thursdays, February 28 and March 7 – SENIOR DAYS, ages 60 and over get $2 off regular gate admission of $10.
  • Saturday, March 2 – FREE KIDS DAY, kids through high school age are admitted free.
  • Tuesday, March 5 – RED HAT DAY, Red Hatters get $2 off regular gate admission of $10.
  • Wednesday, March 6 – AMERICAN HEROES DAY, all active, reserve, retired military, veterans, law enforcement & first responders are admitted free with a valid ID.

The festival grounds are located about 15 miles east of Tampa.

Go to http://www.flstrawberryfestival.com/ to find out moreImage

Disney’s Wilderness Preserve

Don’t be fooled by the name, Disney’s Wilderness Preserve is a nature conservancy – a 12,000 acre preserve in fact.  Open Mon-Fri 9am to 5pm it only costs $3 for an adult.   Home to gopher tortoises, bald eagles, sandhill cranes and loads of other wildlife.  The park has a short walking trail through the scrub, fields and woods.  It is only a 20 min drive from Walt Disney World, south of Kissimmee.

Take Poinciana Blvd south off Hwy 192 and turn right on Pleasant Hill Road.  You will then pick up signs to the preserve.

Go to http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/florida/placesweprotect/the-disney-wilderness-preserve.xml to find out more

Captiva Island

The smaller sister of Sanibel Island, Captiva Island was allegedly named after a Pirate Captain Jose Gaspar who held female prisoners for hostage.  Captiva was originally part of Sanibel Island until a storm surge following a hurricane in 1926 formed a new channel called ‘Blind Pass’  Captiva is reached by a small breach from Sanibel Island which takes you to Turner Beach.

There is no real downtown as it is more like a village than a town, there is a real sense of community plus a real desire to retain the Island just the way it is.  Favourite pastimes in Captiva include fishing and shelling (apparently it was Theodore Roosevelt’s favourite spot to fish)

 

International Driving Permit – IDP

Until this year, drivers needed only the standard British photocard licence with the green counterpart – as with the rest of the US. But Florida’s legislature has tightened up the motoring rules, making it mandatory for overseas visitors to carry an IDP as well as their national licence.

If a driver is pulled over by Highway Patrol officers, or is involved in an accident, the penalties for breaking the new law are harsh. A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, told The Independent that police who encounter British motorists driving illegally have two options: “Arresting the driver and taking him/her to jail, or giving the driver a citation with a mandatory court appearance.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We have raised changes to Florida driving laws with the Florida authorities. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has advised us that they are urgently looking to amend the law for those countries who issue driving licences in English.”

And overnight the Florida authorities said that the new legislation would not be enforced in the short term.

Few British motorists carry the IDP, because the vast majority of holidays and business trips are to places that do not require it. The permit, which costs £5.50, is issued by the AA and RAC by post. They can also be obtained in person at Post Offices – but only by 88 branches in the entire UK, which is fewer than one per cent of the total.

About one million UK citizens visit Florida annually. Rosie Sanderson, who runs the AA’s International Division, said: “It has thrown the fly-drive market into chaos, with a lot of conflicting advice”.

The leading rental firm, Hertz, has confirmed its Florida offices would insist on an IDP as well as a national licence, and said: “It is the responsibility of the driver to obtain a permit”.

Avis told The Independent that it required “All UK customers to have an International Driving Permit in order to hire a car in Florida”. But the UK’s leading car-broker, Holiday Autos, said that its US supplier, Alamo, would not insist upon an IDP. The permit would be needed “only if the full licence held by the driver/hirer was not in English”.

The change in the law was identified by Elle Hubbard of the rental broker Tripwheels. She told The Independent: “We had hoped that perhaps there might be a ‘grace period’ or leniency shown given that many tourists will be already in Florida and unaware of the new rules. However, we were told ‘Law enforcement is there to enforce the laws, we are not selective nor can we disregard the law’.”

It is fair to say, at the moment, the advice is conflicting and confusing – however, I think for the sake of £5.50 I will just apply for an IDP and take it with me on my next vacation in Florida – it’s valid for a year.

Links for more information on this:

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-02-15/news/os-international-driving-permit-orlando-20130215_1_international-visitors-law-enforcement-unintended-consequences

http://www.theaa.com/getaway/idp/

http://www.postoffice.co.uk/international-driving-permit

Ponce Inlet Light Station

Near Daytona, Ponce Inlet Light Station is over 120 years old and on a clear day you can see Kennedy.   It is Florida’s tallest lighthouse,  standing at 175 feet high.  There are 203 steps to the top of the Lighthouse and it is advisable to dress appropriately e.g. no skirts, sensible shoes (closed toe with grip e.g. trainers).  It’s a great place to visit, fantastic view and only $5 entry for an adult – take a walk out onto the gallery deck and enjoy the fresh ocean breeze as you enjoy the Florida coast view.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association also offers two unique special interest tours:
Climb to the Moon Tours – where you watch the sun set and the moon rise while enjoying a glass of fizz and delicious hors d’oeuvres.  This tour is very popular, it is offered once a month on the eve of the full moon.  It is limited to only 25 guests and costing $25 per person.
The other tour is the Climb with Keeper Tour – described as a unique tour which is intended for small groups.  You must book in advance and the cost is also $25 per person.
For more information and directions go to: http://ponceinlet.org

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island is a beautiful barrier island most famous for it’s shelling.

Shelling is so good and popular that those dedicated to it are reported to have the ‘Sanibel stoop” – i.e. they are hunchbacked – there is even a dedicated blog http://www.iloveshelling.com

The northern half of the Island is protected within the JN ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge – 6300 acre refuge which is home to an abundance of seabirds and wildlife including alligators, roseate spoonbills and pelicans.  There is a 5 mile wildlife drive – bring binoculars or for a closer look hire a canoe or kayak from Tarpon Bay.

On Sanibel businesses and restaurants are spread leisurely along the inner island corridor – Periwinkle Way.  The preferred mode of transport in Sanibel is the bicycle.

Sanibel is a lovely relaxing place to recharge your batteries.

Visit http://www.sanibelisland.com/ for more information.Image