Daytona International Speedway – the World Center of Racing

Daytona International Speedway – the World Center of Racing

It was the miles of firm sands on Daytona Beach that gave birth to it becoming the home of supercharged speed. The first Daytona speedway races ran for almost 50 years in an unofficial racing circuit that included the beach and part of the A1A Highway which runs parallel.

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Finally the racing was placed on a more permanent footing when the Daytona International Speedway was built in 1959 on what became known as International Speedway Drive. The stadium has since become a landmark of the area. The track is 2½ miles long and the building of the improved circuit coincided with faster and more reliable racing cars so the main race was increased from 200 to 500 miles in length.

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Daytona 500

The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s biggest and most prestigious event on the racing calendar and takes place in February each year. The date for 2012 is Sunday February 26, one week later than previous years. The event involves around 40 of the best stock car drivers and 2016 will be the 58th annual event. The race is 500 miles long, which is 200 laps, and is the first series race of the year. Its importance in the racing calendar has led to it being called the “Superbowl of Stock Car Racing”.

The Daytona 500 draws around 200,000 visitors to Daytona every year to watch the event live. The winner is presented with the Harley J. Earl Trophy in Victory Lane and the winning car is displayed at the Speedway Museum dedicated to the Daytona 500 Experience.

Other Events at the Daytona Speedway  fans will be interested in

If you cannot get to Daytona in February to see the Daytona 500, there are plenty more races and events throughout the year including the Rolex 24, the Budweiser Shootout for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the Coke Zero 400 and a host of motorcycle events.

When races are not in progress visitors can take a guided tour of the huge stadium on the 480-acre site. Guides take you behind-the-scenes to see what is involved in making NASCAR events run so smoothly. Visitors get to see the Drivers’ Meeting Room, tour the NASCAR Spring Cup Series garages, view the Victory Lane and take a peek inside the press box, seven floors above the track itself. Full tours cost around $22 for adults. There are other shorter and cheaper tours available giving visitors access to the NASCAR Nationwide Series garages, pit and the infield.

 

 

The Speedway is just a small part of Daytona Beach; for many more fun and  interesting things to do and see there check out “Days Out Around Cocoa Beach which has 15 more places to visit. The Villages residents will also find this a useful addition to my “The Villages” series of books.

 

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Cocoa Beach – Orlando’s Local Beach

Cocoa Beach – Orlando’s Local Beach

The first time I ever came to Florida, like millions of visitors every year, I came to Orlando. The highlight was spending a few days at Cocoa Beach on the Atlantic East coast. The endless soft sands, warm waters and lack of crowds made this one of my favorite beach vacations of all time!

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Cocoa Beach is home to around 12,500 residents and many more thousands of visitors pass through every year. It is located just south of Cape Canaveral near Merritt Island.

Cocoa Beach is known as the Small-Wave Capital of the world. It is perfect for beginner surfing with predictable rolling surf. Once you have mastered your balance, it is the perfect place to show off your moves, as many wetsuit-clad surfers do by the pier.

Close by is the world-famous Ron Jon Surf Shop – open 24/7 with everything you can possibly imagine for rent or for sale in the Art Deco Surf Palace.  It is the World’s Largest Surf Shop covering 52,000 square feet and compliments the nearby Ron Jon Watersports Shop. If you ever have a rainy day in Cocoa Beach, this is a great place to hang out!

As well as catching the rays on the sandy beach, you can go kayaking, sport fishing, take an airboat ride, go parasailing, take surf lessons or spot Florida wildlife from an airboat ride at Midway.

Cocoa Beach has a few restaurants and shops selling beachwear, shells and clothing. You may not be able to do your weekly shop but you will find plenty of places to rent and buy beach gear and maybe even get a tattoo! Casual beach bars and restaurants overlook the beach and places like The Beach Shack and Coconuts on the Beach offer good food, live music and the occasional bikini contest.

The gorgeous sandy beach is lined with hotels and holiday apartments to accommodate guests. Many more day-trippers take a day off from Orlando, 60 miles away, to enjoy a day relaxing on Cocoa Beach.

There are plenty of excellent things to do around Cocoa Beach. Take a stroll along the pier or visit Jetty Park where you can go fishing and watch cruise ships sail by from the beach.

A day at the Kennedy Space Center is a must for families of all ages. See the launch pads, explore the Space Garden and get a virtual experience of a Space Shuttle launch. There are many 3D film experiences and exhibits telling the tale of the Space Race.

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One of the best things to do is take a two-hour boat trip with Island Boat Line Eco Tours through the small barrier islands known as Thousand Islands on the Banana River, part of the Indian River Lagoon. The tours depart from the E. Merritt Island Causeway near the sunset Waterfront Grill and Bar.  The trips are on pontoon boats on calm waters and are led by a certified captain and a professional naturalist. They do a great job of spotting wildlife, including herons, alligators, frogs, turtles and generally an endangered manatee or two. In the nesting season, the island trees are covered in nests of herons, egrets and even pelicans, sitting on huge nests.

There are many more fun and interesting things to do and see so do check out “Days Out Around Cocoa Beach (available in all formats) which has 15 more places to visit. The Villages residents will also find this a useful addition to my “The Villages” series of books.

 

 

 

 

 

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Visit the Home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Visit the Home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Anyone interested in reading or discovering more about Florida history will appreciate a day out at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, located between Ocala and Gainesville. This attraction is centered on the simple homestead and 72-acre citrus estate where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings created 10 books and 33 short stories including her best-known novel, The Yearling. Many of the tales are set in the rural landscape of Central Florida and feature some of Rawlings own staff and friends. Unfortunately, she wove many of their antics into her stories and on more than one occasion was sued for doing so!

Cross Creek

A visit to the state park starts with a 30-minute drive from Ocala along the backroads of US-301 and CR 325, bowling along roads lined with fields, woodland, horses and agriculture with old farms and isolated houses scattered here and there. The simple cracker farmhouse is situated between two lakes at a small community called Cross Creek, the name of her autobiography. Once at the Rawlings estate you will notice the tranquility of this area, broken only by the sound of happy birds and insects chirping in the undergrowth. Huge live oaks are draped with yards of grey Spanish moss drifting in the afternoon breeze.

Visitors are requested to pay a fee of $3 into the honesty box to wander freely around the grounds and outbuildings of the farm as well as enjoying the two short nature trails nearby. To fully appreciate the home, visit on Thursdays through Sundays between October and July when guided tours are given throughout the day.

The guides all wear 1930s dress appropriate to country living which sets the scene for learning more about the home, the author herself, her books and rural life. Tours start in the barn and progress through the cracker-style farmhouse which is furnished with Rawlings’ belongings. It recreates the home as it was in the 1930s. The house has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting room with bookshelves lined with Rawlings’ works and a formal dining room with fine Wedgewood china. In the screened porch her typewriter sits on a table made from the trunk of a palmetto palm tree. The farmhouse kitchen still has the original stove and equipment. Rawlings loved to entertain and she produced a cookbook which is open in the kitchen showing one of her recipes.

The gardens include a flower and vegetable patch, a duck pond and a productive citrus grove. The renovated barn has some interesting relics, antique carts and tools from the farm  in its operational heyday. Rawlings’ 1940 yellow Oldsmobile sits rusting beside the farmhouse.

There are many more fun and interesting things to do and see in Florida so do check out “20 Best Historic Homes in Florida” (available in all formats) which has 19 more places to visit. The Villages residents will also find this and ” Favorite Days Out in Central Florida from ‘The Villages’ Residents” a useful addition to my “The Villages” series of books.

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Alligators, Turkeys and Wild Boar at the Crescent J Ranch

 

Visit the Crescent J Ranch, a short drive from Kissimmee and take a wildlife tour on their swamp buggy. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing birds, alligators and tracks of wildlife in our 2-hour tour with a wonderful guide called Nancy. Here’s how the trip went…

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Surely the best way to see Florida’s wildlife is eight feet off the ground, sitting in a comfy seat with a naturalist providing a running commentary on all the animals, birds, and vegetation that come into view. This is pretty much what you get when you sign up for a two-hour fully guided coach safari with Forever Florida at the Crescent J. Ranch.

Forever Florida is part of a 4,700 acre eco ranch and conservation area which is carefully preserved as a habitat for an abundance of Florida’s indigenous wildlife, including one of the highest concentrations of endangered and threatened species. This biological hotspot has nine different ecosystems which are home to alligators, bobcats, white-tail deer, wild boar, black bears, panthers, possums, armadillos, foxes, otters, skunks, snakes, turtles, and wild turkey along with many bird species. This trip will introduce you to just some of this broad list of animals and birds who make their home in the preserve. You will certainly return home with plenty of new facts, photographs and experiences of Florida’s unique wildlife.

 

We took our seats aboard the swamp buggy, high above the sandy trail with great views from the open-sided vehicle. Our guide, Nancy, was soon pointing out an alligator and a turtle before we had barely left the ranch car park!  She gave us a brief history of how Dr. Broussard, a tenth generation rancher from Louisiana, bought the land in 1969 with a view to keeping it as a wildlife preserve. The family still own and live on the ranch, continuing to preserve the land under the Allen Broussard Conservancy, in memory of their son.

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The swamp buggy rumbles along the sandy trail beneath shady pine trees and out into open pasture. Around 1500 acres is used for raising cattle and horses and the remainder is a wilderness preserve. Solar-powered electric fences contain the grazing area on which Charolais cattle, horses and Cracker cattle could all be seen from our grandstand seating on wheels.

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As we drove along we stopped periodically to see alligators of all sizes from 12 inches to 12 feet in length. We saw plenty of animal tracks along the sandy trail and areas where wild boar had been scavenging for roots, leaving a destructive patch of earth. Streams and sloughs crossed the trail and cypress trees stood in ponds, their “knees” protruding from the water as part of their extensive root system. Pine flatwoods, saw palmetto, sabal palms, and plenty of wild flowers lined our path.

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Finally, we returned to the Visitor Center having thoroughly enjoyed the two-hour tour of the “real Florida”, getting up-close to many animals and learning about even more wildlife. Suitable for all ages, Forever Florida at the Crescent J Ranch is a great place to bring visitors and youngsters to experience what Florida is really all about!

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For the more energetic there is an alternative horseback safari which is so much fun along with a mega tree top zip line adventure.

If you enjoy exploring the Orlando area, you may be interested in my book of Days Out Around Orlando  which is available in all formats on Amazon.

 

 

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St Augustine – America’s Oldest European Settlement

St Augustine – America’s Oldest European Settlement

 

Many people complain that Florida has no real history. It’s true, it does not have much compared to Europe, but the history it does have is very impressive. For example, did you know that America’s oldest continuously occupied settlement is St Augustine in Florida?

The city was founded in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles on the feast day of St Augustine, hence the city got its name. In 1702 the city burnt down and was rebuilt in the shadow of the huge Castillo de San Marcus, Many of these 300-year old buildings can still be seen today, lining the pretty narrow streets of the old town.

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In 1883, railroad magnate Henry Flagler visited St Augustine on his honeymoon. He was so impressed with the area he returned again and stayed in the grand building of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, now occupied by Flagler College. Visitors began to follow his example and soon St Augustine was a popular tourist destination, as it continues to be today.

St Augustine Attractions

Modern-day visitors will find St Augustine is a charming and unique town with beautiful buildings, interesting attractions and a fascinating historic district. It is a compact city, easy to walk around with plenty of lovely cafés and high-end restaurants. Trolley tours are a great way to enjoy an informative tour of the main historic sites with an informative guide.

Oldest House

Stroll to the old fort overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, which is spanned by the Bridge of Lions. Explore the Colonial Spanish Quarter nearby with its charming higgledy-piggledy buildings including the oldest wooden schoolhouse. This cypress and red cedar building is encircled by a massive chain that anchors it to the ground during high winds! Take a ghost tour of the city or visit the incredible Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attraction nearby.

Enter the Old City Gate and wander along the cobblestone streets to the Plaza de la Constitution. St George Street is a traffic-free area with a collection of historic buildings and small shops selling ice cream, chocolates, gifts and antiques. Some of the interesting attractions include the Spanish Quarter Museum which has seven reconstructed buildings and costumed interpreters demonstrating crafts and skills from the mid-18th century.

King Street, St Augustine

In contrast, King Street is the heart of the more modern city. Lined with beautiful Spanish-influenced architecture, it is very pleasant to stroll along and admire the buildings such as Government House with its Spanish-style loggias and Zorayda Castle with its Arabic motifs, a replica of the fabulous <a href=” http://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/ “> Alhambra Palace </a> in Granada, Spain.

Further along King Street the Hispanic-Moorish building which was once the Alcazar Hotel now houses the impressive Tiffany glass and antiques of the Lightner Museum collection.

St Augustine is a delightful city to visit on a day trip if you live in north Florida, or for longer if you are visiting from afar.

 

I go into more detail in my book “20 Best Historic Homes in Florida” available in B & W and Color versions. It is also featured in my book ” 20 Best Florida Beaches and Coastal Cities “. Both the above are also available in the Kindle Store/

 

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Planning a Trip to New York City as a First-Time Visitor

Getting to New York City is easy. This exciting city welcomes over 50 million visitors every year. Whether you are arriving from another U.S. state, or making an international trip, flights to New York City are plentiful and cheap.

Airport Transfers

Transfers to New York City hotels from LaGuardia Airport, Newark Liberty Airport, or John F. Kennedy Airport can be booked online. Choose a shared shuttle transfer, or spoil yourself with a limo service. One thing you won’t want to do is rent a car in Manhattan. The easiest alternative is to use a yellow cab, sit back, and let your New York driver deal with the traffic. Cab drivers are usually happy to give you some tips for places to eat and things to do, so make the most of your 40-60 minute journey to pick up some local tips.

Best Places to Stay in New York City

There’s a wide choice of hotels in New York City, from the centrally located Novotel New York Times Square to cheaper hotels further south, such as the Wyndham New Yorker or the Holiday Inn New York City Wall Street. Manhattan is a compact island, just 13 miles long and about 2 miles wide. By booking a cheaper hotel further away from Times Square and using the underground, or walking, you can save money for special treats.

Finding Your Way Around

There are several fun ways for first-time visitors to get acquainted with the layout of New York City. Excursiopedia offers a choice of tours. Interactive, cell-phone guided walking tours of various districts are a fun way to learn about the city in the form of a game. There are guided walking tours, bus tours with a commentary, or leisurely horse-drawn carriage tours around Central Park. Book a Semi-Circle Boat Cruise and get some great photographs of the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline from the water.

How to Get a Great Deal for a Broadway Show

Attending a Broadway Show is a must-do for first time visitors to New York City. There’s something for all ages and tastes, from The Lion King to Les Miserables. You can easily browse all the current shows and musicals on ScoreBig and book tickets direct from their website. If you have no particular preference which show you see, the TKTS ticket booth on Times Square has last-minute bargains. It is at the junction of Broadway and 47th Street, and is usually open daily from 3pm to 8pm.

Where to Go Shopping in New York City

Most people want to hit the shops of New York City for some retail therapy. You’ll find Macy’s department store on Herald Square (West 34th St), just off Broadway. The Burlington Coat Factory has the same brands for less on Union Square, a short walk south from Macy’s. Bloomingdale’s is another New York institution, on 3rd Avenue. Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District is a great place to buy foodie souvenir gifts.

Any visit to New York City is exciting, and you’ll probably find your first visit won’t be your last!

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What, Where, When, and How on Your Cancún Vacation

Cancún, on the spit of sand between the Nichupté Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean, is a tropical vacation paradise in the Gulf of Mexico. Most tourists stay on the beach in the Hotel Zone, but it’s worth venturing into the authentic downtown area for shopping, inexpensive restaurants, and a taste of local Mexican culture.

Cancun Beach

Photo by Manuel Villanueva via Trover.com

Where to Stay in Cancún

Cancún’s 14-mile long crescent of sand is lined with modern Cancún hotels, from cozy air-conditioned rooms at the Hotel Sotavento & Yacht Club to all-inclusive luxury at the Riu Palace Peninsula. If you prefer an apartment, you’ll find plenty to choose from to suit all budgets, such as the mid-priced Brand New Luxury Beachfront Suite which sleeps four guests in a well-equipped suite overlooking the beach.

How to Get Around in Cancún

Buses frequently run the length of the Hotel Zone along the four-lane Boulevard Kukulcán. They connect the beaches with downtown Cancún, about 20 minutes away on the mainland.

What to Eat in Cancún

Fresh seafood and fish are cooked using traditional recipes to create some delicious, relatively inexpensive cuisine. Local restaurants create Mexican fare, such as tacos, quesadillas, and tamales, while more international cuisine is served at hotel buffets. American steaks, Thai, Chinese, Caribbean, and Italian cuisine are all widely available.

Where to Find the Best Beaches in Cancún.

Wherever you choose to stay in the Hotel Zone you will be within easy strolling distance of endless sand and the warm clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. Most of the best beaches in Cancún are located on the ocean side of Blvd Kukulcán. Many beaches can only be accessed by walking through the hotel lobby, although you have to be a hotel resident to use the sunbeds and facilities.

A breezy ferry trip away, there are yet more gorgeous sandy beaches around the car-free Isla Mujeres. It’s a great place for snorkeling right off the beach.

What to Do in Cancún

Wave runners, parasailing, sailing, fishing charters, snorkeling and diving trips, dolphin spotting cruises, and other water-based activities abound in Cancún. Garrafon Natural Reef Park is a popular attraction on the island of Isla Mujeres for snorkeling and scuba diving on the Great Maya Reef. This eco-park also offers dolphin encounters, hammocks, kayaking, cycle tours, and a thrilling zip-line.

Take a trip to the Mayan archeological site at Chichen Itza, or learn more about Mayan culture and history at the INAH Museum or the Zona Arqueologica El Rey.

The unusual Cancún Underwater Museum has 500 submerged contemporary sculptures which can be seen from a glass-bottom boat or by snorkeling and diving. The museum also has a “dry” exhibition of sculptures on Kukulcán Plaza in Cancún.

Underwater exhibits

Photo by Miriam Nolte via Trover.com

When to Visit Cancún

The peak tourist season is from December to April, as many people escape the cold northern winters. However, Cancún remains a warm and sunny destination all year round with lower prices after Easter. The hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, but it rarely affects Cancún.

With regular flights to Cancún from all over the world, it’s definitely a place to put on your bucket list.

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