Behind the Scenes at the Edison Ford Estate

Behind the Scenes at the Edison Ford Estate

One of the most visited attractions in Fort Myers is the Edison Ford Winter Homes Estates. Located right on the riverfront just a short distance from downtown Fort Myers, it was one of the first developments of this small cattle-ranching town in 1886. The estate straddles busy McGregor Boulevard with the Laboratory, Ticket Office, Museum and Gift Shop on one side and the houses and gardens on the other. Any visit will necessitate crossing the road at the pedestrian crossing.


The most noticeable thing you will see as you drive into the 13-acre estate is the huge banyan tree. It covers an acre with its many aerial roots and was planted by Edison in his quest to find the best source of latex for producing rubber. It is now the largest banyan tree in America.

There are several buildings which you can browse around with a self-guided audio tour or you can join one of the many docent-led tours on offer. The themed tours include Garden Tours with a horticulturist, Lab Tours of Edison’s restored botanical laboratory, Behind the Scenes Tours with a historian and even a Holiday Nights Tour in season. Without exception the tours are all very interesting and cover Edison’s personal life, his wife Mina, his many inventions (he had over 1000 patents) and the winter homes belonging to Edison and Henry Ford. Overlooking the wide Caloosahatchee River, boat tours are also available from the long pier leading out from the gardens.

Edison lived in Seminole Lodge and the accommodation is divided between the family home and the guest house which are linked by a pergola. Furnishings are surprisingly simple, but this was never Edison’s main residence. He visited Fort Myers for a few months a year to escape the cold New Jersey winters.


The other house on the property, the Mangoes, was the winter home of his good friend Henry Ford and there is a garage with a couple of Ford’s historic vehicles on show. Be aware that only the Behind-the-Scenes Tour gives visitors access into the properties; the other tours allow visitors to see the furnished homes through the open doors and windows, but the views and photo opportunities are pretty good. The humidity near the river and high temperatures make the homes pretty hot to tour as they are not air-conditioned.

Keen gardeners will really enjoy browsing the extensive gardens. Early summer is a great time to visit when many of the flowers and trees are in full bloom. There are hibiscus, euphorbia, trumpet trees, tulip trees, bright red Poinciana trees, gingers, orchids and many other tropical plants. Each specimen is clearly labeled, making any tour of the gardens an informative treat for gardeners. The Moonlight Garden with its small reflecting pool is one of the most tranquil spots and marks the footprint of Edison’s original laboratory. There is also an above-ground swimming pool complete with diving boards which the six Edison children no doubt enjoyed, and a caretaker’s house. The Ford caretaker’s home is now a gift shop.

The restored Botanical Laboratory is really not terribly exciting in my opinion. Recently opened after a $1 million restoration, it looks like a typical 1920s machine shop with work benches set out with test tubes and bottles.  However, the Museum is full of interesting memorabilia, photographs and Edison’s main inventions including the phonograph and his long-lasting light bulbs that revolutionized the world.

There are many more fun and interesting things to do and see so do check out “Days Out Around Fort Myers (available in all formats) which has 15 more places to visit. 

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Key West – America’s Southernmost City

Key West – America’s Southernmost City

 The isolated island of Key West marks the southernmost point of the United States. Situated at the end of the 106-mile long Overseas Highway which links the chain of islands hanging off the southern tip of Florida, Key West has inevitably developed as a haven for artists, writers, divers, fishing enthusiasts and those wanting to escape run-of-the-mill life in mainstream America.

Getting to Key West

Until the Florida East Coast Railway was built from Miami to Key West in 1912, this tiny community was accessible only by boat. Visitors today arrive by private boat, car, airplane into the tiny airport, ferry from Fort Myers or by cruise ship.

The railway line never recovered from devastating damage caused by the category five hurricane on Labor Day in 1935 when a storm surge of 18-20 feet caused damage not only to the railway but also to many of the upper Florida Keys. The surviving infrastructure was used as a foundation for extending the two-lane US-1 from Miami to Key West, completed in 1938.

Things to See and Do in Key West

Key West covers a total area of just 7.4 square miles and its high point is a mere 18 feet above sea level. What it lacks in size it makes up for in spirit with a lively celebration at sunset each evening on Mallory Square. Locals and visitors alike gather to toast the sun going down and to look for the green flash that can occasionally be seen as the sun’s orb disappears below the horizon. Cocktails are served from surrounding bars and street entertainers are on hand to offer some amazing performances at this nightly party. Jugglers, magicians, buskers and animal trainers all mix with tattooed bikers and yuppy yacht-owners at this vibrant sunset celebration.

After dark the action moves to Duval Street where bars host live bands and wet T-shirt contests. One of the best known locations is Sloppy Joe’s, once the haunt of writer Ernest Hemingway. You can check out what’s happening at the webcam hosted by the bar here. Alternatively, join the fun at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville Café nearby.

The buildings and mansions in the Key West Historic District (including Mallory Square and Duval Street) were mostly built between 1886 and 1912. The charming Victorian architecture contains some of Key West’s museums and is painted in charming pastel colors now known as “Key West style”. The New Town was developed on a landfill site in the 1940s and includes the airport, schools, motels, residential areas and shopping malls.

Little White House

Some of Key West’s
most famous residents include President Harry Truman who once resided in the Little White House. This delightful building now houses a museum of his life. Ernest Hemingway wrote several of his well known novels during his time at 907 Whitehead Street, in a house given to him and his wife Pauline as a wedding present in 1931. The house is now a popular museum of his life and works and is still populated by the many-toed cats that Hemingway kept as pets.

There are a host of activities in Key West to suit every age and taste. Stroll the streets picking up souvenirs or browsing the many colorful art galleries. Take a tour on the Conch Train that runs around the island’s landmarks offering an informative commentary or visit the mansions and gardens which depict the tropical Key West lifestyle. Take a snorkeling or diving trip or join a sport fishing charter for some of the most exciting fishing around. Visit the old lighthouse or spend the day relaxing on the soft white sand of Smathers Beach where the shallow waters are always warm.


Whatever you choose to do make sure you relax, enjoy some of the freshest seafood anywhere and let your hair down in this laidback island paradise.

There are many more fun and interesting things to do and see so do check out “20 Best Florida Beaches and Coastal Cities (available in all formats) which has 19 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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Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour

Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour

Unbelievably, I had lived in the Orlando area for 6 years before I heard a whisper about the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. I had to ask the Manager of the Publix in Orlando, a life-long Orlando resident, how to find it! A hidden treasure indeed and a great place to take visiting guests.

This one-hour boat trip cruises through the natural beauty of the lakes and canals around historic Winter Park in northeast Orlando. The scenic boat tour leaves the dock every day except Christmas Day. First trips are at 10 a.m. and run hourly thereafter until 4 p.m. At peak times two or three boats run, so you should easily be able to just turn up and get a ride.

Here’s a useful tip – Buy your ticket early and then go for a walk around the town. When the boat is loaded, parties are called by name in the order they bought the tickets, so early ticket-buyers get to pick the best seats.

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The pontoon boats are very stable and suitable for the shallower waters in the canals which connect the lakes, but they have no awning to protect from the sun (or the showers!) due to the low bridges. Bench seats are provided for around 18 passengers. The ticket office stands on the edge of the lake and opens before the first trip of the day just before 10 a.m. Benches under a canopy are provided on the dock whilst you wait for the boat to arrive. The boat skippers are excellent tour narrators and they give a good patter about the sights and the wildlife, a few corny jokes and will happily answer any questions.

The boat trip begins on Lake Osceola where there are many multi-million dollar homes along the shores. After navigating through the interconnecting canal, the trip continues
around Lake Virginia. The lake is shared with other boats, fishermen, jet skis and even a water-skier or two. Expect to see plenty of birds such as blue herons, which were nesting in the trees during my early-April trip. There are egrets, ducks and ducklings, anhingas, little blue herons and even osprey living in the live oaks which hang over the lake. Bougainvillea, sleeping hibiscus and plenty of bamboo add to the natural interest.

The exclusive Rollins College campus is spread along the edge of Lake Virginia with some fine buildings and it is the source of some interesting facts and anecdotes. After returning and traversing Lake Osceola along the eastern shore the boat then navigates through the winding Venetian canal and Lake Maitland opens out before you. The Kraft Azalea Park is a picture in early spring. Enjoy viewing the beautiful gardens and multi-million dollar mansions which are the winter homes of wealthy American families.

After a most enjoyable hour the trip ends back at the dock and you probably feel in need of refreshment. Park Avenue in Winter Park is a short walk from the lake. It is a delightful upmarket collection of shops and cafés in which to browse and dine. Across the road are the Amtrak station and a beautiful park with fountains, a heavenly scented rose garden and a pergola. This is also the location of the delightful Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.

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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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.


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.


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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