With its varied landscape, freshwater springs, and endless amount of nature activities, Florida is an outdoor lover’s dream. Whether your client wants to get up-close to wildlife, skydive from 14,000 ft. or play a round of golf where the masters do, this is the state to do it in.
HIKING AND BIRDING
Florida offers hikers and birdwatchers a variety of trails, landscapes and wildlife to explore—with elevation increasing from below sea level to just 345 ft.; the scenery switching from the mangroves in the Everglades to the sand pines in the Ocala National Forest; and over 500 species of birds to spot.
For hikers, the Florida National Scenic Trail, one of only 11 national scenic trails in the U.S., stretches from the Everglades up to Pensacola. The trail is 1,300 miles long, and one of the most popular spots for hiking, says VISIT FLORIDA Nature and Outdoor Insider Kevin Mims, is the Suwannee River section. Currently about 70 miles in length—upon completion it will extend to 106 miles—and running from Key Largo to Key West, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail is also great for cycling and hiking, and history buffs will want to know that it incorporates 23 of the historic Flagler Railroad bridges.
Another trail that is popular throughout Florida is The Great Florida Birding Trail, a 2,000-mile-long highway trail that connects nearly 500 birding sites. The trail is divided into four sections: East, West, South Florida and Panhandle. Gadsden County, located in the Panhandle section, offers three sites for the birding trail. Clients looking for other outdoors activities in this area have the Whippoorwill Sportsman’s Lodge (fishthewhip.com) in Quincy, located right on Lake Talquin, whose southern and southwestern shores is in Lake Talquin State Forest. The lodge, meanwhile, offers cabins and cottages, as well as boat rentals and fishing guides.
The Tallahassee area features more than 30 sites along the trail with 372 out of the 497 verified species of birds that make their home in Florida. Tallahassee also has three annual birding events: the 2-day Wakulla Wildlife Festival in March; the Monarch Butterfly Festival in October, with exhibits, demonstrations and tours; and the Wildlife Heritage Outdoor Festival in February. For clients looking to stay in the heart of Tallahassee, suggest The Governors Inn (thegovinn.org).
In the West section of The Great Florida Birding Trail, the Twin Rivers State Forest has two tracts in Madison County on the Twin Rivers Birding Trail. One of the options, the Ellaville Tract, offers visitors more than five miles of trail along the Suwannee River—great for taking in the scenery and songbirds.
A resort that is recommended in the area is the Honey Lake Plantation Resort and Spa (honeylakeplantation.com). “Due to the rural nature of our area, there are few large hotels and resorts,” says Bryan Thomas, director of Visit Natural North Florida. “However, one of the finest resorts you’ll find anywhere is the recently completed Honey Lake Plantation in Greenville (Madison County).” The resort, located on Honey Lake and near the Suwannee River, offers a sport shooting multiplex, wildlife and plantation tours, world-class classic hunting, and Florida freshwater spin and fly-fishing.
Also in Madison near Tallahassee, Grace Manor Bed & Breakfast Inn (gracemanorinn.com) offers guests Southern hospitality and charm with its inviting verandah and classic parlor.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Alachua County, which provides access to The Great Florida Birding Trail, is only 20 minutes from downtown Gainesville and home to 100 species of birds in the summer and up to 271 in the winter. Cyclists can also bike along Paynes Prairie and to the east end of the Hawthorne Trail, a 16-mile trail connecting Gainesville to Hawthorne. The trail has an old rail bed now paved for bikes.
Located within 30 minutes of most of these outdoor activities, Gainesville’s Historic Bed & Breakfast District offers plenty of lodging options for your clients. Recommend the Sweetwater Branch Inn (sweetwaterinn.com), a bed and breakfast with 18 rooms, suites and cottages.
Hernando County, meanwhile, is home to 10 locations on the trail and the Withlacoochee State Forest, named “Internationally Significant for Birds.” Some of the rare or endangered species include the burrowing owl, the red-cockaded woodpecker, and a variety of cranes.
A unique bird habitat in Central Florida is the Circle B-Bar Reserve in Polk County. The once-functioning cattle ranch spans more than 1,200 acres with trails through freshwater marsh, hardwood swamps and oak hammocks for birding by foot, car or bicycle. The Westgate River Ranch Resort (wgriverranch.com) in Polk is a dude ranch, providing guests with activities from trail rides and boat rental to a petting farm and trap & skeet range.
Over in Hendry County, there are five sites for the Great Florida Birding Trail and over 300 species of birds. The Big O Birding Festival also takes place every year in Hendry along Lake Okeechobee. “We are considered to be the ‘Gateway to the Everglades’ because of our elite exposure to Florida’s wildlife and nature here in Hendry,” says Jillian P. Sparks, Hendry County Tourism. “In 2008 we were No. 1 with the highest bird count in the ‘Backyard Bird Count’ and No. 5 in the nation.”
Also in Hendry County, visitors can take the LOST tour (Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail), which is free and can be accessed in Clewiston. The lake is 110 miles in circumference and encompassed by a dike with a path that is almost completely paved around. Clients looking to see more in the area can go on one of the Sugarland Tours in Clewiston, which showcases the area’s two biggest industries—sugar and citrus—via agricultural tours. The Clewiston Inn (clewistoninn.com) in downtown Clewiston is a National Historic Site originally built in 1926 and a great option for clients looking to spend the night in the area.
One destination that attracts many visitors is Falling Waters State Park in Washington County, home to Florida’s highest waterfall. One of the park trails takes visitors past a butterfly garden to see the native and migrating butterflies, and then down to the waterfall sinkhole to view the waterfall. This is just one of the many draws the county has to offer visitors. “Washington County is full of small town charm and Southern hospitality. It is full of ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, nature and cultural heritage tourism, and year-round festivals and special events,” says Joel Pate, chairman of the Washington County Tourist Development Council. “There is literally something offered for everyone. That’s why so many people who live here say they wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
PADDLING AND SWIMMING
Clients looking to get out on the water can visit one of the many springs, rivers and lakes in Florida to go paddling, swimming and tubing. “Florida is a paddler’s paradise, and there are so many great places to paddle,” says Kevin Mims, VISIT FLORIDA Outdoors and Nature Insider.
Charlotte Harbor features almost 200 miles of the Charlotte Harbor Blueway Trails, totaling 53 trails for kayaking and canoeing. The trail is also a segment of the Florida Circumnavigation Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 1,515-mile-long sea kayaking trail that includes every type of coastal habitat in Florida. Great for both beginners and experts, the Charlotte Harbor trails are one of the most popular activities in the area, according to Jennifer Huber, tourism public relations manager for the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau.
“Travel agents looking to send their clients somewhere ‘new’ in Florida will appreciate Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands. In addition to being a great value destination, we’re conveniently located between Fort Myers to the south and Sarasota to the north, yet still boast uncrowded beaches,” Huber says. “The area offers a variety of accommodations ranging from comfortable and independently owned resorts to familiar brand names to a variety of rental condos and homes, all of which are perfect retreats after a day of taking advantage of our good nature.”
Tallahassee is another great paddling destination that appeals to both beginning and experienced paddlers. Mims says a good place to paddle is on the Wakulla River, an easy paddle perfect for beginners, with the option of a 4- or 6-mile trip. He recommends using T-N-T Hideaway (tnthideaway.com) for kayak and canoe rentals. T-N-T also runs a Full Moon over the Wakulla River tour, taking paddlers down the river while the sun sets and moon rises. For clients staying in the region, suggest Hotel Duval (hotelduval.com), part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, the only boutique hotel in Tallahassee. Or, recommend a historic property in Monticello, near Wakulla Springs, such as The Daffodale House Estate (daffodaleestate.com), dating back to 1897 and offering ghost tours and tea parties, as well as a 3-acre camellia garden; or the 1872 John Denham House (johndenhamhouse.com), a 13-room Victorian mansion built by a cotton trader who shipped goods back and forth from New York.
In Taylor County, the Steinhatchee Landing Resort (steinhatcheelanding.com), about a 1.5-hour drive from Tallahassee on the Gulf Coast, provides upscale rental cottages and can arrange fishing charters for clients interested in a retreat that’s a bit more hidden. Taylor County is also one of the few places in Florida where your clients can harvest scallops. A fun family activity, scalloping can be done along the entire coastline at areas like Keaton Beach, Hagen’s Cove and Steinhatchee. Scallop season runs July 1 through Sept. 10 and all your clients need is a snorkel mask, fins (or water shoes), a mesh bag to hold the scallops, and access to a boat.
Also in North Florida, Mims recommends paddlers take a trip on the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail because it is “one of the most well-developed paddling trails anywhere, with a network of developed river camps about every 10 miles or so.
“This is a great place for a family that wants to spend a few days on the water. It’s especially scenic on the upper section of the river,” he says.
Are your clients looking for something more off the beaten path? Suggest taking a guided kayak tour out of Blue Spring State Park in West Volusia, which is also a manatee refuge where more than 300 manatees gather from November to March.
“The numerous blueway trails along the St. Johns River provide miles of unspoiled natural beauty teaming with wildlife to observe from canoes and kayaks,” says Renee Tallevast, executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority. Visitors can also enjoy the river from on board a river cruise, learning about the nature of the area along the way.
“Four river tour boat companies provide access and excursions that reveal interesting tales of the river’s history and ecology with sightings of alligators and manatees along the way,” Tallevast says. St. Johns River Cruises (sjrivercruises.com) offers wildlife and nature cruises, as well as guided kayak tours and rentals, and Blue Heron River Tours (blueheronrivertours.com) offers daily 2-hour eco-nature tours.
“Taking a river cruise or kayaking or airboating on the unspoiled St. Johns River is about as ‘off-the-beaten-path’ as you can get,” Tallevast says. “Our multi-use trails meander through shaded canopies of wild habitats where there’s a good chance you will see a black bear, wild turkeys, deer, foxes and more.”
Tallevast also recommends airboat rides and tours near DeLeon Springs State Park for a “wilder ride.”
Over in Levy County, also known as the “Springs Capital of the World,” one-fifth of the county is set aside for state and national wildlife areas, so visitors will find plenty of parks, preserves and springs. In Cedar Key, sea kayakers can paddle the Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 105-mile trail through clear water filled with manatees, sea turtles and rays. Donna Creamer, executive director of Pure Water Wilderness, recommends Kayak Cedar Keys (kayakcedarkeys.com) for kayak rentals in the area.
About an hour and 20 minutes away in Citrus County, Crystal River is home to more than 400 West Indian manatees. If your clients would like to take a tour and swim with the manatees, suggest Captain Mike’s Sunshine River Cruises (sunshinerivertours.com). Plantation on Crystal River (plantationoncrystalriver.com), an eco-friendly and green lodging luxury resort, can also organize river boat tours and boat rentals.
Clients looking to go tubing have a few places to choose from in Columbia County, including Ichetucknee Springs River, which receives 200,000 visitors annually, and Ginnie Springs, on the Santa Fe River. The Santa Fe River, in High Springs, is also one of the best spots in the region to go canoeing. Adventure Outpost (adventureoutpost.net) offers guided tours on both the Ichetucknee and the Santa Fe River as well as canoe and kayak rentals.
BOATING AND FISHING
Boaters and fishing aficionados of all types are sure to find an activity they’ll enjoy at one of the state’s many rivers, lakes or beaches. Whether your client is looking for a boating competition, fishing getaway or family trip on a river, Florida has plenty to offer.
The Florida Keys are a water-lover’s paradise for many reasons. Islamorada has a reputation for being the “Sport Fishing Capital of the World,” thanks to all of the skilled fishing captains in the area. While over in Marathon, clients can go tarpon fishing at the Seven Mile and Bahia Honda bridges. Clients looking to fish out by the reef can take a party boat, such as Marathon Lady (305-743-5580), to the Dry Tortugas.
Tranquility Bay Beach House Resort (tranquilitybay.com) in Marathon has 2- and 3-bedroom beach houses with porches overlooking the water. The resort even has an adventure fishing director to help your client plan a fishing trip.
In Key West, spectators can enjoy the Key West World Championship, a powerboat race that takes place each November. The Ocean Key Resort & Spa (oceankey.com) is a great option since it’s tucked between the harbor and Mallory Square, where visitors head every evening to watch the sunset celebration.
With 20 marinas in Lee County, visitors can choose from a variety of charter and sightseeing cruises in the Fort Myers and Sanibel area. Clients can take a boat and go island hopping between Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key and Boca Grande or take sailing courses out of Captiva Island and Fort Myers Beach with Offshore Sailing School (offshoresailing.com).
The Fort Myers-Sanibel area is also known as the “Tarpon Capital of the World” and has the “Fishingest Bridge in the U.S.” Visitors can go on guided or solo fishing trips on party or charter boats, as well as fish inshore in the winter and or head to the piers and jetties in the summer.
The South Seas Island Resort (southseas.com) in Captiva Island allows guests to fish anywhere on the 330-acre resort island village and offers fishing charters and boat rentals.
Farther north, halfway between Tampa and Naples, is Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands, which offers diverse salt- and freshwater fishing with its access to the Gulf of Mexico, Charlotte Harbor and the Peace and Myakka rivers. The harbor is also a great spot for sailing, recognized by SAIL magazine as one of the top 10 sailing destinations in the U.S.
“Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream playground with the state’s second largest harbor as the crown jewel,” says Huber, tourism public relations manager for the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau. “If up for a challenge, they can join a guide to fish for the silver king in the ‘Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World.’”
King Fisher Fleet (kingfisherfleet.com) in Punta Gorda is a great option for sightseeing cruises, as well as deep-sea charter fishing in the Gulf and back bay fishing in the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve.
Clients seeking accommodations with laid-back luxury may enjoy Punta Gorda’s The Wyvern Hotel (thewyvernhotel.com). Also in the area, tucked away on a 2-mile stretch of beach only accessible by boat or car ferry, is the Palm Island Resort (palmisland.com) in Cape Haze. The resort is only a 6-minute ferry ride from the mainland and offers light tackle fishing, shoreline and dock fishing, and boating on the Intracoastal.
Clients interested in freshwater fishing may want to visit Lake Okeechobee in Hendry County, also known as the No. 1 “Bass Fishing Lake.” “The lake level is perfect and the fishing has been record breaking to say the least,” says Clewiston Chamber director Jillian Sparks.
Polk County, meanwhile, is the “Largemouth Bass Capital of the World,” due to the largemouth bass fisheries in the region. “Our region is very well known for the outdoor pursuits that are prevalent in our area,” says Al Snow, communications specialist for Polk County Tourism & Sports Marketing. With 554 lakes to fish on, your clients have plenty to choose from in this region.
Lake County, too, is a fishing enthusiast’s dream as it’s home to more than 1,400 bodies of water and some of the best freshwater fishing and boating amenities in the region. Almost every lake has largemouth bass and crappie, and fishing tournaments take place each year in Lake County. “While many people come to Central Florida to enjoy theme parks, and the close proximity to Florida’s beaches, Lake County is home to many unique attractions and events that can’t be found anywhere else,” says Kelly LaFollette, director of the communications department for the Lake County Board of County Commissioners.
Some of the best spots in the area include Lake Harris and the St. Johns River.
For boat and cottage rentals, suggest The Castaways on the River (castawaysontheriver.com) in Astor.
With St. Johns River being Florida’s longest river, at 342 miles, this is an idyllic waterway for a fishing trip or tour in Seminole County. Captain Dana’s Fishing and Scenic Tours (407-645-5462) in Longwood offers bass or flats fishing, as well as scenic tours of the wetlands and forests.
Taylor County, too, is a hotspot for anglers hoping to reel in trophy-size catches of sea trout, redfish, grouper, sheepshead and more. The Econfina River is a great spot for flats fishing on the Gulf, and during the Fall months of October and November, anglers flock to the Steinhatchee River to catch spotted sea trout.
Home to big-name golfers like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, as well as golf tour events, Florida has a great selection of championship courses scattered around the state that will make your client feel like a champ when playing.
For clients heading to South Florida, recommend the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens (pgaresort.com), home to five golf courses and host of the Honda Classic. “With legendary player designers like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, and three generations of the Fazio family represented by our five outstanding courses, we have a diversity of layouts appealing to a wide array of player types,” says Joel Paige, vice president and managing director of PGA National Resort & Spa.
The resort completed a $100 million revitalization last year and has received many awards, including GOLF Magazine’s Silver Award in 2011 for the “Top 100 Premier Resorts” and was a AAA four-diamond resort in 2011.
Another luxury resort featuring a superb golf course is the Boca Raton Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort (bocaresort.com). The resort features two 18-hole championship courses, as well as a golf academy with the Dave Pelz Scoring Game School.
Naples is known as the “Golf Capital of the World” for obvious reasons as it has the second most golf holes per capita in the U.S. Clients looking for luxury accommodations and a golf club have The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples (ritzcarlton.com) and the 36-hole Tiburon Golf Club, located behind the resort.
“The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort is the perfect travel destination for golf enthusiasts because guests will enjoy golf on the Greg Norman-designed championship Tiburon golf course, which is also the newest location for the PGA TOUR Academy and the state-of-the art TaylorMade Performance Lab,” comments Bruce Seigel, director of sales and marketing for The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples. “Additionally, guests staying at our golf resort can enjoy all the amenities at our beach resort, (The Ritz-Carlton Resort, Naples), which includes our 51,000-sq.-ft. spa.”
For clients looking to play golf near the beach, The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club (naplesbeachhotel.com) is southwest Florida’s only beachfront hotel with onsite golf. The greens and tees were refurbished in 2010 and the fairways were refurbished in summer of 2011, making sure that the facilities are up to par.
Farther south, Miami has a whole month dedicated to golf in April, with specials at resorts and courses in the area.
One of four World Golf Championship events takes place in Doral—the CA Championship. Golf aficionados will get a kick out of playing where the pros play at the TPC Blue Monster, one of the most challenging courses, located at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa (doralresort.com). The resort is now part of the Trump Hotel Collection and is going through a $200 million transformation, renovating the resort and adding a new golf course, The Jim McLean Signature Course.
At Turnberry Isle Miami (turnberryislemiami.com), your clients can choose from two Raymond-Floyd-redesigned championship level golf courses—Miller and Soffer. The courses offer 36 holes set in a tropical landscape.
The 18-hole Biltmore Golf Course designed by Donald Ross at The Biltmore (biltmorehotel.com) in Coral Gables has also drawn famous players since it was completed in 1925 (it underwent a complete renovation a few years back)—from Gene Sarazen to Tiger Woods. The hotel, only seven miles from Miami International Airport, is a National Historic Landmark with 275 guestrooms, 130 Mediterranean-styled suites and two Presidential Suites.
Home to legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge (bayhill.com) in Orlando boasts a champion 18-hole course and golf academy, for clients interested in improving their skills with the same principles Arnold Palmer was taught by his father. In addition, Bay Hill hosts the annual PGA Tour’s Bay Hill Invitational.
“Guests come to Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge looking for an unforgettable golf experience, exceptional dining, comfortable accommodations and a full-service spa & salon. What they discover is so much more than that—it’s an inviting atmosphere where guests are made to feel welcome by a staff known for genuine, personalized service. It keeps them coming back again and again,” says Ray Easler, general manager at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
Also in Orlando, Reunion Resort (reunionresort.com) has three signature courses designed by Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson, each with its own challenging layout.
The Jacksonville area features two great golf destinations, Sawgrass Marriott (sawgrassmarriott.com) in Ponte Vedra Beach, and Renaissance World at Golf Village (marriott.com), 30 minutes south of downtown Jacksonville. Sawgrass Marriott features THE PLAYERS Stadium Course, which is ranked among the top 80 golf courses in the world by Golf Magazine, with the famous 17th hole.
“For the quintessential Florida golf experience, save a few bucks and get to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass,” says VISIT FLORIDA Golf Insider John Schwarb. “The world-famous island-green 17th hole will be in your head from the moment you book the tee time to your flight to your drive to the course. Hit the green on your first shot and you’ve got bragging rights forever. The rest of the course is pretty stout, too.” As if that weren’t enough inspiration to send your clients out to the resort, Ponte Vedra Beach is also home to the PGA Tour.
Tampa, meanwhile, isn’t left behind with two golf resorts for your clients to choose from: Saddlebrook Resort (saddlebrook.com) and Innisbrook Resort (innisbrookgolfresort.com). Saddlebrook, in Wesley Chapel, has two 18-hole courses designed by Palmer, as well as BannLynch Golf, which has programs developed by famous golf coaching duo Steve Bann and Dale Lynch.
In addition to its golf facilities, Saddlebrook boasts other features for your clients. “Saddlebrook is the perfect destination resort for families and in particular family reunions!” says Johnnie Giffin, leisure travel director for Saddlebrook Resort. “Our best assets are a self-contained resort atmosphere in an upscale gated residential community, luxurious suite accommodations providing all the comforts of home, and resort activities offering golf, tennis, spa, SKIDS club, superpool, dining and more.”
Meanwhile, Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort, has the Copperhead course, where the PGA Tour visits each March for the Transitions Championship.
Adventure-seekers of all sorts can find a slew of sports in Florida, whether by land, air or sea. From ziplining across canyons to underwater cavern diving, your client will have their pick of adrenaline-rush activities.
For clients interested in true extreme sports, suggest Skydive DeLand (skydivedeland.com), located in West Volusia County. “Visitors are welcome to drop in anytime at Skydive DeLand, where they can take their vacation to new heights through tandem parachuting,” says Renee Tallevast, executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority. “One of the busiest drop zones in the world, Skydive DeLand is also the location where champion skydivers train for competition and foreign countries send their paratroopers for training.”
Another popular spot for skydiving is located about 20 minutes away from Tallahassee in Quincy. Skydive Tallahassee (skydivetallahassee.com) is one of the oldest skydiving schools in North Florida. Located in historic Quincy, The Allison House Inn (allisonhouseinn.com) was called “…a lovely little bed and breakfast” by Southern Living magazine. The award-winning, English-style bed and breakfast offers homemade muffins and breakfast breads, and gardens featuring a variety of flowers—everything a guest could want from a tucked-away B&B.
One of the main attractions for tourists in Hernando County is the “Great Outdoors,” says Tammy Heon, tourism development coordinator for the Hernando County Tourism Bureau. The Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, about an hour north of Tampa, features Florida’s only spring-fed waterpark, as well as live mermaid shows in the Mermaid Theatre located in the spring. The city of Weeki Wachee, also known as the “City of Live Mermaids,” is one of the smallest in the United States, with a population of nine, and the mayor is, of course, a former mermaid.
Hernando County is located in the very center of Florida and features a series of hills due to the Brooksville Ridge, making it a great place for golfers and motorcycle riders. One of the highlights of the area is the Withlacoochee State Forest about an hour from Orlando—deemed one of the 10 Coolest Places in North America by the World Wildlife Fund. The Croom Motorcycle Area is one reason why the park is so popular. With 2,600 acres of terrain ranging from hardwood hammocks to pits from old mining operations, off-highway motorcycle and ATV riders will find a variety of trails for all levels. It’s the only park in the state that allows children of any age to ride their own bike. Clients looking to rent ATVs, dirtbikes and gear can visit Croom ATV & Dirt Bike Rental (croomatvrental.com) in Brooksville, which also offers lessons and guided tours on the best trails.
Families looking for an activity they can do together can enjoy horseback riding in one of the many parks and equestrian centers throughout the state. Sunshine Riding Trails (sunshineridingtrails.com) in Chipley, about 30 miles north of Panama City Beach, offers 1- to 4-hour rides on one of its Tennessee walking horses. With access to over 10,000 acres of sandhills and preserved forests, your clients will have plenty to explore on these trails.
Ocala and Marion County is also known as “The Horse Capital of the World” with trail riding in the Ocala National Forest, Florida Greenway and Florida Horse Park. The Ocala National Forest has the One Hundred Mile Horse Trail that has three sections: the 40-mile Flatwoods Trail; the 40-mile Prairie Trail; and the 20-mile Baptist Lake Trail. Suggest that clients visit JNB Horse Haven Farm (352-753-4756), which has guided trail and wagon rides.
In Marion County, you can recommend the Shamrock Thistle & Crown Bed & Breakfast (shamrockbb.com), a 3-story Victorian bed and breakfast built in 1887 that at one time served as the tallest structure from Ocala to Leesburg. Clients who want to enjoy the beauty of the county in a smaller setting will enjoy staying at Shamrock.
While providing a variety of trails for horseback riding, Ocala also features ziplining across the canyon with The Canyons Zip Lines and Canopy Tours (zipthecanyons.com). Clients can zip across nine different lines or go across three rope and adventure bridges on one of the many tours offered.
About 35 miles southwest of Ocala is the Goethe State Forest that features 16 marked trails in 53,400 acres. “Goethe State Forest in Levy County is one of the top spots in the states,” says VISIT FLORIDA Nature Insider Kevin Mims. “They have a terrific trails network and host international equestrian events there.” The trail system goes throughout the forest and visitors have access at three different trailheads: Apex Trailhead, CR 337; Black Prong Trailhead, off of CR 337; and Tidewater Trailhead, bottom of CR 337.
With Florida’s beaches filled with reefs and shipwrecks, as well as freshwater springs and underwater caves, divers and snorkelers alike will find plenty of options for underwater exploring. Key Largo, also known as the “Dive Capital of the World,” has John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which Mims says is the place for snorkel and dive trips since visitors can snorkel right at the park or take a trip out to the reef.
Clients looking for a different kind of diving experience can head inland to Levy County to Fanning Springs State Park and the Blue Grotto (divebluegrotto.com). Levy County’s springs are considered a popular destination for scuba divers and visitors who want to swim or snorkel in the clear water. The Blue Grotto, located in Williston, is the largest clear water cavern in Florida, reaching down 100 ft. After diving, visitors can relax in the park and swim or picnic.
In Live Oak near Gainesville, Peacock Springs State Park features one of the longest underwater cave systems in the United States. With about 33,000 ft. of underwater passages, certified scuba divers have plenty to explore.
Baseball is a serious spectator sport in Florida, especially when it’s the 125th anniversary of Major League Baseball Spring Training in 2013. The Florida Grapefruit League season starts in late-February at 14 locations around the state, including the Atlanta Braves at the Walt Disney World Resort; Boston Red Sox home games in Lee County; the Houston Astros in Kissimmee; the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie; and the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater. It’s a don’t miss for any serious baseball fan.
SHOPPING HOT SPOTS AROUND THE STATES
Shopping can be seen as a sport for some, and with the amount of malls and shopping areas in the state, this is one sport your clients will need to pace themselves for.
If looking for a bargain, recommend the outlets at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise and the Orlando Premium Outlets at Vineland Avenue and International Drive. Sawgrass is the largest outlet and value store destination in the U.S. and features stores such as David Yurman, Barneys New York and Polo Ralph Lauren. The mall recently added new stores like UGG Australia and DKNY, and will continue adding shops, including Old Navy, Diane Von Furstenberg and Columbia Sportswear. Dolphin Mall, in Miami, is another go-to destination for outlet shopping, with stores like Last Call by Neiman Marcus and Coach Factory Store. It’s partnered with nearby hotel, EuroSuites Hotel, making a shopping getaway even easier for your clients.
Florida is no stranger to luxury stores either. Bal Harbour Shops in Miami offers an open-air space nothing short of spectacular with designer shops such as Chanel, Prada and Yves Saint Laurent. Similar to Bal Harbour, Merrick Shops in Coral Gables, is an open-air mall with over 100 shops including luxury stores Burberry, Etro and Jimmy Choo.
Heading south from Coral Gables, there’s The Falls, the largest open-air shopping center in the U.S. with more than 100 stores, including Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.
Mary Brickell Village in Brickell, near Downtown Miami, has a mix of restaurants and cafes, along with upscale shops, designed around a “village-like setting.”
The Design District in Miami also offers shoppers high-end stores sprinkled among the art galleries and design firms in the neighborhood. Home to Louis Vuitton, Marni and Maison Martin Margiela, this chic up-and-coming neighborhood is a don’t-miss.
C. Madeleine’s vintage store in Miami takes fashionistas through the decades with its treasure trove of vintage clothing and accessories, not to mention classic vintage designer finds, too.
Palm Beach is where the rich and famous come to play—and shop—with the renowned Worth Avenue shops, and The Gardens Mall, with 160 specialty shops located on PGA Blvd.
Nearby in Boca Raton, the Town Center has six department stores—including Bloomingdale’s and Saks—and a great selection of upscale shops, like Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch.
For the ultimate mall experience, suggest the Mall at Millenia in Orlando, near the outlets. The mall has a section with top high-end stores like Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and Rolex, along with other mall-favorites like Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch and Forever 21.
STAR SPOTTING AT THE SONY OPEN
While celebrity sightings are the norm in Miami, visitors will have the chance to be in the same vicinity as some high-profile celebrities during the Sony Open Tennis. Tennis fans—along with sports stars and big-name musicians—flock to Miami every year for the 2-week tennis tournament. This year is the 29th edition, which will take place March 18-31, 2013 at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park in Key Biscayne. Top players from around the world in both men’s and women’s tennis will compete in the tournament, one of nine ATP Masters 1000 Series events. In addition to tennis, the event features musical performances, high fashion, food and shopping. Families can see animals from Zoo Miami on the entertainment stage and attendees can pose for photos with the Miami Dolphin Cheerleaders at various events scheduled throughout the tournament. Ticket packages start at $128.