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Myakka River State Park has a Airboat Tour – all aboard!

Myakka River State Park has a Airboat Tour – all aboard!

Don’t let a little mystery keep you from going to Myakka River State Park and  taking a Myakka Wildlife Airboat Tour aboard one of the world’s largest covered airboats.

The mystery? Prior to the 1850’s English maps called the river the Asternal River. Then a Seminole Indian told a surveyor the river’s name was “Myakka”. The name was changed. But no one can figure out how to translate the word “Myakka”. Who knows what it means?

This mystery hardly matters to the steady stream of people eager to take a tram or airboat tour, or both. The first task: search for a parking place near the Tram & Airboat Ticket Booth inside Myakka River State Park near Sarasota.

Airboat Tours at Myakka River State Park fill up fast

Winter airboat tour schedule (Dec. 16-May 3) has boats departing at 10 a.m. 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Arrive 30 minutes ahead of time to, hopefully, be assured of a seat. Ticket sales stop five minutes before departure. Cost is $14 plus tax for an adult $7 plus tax for children ages 6-12. Children under the age of five admitted free in adult’s lap.

In the summer months, airboat rides leave at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Hurricane season is June 1 through Nov. 30 so it is always a good idea to call ahead and see if the weather makes this trip a “go” or “no go”.  Call 941-365-0100 

photo by myakka wildlife tours

Be advised the ticket booth is three miles inside the park entrance. After paying the park fee it might seem going three miles on Park Drive will go by quickly. Not so, especially on weekends. A slow speed limit and several congested areas – the Canopy Walkway area and a bridge with sightseers and fishermen on both sides – means reduced driving.

Toss in bicycles on the road and walkers along the sides – you get the message – start out early to arrive on time for a tour.

The two airboats are named “Myakka Maiden” and “Gator Gal.” Ours on a recent Saturday morning was “Gator Gal.”

Myakka Wildlife Airboat Ride surprisingly quiet

I have to confess to being surprised they didn’t hand out earmuffs or earplugs. My only previous airboat ride was in the Everglades aboard a much smaller, uncovered boat with a huge motor on the back that roared at top volume. As we skimmed over the water flocks of birds rose up out of the grass in protest. Alligators slithered down the banks and disappeared into the mud. Truly we were alien invaders.

Not so on this airboat. It is positively quiet. You can hear the guide/captain speaking. No earmuffs needed. The airboat journey goes across the Upper Myakka Lake to see a whole lot of alligators along the shore and then comes back again. Takes about an hour.

The scenery is postcard perfect and the narration outstanding (suggestion: do bring money to give the guide a tip at the end, he earns it).

See Alligators on Airboat Tour inside Myakka River State Park

Our guide smoothly says this is a shallow lake, sixteen inches to three feet deep at most. Why we could get out and walk back to shore. Some look over the side at the brown water with relief. If the boat tips over we’re fine, right?

But then he questions if you’d want to get into the water with anywhere from 500 to 1000 alligators who live here. Everyone sits up a little straighter. The boat starts looking pretty good and solid.

Myakka wildlife airboat tour

I learned more about alligators in one hour than I’ve ever known. Yes, we saw a lot of them both swimming and sunning along the shore. That plus who knew there was a wild hog problem – and a trapper paid to remove pigs, just to keep the population down?

Turns out centuries ago Spanish explorers arrived in ships that had hogs in the hold. They let them go and then did roundups twice a year. Needless to say, some pigs just kept on moving on and now wild hogs are part of the Florida landscape.

Combine being on the water with blue skies, puffy white clouds, balmy breeze, and a sweeping wild Florida shoreline – all that plus great story telling adds up to an awesome airboat tour.

And if you want to know more about walks in the park, here is a review of the park’s famous Canopy Walk by Randy Eady https://www.afar.com/places/myakka-river-state-park-sarasota

 

More Airboat Tours

Two I’ve taken that were outstanding:

Near DeLand: The Fountain of Youth Eco/History boat tour, leaves from inside De Leon Springs State Park, four times a day and goes through Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.

Near Ocala: The glass-bottomed boat tour on the Silver River leaves inside Silver Springs State Park. Use the main entrance on Silver Springs Boulevard.

New Facebook Page

I invite you to “LIKE” my new Facebook page – Labyrinth of the week

Walk with me as I travel around Florida walking labyrinths for an upcoming book – and let’s share labyrinth stories!

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Florida Art Museums are Cool – Let’s Visit

Florida Art Museums are Cool – Let’s Visit

September in Florida can be cruel. An early morning breeze caresses our cheeks like a lover’s touch and then bam! An hour later the thrill of fall is gone, replaced by yet another hot day and humid night – enough already!

So here is your September survival plan – stay in air conditioning a little longer. But don’t do this at home. Head for your nearest Florida art museum. Seriously. The AC is turned on. Florida art museums have exciting exhibits you don’t want to miss. Gift shops are loaded with temptations. An art museum café is a great place for taking a food break.

Sounds like a plan. I beat the heat and head to St. Petersburg to see the special Escher exhibit (Aug. 22, 2015 through Jan. 3, 2016) at the Dali Museum.

Florida art museum, Dali window view, St. Petersburg
View of St. Pete waterfront from the second floor of the Dali Museum. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Escher has long fascinated me. His intricate playing with positive and negative space (birds flying one way with the spaces being birds flying the other way) makes the viewer wonder – how many levels of reality are there? Good question.

The Escher exhibit is included in the price of admission to the Dali. I recommend the free audio guides. Museum hours are 10-5 with extended hours on Thursday (10-8). Parking onsite costs $10 for non-members but there are nearby surface lots and street parking too.

Close by on Beach Drive the venerable Museum of Fine Arts has a visiting exhibit called Five Decades of Photography (June 20 through Oct. 4) and another one called 50 Artworks for 50 Years. Notice a lot of “5’s” in the titles? That is because in 2015 MFA celebrates 50 years as a Florida art museum.

See the admission page for fees. MFA is open Monday through Friday from 10-5, Thursday from 10-8 and Sunday from noon -5.

Come back to MFA for a launch party on Oct. 21 when, as part of their anniversary celebration, they will launch a new cookbook called Food and Art, their first new cookbook in 40 years.

Over the Skyway to a Unique Art Museum

Just over the Skyway Bridge in Sarasota is the famed Ringling Museum of Art. Admission prices vary. On Mondays the museum is free while admission is required for other buildings on the grounds such as the circus museum. John and Mable Ringling, of circus fame, traveled widely, collected wildly and brought home every bit of Europe they could carry. The result – an exciting, restless collection of buildings that house in depth collections and changing exhibits.

Florida art museum, statue, Ringling Museum, Sarasota
A statue in the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

One current exhibit called Back and Forth: Thinking in Paint (Aug. 14-Oct. 25) is a dialog between contemporary painting by the faculty of Florida State University and the Ringling’s permanent collection.

Florida Art Museum Buildings Are Worth Exploring

Buildings housing Florida art museums get a lot of attention. The Dali museum building and grounds, modern and playful in the Dali “look at me” spirit, can be a destination in itself but what’s inside is even better than the outside.

The same is true of the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine. The setting is the former Hotel Alcazar built in 1887 by railroad magnate Henry M. Flagler. It is grand, elegant, meant to be a showpiece. And it works – inside and out.

 

Florida art museum - Lightner Museum, St. Augustine
Lightner Museum, St. Augustine. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Chicago publisher Otto Lightner bought the building in 1946 to house his extensive collection of 19th century life, often called “The Gilded Age”. Wander all three floors of the old hotel. Rooms are filled with cut glass, Victorian art glass, costumes, furnishings, paintings and my personal favorite – a section with the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Admission prices vary. The Lightner Museum is open every day (but Christmas) fro 9-5. Last admission is at 4 p.m.

Museum Galleries Galore in Gainesville

In Gainesville the Historic Thomas Center occupies a former private residence and hotel built in Mediterranean Revival Style. The popular center has galleries in rooms with high ceilings and lovely light. The current exhibit is Beauty and the Beasts (June 26-September 19). To know more, contact Russell Etling, cultural affairs manager, at 352-393-8532 or visit www.gvlculturalaffairs.org.

The Harn Museum of Art on the University of Florida campus offers rotating exhibits in well-appointed galleries. It is a year for birthdays. The Harn is celebrating its 25th birthday.

Admission is free. Open Tuesday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m. Open the second Thursday evening of each month from 6 – 9 p.m. for Museum Nights. The Museum is closed on Mondays and state holidays. The Harn Museum Store is open during museum hours.

Downstairs at the Harn is the Camellia Court Café, a lovely spot for a light lunch or coffee break.

At the other end of the art museum building spectrum, the Morse Museum of American Art in downtown Winter Park occupies a building so bland it could pass for generic office space. Looks are deceiving. The inside is pretty exciting.

Florida Art Museum - Morse Museum of Art, Winter Park
Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

The collection of work by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) includes jewelry, paintings, pottery, leaded glass lamps and windows. There is no other Tiffany collection this comprehensive anywhere.

Best of all (in my humble opinion) is the recreation of his chapel interior for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Admission varies. Museum hours are 9:30–4:00 Tuesday through Saturday (Open until 8:00 p.m. Friday, November through April and 1:00–4:00 Sunday. Closed Monday and most major holidays

Note: During the month of September holders of Sunrail tickets – show your tickets and get free admission.

There is an air-conditioned Florida art museum near you. Here is Artcyclopedia’s list of Florida art museums with both fine art collections and an online presence.

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Water Tours Offer Unique View of Florida

Water Tours Offer Unique View of Florida

“That house on the right sold for seven million last year,” says Harold Bubil, Real Estate Editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

All eyes swivel starboard. We look at the elevated waterfront home with patio, pool and a dock. Impressive. Just one of many homes we see while cruising Sarasota Bay on the LeBarge, a two-story tour boat perhaps most famous for its fake palm trees sprouting on the upper deck.

water tours - around Sarasota bay

“That one is a teardown,” Bubil narrates as the cruise moves along. The lovely older home sits right on the ground. Looks beautiful but doesn’t conform to current insurance requirements. Should they sell the new owners would tear down and build up higher. We nod. Teardown. Add that to our vocabulary.

Water tours – mangroves, pelicans and kayaks oh my!

Next come mangroves dotted with nesting pelicans. Nearby are kayaks. Pictures are being snapped. Bubil tells the tale of how this area was being considered for condominiums. A delegation of potential investors got a water tour. But local boaters protested by showing up en masse and tooting their boat horns in protest. The political powers hear it loud and clear. This are is now protected. Score one for the environment.

water tours - kayaking in Sarasota Bay

 

This boat tour is a fundraiser for the Historical Society of Sarasota County. We’re messing around in someone else’s boat, getting free food and learning history. What could be finer?

Well, another water tour would work – so many to choose from all around the state. Florida is surrounded by water on three sides making day trip sightseeing cruises ideal for learning new things.

Cruise at sunset, chug along past the homes of the rich and famous and wonder what they pay in taxes, see wildlife, go to a barrier island by boat.

Water tours put a unique lens on Florida.

Water tours – take a sunset cruise complete with happy hour

LeBarge Tropical Cruises in Sarasota has been weighing anchor for 30 years with dolphin and manatee watch cruises, sightseeing and nature cruises and a Tropical Sunset Cruise – all tours feature a full bar and food menu. And you are not doing the driving!

Prices vary by the cruise. For example the Dolphin & Manatee water cruise has a Mote Marine-trained marine biologist on board for the two-hour cruise. Tickets are $25 adult, $20 for children ages 4-13. Under the age of 3 ride free. AND a dolphin or manatee sighting is guaranteed. If not, free passes for any regularly scheduled cruise are issued.

Across the state, right next to the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine at the Municipal Marinas sits the Victory III with St. Augustine Scenic Cruise. Sure they go out during the day for tours but my personal favorite is the sunset cruises. From April 1 through Oct. 15 the sunset cruise departs at 6:45 p.m. Well-behaved pets are welcome to come along.

Adult price is $16.75, children ages 4-12 pay $7.75 and seniors (60+) pay $13.75. They even have a Frequent Floaters Club. Get a free membership card. Ride six times, any type and any time, and get the seventh ride free.

Each time I’ve taken this trip the Captain will be talking about the town and then suddenly everyone is in the bow area looking down. Dolphins are swimming in the bow wake. Magical. Also a bit of magic is seeing the historic part of St. Augustine lit up with millions of tiny lights after the sun goes down

In the Miami there are a number of cruises including a 90-minute cruise along Biscayne Bay by Island Queen Cruises called Millionaire’s Row Cruise. Mind-boggling to see the houses and hear some of the history and wonder why one McMansion is torn down to build even a bigger McMansion in its place. Does this make sense? Maybe it doesn’t have to.

Sightseeing cruise pricing – adults $24(if purchased online, $28 at the dock), children 4 through 12 pay $19 and children under the age of three ride free. The same cruise looks at the downtown Miami skyline, Port of Miami, Fisher Island and Miami Beach.

 

water tours - pontoon boat at Silver Springs State Park, Ocala

In North Central Florida near Ocala on the Silver River, cruise on a glass bottom boat where all the action is in the water and you see it all floating by – sea grasses, mullet, gar and turtles for starters.  The boats are inside Silver Springs State Park and are operated by Silver Springs Management. Guided tours on the Silver River leave from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and run 30 to 45 minutes. Cost is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and youth under 17. Kids five and under ride free.

For a short but sweet cruise take a pontoon boat ride from Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin (near Clearwater) to Caladesi Island State Park using the Caladesi Island Ferry for a 20-minute ride. Leave your car behind. Walk ons only. Bring beach things as Caladesi has three miles of great beaches. Adults, round trip, $14 per person, children ages 6-12 pay $7 and ages five and under ride free.

And when Christmas rolls around take a Christmas Light Canal Cruise with the King Fisher fleet docked at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda.  Homes along the canals outdo themselves to put on light displays – this boat ride could easily become a family yearly tradition.

 

UPCOMING

Sarasota County celebrates local authors with book events running from April 15 through 18 at the Selby library, Gulf Gate, Osprey, Jacaranda and Elsie Quirk library. All programs are free and open to the public.

How fine it is to live in a county that celebrates writing, literacy and writers!

I’ll be speaking at the Selby Library at 4 p.m. on April 15 and also at the Osprey Library on April 17 at 1:45 p.m.

The topics are my children’s book Mary Margaret Manatee and 50 Great Walks in Florida.There will be books for purchase and signing.

FLORIDA  FUN FACT

Did you know Fish Florida has shipped over 1500 rods and reels to be given away by the Anglers for Conservation during their annual Fish Earth Day events that being in March and run through April. The rods and reels are donated through revenues generated by the Fish Florida license tag. There will be 15 Hook Kids on Fishing programs conducted by AFC volunteers around the state.

 

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Visit Sarasota if you want to be invigorated

Visit Sarasota if you want to be invigorated

Want to be invigorated? Then my advice is – visit Sarasota soon.

Why? For starters, here are five why’s:

    1. Be stimulated = Sarasota boasts a playbill loaded with award-winning arts and culture venues. These events don’t take a breather for any season – opera, plays, film festivals, musicals, concerts, art exhibits happen all year long.
    2. Be enlivened = Eclectic cuisine, often local and sustainable, calls out for taste testing like the roasted turkey mango wrap at The Toasted Mango or a buckwheat crepe at C’est La Vie! And the Saturday morning market downtown has more offerings such as fish tacos (Maggie’s Seafood – yum) and freshly squeezed juice. In addition, the nearby Pinecraft Amish Community has Amish traditional cooking (try their rhubarb pie).

visit sarasota - Amish food

    1. Be restored = Walk on the beach, swim, search for shells, smell the salt air, have dinner at a bayside or gulfside diner and watch the sunset every evening over the Gulf of Mexico – any or all of these things will do the job nicely.
visit Sarasota - sunset on LIdo Beach
Sarasota sunset
  1. Be inspired = The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art celebrates a circus legacy and love of art left by this famous couple. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has a display of orchids that will take your breath away. Sarasota Children’s Garden has a secret garden. Mote Aquarium on City Island gets you close to marine life. Sarasota Jungle Gardens is an old time Florida favorite – and the first place I ever saw a black swan.
  2. Be invigorated = Sarasota is a city of parks and trails. Walk the Bayfront. Ride your bike on the Legacy Trail. Take your dog to a dog park.  Get the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County brochures and do a self-guided arts and cultural tour – they have an Arts Trail Map, a Sarasota Circus Heritage Tour and Sarasota County History Center Stroll.

For starters, include a Saturday in your Sarasota travel plans. Ah, how fine it is to stroll through the Sarasota Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, definitely one of my favorite things to do. Don a hat for sunshade, bring a shopping bag and wear comfortable shoes.

visit Sarasota - downtown Saturday farmers market
Sarasota – downtown Saturday farmers market

Visit Sarasota for farmers markets and food temptations

You will face many food choices (or should I say “temptations?”) and many are organic. Stroll along to see generous garden offerings and artisans and all this happens in a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

I once saw a flowering pipevine plant at this farmers market that I couldn’t resist. The pipevine is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies. It puts out a flower with an orchid like look. I brought it home, started to plant the pipevine in a big pot and swallowtail butterflies swooped down to lay their eggs even before I had the soil dug up and the plant installed. Awesome.

Several downtown streets are closed to host the market from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday rain or shine. Well-behaved dogs on leashes out walking their owners are a common sight.

Visit Sarasota - farmers market
Sarasota – farmers market

Visit Sarasota a city has it all from spices to shops

Just a slight walk up Main Street from the Farmers Market is Penzeys Spices. Step inside. Inhale the rich, seductive aromas. Take home a spice or two to liven up your cooking, perhaps Ruth Ann’s Muskego Ave Chicken and Fish Seasoning. Notice at the checkout counter the free bumper stickers that say “Love People. Cook them tasty food.”

After the market adventure, the next move for me means heading for the Woman’s Exchange, Inc. in nearby Burns Court. The Exchange is absolutely loaded with quality items that you never knew you needed but you do – and it is all for a good cause.

This is a non-profit consignment shop. Consignees get 65 percent of the sale price and the rest goes to support the arts in Sarasota County. Over seven million dollars has been donated to local arts.

Burns Court is a small, lovely and walkable area full of shops, restaurants and the famous Burns Court Cinema housed in a raspberry building. Burns Court Cinema shows first-run, foreign language and art films.

Perhaps this could be a plan for the evening – an early show at Burns Court Cinema then dinner on the bay, sitting outside and eating seafood at the Old Salty Dog on City Island. Yes, you can bring your dog.

Sunday morning put on your walking/running shoes and join the throngs using the new bridge going to St. Armands as the newest fitness destination. Up and over the bridge and the brave continue on the Bayfront walk. That will work up an appetite for breakfast at the Blue Dolphin Café on St. Armand’s Circle. Their bluefin crab benedict is totally over the top.

Visit Sarasota - St. Armands Circle
sarasota – St. Armands Circle

Nearby the beaches are calling . . .ah Sarasota, it is indeed invigorating.

Florida Favorites

In my Florida travels I meet fantastic people who are travel writers, residents, newcomers, guides and entrepreneurs, all are digging into the Florida places they love and finding treasures worth keeping. Here is Erin Duggan, Communications Director for Visit Sarasota sharing her job in her own words:

“I’ve worked at Visit Sarasota County for over 7 years in the position of Communications Director.  It is my job to work with the media to connect them with the stories of Sarasota County that are of interest to them.

From the indulgence of a powder white sand beach, to the escape of a kayak cutting through tropical mangroves, to the power of awe-inspiring works of art, Sarasota County truly offers an experience for every taste, every age, every desire. Many visitors come to Sarasota County to experience the casual elegance of our thriving beach community. Others, drawn to Sarasota’s reputation as Florida’s “Cultural Coast,” revel in the abundant cultural amenities that grace the area and rival the offerings of much larger metropolitan areas. Whether you crave sandy sunsets or rousing encores, you will find a wealth of both — merely minutes away from one another.

Sarasota and its string of eight islands are tucked into the Gulf coast of Southwest Florida, 60 miles south of Tampa and 75 north of Fort Myers. Sarasota County includes Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Manasota Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Englewood, Nokomis, North Port, Osprey, and Venice.

Sarasota boasts an embarrassment of riches when it comes to arts and culture amenities. From the performing arts to the visual arts, from classic to edgy, this community embraces its dynamic arts environment.

Strolling through orchids, kayaking through mangroves, communing with wild birds or dolphins – Sarasota County visitors truly benefits from nature’s bounty with a diverse array of outdoor escapes and eco-friendly experiences.

Thanks to the legacy of circus magnate John Ringling, Sarasota is known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” with many offerings designed to honor the past, present, and future of the circus.

Known for its staggering array of independently-owned restaurants, Sarasota boasts one of the highest concentrations of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida. Sarasota has become a true restaurant destination, whether you seek beach-inspired fresh seafood dishes or five-star gourmet fare.

For more information on discovering Sarasota County, call Visit Sarasota County at 800-522-9799 or visit www.visitsarasota.org.


Did you know?

See page 38 of the Aug/Sept issue of “Florida Gardening” for a lovely review of my book “Florida Gardens Gone Wild”

 

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