November, 2011



November, 2011


Florida’s Gulfarium is located on Okaloosa Island on U.S. Hwy. 98, in Fort Walton Beach. It is the oldest (since 1955) continuously operating show aquarium and marine park in the world. It takes about two hours to explore the park’s attractions, but if you’re still there in the early evening hours, don’t miss a spectacular sunset on this Gulf beachfront.

The Gulfarium pioneered the techniques used in obtaining, filtering, and maintaining water from the Gulf of Mexico. This technology is used to create the Living Sea exhibit. The Living Sea is a panorama of sea life found all over the world. Other sea going exhibits at the park include sharks, moray eels, stingrays, and sea turtles. 

The Gulfarium features a bottlenose dolphin show in the park's massive saltwater main exhibit. Two floors wind around it, and a third opens to bleachers for the Dolphin Show. The two lower floors are dotted with square windows at varied heights that open into the depths of the tank--and are prime viewing spots for watching the bottlenose dolphins at rest or playing with each other. The dolphins enjoy showing off their speed and agility when performing various acrobatic high jumps.

The Sea Lion Show first explains the difference between sea lions and seals. (Sea lions have an external flap to their ear, while seals have a more recessed hole. There are other differences you can discover on your own.) These charismatic California Sea Lions love to display their amazing balancing ability in addition to flips and spins. They even clap and bark for one another like enthusiastic cheerleaders. There are placards of information about all the animals (penguins, sharks, sea otters) you’ll see throughout the park.

But there’s even more going on at the Gulfarium. They not only have a program for home-schooled students, they also offer a variety of other programs and activities for children of all ages.

The show schedule includes the following: 10am - Top Deck Dolphin Training Show; 10:30- Sea Lion Show; 11- Dolphin Show; 11:10- 11:50 Small Animal Talks throughout the park, includes sting ray feeding times, otters, penguins, and tortoise.

This schedule runs continuously throughout the day. At noon-Top Deck Dolphin Training Show; 12:30 pm- Sea Lion Show; 1pm- Dolphin Show; 1:10- 1:50 Small Animal Talks throughout the park, includes sting ray feeding times, otters, penguins, and tortoise; 2pm- Top Deck Dolphin Training Show; 2:30pm- Sea Lion Show; 3pm- Dolphin Show; 3:10- 3:50 pm -Small Animal Talks throughout the park, includes sting ray feeding times, otters, penguins, and tortoise.

Sting ray feeds are the kind that guests can participate in. Visits with tropical bird also occur Friday’s-Tuesday’s at 11:20, 1:20, and 3:20. There is also an additional program of a dolphin Meet and Greet that takes place daily at 1:20pm. 
All of these shows have covered seating. The main Dolphin Show allows visitors to stand around the pool to get an up-close view as the acrobatic dolphins perform. Watch out, because this is the splash zone!


Gulfarium admission (plus 6% sales tax) is $19.25-adults; $18.25-seniors 62 and over; $11.50 –children age 3-10; Free for children under 2 years. Prices subject to change. Open Daily 9am-2pm. Park Closes at 4pm.There are no refunds or rain checks. Present receipt for same-day re-entry. Their 24-hour recorded information line is Call 850-243-9046, 800-247-8575 or go to www.gulfarium.com.http://www.gulfarium.com/

Man in the Sea Museum

Humans have always been fascinated by the sea, and after a visit to this 5,000 square-foot Man in the Sea Museum at Panama City Beach, you’ll feel like a SCUBA expert.


Dr. George Bond, known as the Father of Saturation Diving, together with a group of divers from the U.S. Navy's SEALAB Program and representatives from commercial, academic, scientific, medical, and sport diving fields created the Institute of Diving in 1977. Today it has approximately 500 members worldwide.


In 1982 they created the Man in the Sea Museum which showcases the progress of underwater technology, from the earliest days of diving to modern underwater habitats.


This is a great place to explore exhibits and learn about the old ways of deep sea voyaging. Early attempts to work underwater are illustrated through interpretive drawings, dioramas and written records. There are treasures recovered from sunken ships dating from 1500, along with more recent commercial and naval equipment, vehicles, and habitats. This museum honors Bay County’s ties to sea and ocean research and exploration.


There are displays showing the progress of both recreational and commercial diving and videos showing how they were used. Hands-on exhibits explain water and air pressure, light refraction, and why diving bells work. There’s even information on local wrecks.

You can examine the Mark V diving suit rig—unchanged since 1837 and an armored suit of 1913 (used to examine wrecks or diving to 400 feet). There’s an assortment of masks and helmets used throughout history plus a collection of underwater traveling modules, an early model submarine, an experimental diving system from 1968, and a variety of submarines used for underwater study.

Both kids and adults can climb through a submarine and other exhibits including the SEALAB-1, the world's first working undersea habitat used by the United States Navy.
Fifty years ago the SEALAB-1 was the first experiment in saturation diving, meaning an underwater habitat allowing divers to stay underwater for an extended period of time. Saturation diving has been invaluable to every aspect of the underwater world including commercial diving, oceanography, and marine biology. Without the knowledge gained from this first experiment, things like off shore oil drilling, and even space exploration would have been extremely hindered.


Man has been exploring the earth’s underwater environments for thousands of years, and yet it appears that the more we learn, the less we know. Early diving efforts involved numerous imaginative devices, including breathing tubes and leather sacks, inflated animal skins, and just breath-holding while carrying heavy rocks. Though primitive, such actions indicate man's ancient desire to explore the ocean depths. This desire spawned generations of research and experimentation to find safe ways to work in and learn from the sea.


Despite generations of exploration, the ocean is still a mystery. And yet, with its wealth of untapped resources, it’s increasingly clear that one key to man's future lies beneath the sea. The Man in the Sea Museum  has the most recent news and updates on the progress of underwater scientific and technological endeavors, the discovery of artifacts, and man’s impact on the earth’s aquatic environments.


Discover the Man in the Sea Museum. You’ll leave feeling like a SCUBA expert. The self-guided tour is $5-adults; $4.50 seniors; free for kids under 6. Open daily 10 am to 4 pm. Closed Mondays. Go to www.maninthesea.org or call 850-235-4101.

Flagler College - St. Augustine

In travels around Florida it’s a bonus to find a landmark in the rise of Florida’s tourist industry in addition to being a unique national treasure of architecture, art, and education.

Where I went to school back in Ohio, the campus was passably landscaped, and the layout of buildings and classrooms was efficient and utilitarian—that’s all that was expected, and with technological updates, modest geometric designs remain the standard for most colleges.


Flagler College, however, has a personality distinctively divergent from the norm.  Students are ensconced amidst the most ostentatious, artistry-laden, architecturally extravagant surroundings imaginable. An unusually ornate showplace for advanced studies, Flagler College is the reincarnated crown jewel of one of the industrial age’s most flamboyant manifestations: Henry Morrison Flagler’s Ponce De Leon Hotel.


In September of 1968 Flagler College opened as a four-year women’s (later co-ed) school. As encouraged as some were, the opportunity was anticlimactic compared with the inauguration 80 years prior, as the Ponce De Leon Hotel—possibly the most exclusive lodging in the country. Patrons were guests in the true sense of the word—absolved of the common reservation process: they came by invitation only, at the discretion of Henry Flagler.


Florida history focuses on Flagler as a railroad magnate making possible the hastened expansion in far southern reaches. Especially notable was the monumental engineering task that spanned the ocean with rails all the way to Key West.  But, however heroic, Flagler’s Florida efforts were almost an afterthought to his earlier endeavors.


Back in Ohio he had already made a fortune in the grain trade when he partnered with John D. Rockefeller in forming Standard Oil. In fact, Rockefeller admitted that it was Flagler whose vision had structured the oil refining business. And by the 1880’s Flagler was eager for new challenges.


It was not love at first sight with St. Augustine, but as Flagler wintered there over several seasons he began to see it as the American Riviera, and that vision included proper accommodations for the deserving elite.


He chose designers and builders of the Ponce De Leon who were as talented in their own province, and as futuristic as he was.  The construction was a relatively new technique of poured concrete reinforced with steel I-beams, sometimes fashioned from railroad track. Flagler had originally planned an expenditure of $200,000 for the Spanish Revival structure, but the concept grew and thrift was cast to the winds. When the Ponce De Leon opened for the 1888 season it had cost  $2.5 million—the most costly hotel in the world. And, Flagler, at age 58—already past life expectancy of the time—was just embarking on his Florida adventures.


As expected, the Ponce De Leon flourished—but only for a few seasons. It was partially victim of Flagler’s own ambition.  The farther south he extended his railroad, the greater number of people discovered the warmer weather of Palm Beach and Miami.  If there were to be an American Riviera, it would more likely be Miami Beach—and thus began the slow, and early decline of the Ponce De Leon.

When it became obvious after decades of struggle that the Ponce De Leon could no longer survive as a viable hotel, it was feared that the once great American symbol would suffer the undignified decay of other failed enterprises.


But, in fact, the principal Flagler heir had arranged the formation of the college in order to save it from destruction.  Subsequently there has been more spent on restoration of this masterpiece than the original cost.


Presently there are guided tours offering historical facts and up-close observation of outstanding features that greeted the aristocracy of the time.  From the courtyard entrance the main lobby exhibits expansive mosaic patterns in the floor, and an 80-foot domed ceiling supported by ornately carved oak pillars. The interior of the dome displays murals of female figures and medallions of places and heroes from Spanish and Florida history.


As the guide relates the chronology of the construction one gets a sense of magnitude—not just the sheer size of the building, but the complexity that required an army of skilled artisans. Even with modern equipment and erection methods it is inconceivable that the completion of such an enormous and intricate configuration could be accomplished in eighteen months.  But it was an era unencumbered by union regulations and labor laws. Flagler imported the best labor he could find and had two crews of 500 men each—one working during the day and the other throughout the night.


In the dining hall with a capacity of 800, the barrel-vaulted ceiling is graced with murals of angels and the Spanish galleon in which artist George Maynard visualized the explorer Ponce De Leon arriving in search of the fountain of youth. The murals were the exception to the hordes of workers on each project. Maynard alone performed all the ceiling artistry (with one assistant mixing his paints)—the feat of a latter day Michelangelo.


Currently students take their lunch seated at the carved oak chairs and tables once occupied by royalty, industrial tycoons, and several of our presidents. Light floods in through the 79 stained glass windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany—one of his earliest ventures into the medium for which he became best known. Still remaining are the elevated galleries on both ends of the room where musicians performed in the one-time ballroom, providing dance music any hour of day or night.


Unfamiliar to many at the time were the incandescent bulbs that provided the artificial illumination. The Ponce De Leon was only the second building to be planned from conception with a complete infrastructure of electrical service.  It was direct current, however, that required a dedicated generating plant, designed and engineered by none other than Thomas Edison.


During the first years when the hotel was open for season only, there were designated servants to flick the light switches in the 240 guest rooms—sparing guests—most of who did not understand, and even feared electricity.


There were scores of rooms in addition to those intended for guests—a total of 450—some occupied by resident artists, and the rest were for servants. It was expected, of course, that guests bring with them, personal servants. Ideally, it was thought, there should be one attendant for every occupant.


That rule was especially observed in the Grand Parlor—now simply know as the Flagler room. Just off the rotunda, this massive room was the most opulent of the hotel.  Reserved for ladies only, it is painted in the original pastel Tiffany blue, cream, and gold. The sanctuary is adorned with 8 Tiffany Austrian crystal chandeliers, and canvases of plump cherubs by New York artist Virgillo Tohetti pasted to the ceilings. Exquisite furniture and accessories including a massive onyx Thomas Edison clock complement the concept.


Everything is authentically restored down to the exact hue of the colors. It’s a far cry from the dark days of WW II when this nationally designated landmark was occupied by the Coast Guard, and subjected to cadence marching through the corridors that shook the plaster right off the walls.


The Flagler College/ Ponce de Leon Hotel Tours run daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations aren’t necessary. Admission is $7 for adults. For childen age 12 and under, the cost is $1 and they receive a complimentary Flagler College coloring and activity book. Tickets can be purchased in the lobby of the College at 74 King Street 25 minute prior to each tour or from Flagler’s Legacy at 59 St. George Street (10a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.) For more information, call 904-823-3378 or go to www.flagler.edu

 Memorial Presbyterian Church – St. Augustine


Like many before him and millions afterward, Henry Flagler traveled to Florida seeking a vacation and stayed forever.


When Flagler arrived in St. Augustine in the late 1870’s Florida was still largely unvanquished swamp and jungle. Looking at our state today it is hard for some to fathom that Florida was one of the last frontiers.


When Flagler brought his ailing wife south for the benefit of a warmer climate, the famous “golden spike” had been driven more than ten years earlier, linking railroads to the far coast, carrying people and sophistication that subdued the “wild west.” Yet travel south of Jacksonville, Florida was only by boat or horse-drawn carriage—on the few roads that existed.


Flagler went back to New York and began divesting responsibilities in Standard Oil, which he had founded with John D. Rockefeller. He had seen a need that translated to opportunity in Florida.


Henry Morrison Flagler was a successful businessman the likes of which there were few. He was also the son of a Presbyterian minister, and he brought his entrepreneurial skills along with a faith and confidence that transformed Florida’s wilderness more than any other single individual.


When he returned to Florida, Flagler’s first wife had died and he had a new bride. They attended the what was known as the First Presbyterian Church of St. Augustine--a church that had been dedicated the year Henry Flagler was born. He had entertained the thought of a bigger, better church, and when his only daughter died in childbirth, he knew what he must do. With the church elders he made an agreement to build a new sanctuary and manse—as a memorial to his daughter.


Flagler’s Ponce De Leon, the most opulent of hotels, catering to the elite of society, had been completed the year before. Pleased with the results, Flagler engaged the same builders and designers. Although the mammoth hotel had been built in record time and there was no specific timetable—this time there was.


Flagler wanted the completed church to be dedicated to his daughter one year after her death in March of 1889. It was a demanding schedule but there was a bonus of triple pay if the job was done on time.


Architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings of New York took much of their inspiration from St. Marks Cathedral in Venice, Italy. Venice had been a crossroads of trade in the Middle Ages and Renaissance—its architecture influenced by Roman, Gothic, and Moorish fashions, and thus was Hastings', and Carrere’s design. The blending was characterized as Venetian Renaissance, and is the only example in the United States.


Constructed by builders McGuire and McDonald, the church was erected of poured—steel reinforced—concrete. Outlines of the wooden planks used for forms are still visible upon close inspection. The building is laid out in the pattern of a Latin cross. The most outstanding feature is the dome that rises 120 feet—the exterior scalloped with 24 Moorish arches, and topped by a copper cross.

Inside there are more interesting and unusual elements than can be mentioned—some very obvious, and others subtle –but can be explained by an ever present docent.  In the dome the depiction of Christ’s crown of thorns is apparent, for example, but that of the four evangelists is sometimes misunderstood—Matthew as a man, Mark as a lion, Luke as an ox, and John as an eagle.


There was never a question of cost.  The finest craftsmen and their materials were summoned from all over the world—mahogany from Santo Domingo and Sienna marble from Italy. It is not known why there was a departure from Tiffany for the stained glass windows, but perhaps it was due to the windows being an afterthought to the original plan. Milwaukee artist Herman Schladermundt designed the total of 92 windows. Easily missed is the fact that they contain the Apostle’s Creed, beginning with the round window on the East side and reading left to right.


An oddity is the rood screen shielding the choir and organ from the congregation. Most people prefer to see performers as well as hear them, but this was in keeping with a European tradition—the unseen providing an illusion of “music from heaven.”


As intended, dedicated as Memorial Presbyterian Church, the first service was held on March 16, 1890. Flagler hired a special train to bring the minister, the organist, and the entire choir from his church in New York City. He insisted there be no mention of his name during the service since the church was a memorial to his daughter.

However, the elders presented a small silver plaque inscribed with his name and affixed it to the pew where Flagler sat. It’s still there today.


Although the design was meticulously analyzed, it was not known until completion that the acoustics were not satisfactory. Various fixes were tried but finally the pulpit was moved forward and a shell canopy was added. Hand carved from a solid piece of mahogany, it looks like a giant umbrella over the speaker, but it projects the sound over the sanctuary.


Aside from those for church functions there are other interesting artifacts on display. There is a fifteenth-century copy of The City of God, written by St. Augustine in the fifth century and printed in 1439 on one of the first Gutenberg presses. Also exhibited is a model of Henry Flagler’s St. Augustine mansion, known as Kirkside. After passing through heirs and as an annex to a failed university, the manor reverted to a company that had been part of the Flagler’s empire. With no prospects to tackle the badly needed repairs, it was demolished in the early ‘50s—a decision regretted by many, and a huge historical loss to St. Augustine.


Sixteen years after the first service Flagler obtained permission from the church elders to add a mausoleum. In fact, Flagler, with his usual business acumen had retained ownership of the small plot of ground where the mausoleum would sit. He retained his favored initial architects who designed a round structure surrounded by columns and arches that, although singularly beautiful, seems at odds with the original sculpting. Furthermore, composed of a mixture of shells and sand from the nearby Matanzas inlet, it took several years to complete—a stark contrast to the one-year marathon that finished the entire church. 


Once the work was completed, the bodies of Henry Flagler’s first wife, and his daughter with her baby were disinterred from Woodlawn Cemetery in New York and brought by train to the mausoleum where they rest in marble tombs.


By this time Flagler had moved with his expanding interests that continually stretched southward, and had built another stately home with his third wife in Palm Beach. It is said that he did not intend to be interred with his first wife and daughter, but upon his death in 1913, his family decided otherwise.  It does seem appropriate.


Nothing epitomizes Flagler more than this magnificent church and the city of St. Augustine where it all began. For Henry Flagler, Florida was more than an adopted home—it was a model of his pursuit of excellence that could not be contained.


Memorial Presbyterian Church is on the corner of Valencia and Sevilla Streets in St. Augustine. Self-guided tours take about 30 minutes. Hours are Mon-Sat from 9 am to 3:45 pm. Check their events calendar by phone, 904-829-6451 or go to www.memorialpcusa.org


Visit the Plant City Pig Jam on Saturday, November 19. Top teams from throughout the country will compete at this ninth annual State BBQ Championship. The event is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Randy L. Larson Softball Four-Plex, at 1500 South Park Road.

About 70 team will compete in this Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) sanctioned event, to win big money, ribbons and trophies, and bragging rights.


For the rest of us, it’s a chance to enjoy some of the country’s best barbecue ribs, pork, brisket and chicken. It’s a great opportunity during the event to ask cooks about their pits, the wood they use, how they prepare their meat, and the cooking temperatures they prefer. There will be barbecue-related items for sale--such as rubs and sauces, books and videos, pins and paraphernalia relating to individual teams.  Sno-cones, lemonade, beer and other refreshments will also be available.

Kids will be entertained in the children’s play area with a rock climbing wall, moon walk and other activities. Live telecasts of all football rivalries will be broadcast in the beer tent. Ace Jackson and the Jump Kings Band will perform live music in the afternoon.

There is also a raffle, thanks to The Hay Exchange that donated a Big Green Egg grill package, and a YETI® cooler. Tickets are $10 each and may be purchased at the Plant City Chamber (event host) or at any Chamber event.  All proceeds benefit the Chamber Foundation's Scholarship Fund.

Admission to the Plant City Pig Jam is free, and parking is $5 per vehicle.  For more information, call 813-754-3707, or go to www.plantcity.org.  Follow Pig Jam on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PlantCityPigJam, or become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PigJam.

Water Ski Museum/Hall of Fame – Polk City

If you travel the interstate between Tampa and Orlando, you’ve probably seen an impressive looking building for the Water Ski Museum/Hall of Fame in Polk City. Unfortunately there’s no exit sign alerting you where to turn. However, once you visit, you’ll discover an interior more striking than the outside appearance.


The Water Ski Museum/Hall of Fame is dedicated to the sport of water skiing, its history and the men and women who have excelled in it over the years. The location is ideal because of Polk County’s world-wide recognition as the Water Ski Capital of the World. It is a serious competitive sport, as well as a healthy family recreation.

There’s a bronze bust in the entrance of Ralph Samuelson, the father of water skiing (for designing and skiing on the first known pair of wooden water skis) plus the first pair of wooden water skis made by Samuelson in 1922.

Pioneers and Hall of Fame members are represented. Two of them are  Dan Hains who orchestrated the first major water ski exhibition and national water ski tournament before going on to organize the American Water Ski Association; and Richard D. Pope, Sr. the late Winter Haven entrepreneur best known for developing and promoting the world-famous Cypress Gardens water ski show, who was also a gifted water skier.

Pioneer Hall chronicles the history and accomplishments with media highlights, vintage photos and equipment. It has the water skis used in the now-defunct Steel Pier Water Circus, the world’s first pair of fiber glass skis made by Kimball Manufacturing Corp. in 1950. Other treasures are costumes from various productions at Cypress Gardens, old water ski magazines, and a video focusing on the early days.

One exhibit that stands out is a 1954 Correct Craft made of furniture-grade Honduran mahogany. This boat, with a 60-horse power engine was priced new at $1,495. It was purchased by a bare back rider for Barnum-Bailey Circus and designed especially for trick skiing. Boat motors displayed include a 1920 Koban, a 1929 Johnson Sea Horse, and a 1931 Elto personally designed by Ole Evinrude.

An interactive kiosk is devoted to barefoot skiing. It was organized by “Banana” George Blair, one of the world’s best barefooters. Still footing at the age of 89.

The Hall’s parent organization, the American Water Ski Educational Foundation offers educational and informational resources, including extensive historical archives for research.


The best part of the Water Ski Museum/Hall of Fame is probably Director Carole Lowe. She is not only enthusiastic, but knowledgeable about the sport and everything on display. She and her husband were not only avid skiers themselves, but they and their son Lucky are prior Award of Distinction honorees.

On Lake Grew—conveniently located behind the Museum—is Ski Fluid. Operated by pros, Scot Ellis and Kyle Eade—who have been ranked inside the top 10 water skiers in the world for the past 20 years. They know what it takes to perform and give individual instruction, camps and clinics, team training, record tournaments and host corporate events. Their professional experience is with ski-slalom, trick, jump, and wake/barefoot. On this record-capability tournament lake, there’s a 6.0L Ski Nautique 200 and 2 Bemman jump ramps and SplashEye (an automatic jump measuring system.) Call 877-475-4358 or go to www.SkiFluid.com for their performance schedules and events.

Although visible from the interstate, it’s a little tricky to get to, but worth the effort: The Water Ski Hall of Fame/Museum is located at 1251 Holy Cow Road in Polk City. Located off I-4 at exit 44 (right on SR 559, right on 557A, left on Holy Cow Road). Admission is $5-adults, $4-seniors, $3-children under 12, and free for those age 5 and under. Hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 863-324-2472 or go to www.waterskihalloffame.com.

Winter Park Concours d'Elegance


If you appreciate the style and grace of the car makers’ art, then mark November 5 and 6 for the tenth annual Winter Park Concours d’Elegance. It has attained a reputation as one of the best organized and expertly judged shows in the United States. The variety and quality of the event’s concours cars is rivaled only by the world-class events at Amelia Island, Florida and Pebble Beach, California. Last November more than 75,000 automotive enthusiasts attended this free event.

The tents of event patrons line the tree-shaded avenue showcasing products and services. Nationally-recognized and ranked automobile judges - many of whom are world-renowned experts in specialty-marquee automobiles, spend the day carefully examining each show car until a final group of handpicked award winners are determined.

Old Winter Park closes nine blocks of Park Avenue to welcome over 120 of the world’s most prestigious automobiles. Trophy Row, a collection of featured classics are also displayed throughout Central Park’s well-manicured lawn. Awards are given in the show’s grand finale’. Prize winners drive their beautiful automobiles past the cheering crowds to accept their trophies from Tom duPont, the Chairman of the show, atop a lavishly appointed stage.
Over 90 trophies are awarded including the illustrious Best of Show Trophy.

Honor Marques: Ferrari and Cadillac. Other Marques Include: A Special Trophy Division featuring Renowned Pre and Post War "Classics", Morgan,  Porsche, Jaguar, Austin Healey, Rolls Royce, Bentley, American Classics,
Aston Martin, Mercedes Benz, Alfa Romeo, Hot Rods, Muscle Cars,Classic Ford and GM High Performance Vehicles and Motorcycles; Sat., November 5: Tour d'Elegance-8:30am–2pm; $100 tickets for the duPont RegistryLIVE Aeroport Reception benefiting the Kids House-6:30 - 9:30pm; Sun., November 6: Registration is 7-9am; Concours d'Elegance-10am-4 pm; Awards Presentation-3 pm.


Call 407-649-9190 or go to www.winterparkconcours.com.

The Gasparilla Inn & Club - Boca Grande

Crossing the toll bridge onto Gasparilla Island is like entering a gentler dimension. The island is a north/south sliver of land erupting from the Gulf at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor, surrounded by crystal clear aquamarine water. It’s so narrow at places that with the wind to your back you can practically spit from one side to the other…but then, that would be inelegant, and this island is a naturally elegant retreat.


Boca Grande, the village clustered between the shores, has retained its heritage of old Southern style. Unlike nearby barrier islands that have been overrun with the modernity of concrete, steel, and glass high-rises, the most-lofty structures on this island are two ancient lighthouses.


Residents and long-term guests alike have fought against over- development—retaining the unique, unspoiled, and historic atmosphere. Paving is minimal and everything else that is not covered by greenery is smoothed-over with crushed seashells. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Dairy Queen within radar range of this place.


Quintessential of the island posture, and in fact the catalyst, is The Gasparilla Inn & Club. This is an establishment with a staff as impeccable as its pedigree—a place that has flourished for nearly 100 years—transcending unparalleled technological change, and resultant social adjustments without altering its decided objective. The Inn has never accepted guests out of season, and until 2002 never marketed its attributes.  Success, from the beginning, has been owed to personal recommendation.

It’s not necessary to know the full history to enjoy a visit here, but it is nonetheless interesting. Built by the Boca Grande Land Company, it was a simple 20-room hotel first opened for the 1911-12 season. Company officials with northern business connections intended the accommodation as a sanctuary for wealthy acquaintances. It was such a success that immediate plans were made for expansion as a world-class resort. Enhanced by a renowned architect and with furnishings from New York, it opened the next season as The Gasparilla Inn.


Over the years further development took place, and amenities were added with an outgrowth in reputation that drew the crème de la crème—the duPonts, Cabots, and Biddles with the likes of Henry Ford thrown in for good measure.


In 1930, The Inn was purchased by Barron Collier, and augmentations continued—most notably the neo-classical entrance as it’s seen today. Collier had died years earlier, but in 1961 the Collier Corporation sold The Inn and surrounding property to a syndicate that included duPont heir, Bayard Sharp.


In short order, Sharp bought out other members of the syndicate with the primary goal of maintaining The Inn’s long-established decorum. He poured millions into restoration and updating, including more cottages along the perimeter begun by Collier. No doubt, his greatest contribution was putting his heft behind the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association—a group of islanders who worked to preserve the historic lore and natural wonders.  Bayard Sharp, probably more than any single person was responsible for what exists today—not only The Inn, but the community in general.


Presently The Inn is owned by the William S. Farish Jr. family—he a former ambassador to the Court of St. James, and she the daughter of Bayard Sharp.


Approaching The Inn, visitors know they’re viewing something extraordinary. It doesn’t present itself in the ostentatious manner of, say, a Ritz Carlton—it doesn’t even have a parking lot. Guests just park along the shell-lined street in front, but when they wheel their luggage through the huge columns and across the highly polished wooden floor of the entrance it’s obvious that they’re crossing a threshold of elegance and grandeur.


Contrary to impulse, it’s not the least bit snobbish. Most guests are overwhelmed by courtesy. Inside and out, The Inn has undergone a complete refurbishing for the season that began October 13—retaining style in a way that belies age—like a classic beauty who never loses her loveliness—a few wrinkles simply adding to her charm. 


The trim is painted in bright glossy white surrounded by pastels with exquisite furnishings in the mix. The whole place sparkles.


With 325 employees there are 137 guest accommodations, including 12 unique suites and 17 cottages/villas. At full occupancy it seems there are more attendants of some type than guests—you’ll never want for anything here. The rooms retain that exemplar ambiance of another era, yet with all the features you’d expect from the most modern hotels.


The interior is so alluring you may not want to leave, but so many associated hotel services await:  a Tennis Club, a Beach Club with a full fitness center, a complete Spa, and a full-service salon. If you want to try your hand at fishing (Boca Grande is the Tarpon Fishing Capitol of the World) there is also a marina at your disposal.


One of the outstanding features is the golf course—a recently redesigned layout by Pete Dye on an adjacent small island. Can you remember the last time you played a Florida course without a tee time? Didn’t think so. Well, you can here. It’s not busy—only available to members and hotel guests—you just drop in any time you desire, and if there’s action on the first tee they’ll start you on another. With full practice facilities available, and the course measuring over 6800 from the back tees, they could only squeeze 16 holes onto the little island. So they crossed the water and ran two holes up to the back door of The Inn. Listed in the top ten of resort courses, it’s a flat topography that looks tame, but when the breeze blows, which it does most of the time, you’ll need every shot you’ve got in the bag.

Golf carts are common off the course too. They can be rented as well as bicycles to go up and down the smoothed path that runs almost the full length of the island. In an area that is known for birding and shelling, they can quietly transport you to all the best locations.


And, of course, there’s the croquet court. Most of us, a couple generations ago, tried whacking the ball through the hoops without much understanding of the rules.  Although the sport never made it as a U.S. national pastime, today it does seem to equate to sophistication—possibly because to play by the rules it’s very complicated. This is a Championship English Rule court that hosts the Boca Grande Croquet Invitational every March. It draws some of the nation’s top players who, naturally, dress only in compulsory whites. As with golf, just let them know when you’d like to play—in the case of croquet, they’ll even provide the equipment. As for attire, be sure to bring your whites. 


Speaking of attire, there is a dress code for dinner—dress casual—no tie required in the fall and spring seasons, but in social season a jacket is necessary and women’s dress is comparable for the main dining room. Frankly it’s a special feeling that’s refreshing. I for one am a little tired of the grungy look that passes for casual in too many places.


The Inn is named in The National Register of Historic Places and the Historic Hotels of America. Both Executive Chef Peter Timmins and president and general manager Jack Damioli recently ascended from years of experience at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.  They know how to run an Inn.


It must be said, however, that everything on the island is a bit pricey—but then, exclusivity never comes cheap.  On the other hand it should be noted that the fare is not beyond what most people can afford as a special occasion, and when you’ve lodged at The Gasparilla Inn it’s like entering that other dimension—you will know that you’ve indulged in a very special way.


For information on The Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande, call 800-996-1913, 941-964-4500 or go to www.gasparillainn.com.

The Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre - Fort Myers


The Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers is spacious with dinner tables set on floor level in front of the stage, and with additional elevated tiers, so the view is excellent.

The food is all-you-can-eat, buffet-style. It is lavish, fresh, and delicious. Healthy eaters will appreciate the choices. There’s a variety of salad items, followed by beef, chicken and fish entrees. Tempting dessert tables not only offer macaroons, cheesecake, cobblers, pies, cakes and ice cream with a variety of toppings, but also sugar-free desserts. Tea or coffee are included, with other alcoholic drinks reasonably priced.

Prather Entertainment Group (PEG) is the largest operator of Dinner Theatres in the US, with two other facilities (Lancaster, PA and Mesa, AZ.)  They also produce and present full-scale tours of musicals in venues throughout the country. The Prather family owners have entertained over three-million audience members with critically-acclaimed, Broadway-caliber musicals for more than three decades.


The Broadway Palm's production of Sugar is the musical based on the classic film, Some Like It Hot, which starred Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in 1959. Two unemployed musicians in Chicago accidentally witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Targets of a  tap-dancing gangster and his henchmen, they disguise themselves as women, join an all-girl band and hide out in Miami. Hilarity ensues when Joe/Josephine falls for the band’s lead singer, while Jerry/Daphne  enraptures a rich suitor who’s unaware that “she” is a “he.”

The sets, wigs and costumes (slick mobster suits and ruby flapper fringes) are fabulous, Combined with the professional quality acting, dancing, and singing, you’re guaranteed a Sugar high with this sweet concoction. This dining and theatre experience is a great value for the money.

Sugar runs through Nov. 19 at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday with selected matinees.Ticket prices are $27 to $51. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas runs Nov. 24-Dec. 25. Call (239) 278-4422 or visit www.BroadwayPalm.com.
Tampa-The Straz Center for the Performing Arts


The Straz Center for the Performing Arts is located in downtown Tampa on nine acres along the east bank of the Hillsborough River. Enhanced with benches and a walkway, the setting soothes any stress of the day in readiness for the performance. This is not only the largest performing arts complex in Florida, but the largest (335,000 square feet) south of the Kennedy Center. It’s a venue that makes theatre-goers from other parts of the country green with envy.

And its centerpiece is the 2,610-seat Carol Morsani Hall. The traditional horseshoe-shaped opera house has continental seating on four levels: orchestra, mezzanine, balcony and gallery. There are excellent sight lines and impeccable acoustics. The proscenium is 60 feet high, with playing depth of 55 feet and a total stage width of 120 feet. Combined with an 11-story-high backstage area, it easily accommodates a wide variety of world class events: Broadway musicals, operas, ballets and orchestral concerts. A 42-ton concert wall can be lowered for orchestra and choral performances that can’t be enacted on an ordinary stage.

Opening night was an artistically exciting and visceral experience with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Over the course of its 25 scenes, the Florida Orchestra under guest conductor Markus Huber, together with The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, USF Chamber Singers, the Tampa Bay Children’s Chorus and solo soprano, tenor and baritone evoked a celebration of earthly delights in the face imponderable fortune. Over 300 instrumentalists and vocalists were on stage for this choral event with its rich instrumental palette, propulsive rhythms and sensual lyricism.


This quality typifies the rest of the extraordinary season offerings. In fact, the next performance, Cirque de la Symphonie presents breathtaking, seemingly impossible acts by aerial flyers, acrobats, contortionists, dancers, jugglers, balancers and strongmen. Under the baton of guest conductor Stuart Chafetz, The Florida Orchestra will accompany these artists with everybody’s symphonic favorites. Don’t miss this extravaganza. Concerts will be November 4, 5, and 6 in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. For prices and details, visit www.FloridaOrchestra.org  or call 727-892-3337 or 1-800-662-7286.


Travel to the Florida Cajun Zydeco Festival at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood on November 11, 12, and 13.


There will be continuous outdoor entertainment on two stages of authentic Cajun zydeco music.  With ample space on a giant covered wooden dance floor, dance instructors will teach zydeco, Cajun and whiskey river, traditional waltz, two- step and jitterbug. These professional dancers will remove the mystery from seemingly complicated dance steps so you can quickly get the hang of it.

Toss in plenty of hot and spicy Cajun & Creole food, games and rides, and arts and craft vendors for an exciting weekend.

Friday-6pm-Magnolia Sisters; 8pm-C’est Bon Cajun Dance Band; 10pm-Kevin Naquin; Saturday-11am-C’est Bon Cajun Dance Band; 12:30-Kevin Naquin; 2:30pm-Magnolia Sisters; 4:30pm-Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys; 6:30pm–Feufollet; 8:30pm-Savoy Family Band; 10:30pm-Cedric Watson; Sunday-11:10am-Savoy Family Band; 12:30pm-Cedric Watson; 1:50pm-Magnolia Sisters; 3:10pm–Feufollet; 4:30pm-Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys; 5:50pm-Geno Delafose

Entertainers: Geno Delafose is a zydeco accordionist and singer who created the nouveau zydeco sound. His father is the famous zydeco accordion player John Delafose. Rosie Ledet’s music is fresh and daring, yet she’s among the few Zydeco artists who can still sing and write her own  material in Creole French. The Savoy Family Cajun Band plays honed down, hard-core Cajun music laced with an earthy sensuality. Feufollet, is a band famous for their renditions of heartbreaking songs and rollicking tunes. Cedric Watson straddles Cajun and zydeco genres and is a four-time Grammy nominee. The Magnolia Sisters is a band of women who can play the whole gamut of musical styles from southwest Louisiana: Cajun, Creole, dance hall favorites, and front porch ballads. Because of their many rhythmic styles they are loved by dancers. Their most recent CD “Tripped Down” (Arhoolie Records), was nominated for a Grammy in 2010. The women of NY’s top Cajun bands combined talents and created C’est Bon Cajun Dance Band: hard-rockin, foot-stompin, girl-powered Cajun dance hall music. Kevin Naquin and the Ossun Playboys play pulsing two-steps and historical waltzes. The Ossun Playboys have released multiple award-winning albums and their live shows have also earned them numerous prestigious awards from the Cajun French Music Association.

Tickets are available online and at the box office the weekend of the event.  One-Day adult tickets are $20, $35 for the weekend,  $5- kids age 6-11.  Children 5 and under-free. Go to www.cajun-fest.com or call 954-776-1642.

Deerfield Island Park – Deerfield Beach

The 53.3 acres that make up this island park were once part of a peninsula bordered by the Spanish River on the east and the Hillsboro River to the southwest. A link with gangster Al Capone in the early 1930s led to the land being labeled Capone Island, even though the peninsula didn't actually become an island until 1961, when the Royal Palm Waterway (now the Royal Palm Canal) was dredged to connect the Intracoastal Waterway and the Hillsboro Canal.


Capone, who lived part time in a home he owned on Palm Island in Miami, indeed planned to build a quarter-million-dollar home on the peninsula, but he was foiled on two counts. First, residents of Boca Raton didn't like the idea of having Capone as a neighbor, so the town council required Capone build an access road, then blocked his ability to do so. And second, Capone's ongoing problems with the authorities finally landed him in federal prison in 1932.

Construction of everything but the marina was completed in 1979. The Florida Boating Improvement Program stepped in to fund the docks, and the park opened on September 15, 1980. Scouts continued to be allowed to camp on the island, as they had for years. Today the island, which was designated an Urban Wilderness Area in 1982 and a Gopher Tortoise Refuge in 1983, provides a habitat for raccoons, squirrels, armadillos, and gopher tortoises, as well as a variety of migratory and indigenous birds.

Today this nature-oriented park, known as Deerfield Island, offers outdoor recreational opportunities and environmental education. Accessible only by boat, this roughly triangular-shaped park is bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway and the Hillsboro and Royal Palm canals. The eastern portion of the area once included slash pines, while most of the western part was a treeless freshwater marsh. Today, remnants of the wetland are evident, although red and white mangroves are the dominant species. Many of the site's native plants and animals have succumbed to invasive, non-native species over the years, but native plants that provide food for native animals are now being reintroduced.

There is a marina with six slips for boats no longer than 25 feet (first-come, first-served.) The park is wheelchair accessible at high tide only.

The island has two main trails. The half-mile Coquina Trail, which includes an observation platform overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, explores the eastern side of the island, meandering through what was once a pineland. The three-quarter-mile Mangrove Trail, which includes a 1,600-foot boardwalk, passes through a mangrove swamp along the park's western shore.

There is one small picnic shelter (capacity 20-40), available by reservation, with tables, grills, water, electricity, an area for volleyball, and a horseshoe pit. Other picnic tables and grills are located along the boardwalk and are available (first-come, first-served.) A small shaded playground is available, and an area is also set aside for youth primitive camping with nonprofit groups.

Fishing is permitted in designated areas, but saltwater anglers who fish from shore or a structure affixed to the shore are required to purchase a shoreline fishing license, unless they already have a regular resident saltwater fishing license.


Volunteer-led bird walks are for ages 6 and older and run from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month, October through May. Participants must be at the dock at Sullivan Park by 9 a.m. to catch the boat shuttle to the island ($3 per person.) Intracoastal History Tours are offered October through April on the Fourth Sunday of the Month from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and are designed for ages 6 and up. Participants must be at the dock at Sullivan Park by 9:30 a.m. to catch the boat shuttle to the island ($5 per person.)

Space is limited and preregistration is required for tours by calling Quiet Waters Park at 954-357-5100. A free boat shuttle transports park patrons from the dock at Sullivan Park to the island on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends only. The last shuttle returning to the mainland departs the island at 4 p.m. For more information on Deerfield island Park in Deerfield Beach, call 954-357-5100 or go to www.broward.org/parks/deerfieldislandpark.