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We’ve Moved! To a New Website…

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Florida Culture has moved! Not out of the Sunshine State….just to a new website.

Find all of our great content at Florida Culture Travel (www.floridaculturetravel.com). We’ve got a couple of new posts on the site that have not been posted here to our old site.

Continue to like and share what you read, and follow our social media links for many other travel articles from Florida Culture!

Thanks.

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Written by floridaculture

September 19, 2018 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Gatorland Welcomes Bonecrusher 2–One BIG Gator

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How the heck do you transport a 15-foot alligator from one park to another?

Verrrryyy carefully. Just watch the video at the link below, which shows the recent arrival of Bonecrusher 2 to Gatorland in Orlando. Check out the number of people who have to transport him–then again, you’d probably have a few hands on deck if you had to move a 1,400-lb. gator.

http://www.wftv.com/videos/news/bonecrusher-ii-arrives-at-gatorland/v3Zx5/

Bonecrusher 2 was moved to Gatorland after Everglade Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs closed in April. He’s a direct descendant of the original Bonecrusher who lived at Gatorland in the 1950s and 1960s till his death in 1971. He was thought to be the largest alligator in captivity.

The park’s new arrival lived at Everglade Wonder Gardens for 45 years. If you see him, make sure you stand back–he can jump seven feet out of the water.

If you haven’t been to Gatorland yet, search our blog for previous articles. It’s an affordable Old Florida attraction where you can see hundreds alligators and crocodiles, feed birds, and plenty more.

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Written by floridaculture

May 30, 2013 at 3:20 pm

St. Petersburg Saturday Market: A Feast for Your Taste Buds

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You don’t have to travel to Miami for food diversity in Florida.
The St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market, held in the Al Lang Field parking lot not far from the Mahaffey Theater and the new Salvador Dali museum, features a motley mix of farms, food vendors, live music, craft vendors, and more.

Best damn bloody mary mix ever? Check.
Brooklyn knishes? Check.
Fresh coconut juice, served in a coconut? They got it.
A fire-engine red Mediterranean food truck? It’s there.
Fresh Italian buffalo mozzarella cheese you can sample? Got that, too.
Surprisingly, this is the biggest fresh air market in the Southeast United States, attracting 8,000 to 10,000 people each week.

photo4The St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market has nearly 200 vendors that fill 130 spaces on a given Saturday. The market, which began in 2002, is held from early October to late May, although there’s a smaller version of the market in the summer held in the Mahaffey Theater parking garage. That location may sound unglamorous but trust us, on a hot Florida summer day, you’ll be thankful you’re under cover and not in the heat.

Checking Out the Market: A Firsthand Report
On a recent Saturday visit, Florida Culture was overwhelmed by the diversity of agriculture and food choices at the bustling market. You would think you’re in New York City or San Francisco based on the diversity of food smells, sights, and flavors.

The name says it all.

The name says it all.

We often think of fresh-air markets to get fresh bread or locally grown produce, but you don’t have to go to the Saturday Market just to get fresh tomatoes. Go for the street festival-
like experience. Buy a fresh-squeezed orange juice and trail mix and enjoy your snack under a shaded area. Chat up the vendors about the products they make. If you want to purchase your produce or meat with a clean conscience, talk to some of the agricultural vendors who are passionate about their commitment to organic produce or grass-fed beef.

The yummy cheese selections at Cheeselicious, one of the vendors.

The yummy cheese selections at Cheeselicious, one of the vendors.

Worden Farm, a well-known organic farm in Punta Gorda, has a large area at the market with a line of customers just waiting to buy fresh greens, carrots, and other veggies. Cheeselicious owner Antonio Casamento of Tampa offers samples of his Italian-style fresh buffalo cheeses. From other vendors, you can sample Cajun food, buy some grouper to grill at home from the fresh seafood vendor, or check out the new “to go” tropical fruit wines from St. Petersburg-based Florida Orange Groves Winery.

 

The market usually features live music of all types, ranging from jazz to Latin to rock and more. You may need to dodge an elderly lady in a colorful maxi dress dancing along with the beats. Or, in another part of the market, you might hear an accordion player performing, inexplicably, an R&B hit.

 

View not far from the St. Pete Saturday Market.

View not far from the St. Pete Saturday Market.

If you’re a dog person, then the Saturday Market is your place to watch basset hounds mix with German shepherds and chihuahuas network (aka sniff butts) with Jack Russell terriers.
The market starts at 9 a.m. and goes until 2 p.m. If you’re looking to avoid crowds, go early. When you finish at the market, take a walk along the nearby scenic water view in downtown St. Pete and watch airplanes take off from St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport. Or, spend some time at the surreal Dali museum.

Dogs enjoy the Saturday Market, too.

Dogs enjoy the Saturday Market, too.

Written by floridaculture

April 21, 2013 at 10:41 pm

TreeUmph: Checking Out Life in the Trees

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Imagine a place with Tarzan-style ropes, zip lines, bungee swings, and hanging nets up in the trees—all of which you experience from the, er, comfort of a harness.

TreeUmph, which opened off of State Road 70 in Bradenton (but near Myakka City) in January, is doing a brisk business. During our visit on a recent weekday holiday, TreeUmph was absolutely packed with adventure-seekers of all ages.

When you visit TreeUmph, you sign in at base camp (reservations are strongly recommended), put on a harness (staff can help you if you’re not sure how), take a half-hour safety course so you learn how to use your harness and the ropes safely, and then you’re off. Adults can use up to five courses that escalate (literally) in difficulty—during our recent visit, we heard that only about 50% of visitors complete the final two and most difficult courses. Those who finish all the courses can celebrate with a 650-foot zip line. Children ages 7 to 11 can use the much smaller but still challenging kids’ course called Ape-Up, which is right beside the basecamp.

TreeUmph is the only “elevated adventure course” in Southwest Florida, according to its website.  It is part of a chain of parks called TreeGo.

Admission cost is $49.95 for adults (age 12 and over), $34.95 for a junior ticket (we’ll explain in tip 3 below), and $25.95 for the kids’ course. There are discounts for early visits, veterans, and for seniors. If you see a TreeUmph promotional flier or brochure, it will probably have a 10% discount coupon.

And here’s an update, effective May 2013: Get out your flashlights as TreeUmph is now offering NIGHT tours–they’ll provide headlamps and adventure, you make advance reservations and be ready for some nighttime fun.

6 Ways to Prepare for TreeUmph

Considering a visit to TreeUmph? Then consider a few tips gathered on our recent visit.

1. Bring gloves and water. Gloves you might use for manual work or exercise will help keep your hands from getting sore while you hold on to the many overhead ropes. However, if you forget them, TreeUmph sells ‘em for a couple of bucks.  The park also sells water but again, you can save some dough if you bring your own (just remember you’ll have to carry it with you).

2. Plan to be there a good part of the day. Completing all of the adult courses can take around four hours (the good news is it’s a real workout, so you can skip your treadmill time on the day you visit). By the time you check in and do the safety course, you’re talking about an all-morning or all-afternoon visit. If you have kids doing the Ape-Up course, they’ll likely make it through in 15 to 20 minutes. Considering they can complete the kids’ course twice, you’re talking 45 minutes or so. So, if half your group is doing the adult course and the other half will stick with the kiddos, make sure the kiddo group brings something else to entertain themselves like pizza or a picnic. There are some picnic tables.

3. Decide how adventurous you want your 9 to 11-year-olds to be. Children in this age group can complete three of the five adult courses if they are with an adult. Certainly, there are some who manage just fine. Still, keep in mind that there’s a higher cost with the adult course (you’ll buy the Junior Ticket instead of the children’s ticket), and some kids will find it scarier than the kids course. The kids’ course even sparked some fear in the 9-year-old in our group who is usually a risk taker. You could always have them try the children’s course and promise a visit to the bigger course for next time if they do well.

4. Time your visit to experience fewer crowds. We thought 11 a.m. on a weekday would be a reasonable hour—turns out, we didn’t think about it being a holiday, so we waited in line about a half hour to check in and another half hour to wait for the safety course. We actually stopped by for a quick look during a recent Saturday and it was less busy than our weekday holiday jaunt. Consider getting an early start (the park opens at 8 a.m. on the weekend and 10 a.m. on weekdays) or a regular (non-holiday) weekday visit.

5. Use the park’s website to help prep for your visit. Click here to find all the specifics on what you should and shouldn’t wear (leave the heels and open-toed shoes at home), the park’s weather policy, and how early to arrive before your reservation.

6. Enjoy! You are held in place by your harness. Yes, the course can be scary—but TreeUmph emphasizes safety, you learn how to properly use your harness and the ropes during your orientation course, and you can stop if you don’t want to go past a certain point in the course.

Written by floridaculture

March 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Best Ways to Enjoy In-Season Florida Strawberries

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“In the winter, Florida feeds the nation,” Hydro Harvest Farms owner John Lawson of Ruskin told Florida Culture recently. A lion’s share of produce in the winter, especially for the Eastern part of the U.S., is grown in Florida thanks to the state’s temperate climate. However, if you don’t live in the Sunshine State, you may not realize that strawberry is one of the state’s winter shining stars. Florida ranks second in the U.S. for strawberry crops (second behind California) and produces nearly 100% of the nation’s winter strawberry supply. The majority of the state’s strawberries are grown in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties in the central/southwest part of the state.

Plant City strawberries.

Plant City strawberries.

Considering the state’s brisk strawberry business in the winter and that strawberries have grown in popularity thanks to their nutritional superpowers (they are the fifth preferred fruit in the U.S.), then it makes sense that strawberries deserve some celebrating by locals and visitors alike. Here are a few of the best ways you can enjoy Florida’s in-season strawberries.

 

–Pick your own. By picking your own strawberries, you can choose what you like and get the berries as fresh as they can be. A number of farms offer hydroponic strawberries, meaning that they are grown in water with special nutrients, not in the ground, so you don’t have to kneel for them as you would in a more traditional setting. Check out localharvest.org for referrals to local farms. Three that we like that have hydroponic strawberries are Hydro Harvest in Ruskin, Hydro Taste in Myakka City, and O’Brien Farms in Bradenton.

Hydroponic strawberries at Hydro Harvest Farm.

Hydroponic strawberries at Hydro Harvest Farm.

Hydro Harvest Farm in Ruskin.

Hydro Harvest Farm in Ruskin.

When you pick the berries, cut them off from the stem as opposed to right above the fruit itself. By doing so, the fruit receives more nutrients.  Strawberries don’t continue to ripen after you pick them, so make sure they are fully red and not pink or white. And don’t get fooled by size, says Gary Wishnatzki, owner of Wish Farms (a big name in the business). Strawberries can taste great whether they are small, medium, or large. Put them in the fridge and eat them as fresh as possible, as they spoil easily.

–Try strawberry shortcake. Who doesn’t love strawberry shortcake? That mix of whipped cream, strawberries, and cake merge together for a taste bud treat. Although a number of Florida farms offer strawberry shortcake this time of year, Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City (Plant City, not far from Tampa, is considered the heart of strawberry farms) offers its massive strawberry shortcake from December to mid-April.

DSC_0764When we first heard about Parkesdale, we envisioned a quaint farm market with a picnic table or two outside to sit and enjoy the shortcake. Wrong. During our recent visit on a Saturday afternoon, we learned that everyone and their grandmother (and some great-grandmothers too), flock to Parkesdale for strawberry shortcake and yummy strawberry milkshakes. There were even tour buses. The market has pictures of presidents, including President Obama, visiting the place. The line to order is long, although staff try to keep it moving along. The market has a variety of other locally grown produce items. Just plan your visit during down times if you don’t like crowds.DSC_0765

–Celebrate strawberry cheer at the annual Florida Strawberry Festival. Held in the aforementioned Plant City, this year on Feb. 28 through March 10, the festival features a number of music acts, comedy reviews, kids’ activities, and even crowns a Strawberry Festival Queen. This year’s acts include Chubby Checker, Alan Jackson, Martina McBridge, Scotty McCreery, and Blake Shelton. There are also a number of county-fair like activities (corndog eating contest, swine sale, parades, and lamb jumping). And while we’d like to think the festival sells an abundance of sweet and healthy strawberries, any promotion we see for the festival seems to focus on everything deep fried–there’s even a Fried Corn on the Cob Team Eating Contest on Friday, March 1. Don’t miss it.

–Weigh in on how your strawberries taste. The next time you buy strawberries at the supermarket this time of year, check out the package. There’s a good chance it comes from Wish Farms. Wish Farms has a new program called “How’s my picking?”, where you can enter a special 16-digit code unique to the package and provide feedback on the flavor of your berries, says Wishnatzki. That code tracks where the crop was grown, when it was picked, and other factors. Wish Farms is using that feedback to try to provide better-tasting strawberries, Wishnatzki explains.

You can be the king or queen of strawberries at Parkesdale Farm Market.

You can be the king or queen of strawberries at Parkesdale Farm Market.

 

Written by floridaculture

February 3, 2013 at 4:06 pm

6 Theme-Park Alternatives for Your Florida Visit

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Happy 2013! After a brief hiatus, Florida Culture returns.

Florida Culture enjoys the Sunshine State’s famous theme parks as much as other visitors. However, the high price tag and the crowds can wear down even the most patient tourist. So, we share here some ideas on alternatives to theme parks, popular beaches, and outlet malls. We cull these ideas from our two years of blogging for this site, our more than three years of living in Central and South Florida, and our experience as an agricultural columnist for Central Florida’s Agri-Leader.

 

Seen at a farmers market in Plant City.

Seen at a farmers market in Plant City.

1. Visit a farmer’s market. Fresh produce—it’s better for you and better tasting. That’s the biggest draw for a farmer’s market visit. Not staying long enough to stock up on lettuce? A visit to your local farmer’s market still will bring some rewarding experiences. You might discover new produce items (fennel or malanga, anyone?), try delicious honey or olive oil, indulge in a local specialty (like the massive strawberry shortcake served seasonally at the Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City), and find handmade jewelry or craft items. You will likely even glimpse a small sliver of where your food back home comes from, depending when you visit. That’s because in the dead of the winter, a large number of the produce items in the U.S. grown domestically come from the Sunshine State. To find out where your nearby farmer’s markets are, go to www.localharvest.org. Or, search online for “farmers market” and the name of the town where you are staying.

2. Make time for an agricultural visit. In Orlando and certain other areas of the state, you can get your shaDSC_0694re of low-price/low-quality buffets and cheesy (although admittedly fascinating) dinner shows. However, these don’t give you a sense of the “real” Florida, much of which centers around marine life and agriculture. Depending on where you are in the state, you can visit an orange juice visitor’s center (Florida’s Natural Growers in Lake Wales), a you-pick citrus grove (Showcase of Citrus in Clermont), a citrus grove and wildlife center (Mixon Fruit Farms in Bradenton), a dairy farm (Dakin Dairy Farm in Myakka City), find out how tupelo honey is made in north Florida, or even embark on a full agriculture tour of several sites, like those offered by Gulf Coast Ag Ventures or the sugar cane tours available seasonally further south in the state. (The list here is obviously not exhaustive.) In the winter and early spring, you’ll have more than your share of ag-focused visits from which to choose. With the Florida heat, the choices are more limited in the summer and early fall.

3. Search for sharks’ teeth. Florida Culture has focused a few times on searching for sharks’ teeth in Venice, Fla.—click here and here for links. If you’re not already familiar with the concept, sharks’ teeth from millions of years ago seem to have settled in the Venice area, leading many visitors to arrive on local beaches with their “Florida snow shovels” to find teeth. Although the megalodon teeth are harder to come by than before, we’re told, you can still see samples of the larger-than-you-can-imagine teeth at local gift shops or during the Shark Tooth Festival in April.

DSC_06814. Become a fan of other Orlando attractions. We particularly like I-Drive’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium (which has another location in St. Augustine)—as the name promises, you can see some of the weird, wacky, and incredible finds of Mr. Ripley. The exhibits sometimes change to incorporate new items. Also on I-Drive is Wonderworks, an interactive science museum great for kids of all ages that also has an arcade, ropes course, laser tag, and 4-D ride (and which recently added a dinner show). A visit to Ripley’s is about $19.99 an adult and $12.99 for a child. Wonderworks is slightly more. Affordable, but make sure to check tourist guidebooks and online for discount coupons before you visit. In fact, you’ll pay less at Ripley’s if you buy your tickets online.

 

You've got a friend at Gatorland.

You’ve got a friend at Gatorland.

5. See gators. Alligators are obviously their own tourist trap in the state. However, you can get up close and personal—without really getting up close and personal—at places like Orlando’s Gatorland, a smaller theme park with an old Florida feel. During our visit in early 2013 to Gatorland (not our first—see our archives for previous entries), we experienced no crowds, friendly staff members, and the interactive animal experiences in their aviary and petting zoo (petting farm animals, not gators). For $21.99 per non-resident adult and $9.99 per Florida resident certain times of the year for non-residents, the entrance fee is a steal compared to the larger parks. You can pay more for additional experiences, such as the zip line or spending time with a gator trainer.

If you’re not near Gatorland, try out an airboat ride for an up close view of gators and other animals.

Options abound online—they’re loud and not for the touchy-feely type (don’t touch that gator!), but you’ll likely get great nature views.

Just some of the wines sold at Florida Orange Groves and Winery.

Just some of the wines sold at Florida Orange Groves and Winery.

6. Drink wine. Florida Culture has profiled a number of wineries (and will continue to do so), for good reason. Aside from the pleasure of a full cup, Florida wineries must fight against challenging growth conditions, so it’s fascinating to learn how they make their product. Wineries often use different types of grapes (like muscadine) compared with other states, and they tend to offer more sweet varieties. To be sure, most of the wineries offer drier varieties, too—they may not compare to your classic dry varieties, but at least it’s something.

Some wineries, like Florida Orange Groves and Winery in St. Petersburg, experiment with various fruit varieties—tried honey wine, tomato wine, or mango or key lime wine? In addition to Florida Orange Groves and Winery, we like Keel and Curley in Plant City, Lakeridge Winery in Clermont, San Sebastian in St. Augustine, and Rosa Fiorelli Winery in Bradenton. Search the website http://www.tryfloridawine.com/ or http://www.fgga.org/brochure.htm for more winery names within the state.

In 2013, we’ll continue to bring you ideas that reflect classic Florida Culture and tourism.

Written by floridaculture

January 8, 2013 at 12:24 am

Giving Respect to Cortez’s Star Fish Company–and Authentic Florida

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No one likes to say “I told you so…”…but truthfully, we do like to say it.

Crab seen on Bradenton Beach recently, not far from Cortez and Star Fish Company.

And Florida Culture is here to say “I told you so…” after one of our first entries wrote about the authentic charm of tiny Cortez, Florida, and its Star Fish Company, an on-the-water seafood restaurant. Your food comes to you fresh and piping hot in boxes. You pay at a counter and eat at wooden tables while enjoying a bay view. If you’re lucky, you’ll see fishermen making catches for the day’s menu.

Unusual jellyfish seen on Bradenton Beach recently, not far from Cortez and Star Fish Company.

Travel and Leisure Magazine included Star Fish on its October 2012 list of Best Seafood Restaurants in the U.S., along with a number of places that span the states and range from ultra-casual (like Star Fish) to upscale. Number one on the list is GT Fish & Oyster in Chicago.

The spotlight on Star Fish comes just as nearby Anna Maria Island will host Oct. 17-19 a Sustainable & Authentic Florida Conference for three days. Attendees will discuss how sustainable and authentic places in the Sunshine State (much like the places we try to write about here on the Florida Culture blog) can attract more investors and visitors. The conference will include a Florida fish fry buffet at Star Fish as well as a walking tour of Cortez and nearby A.P. Bell Seafood Company.

Written by floridaculture

October 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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