Quick and Easy Way to Tour Everglades National Park

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Everglades National Park is located about an hour west of downtown Miami, Florida. On our recent visit, we looked for a hotel that was the quickest and easiest to get out of town. We booked a room at the Marriott Residence Inn located in Doral. It’s only a few miles away from the airport. If you’re flying in or driving in, this is a great location. The rooms were excellent.

The Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park was almost a straight run west of the hotel, an easy 40-minute drive into the grasslands. There are a few other entrances/visitor centers, so be mindful of which entrance you are looking at when you plan to tour the park. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is the most popular and, in my opinion, the easiest to get to for out-of-town visitors.

On the way out of town, you will pass a Casino and, as you near the park, you will find several airboat tour companies. If we had more time, I would have booked a tour. I love a good airboat ride!

We visited the park in February, as the Everglades are extremely hot in other seasons. That said, there is a consistent breeze across the mostly open expanse of water year-round.

We experienced a very warm February day; it was in the low 80’s but overcast and very comfortable. We are Floridians, so this is great weather for us.

We made a reservation for the tram tour a few days in advance. It is highly recommended to make reservations for the tram tours. The tour costs $30 per person and is narrated by excellent tour guides.

There is also an entrance fee for the park which is paid at the gate upon entry which is also around $30 per person. The day we went, however, their systems were down from a power surge or something. So, they let us in for free! We did pay in advance online for the tram tour to reserve our spot.

The tour follows a paved loop that runs about 15 miles total, which includes a stop halfway to walk up the tower that overlooks the park.

It was a very easy and comfortable ride. We sat in the last seat which afforded a little more legroom.

The tram stops for nature sightings of birds and alligators and to point out areas of interest. There are also many cyclists on the paved path so they will slow to accommodate a congested area of bikes.

We saw many birds and only a few gators in the canal along the ride back. The silence was beautiful along with the persistent gentle breeze that will easily blow your hat off on the tram ride.

The visitor center is a small building with a ticket window for bike rentals and a small gift shop and educational center as well as bathrooms. For all the glory that is the Everglades, there are only a few educational areas to take in, so it is a very quick tour of the Visitor Center.

There is also a short boardwalk trail in front of the visitors center that is a popular spot to go while waiting for the tour. You can see if on google maps as noted above. I’d say it took a leisurely 15 minutes or so to walk it.

The two hour tour gave us the most information and was equal to a National Geographic Documentary, at least on the day that we went. Also note that tipping of the guides is encouraged. They have a dropbox for tips in the front car of the tram.

Staying in a hotel in Miami close to the Shark Valley Visitor Center entrance and booking the tram tour was, for us, the quickest and easiest way to experience Everglades National Park.

Best Way to Enjoy New Year’s Day: Kayak The Loxahatchee

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On New Year’s Day last year, we planned a group adventure to kayak the Loxahatchee River. The Loxahatchee is one of the most scenic of south Florida waterways.

Kayak the Loxahatchee at Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Jonathan Dickinson State Park, located in Hobe Sound, Florida on the Loxahatchee River, offers a variety of outdoor activities. Our group rented kayaks and canoes, while other park visitors filled the seats of a sunset river cruise. 

The winter months are the best time to kayak in south Florida. It was cool and comfy out on the river; I think these creatures would agree.

One of the reason’s we like to kayak the Loxahatchee is to get up close to the wildlife. You never know what you’re going to see.

Our group chose two person or tandem kayaks, but honestly, I think a single kayak is easier to handle. If only one person is doing the heavy work, then a tandem is great.

The general store handles all rentals and boat tickets as well as hosts a concession stand and umbrella tables to eat riverside. A pavilion with picnic tables stands nearby with extra seating and also convenient restrooms. 

Can’t think of a better way to spend a day than with family and friends.

Mapping your trip down the river

You might be wondering how to navigate your kayak on the Loxahatchee if you’re a visitor to the area. It was pretty easy.

The waterways are wide and easy to paddle. We received a map with the kayak rentals and made sure to agree to an easy path. I then stuck the map in a ziploc bag to keep dry along the way.

There were other people on the water, as well as a regularly traveling tour boat. Seeing other boaters gave us confidence we would be able to contact help if needed. We had no problems.

Happy New Year! Day 1 – A Day Well Spent.

Theme Park Christmas Trees: Which Park Wins?

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Which theme park offers more magic in Orlando this Christmas?

Many guests to Central Florida’s two major theme parks this season are in agreement. The 2020 holiday displays at Universal Orlando rival that of Disney. In some cases, Universal even beats Disney for the best of 2020. Lots of fans are talking about the extravagant theme park Christmas trees this year. Here’s how the two parks compare.

How does the Universal Holiday Tree Hunt compare to Disney’s Christmas Tree Stroll?

Universal has many extravagantly themed Christmas Trees this year worthy of a visit. Such as the Harry Potter, Grinch, and Hello Kitty Trees. Universal’s tree decorators were hard at work this year. The trees are in locations that make sense and add to the experience of the holidays at the park. You can easily purchase many ornaments from the trees to decorate your own themed tree at home if you like.

Disney Changes it’s Tree Trail to Tree Stroll

Disney’s Christmas tree exhibit is staged differently this year due to the pandemic. Formerly a tree trail, it is now a stroll. So, there is no designated area to enjoy the trees as in years past. There used to be a Christmas themed area where you could walk under falling manmade snow and meander down a path lined with holiday trees. Not so this year. They are spread throughout Disney Springs to facilitate better social distancing.

The problem is that the trees themselves apart from each other don’t feel quite as magical. They each contain a showcase ornament in a locked lantern. The rest of the tree’s ornament’s are of less interest, though themed to a specific character or movie. They are large and festive, but each alone leaves the Disney Christmas Tree Stroll a little lackluster.

What was magical about the experience of the Tree Trail was a single destination that combined falling snow, a hot chocolate booth, special treats, and trees with overhead string lights and other holiday set features. The trees this year, standing alone througout Disney Springs in random spots make the Tree Trail less of an event and they seem to just be a part of the background decorations.

When compared to Disney’s Tree Trail in Disney Springs, Universal’s Holiday Tree Hunt comes out the winner for 2020.

But what about snacks and other holiday food and experiences at the parks? Read on to see what AllAboutEars.Com has to say about who wins Christmas this year.

These Are the 8 Best Eats You’re Going to Want to Try at EPCOT’s Festival of the Holidays! – AllEars.Net

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If you’re heading to the Festival of the Holidays soon in EPCOT, you’re going to want to try these 8 items from the food booths during your visit!
— Read on allears.net/2020/11/28/these-are-the-8-best-eats-youre-going-to-want-to-try-at-epcots-festival-of-the-holidays/

Is Royal Caribbean Building a Resort?

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News about Royal Caribbean’s plans to build a land based resort in the Bahamas are surfacing as the end of the pandemic nears. Royal has already purchased land, but the project had been put on hold due to the global Covid crisis. Would a Royal Caribbean resort work like a cruise ship on land? Plans are in the very early stages, read on to see the preliminary information that has been revealed about the new Royal Caribbean resort.

Royal Caribbean’s plans to build a cruise resort in Bahamas are still alive | Royal Caribbean Blog
— Read on www.royalcaribbeanblog.com/2020/11/24/royal-caribbeans-plans-build-cruise-resort-bahamas-are-still-alive

Can You Take a Train to Disney World?

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Train Station Coming to Disney Springs

Visitors and locals alike are welcoming the news of a high-speed train coming to Disney Springs.

This new rail service will open up high-speed travel between Orlando and other Florida cities.

Designs of other stations can offer a clue into the scale and design of a Disney Springs depot, such as the one shown here in West Palm Beach:

Photo Credit: Artistic rendering of West Palm Beach Station
– Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Architects

What connections can a Disney train station offer?

It’s looking like travelers to Disney World, with incoming flights to Orlando International, will be able to hop on a train that will take them from the airport directly to a transportation hub in Disney Springs. There they can find transport to all Walt Disney World locations.

A train station in Disney Springs can open up other connections as well, such as access to the cruise terminals in Miami, Tampa, and Cape Canaveral.

Photo Credit: Brightline

Brightline High-Speed Railway is currently completing 170 miles of new track and the coordinating stations from Miami to Orlando International Airport. Stops along the route include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. 

The private rail system was launched in 2018 and is currently moving its way north with plans set for multiple stations along the route to Central Florida that will eventually include a station at Disney Springs and beyond to Tampa. 

When will high-speed train service arrive at Disney?

The Brightline station at the Orlando International Airport plans to open in 2022, allowing construction on the line to Disney and Tampa to begin. The timeline for the completion of phase 3 is likely 2 to 3 years.

The Orlando Brightline Station
Photo Credit: Brightline

While Central Florida locals are used to endless public road construction projects, Brightline, as a private company, can boast quick turn around times from start to completion. We can anticipate a high-speed rail station in Disney Springs to be complete by 2025.

Photo Credit: Brightline

Disney Celebrates National Gingerbread Day

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Image Credit Disney Parks Blog

In honor of National Gingerbread Day, Food and Beverage Content Relations Manager, Karen McClintock, shared this recipe for Disney’s Gingerbread-Cream Cheese Muffins today on the Disney Parks Blog:

“Let’s face it, the scent and taste of freshly baked gingerbread screams HOLIDAY, and this spiced gingerbread muffin with cream cheese filling is the perfect bundle of holiday goodness!”

Time to add some ground ginger and a jar of molasses to your shopping list and your kitchen will be smelling magical in under an hour.

Or, you can find these gingerbread muffins in Animal Kingdom at two Quick Service locations. The first spot being the Isle of Java, next to the Flame Tree Grill, which sits just before the bridge to DinoLand. There’s an abundance of outdoor seating nearby on the terrace to take a seat and enjoy your holiday treat.

The second location is Harambe Fruit Market, located directly in front of Kilimanjaro Safaris. Book a fast pass for the Safari and snack on the muffins while you wait, or enjoy them seated on one of the umbrella tables next to Harambe if you can grab a spot. 

These seasonal Gingerbread-Cream Cheese Muffins are available in Animal Kingdom from December 1st through January 2nd or in your own kitchen any time you wish!

Kraft Azalea Gardens, Winter Park, Florida

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Surprised by owls

This public garden, seated on the shores of Lake Maitland, bursts with old Florida charm. Established in 1938 by George and Maud Kraft, the Kraft Azalea Gardens are situated in a small 5-acre park open from 8 a.m. until dark for 365 days a year and is free to the public. 

A visit here offers a pleasant shady stroll under enormous cypress trees alongside the famed azalea bushes. You can easily take a seat among one of the many benches overlooking the lake to enjoy the lake breeze and bird song overhead.

This Exedra bench pictured below is a popular photographer’s spot. (FYI an Exedra is a semi-circular Greco-roman bench made for conversational seating).


Out in the distance, you can see the Scenic Boat Tours making their rounds. The boat ride starts on Lake Osceola then rides through the channels that connect the lakes. 

On the day of my trip, I could distincly hear two hoot owls calling to each other from somewhere overhead. Suddenly, a rush of wings flew above me – it was an owl! It swooped up to a high branch in an old oak tree and landed next to it’s partner. I zoomed in with my new camera to catch these two up close.

What a magical surprise – a mated pair of Barred owls ! It was abeautiful afternoon well spent in Winter Park.

Links found in this article:

City of Winter Park

Scenic Boat Tours

More on Barred Owls

If you’re in the market for a great lightweight digital camera, I recommend the Canon Powershot 740SX with 40X Digital zoom (Amazon affiliate link).