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Florida as tourist and citizen

Article and photos by Joe Gschwendtner

Photo of a bayou in Florida

Bayou picture taken from a fan-powered swamp boat on the watery warrens of Everglades City.

The last two weeks in February were spent giving the Sunshine State a thorough going-over, putting 1,700 miles on a red Mini Cooper. Unlike our laid-back trip to Florida’s panhandle last fall, we crisscrossed the state twice, putting a big toe into the Everglades before departing.

If you’ve not visited Florida in prime season, be prepared for hordes of vacationers and snowbirds from the northeast and Canada. This is one downside. The other downside is a wretchedly hot, humid spring and summer. The upside, everything else.

It’s not hard to see why Florida is popular. Some examples include:

  • New wide roads, well marked, especially at night with luminous markings and lane pins light your way like bright runways. This, especially good for those of us, more “seasoned” travelers with fading eyesight.
  • Modern new shopping centers and developments.
  • Beaches. One is almost never more than 90 minutes from a beach generally wide open and blessed with the finest of white sands. Coastal islands like Sanibel, Captiva and Marco beckon.
  • Legendary golf courses with trees and shrubs nicely manicured.
  • Genuinely fresh fish in all restaurants, markets and for fishermen. Thousands of piers and coves where one can while away the hours dreaming of, and even catching the “big one.”
  • No state income tax.

For creature comforts, all but the stilted will revel in the dress “code.” Most folks are casually dressed, perhaps even more so than Californians. For food shopping, Publix Super Markets are generally regarded as the industry’s Cadillac, with broad selections, bright lighting, product facings executed with military precision and employees who rate their company among the top 50 places to work in the U.S.

Photo inside Baker Museum in Naples displays much artistry

The Baker Museum in Naples displays much artistry, and one is welcomed by a glass chandelier, courtesy of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Homes are typically one level and generally still more affordable than elsewhere. Maintenance is a different story, as the climate is so agreeable. Flora and fauna seem to grow inches each day.

For the kids and grandchildren, there is an abundance of entertainment options and venues. Orlando’s Disney World broke ground years ago and now sports an exhaustive, almost incomprehensible menu with SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Discovery Cove, Universal and Old Town. Not to forget, the Everglades are like no other natural attraction on earth.

Want the universe? Visit Cape Canaveral near Melbourne where the U.S. opened the door to space exploration.

Sarasota, often seen as the perfect city, exudes charm and class with her architecture and The Ringling museums. In Naples, we visited The Baker Museum with its collection of modern and contemporary art. Do not forget Florida’s major league sports teams the Marlins, Devil Rays, Heat, Magic, Jaguars, Panthers, Dolphins and Buccaneers.

Have I muddied the water with a hodge podge of too much information?
Perhaps so, but whether a tourist, a potential retiree, or someone now looking for a winter home, know this: Florida is about relaxation, exhilaration and amusement fostered by catalysts of sunshine, water, dining, golfing, culture and a casual lifestyle.

It is rightfully a tourist and retirement magnet. Oftentimes, it seems both categories are in Florida at one time and in their cars.

The caveats are simple: Plan for the seasons, parking issues and traffic. If not, Florida will not be the paradise you had hoped. Of course, if you have a fear of alligators, all bets are off.



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