There is a lot more to Florida than Disney and Crowded Beaches

Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of the travel site Sketchandtravel and the book reviewing site Bookpleasures is pleased to have as a guest, travel author, Bruce Hunt, expert on Florida Travel.

Bruce is the author of Visiting Small Town Florida Revised Edition, Florida’s Finest Inns And Bed & Breakfasts, and Adventure Sports In Florida.

Norm:

Good Day Bruce and thank you for participating in our interview.

Norm:

Could you tell our readers something about yourself and what prompted you to write books on Florida?

Bruce:

I’m one of those rarities–a Florida native. I’ve lived in Tampa all my life, and I’ve watched it grow from a medium-size town into a big city, with all the things that go along with that–traffic, crowds, etc.

I do love Tampa, but occasionally I need a break from the “big-cityness”, and I like to go visit off-the-beaten-path places–quiet and peaceful little towns where people you don’t even know smile, wave, and say Good Morning as they pass you on the sidewalk, where it’s still quiet enough in the middle of the day that you can hear birds chirping, and where Mom-and-Pop general stores and home-cooked-meal diners still exist. I figured there must be others like me, so I pitched the idea for the first volume of “Visiting Small-Town Florida” to Pineapple Press ten years ago.

That wasn’t my first book though. “Adventure Sports In Florida” (also Pineapple Press) came first. It’s out of print now, but it was a guidebook to high-adrenaline sports (skydiving, automobile racing, hang gliding, hot air ballooning, cave diving, etc.) and where to learn how to do them properly. I’ve been skydiving for 28 years and racing sports cars for 20, so this was a natural first book for me.

Some people think it’s odd that I have an interest in these types of things as well as the small-town stuff, but what can I say, I like them both. After “Visiting Small-Town Florida”, came Volume 2 of that book, and then “Florida’s Finest Inns and Bed & Breakfasts”, which complimented the “Visiting Small-Town Florida” series nicely, then in 2003 “Visiting Small-Town Florida, Revised Edition”.

Norm:

Do you believe that travel is a learning experience and by effectively employing our senses we will be handsomely rewarded? As a follow up and if you agree with this assertion, were there any events or experiences that would lead you to this conclusion? Please elaborate.

Bruce:

Travel is all about new experiences–placing yourself in a completely different environment–fresh sights, sounds, and smells. And I think the more you learn about the place you are visiting, the more you will enjoy it. That’s why I spend so much time digging up trivial tidbits of history about the places I go to and write about. Regarding events or experiences, I can’t pinpoint one–I’ve just had the travel bug as long as I can remember.

Norm:

What is your idea of the perfect romantic getaway, and the perfect romantic inn or B&B?

Bruce:

Quiet, private, and picturesque–like the places I list two questions down.

Norm:

Why should we consider Florida as a romantic destination?

Bruce:

Well certainly Florida has its tropical and exotic side, and there’s something about being around beaches and the water that’s enticing, but I think there’s a lot of romance in well-preserved historic Florida too–St. Augustine, Fernandina, Micanopy, Apalachicola, Cedar Key, Mt. Dora, to name a few spots.

Norm:

If you had to choose 5 unique and romantic Florida destinations for a wedding, which ones would you consider and why?

Bruce:

How about seven?

The top spot would have to be Little Palm Island, a private island off Little Torch Key, about 25 miles north of Key West. But at $700 – $1600 per night, it’s not for everybody.

I also like the Elizabeth Pointe Lodge on Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island–looks like an old Cape Cod house, very nautical, but actually built in 1992 (it’s on the cover of my “Florida’s Finest Inns and B&Bs”).

The historic Don CeSar Hotel on St. Pete Beach is very elegant and posh.

Anywhere on Captiva (off Florida’s southwest Gulf coast)–The Castaways (simple little cottages right on the beach), the ‘Tween Waters Inn, or South Seas Plantation.

Seaside, up on the Panhandle between Panama City and Destin–perhaps Florida’s most beautiful beach–rent one of the many pastel bungalows.

The Herlong Mansion, a gracious turn-of-the-century red-brick Georgian (and maybe haunted?) bed & breakfast in Micanopy–about fifteen miles south of Gainesville.

The Dewey House B&B at the southern (quieter) end of Duval Street in Key West.

Norm:

As a follow up to the last question, which 5 inns or B&Bs in Florida would you consider to be the most romantically unique and why?

Bruce:

See the list in the previous question–but it’s a constantly shifting list–depends on what you’re in the mood for. If you ask me a month from now I’m liable to give you five different choices.

Norm:

Which five restaurants in Florida would you consider to be the most romantically unique, and why?

Bruce:

With the same disclaimer as above:

Beach Street Grill in Fernandina on Amelia Island:

Bud and Alley’s in Seaside:

Marquesa Café in old town Key West:

Alice’s On Duval also in Key West:

Oystercatchers overlooking the bay in Tampa:

Beach Bistro on Holmes Beach/Anna Maria Island–all because they have outstanding food, they’re in picturesque settings, and in great locations.
Norm:

How much time per month do you devote to travel and how do you go about choosing your destinations? As a follow up, how long do you stay in each town or destination before writing about them?

Bruce:

The answer to questions #1 and #3–time devoted to travel and how long do I stay, is, “It varies widely”. One month I might be gone almost every week. The next month I might not even step out of my office.

As for question #2–choosing destinations, as I had mentioned, I tend to seek out quiet, out-of-the-way places.

Almost all the Florida destinations that I write about are places I’ve visited many times over the years. Choosing my “Visiting Small-Town Florida” small towns was not nearly as easy as I first thought it would be. I needed a definition for the purposes of the book, and finally settled (for a starting point) on towns with a census population of less than 10,000. That set how big it could be.

For how small, I decided that if it had a name it could be a town. That let me include some tiny crossroads like Two Egg–population 31, and Cross Creek–“The Yearling” author Marjorie Rawlings’ home. Many of the places I already knew about and had visited, but some were suggestions by friends, and a few I went to see just because they had oddball names–like Sopchoppy, Ozello, and Yeehaw Junction.

Not all of the places I visited made it into the book–only those where I found a good story, a good hole-in-the-wall diner, interesting history, or something that made the place special.

How to Save Money Buying Travel Online and Get the Best Deal

Want to save some money when booking your travel online? Here are some tips to help you do just that. You at home have access to thousands of travel deals with the click of a mouse.

1. Sign up for travel e-newsletters

Many airlines, tour operators, online travel agencies and travel sites have newsletters that they will send you via email; these usually include their latest travel deals.

2. Shop around

Check various travel sites and make sure you are comparing apples to apples, know what is included. That great cruise deal may not include airfare to the port! Also check in with a travel agent to compare prices. They may in fact have a better travel deal for you.

3. Consider all possible discounts

Do you have Air Miles or frequent flyer miles you can cash in? AAA/CAA membership or other affiliations? Ask about child or senior discounts. Do they have family rates or group rates? Don’t be afraid to ask.

4. Make the travel web sites do the work

Some of them will let you specify the dates of travel and vacation you are looking for and will send you an email when the price reaches your limit.

5. Travel in off-season.

Off-season will vary depending on where you are travelling so do your research and find out when that is. Off-season includes winter for Europe, summer and fall for the Caribbean, and when the kids are in school for theme parks like Disney and so on.

6. Traveling during the week can save you money

Saturday and flights during the week are less crowded and therfore more likely to have last minute discounting. Some companies charge a bit less for vacation package that leave mid-week. Many business hotels may also charge less on weekends.

7. Read your newspaper’s travel section

The Saturday travel sections in most newspapers are still a good source for travel news, tips and last minute travel deals, departing from your city. Read them religiously.

8. Do some negotiating of your own.

Just ask for a deal or a better price! This will usually work if you are dealing with a hotel or car rental company directly. It may also work with some travel agents.

9. Book last minute

When looking for a last minute travel deal, start shopping around about 6 weeks prior to your departure to get a good idea for prices and availability. Narrow down where you want to go and compare some prices. About 3 weeks prior to departure is probably your best time to book. When you notice packages begin to sell out, you want to book before you miss out on that travel deal. The prices only go so low and sometimes sell out before they really drop in price.

10. Book early

Some of the best deals may be had booking early. Most tour operators and cruise companies offer discounts for early booking. If there is a specific date you want to travel and or you have a specific resort or destination in mind, you are better off to book early and secure your vacation than to risk waiting for a last minute travel deal that may or may not happen.

Keep in mind the cheaper is not always better. If you save a few hundred dollars by adding lots of stops to your flight or staying in a hotel you are not happy with, it won’t be worth it. Save some money but don’t compromise too much with what you really want and need.

Discover the Llyn Peninsula

Stretching from the peak of Snowdon to Bardsey Island (or Ynys Enlli – the Island of the Tides), the Llyn Peninsula is a unique and beautiful part of North Wales, renown for its natural charm and mild climate.

So spectacular is its coastline that many thousands of acres have been protected by the National Trust, and vast tracts of land have been designated Areas of Special Scientific Interest. It is a haven for wild flowers and its indigenous wildlife attracts naturalists from far and wide – it even boasts its very own breed of sheep (Llyn Sheep).

From the 5th century until the Middle Ages, numerous saints and pilgrims followed the holy route along the Llyn’s north coast, and it is steeped in early Celtic Christian history (according to legend there are 20,000 saints buried on Bardsey). Quaint country churches can be found dotted throughout the region – an excellent example is St Mary’s at Bryncroes, where St Mary’s Well was an important stop on the pilgrim’s route.

Nant Gwrtheyrn, a once deserted quarrying village, now houses the National Centre for Welsh Language & Culture. It is also here that you can take a pleasant amble through an area teeming with Mabinogion folklore and natural history.

The remote fishing village of Aberdaron can be found towards the tip of the Peninsula. Traditionally, it was the last stopping place for pilgrims on their way to Bardsey. Its delightful beach has won awards and is always highly popular with families.

For the more adventurous, the areas magnificent coastline is ideal for sailing (it is known as the ‘Cowes of the North’) and other water sports. There are also plenty of facilities for golf, tennis, walking, fishing and horseriding.

There is an attractive sailing harbour at Porthmadog, which was a lively shipping port for the Welsh slate industry until the early twentieth century. While just outside the town is Morfa Bychan, where visitors are always delighted to discover the never-ending sandy beach at Blackrock Sands – one of Britain’s finest!

For families who fancy a spot of fun, Bodvel Hall Adventure Park at Boduan (near Pwllheli) lets the kids burn up some energy while the adults are able to relax in its wonderful grounds. On the other hand, Criccieth is the ideal coastal resort for visitors who prefer to sit back and relax.

In the village of Llanystumdwy is an excellent museum which celebrates the life of Lloyd George, the areas most famous son and one time Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Inland Llyn is well worth exploring for its lush valleys, crystal clear lakes and imposing mountains. The region is rich in mineral deposits and tourists can enjoy a visit to the Victorian copper mines at Beddgelert.

When you visit the Llyn Peninsuala, you would be forgiven for thinking that you had stepped through a time warp and had drifted back to a far less stressful period in history. Its tranquil beauty, its thriving use of the ancient Welsh language and its stupendous scenery make it a unique and fascinating part of Wales.