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Exploring Florida’s Nature Coast

I apologize that this site has not been updated in a month, but Hubby and I have been on the go. We started feeling the urgency to explore all that we wanted to before heading back to PA via Alexandria, VA, on April 2. We even made a “bucket list” to keep our travels focused.

Between Feb. 26 and Mar. 8, we went to Plant City twice for the annual Strawberry Festival which drew approx. 500,000 visitors over the 11 day schedule. The event included exhibits, vendors, livestock shows/auctions, amusement rides, and entertainment featuring local and famous performers including George Jones, Jeff Foxworthy, Randy Travis, Travis Tritt, and Jessica Simpson. Hey, the racing pigs were there, too! Free, but limited, bleacher seating is available for the big star shows if you’re willing to park your butt on a metal seat in the sun for 4+ hours until showtime. It’s healthier to buy a reserved seat ticket – for the metal folding chairs in the sun.

I bought a ½ case (6 pints) of strawberries for $6.95 and ate most of them myself. They were huge, juicy, and sweet. Can’t a deal like that in a supermarket!

My daughter and her family visited for a few days so we thought it would be fun to take the baby (almost two-years-old) to the Tarpons Springs Aquarium. She especially enjoyed the “petting pool” where she touched a turtle, a starfish, and a small shark. She also stroked a huge boa constrictor. After arriving at her PA home, she became ill and her doctor was concerned she had contracted salmonella from handling reptiles. Who’d a thought? Seems that 90% of all reptiles harbor the disease (turtles in particular) to which small children are extremely vulnerable. She could have contracted something from the dog poop-scooper spoon she put in her mouth on her grandfather’s watch, too. Then again, maybe she got something at our beach which is posted with “swimming prohibited” signs due E Coli-positive water samples. She just played in the sand! Next year, to be safe, we’ll give her a box of bio-hazardous materials infected with known diseases to play with so we’ll know how, when, and where she got a germ or two. The mysterious disease ran its course before the test results were returned and she’s fine now.

The 16th annual Weeki Wachee Swamp Fest is held at Linda Pedersen Park surrounded by thick vegetation and water. The festival grounds are accessed by crossing a bridge at which you’re asked to make a donation. Like when the billy goats had to pay the troll! The event celebrates the area’s marshy environs complete with cuisine such as alligator tail kabobs and swamp cabbage soup. The fest is family-oriented and draws over 8000 visitors. Arts and crafts vendors set tents next to environmental preservation and wildlife groups manning information booths. This year, a manatee family attended via the surrounding creek and was a big hit. I really wanted a rubber alligator hat, but they were too expensive. I’m saving to buy one next year.

No visit to Weeki Wachee (W.W. for short) is complete without taking in the live mermaid show at W.W. Springs State Park. Weeki Wachee, meaning “little spring” or “winding river,” was named by the Seminole Indians. More than 117 million gallons of clear water bubble out of the subterranean caverns daily, filling the basin that’s 100 ft. wide and of unknown depth. The spring water is 72° year round and flows out of the basin to form the 12 mile long W. W. River. The mermaid shows are viewed from a 400-seat submerged theater. The first mermaid shows began in 1947 with W.W.’s heyday beginning in 1959.

Buccaneer Bay, the state’s only spring fed water park operates adjacent to the basin and offers waterslides, swimming, a white sand beach, and picnic areas. Lots of scuba divers go there to learn and practice, also.

Hubby and I floated the W.W. River twice. Once we took the River Boat Cruise at the park and the second time we rented a canoe there and did the “Go with the Flow” trip. Imagine floating down a narrow, crystal clear river lined with palms, tall vines, and trees dripping moss. We were supposed to see varied wildlife, but noisy paddlers ruined that. I wasn’t keen on seeing alligators and snakes around my canoe anyway. Hubby professed to being an experienced canoer, but every time he did his Explorer Scout paddle maneuver, I ended up with a face full of shoreline vegetation. Of course, it was my fault the front of the canoe went in a different direction than the back and that we spent some time floating sideways. We did see eagles, osprey, hawks, turkey buzzards, two otters, and a snake in the claws of a hawk flying over us. Once I sat in a shallow spot of the river and ate a baggie of cherry tomatoes and some peanut butter crackers while working on my tan. Life doesn’t get any better than that.

We visited Busch Gardens, Africa in Tampa twice. Buy a one day ticket and the small print reads that you can return within 6 days FREE. Great deal! On the first visit, go to Guest Relations upon entering the park to get your second day tickets to avoid the late-day crowds. BG offers several extras worth investigating like an “eat your way through the park” pass or the 30% off all gift store purchases shopping pass. Short for time? Purchase a “jump-the-line” pass that allows you to cut in front of lines at all the popular rides – without getting beaten up! The passes have official names, but I like mine better. Hubby went for the eating pass and stuffed food in his mouth in front of me all day. He even sneaked away while I was shopping and ate desserts. Dieting with him around is a constant test of my mettle. We went on one roller coaster and Hubby said he felt he was having a heart attack after we got off. I thought he was kidding, but he was serious. I didn’t ask to ride anything else because if had an attack I’d have to load the truck by myself when we leave FL.

We’ve been to the Tampa Golf Show, the casino boat twice, and the New Port Richey Chasco and Native American Festivals, looked at real estate, and played lots of (bad) golf.

Golf is a weird game examples: Poor sand trap shots were adding too many strokes to my score so one evening I climbed into a greenside bunker and practiced by hitting 50-60 balls. Few landed where I aimed so I left with sand in my hair and down my bra, blisters on my hands, and more frustrated than before. I’ve used my “hand wedge” to get out of a few beaches since then. Yesterday, my ball landed in a greenside bunker after the third flubbed shot on the hole and I declared that I quit. After second thoughts, I decided to hit that darn ball out and jumped into the trap. No thinking, just hit the *@#^& thing. Out it flew in a drizzle of sand, softly landed, rolled 5 feet, and dropped into the hole. To all who were watching (the 18th hole) it was dang impressive, but I acted nonchalant. Wouldn’t want people to think the shot was more of luck than skill.

Locally, a woman had just finished a series of lessons and wanted the pro to take her onto the course to play. He didn’t think she was ready, but took her anyway. She got up on the tee of the first hole (par 3), of the first golf course she was ever on, and made her first swing. The ball soared, hit the green, and rolled into the cup for a hole-in-one. The pro was speechless (for a while) and the lady couldn’t understand all the excitement over one shot. It’s obvious she’s a newbie to the game and that golf isn’t fair.

This post first appeared on The Balancing Pole, please read the originial post: here

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Exploring Florida’s Nature Coast


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