Dec 12 2009
Badger football fans will swarm into Florida this month, to watch the team’s fifth Orlando bowl game in seven years. The other two since 2004 have been in Tampa.
Florida, again? Getting walloped with snow before winter’s official arrival is a good-enough reason to head south, and for some travelers it will suffice to drink beer or just-squeezed orange juice while wearing shorts and sunscreen near the end zone.
Walt Disney World attractions certainly dominate Orlando tourism, but it’s easy to save money while exploring other facets of Central Florida. All you need is an open day, map and car (which you can rent for about the cost of one theme park ticket).
Doing Disney for a day costs at least $79 (plus tax) per adult and theme park. The daily rate dips when buying a ticket for multiple days, but the discount is not significant for long-weekend stays.
So consider these other day-trip destinations.
Florida Southern College, Lakeland: No location in the world has more structures designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. One dozen of the architect’s 18 campus designs – which include libraries, chapels and 1.5 miles of covered walkways between buildings – were constructed from 1938-58.
Most dramatic: the Water Dome, a pool that spews 45-foot-tall arcs during designated times of day. Most familiar, to Wright fans: Hard to say. The prow of Danforth Chapel resembles Madison’s Unitarian Meeting House. Harmony between materials and patterns at the Ordway fine arts center resemble Taliesin West in Arizona.
The clean lines of furnishings inside the “Child of the Sun” Visitor Center are classic Wright, too. This building name comes from Wright’s mission to create “out of the ground, and into the light, a child of the sun.”
Guided campus tours occur on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Cost is $10 (for the 90-minute tour at 11 a.m.) or $18 (for the 2.5-hour tour at 1 p.m.). Self-guided tour maps also are available.
For more: www.flsouthern.edu/fllwctr, 863-680-4444.
Orange groves, Lake Wales area: Take the equivalent of a country drive, past groves of orange orbs, and learn about the business of farming citrus at Florida’s Natural Visitors Center. The juice manufacturer provides product samples and exhibits, shows a video and sells its products at 20160 Hwy. 27.
It’s a convenient location to break up your drive, and admission is free. For more: www.floridanatural.com (look under “our co-op”), 800-237-7805, ext. 4410.
Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales: Squeeze in time to stroll a National Historic Landmark, whose grounds were designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Begonias, blue sage, azaleas and more than a dozen other flowers should be blooming in late December, against a self-described backdrop of “1,000 shades of green.”
Looming within the gardens is a 205-foot-tall carillion tower, which only Bok members can enter. The carillion’s 60 bells (weighing 16 pounds to almost 12 tons) chime during half-hour concerts at 1 and 3 p.m. daily.
The gardens are open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $10, which includes a guided garden walk at noon or 2 p.m. (only 2 p.m. Sundays). For more: www.boktowergardens.org, 863-676-1408.
Chalet Suzanne, 3800 Chalet Suzanne Lane, Lake Wales: Expect a meal here to be a one-of-a-kind experience, and lodging also is unique because no two guest rooms are decorated alike. This four-generation treasure has been open since 1931.
Order the traditional, five-course dinner, which begins with broiled grapefruit that is topped with a sautéed chicken liver. Romaine soup, with spinach and mushrooms, fed Apollo astronauts during space flights to the moon. The soup also is processed at the on-site cannery.
Get the idea? This is no cookie-cutter approach to entertaining. Expect a lovely but odd mismatch of dinnerware and furniture, with lots of windows that overlook Lake Wales.
It’s not on the ocean, but neither is Orlando, which is merely one hour away.
For more: www.chaletsuzanne.com, 800-433-6011.
Not on this list, regretfully, is Cypress Gardens, which opened in 1936 as Florida’s first theme park. The Winter Haven attraction closed in September 2009 because of economic challenges, and a new owner is being sought.
Forty rides, a waterpark and expansive gardens (with a cheerful topiary trail) make up Cypress Gardens, but water ski shows ultimately separated this business from competitors.
The Badger State connection has been long and strong, because many Cypress Gardens water skiers were Wisconsin natives. In 2008, they included Hunter Hanson of Eau Claire, a national wakeboard skier, and Don Buffa of Beloit, water ski show director and in shows since 1988.
The “Jackson 5,” by the Cypress Gardens definition, is Brian Jackson of Stoughton and four of his relatives. Jeff Stoskopf of Eagle River and Cheryl Orloff of Burlington made history in 1987 as part of the world’s first five-tier human pyramid on water.
Risk-taking such as this earned Cypress Gardens the nickname of Water Ski Capital of the World, and locked gates at this attraction are not unprecedented. The park closed for a year in 2003 because of the adverse effects of 9/11. So stay tuned to www.cypressgardens.com.
If you plan to book airfare to Florida and rent a car, compare costs to fly into Orlando, Tampa and Sarasota airports. The cities are less than two hours apart. Use www.kayak.com to compare costs between airlines and airports.
Florida travel writer Dave Hunter, author of “Along Interstate 75” and “Along Florida’s Expressways,” suggests driving south instead of flying. Why? In his words:
Your luggage arrives at the same time you do.
Before you get into your car, you don’t have to take off your shoes to be X-rayed.
There are no hidden fuel charges or taxes. Your costs are as advertised.
No need to arrive at your car two hours ahead of departure time: It will wait for you.
You can bring as many bottles of water into the car, as you wish.
Restrooms at roadside rest areas do not have lineups in the aisle.
The air you breath is “family,” and you know how healthy they are.
No need to surrender your favorite knitting needles because you might stab the driver.
Stiff legs? No need to wait until you arrive: You are two feet off the ground and can stop for exercise at any time.
There’s no need to rent a car when you arrive: You are already sitting in the vehicle of your choice with no insurance waivers to sign.
Dave’s books, published by Mile Oak Publishing, can be ordered at bookstores. For more about him and his work: www.i75online.com.
What destination – accessible to the public – puts you in the holiday spirit? At least two people who respond before Dec. 20 (names drawn at random) will be rewarded for their participation.
You get extra points for posting your reply on the “holiday spirit” discussion thread of the “Roads Traveled” Facebook page.