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Florida - There is a Lot More Than Disney & The Beaches

Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Sketchandtravel.com and Bookpleasures.co 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.

Norm:

Is there anything else you wish to pass on to our readers pertaining to Florida getaways that we have not covered in this interview?

Bruce:

Just that there is a lot more to Florida than Disney and crowded beaches. There’s still plenty of off-the-beaten-path Florida, natural Florida, and old/historic Florida left to see, if you know where to find it—and that’s the purpose of my books.

Thanks once again Bruce for your participation.