Archive for September, 2009

A “City Slickers” Real Dude Ranch Cattle Drive in Florida!

September 29, 2009
An Old-Fashioned Cattle Drive at the Crescent J

An Old-Fashioned Cattle Drive at the Crescent J

Any list of all-time great movie lines has to include a famous line from the movie City Slickers starring Billy Crystal as Mitch.

For his 39th birthday, Mitch’s two friends buy him a week’s adventure, for the three of them, working at a Dude Ranch.  In one hilarious scene, Mitch attempts to rope a steer and gets caught.  As his body is dragged along behind the steer, Billy delivers one of the funniest lines in movie history as his character Mitch wails, “I..I…I…I’mmmm  Ooonn  Vaaaacccaaatttiiiooooooonnn!”

It’s movies like City Slickers and old westerns that have spawned the popularity of the Dude Ranch or Cattle Drive vacation.  These are trips where guests learn to ride horses, rope cattle, drive cattle and develop other cow hunter skills. 

The Crescent J. Ranch at Forever Florida offer two kinds of cow hunter experiences.  They have a Half Day, Rawhide Roundup and a Crescent J Cattle Drive Weekend.

The Rawhide Roundup costs only $99/person.  It includes three hours of cow hunter challenges, skill building and fun.  (Don’t make the mistake of calling a Florida Cow Hunter a “cowboy” or you’ll get quite a talkin-to!)  You’ll learn the basics of herding cattle and tending ranch.

In addition, Crescent J is one of the few ranches that feature Spanish Colonial Cattle.  These animals have a lineage that go back to when Ponce de Leon first brought cattle to the new world.  They also have the largest herd of Cracker horses in the world.  Here is a link to more information about the animals and native landscape at the Crescent J.

After three hours of authentic Cow Hunting activity, you’ll be ready for a break and will enjoy ending your day with lunch at the Cypress Restaurant.  This is included in the price of your adventure.

Overnight Campfire Under the Stars

Overnight Campfire Under the Stars

For those seeking a longer adventure there’s the three day, two night Crescent J Cattle Drive Weekend.  After learning the skills of roping, riding and cow cutting, you’ll go on a three day cattle drive, driving Spanish Colonial Cattle to their destination.  You’ll experience the wonders of the Florida wilderness while camping under the stars and enjoying campfire meals together.

This adventure is only $299/person and must be reserved in advance.  In addition to the Cow Hunter experience, Forever Florida also offers a Zipline Safari, Coach Safari, Horseback Safari, camping and many other activities.

These off-the-beaten-path activites are a lucky find for the readers of my blog who enjoy seeking those out of the way adventures while on vacation to the Central Florida area.

Forever Florida
4755 N. Kenansville Road
St. Cloud, FL 34773
866.85-4EVER

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Horseback Rides in Florida

September 25, 2009
Horseback Safari at Forever Florida

Horseback Safari at Forever Florida

There’s something about riding a horse through the wilderness.  I can’t describe it.  It’s “real.” It’s “deep.” It’s, I don’t know, it just feels so right, so wholesome.

First, there’s the smell.  The combination of leather saddle and horse.  It’s unlike any other smell.  Then there’s the raw power.  When you are on a horse, you can sense the living, breathing power of an animal with much greater strength than you have.  However, there is also the tenderness–somehow you understand that the beast beneath you is tame; it is here to serve you.  Then, if you are lucky enough to be allowed to gallop, there’s the combination of speed, focus and determination.  The rocky, shaky gait has somehow turned into a smooth motion.  You feel like you are sitting still in the saddle and the world is rushing past you on both sides.

Experience the REAL Florida

Experience the REAL Florida

Don’t worry, if you are a novice to horseback riding you will likely spend the entire ride at a gentle walk.  After the initial anxiety of getting on the horse and learning how to lead it, you suddenly notice that you are more relaxed and focused on the wilderness around you.

At that moment, you are transported.  The 20th century is a dim memory.  This is what it was like to travel in days gone by.  You experience the world with a whole new perspective.

The Horseback Safari at Forever Florida will provide you with this experience.

For the beginner, you may want to start with the one hour ride.  The cost is only $40 and it is money well spent.  You can also ride for two hours for $60 or three hours for $80.  All riders should be at least 12 years old, but 10 year olds are welcome if they have proven riding experience.  If you weigh over 275 pounds, an individual evaluation will be needed to determine ability to participate.

If you already have some riding experience it might be time to upgrade to an overnight safari.  For $199 you can have a 2 day, one night safari and $299 buys you a 3 day, 2 night safari.  These rides traverse scenic and historic trails that were first used by Native Americans riding horses in the 1500’s.

You’ll travel through diverse ecosystems ranging from Pine Flatwoods to wetlands.  While enjoying a simpler time, you’ll see the native wildlife of Florida including alligators, black bear, deer, turtles, wild turkeys, 200 different bird species and maybe even the endangered Florida panther.  Not to worry–your expert guide will ensure your safety as well interpreting the various animals and landscape you encounter.

The Only Way to Fully Appreciate Florida's Natural Beauty

The Only Way to Fully Appreciate Florida's Natural Beauty

City Slickers can rest easy as the overnight camping facilities feature restrooms, showers and even limited power access.  The safari includes riding instructions, campfire dinner, two person tents, campfire breakfast and, upon your return to civilization, a delicious lunch at the Cypress Restaurant in the Forever Florida Visitor’s Center.

Bring your sleeping bag and spirit of adventure.  A night under a canopy of stars awaits the lucky readers of my blog on the Forever Florida Horseback Safari.

 Defininately off-the-beaten-path and well worth a visit for the adventurous traveller seeking “more than a mouse”®

Forever Florida
4755 N. Kenansville Road
St. Cloud, FL 34773
866.85.4EVER

Coach Safari at Forever Florida

September 23, 2009

 

# 1 Daughter (in Monster Coach Safari) Watches Montessori Classmate Pose for this Photo

# 1 Daughter (in Monster Coach Safari) Watches Montessori Classmate Strike a Pose

Tourist attractions are nice.  They are generally designed to be fun and entertaining.  Yet, when I travel to a distant land, I like to experience the local culture–what is this place really all about?   I try to seek out the interesting sites outside the touristville area.

If you are visiting Central Florida, one great experience is to travel several hours south to explore Florida’s Everglades National Park.  I have written a blog about this excellent destination. 

A much easier way to experience the real Florida is to take a Coach Safari, one of the Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida, less than an hour east of Disney World.

I was lucky to discover this wonderful place when # 1 Daughter’s Montessori School took a field trip there.

Care For a Drink From Bull Creek?

Care For a Drink From Bull Creek?

Forever Florida is a 4700 acre wildlife conservation area.  It brims with ecotourism activities such as a Zipline Safari, Horseback Safari, campground, working cattle ranch and much more.  Each provides an in-depth, hands-on experience in the Florida wilderness.

For the less adventurous, the Coach Safari is an easy and enjoyable way to get right up close to the natural Florida landscape.

The Forever Florida wildlife conservation area has nine distinct Florida ecosystems and an endless array of natural flora and fauna including alligators, black bears, white tail deer, nearly two hundred species of birds including Eagles and even the endangered Florida Panther.

To see this up close, Florida EcoSafaris have monster, open air safari coaches that are elevated five feet off the ground.  Winding through the Florida landscape you’ll have to hold on to your seat as these motorized beasts travel over land and water within inches of trees and foliage.  Have your camera ready!  You never know what you’ll see around the next bend.

Your adventure begins at the Crescent J. Ranch–a real working cattle reach that showcases Spanish Colonial Cattle and Florida’s unique Cracker Horses.  Many people don’t realize that it was Ponce de Leon who introduced the horse and cattle to Florida.  Florida “Crackers” were herding cattle long before it became a way of life in Texas and other midwestern states.

After the ranch, you reach the border of the wildlife conservation area.  Your knowledgable guide will provide insight and commentary about the native inhabitants and landscape.  At any moment you might catch a glimpse of an alligator, turtle, wild turkey, deer or any other of the numerous critters that roam this pristine wilderness.

Montessori Students on the Boardwalk

Montessori Students on the Boardwalk

The coach will visit a floodplain forest and you can take a stroll along a boardwalk with an up close view of Bull Creek.  Forever Florida says the tea-colored water of this “blackwater” stream is so clean, it is safe to drink.  But I won’t dare try it.  I will take a deep breath, however, as they point out that the water and plant life help to keep the air pure.

You’ll return through several more diverse ecosystems to the Forever Florida Visitor’s Center.  Here, you can enjoy a country meal at the Cypress Restaurant or buy the perfect souvenir at the gift shop.  There are large wooden rockers and an expansive porch for you to rest a moment and take in one last draught of both the Florida environment and an ice cold libation from the restaurant.

It’s like your own little piece of heaven here on earth.

The Coach Safari is wheelchair accessible, perfect for all ages and costs $28 for adults and $22 for children ages 6-12.  5 and under ride for free.  The Coaches depart daily at 10am and 1pm.  There are also custom departures available for groups.

The Montessori Classroom LOVED the Field Trip to Forever Florida!

The Montessori Classroom LOVED the Field Trip to Forever Florida!

Florida EcoSafaris
Forever Florida
4755 N. Kenansville Road
St. Cloud, FL 34773
866.85-4EVER

Zipline in Florida–Best Kept Secret II

September 19, 2009
 
Zipline Safari at Forever Florida
Zipline Safari at Forever Florida

Thousands of tourists mob Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World every day.  But as a lucky reader of my blog, you are about to discover one of the best attractions in Central Florida.  It costs about the same as a theme park yet provides a different kind of Florida experience.  It’s our second “Best Kept Secret” in Central Florida

Let me introduce you to the Zipline Safari at Forever Florida.

Do you know what Florida is really like?  Along with Hawaii, it is one of only two subtropical climates in the United States.  But if all you do when you are down here is visit the mouse, well, you really can’t tell you’re in Florida, can you?  You might be in California, Tokyo, Paris or even Hong Kong–they all have a place to visit Mickey! 

If you want to experience Florida, the REAL Florida, then the safaris at Forever Florida is the place to begin.  And the best safari is the Zipline Safari.  Located less than hour east of Disney World, this is one attraction you won’t soon forget.

Sky Bridge Along the Zipline

Sky Bridge Along the Zipline

The Zipline Safari consists of seven “zips” and two sky bridges over three different Florida ecosystems.  To take part in the safari, you have to be at least 10 years old and weigh between 70 and 250 pounds.  The entire experience takes approximately 2.5 hours.  You will go up to 55 feet in the air, zip along at a maximum speed of 25mph, experience nine different observation platforms and enjoy the longest run of 750 feet–longer than two football fields!

Your adventure begins with a short hike along a scenic section of the Florida Trail.  (This is one of only eight National Scenic Trails in the United States.)  Then you arrive at the zipline.  You’ll be led by an expert guide as you “zip” amongst the trees from platform to platform along a system of seven high tension cables.

 As fun as it is to zip and walk across the sky bridges, it is the breathtaking views and the natural tranquility of Florida that provides the most memorable moments. If you’ve never done a zipline before, it might take you a couple of zips to get used to the concept of entrusting your weight to a small harness and wire while dangling over 50 feet in the air.  By the third zip, however, this will become more natural and you will be in a better position to observe the beautiful surroundings as you zing down the line.

Who knows what you might see on any given day?  Alligators, black bears, white tail deer and even the endangered Florida Panther are native to this landscape.  There are numerous species of birds.  You might even spot an eagle.  Of course there are armadillos, skunks, raccoons and lots of other critters roaming the wild.  Perhaps most of all you will simply enjoy the lush, subtropical climate and native trees and undergrowth of the three different ecosystems you will go through.

Peaceful Tranquility at Forever Florida

Peaceful Tranquility at Forever Florida

Along the way, an expert guide will not only be attending to your safety but will also be available to answer your questions and point out the various “attractions” of this unique and natural “theme park;” all this at a cost of only $85 per zip.

For an even wilder adventure Florida EcoSafaris offers moonlight and starlight zips.  Wow, what a ride!

There’s much more to do at Forever Florida including a working cattle ranch, Coach Safari, Horseback Safari, restaurant, camping, gift shop and more.  We’ll blog about it all.

Definitely off-the-beaten-path.

Florida EcoSafaris
Forever Florida
4755 N. Kenansville Road
St. Cloud, FL 34773
866.85-4EVER

My Son, I Will Love You Forever–Forever Florida

September 17, 2009
Allen Broussard

Allen Broussard

Allen Broussard died in 1990 just four days after his 29th birthday.

He fought Hodgkin’s disease, numerous surgeries and had a heart transplant.  Infection set in just a few weeks after the transplant.  Allen didn’t make it.

Allen’s parents, William and Margaret, are a ophthalmologist and a mathematician respectively.  I have never met them.  While watching the slide show presentation at Forever Florida I discovered a lot about who they are.

Bill and Margaret loved Allen (and all their children.)  They taught them to love and respect nature.  Allen assimilated this teaching.  Even as a youngster he had the ability to learn things from observation that escape the attention of most adults regarding the habits and characteristics of animals.  He went on to do doctoral work as a wildlife ecologist in the natural world he loved so much.  Numerous camping and hiking trips to remote destinations, such as Alaska, Australia, Germany and even a honeymoon to the Galapagos Islands continued to foster Allen’s love and devotion to the study of animals and their natural habitats.

When the physically fit Allen developed Hodgkin’s disease, his parents suffered through his health battles for 10 years.  A few weeks before his heart transplant, he asked if the area around his boyhood playland of Bull Creek in Osceola County, FL could be preserved.  His father thought it might be possible.  Allen was so excited he began to call his friends and tell them the good news.  When he died from infections just six weeks after receiving a new heart, his devastated family made it their mission to carry out this request.

No parent should ever have to experience the anguish of burying their child.

Allen loved animals and nature.  He had a special affinity for birds; real birds.  Yet it is a mythical bird that springs to my mind.  The phoenix  rises from the ashes of its own demise.  Likewise, Forever Florida rose from the ashes of Allen’s passing.

Forever Florida is anchored by the Allen Broussard Conservancy–a non profit 501(c)(3) organization founded to preserve and protect fragile ecosystems of Florida’s native wilderness, provide a permanent habitat for wildlife, maintain the historical ranching operation and educate the public about the importance of conservation and the preservation of our unique heritage.  In addition, Forever Florida is home to a working cattle ranch and eco-tourism.

It is the eco-tourism that is the most visible aspect of Forever Florida.  Here, you will find a Zipline Safari, Horseback Safari, Coach Safari, campgrounds, ropes course, working cattle ranch and special events.  Each of these will be described in later posts.

This post, however, focuses on Allen and how the grief of his passing and the love of his family came together to create a unique place of beauty, tranquility and education.

It is both touching and ironic that many of the acres of conservation found at Forever Florida are acres that were part of an old swindle, sold to northerners as develop-able lots but were really only swampland.  When the owners of many of these lots found out what Forever Florida was trying to do, they donated their land to the Conservancy.

I will write several more blogs about this place.  But, for now, I am simply struck by the deep love of parents for their dying son.  A love that would last forever–Forever Florida.

A very special place that is well worth a visit.

Forever Florida--Where Allen Played as a Young Lad

Forever Florida--Where Allen Played as a Young Lad

Forever Florida
4755 Kenansville Road
St. Cloud, FL  34773
407.957.9794

Ball Lightning Strikes Outside Florida Dream Homes Office

September 4, 2009

This has to be documented.

On Tuesday September 1st, 2009 at approximately 5:15pm a dual confirmed sighting of a Ball Lightning strike was witnessed about 50 yards directly in front of the Florida Dream Homes office at 5511 W. Irlo Bronson Hwy., Kissimmee, FL  34746.

Those are the facts.  Let’s look at the experience…

Mrs. LanceAround, # 1 Daughter and I were sitting with Anne, our Office Manager, in the Florida Dream Homes office.  # 1 daughter was doing some work for us on the computer while Anne, Mrs. LanceAround and I were discussing business.  A few moments earlier we had heard a thunder crack that was so loud we looked to see if two trucks had collided on the highway outside the office.  We were in the midst of one of those Florida torrential downpours.  The frequent lightning bolts caused Anne and Mrs. LanceAround to continually glance out the front windows.

Suddenly, there was a distinct buzz in the air.  I noticed that Mrs. LanceAround and Anne were staring out the front window with their mouths agape.  I could not see out the front, but I was fixated by a strange, wavy-blue image that flashed for well over a second on the wall above Anne’s head.

A moment later the blue image disappeared and the two women said in almost perfect unison, “Did you see that?”

Fast forward to later that night…

At home, we continued to talk about the strange phenomenon that Mrs. LanceAround witnessed earlier that evening.  # 1 daughter did a Wikipedia search on glowing lightning strikes and soon discovered this entry about “ball lightning.”  Everyone was shocked to read the line, “…until recently, ball lightning was often regarded as a fantasy or hoax,…” (Wikipedia.org’s entry on Ball lightning.)  Further reading the description left no doubt in Mrs. LanceAround’s mind–she actually witnessed the phenomenon known as “Ball lightning.”

We quickly called Anne at home and had her read the entry in Wikipedia.  “My God!” she exclaimed.

The next morning at the office, I insisted that Anne and Mrs. LanceAround record their observations of the incredible event they witnessed the evening before.  So for the lucky readers of my blog, here are two eyewitness accounts written just hours after the viewing of a such a rare event:

Anne’s Testimony:

I have been privileged to witness a rare phenomenon, ball lightning.  During a recent thunderstorm as I watched the rain come down in sheets I saw the brightest blue orb hang in the air for a couple of seconds and then it was gone.  It had to be the most spectacular and beautiful natural occurrence that I have ever witnessed.

Mrs. LanceAround’s Testimony:

I witnessed one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen in my entire fifty eight years.  I happened to be looking out our office windows when a thunderstorm began.  I suddenly was staring at a huge, glowing ball of fire that seemed to be continuously fed by lightning strikes.  It was suspended above the ground at the height of the electrical wires strung along the street directly in line with one of our large store front windows.  I was so stunned by the sight I couldn’t speak!  I waited for some cataclysmic explosion that never occurred.  After a few seconds there was a loud bang and the ball of fire disappeared.

And while I did not directly witness the phenomenon, here is my testimony of the event.

LanceAround’s Testimony:

I was speaking with Anne and Mrs. LanceAround when I noticed that they suddenly began to stare out the front windows with their mouth’s open and unable to speak.  I saw a swath of blue light reflecting off the wall above Anne’s head, like the shimmering shadow of reflected water.  It lasted for only a second or two.  A moment later, both Anne and Mrs. LanceAround asked aloud, “Did you see that?”  All three of us walked to the front of the store.  Anne was clearly giddy and said she wanted it to happen again.  They described to me a large, bluish orb that appeared to emanate from the bottom of a lightning strike in the front of the trees located across the highway from our storefront.  The orb was described as around six to eight feet in diameter and might have been on or near some electrical wires, a light pole or the grove of trees in that vicinity.  It appeared to hover about 10 to 20 feet off the ground and lasted for a couple of seconds–much longer than a lightning strike lasts.  The orb shimmered and appeared to have pulsating lightning-like streaks within itself.

Ball Lightning, hoax or reality?  Fact or fiction?  The definitive answer is:  Ball lightning is a REAL phenomenon.  Mrs. LanceAround and Anne have SEEN it and have TESTIFIED that it exists.  Now the readers of my blog can speak with authority and confidence–There IS such a thing as ball lightning and it is WONDROUS!

Orlando’s Best Kept Secret I–Fantasy of Flight

September 2, 2009
Fantasy of Flight--Orlando's Best Kept Secret!

Fantasy of Flight--Orlando's Best Kept Secret!

Today we introduce a new heading, “Orlando’s Best Kept Secrets.”  These will be posts that focus on places that are relatively unknown but absolutely worth a look-see.

The first one actually won the Orlando Sentinel’s award as the “Best Kept Secret” for the last two years:  Fantasy of Flight.

This small, half day attraction located just a half hour down I-4 from Disney World,  is the vision of Gold Medal World Aerobatic Champion, Kermit Weeks. His fascination with flying and an unexpected inheritance enabled him to acquire the largest collection of vintage aircraft in the world.

The attraction begins with an immersion experience where you walk through several areas that utilize multimedia displays to give you the feel of being in the middle of the action during early flight attempts up to WWII. This culminates with the opportunity to walk through an authentic B-17 Bomber as if you were on an actual WWII flying mission.

After this experience, you enter the airplane hangers where there are over 40 vintage airplanes, most restored to their original flying condition. You can board a Short Sunderland, have a close encounter with the only B-26 Marauder that still flies, get up close to a B-24 Liberator, a Curtiss TP40 and two P51 Mustangs.

I am not very familiar with the field of aviation. But I can tell you that just walking around these aircraft and reading the informational displays was a real thrill.

Ford Tri-motor

Ford Tri-motor

Of course, being a movie buff, I gravitated to the Ford Trimotor–The actual plane that was featured in the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!

Beyond the hangers are rooms where you can watch genuine craftsmen restoring vintage aircraft.

Flight Simulator

Flight Simulator

Flight simulation machines, balloon and hang glider simulations, multimedia displays in tribute to aviation pioneers and much more can be found in this one of a kind attraction.

By now, you are ready to take a break in the art deco Compass Rose restaurant glimmering with the bright silver decor and serving food reminicenst of a 30’s diner. But you are not done yet!

There are behind the scenes tram tours, vintage aircraft flights and the opportunity to fly in Waldo Wright’s biplane. (There will be a separate post about this!) You can even schedule an early morning balloon ride.

While the biplane, balloon ride and some simulators have an extra fee, the main attraction is less than $30 for adults and $15 for children.

Landing a balloon is not as easy as you think!

Landing a balloon is not as easy as you think!

Unlike theme parks that charge “adult” prices for 10 year olds, Fantasy of Flight charges youth rates from 5 to 15 year olds and allows those under 5 to get in for free.

Fantasy of Flight is hands down Orlando’s “Best Kept Secret” but it does not deserve this designation. I hope the well informed readers of my blog will spread the word and give this attraction the recognition (and business) it has earned!