Is there more to Florida tourism than the beaches and the Orlando/Tampa amusement parks? You bet. While on your way to the Central Florida’s tourist attractions or the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, take time out to visit some less well-advertised tourist spots in Florida that are just as deserving as Disney World. (And don’t forget to stop by Universal Studios Orlando to ride the single greatest amusement park ride yet created: The Simpsons Ride.)
Those coming to Florida from the west on I-10 will hit Pensacola right off the bat. Pensacola is the oldest non-permanent European settlement in America. In other words, Pensacola was around before even St. Augustine. (More on St. Augie later.) When you hit Pensacola, you’ve got access to some of the whitest beaches in the country. You can also spend a few hours freely browsing through the Museum of Naval Aviation. Planes hang from the ceiling and sit on the floor from the earliest days of naval aviation to the ghost blimp to a space craft. Pensacola also offers the chance to take in some local talent at the Pensacola Little Theater. I was married on their old stage back in 1985. To the best of my knowledge, my wife and I remain the only couple married on the stage of the Pensacola Little Theater. The theater usually puts on something creepy during October and something Christmasy during December.
When you hit Panama City about a hundred miles east of Pensacola, you might want to wish that you have called ahead to reserve a spot on the Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise. This cruise is different from just about any other that you can go on when in Florida because the ship looks like a pirate ship and is staffed with those who dress up in pirate gear. You’ll get to see dolphins frolic in the water and you’ll be pressed into walking the plank, but don’t you dare let these pirates send into Davy Jones’ Locker below. Stay aboard the ship to drink and eat and join in the fun.
Wakulla Springs is home to the deepest freshwater spring in the world. At least that’s their claim. Seems strange to me that Florida would have a deeper freshwater spring than someplace where you don’t start hitting water once you get no more than a foot down in most cases. But there you go. Wakulla Springs may look familiar to you if you have seen some Tarzan movies or Creature from the Black Lagoon. Your glass bottom boat ride will take you past the site where those movies were filmed on location between Pensacola and Tallahassee.
St. Augustine calls itself America’s oldest city, but it’s merely a matter of semantics. One thing that St. Augustine does have over Pensacola is that it is home to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Like Pensacola’s Museum of Naval Aviation, this museum also features an IMAX movie theater. The museum itself is a tribute to the golfing greats of the past as well as some who doing great things on the links today. A golf Hall of Fame could hardly call itself deserving of respect if there wasn’t also a golf course or two available, so bring the clubs and be prepared to meet the challenges of playing golf in a very humid part of the country.