Photos: Visit Florida
By Donna Carter
I’ve just drunk a small cup of water from the freshwater spring at the Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth Archeological Park in St. Augustine. When the Spanish explorer landed here in 1513, he believed the spring to be the fabled fountain of youth but apparently it was not for he died eight years later when a native shot him with a poison arrow. Magic waters or not, the park and its spring are a big attraction along with the city itself where its famous Old Town section is a living history museum. Cobblestone streets are lined with ancient buildings and costumed interpreters depict life as it was in the 1700s. Beyond St. Augustine, Florida boasts a surprising wealth of other cultural attractions: museums, theatre, performing arts, opera and symphony.
Remember “The Big Top”
One of several attractions on the John and Mabel Ringling Estate at Sarasota is its Circus Museum that traces the illustrious history of the famous Ringling family circus. Displays include rare posters and handbills, dazzling costumes and ornate circus wagons, plus the world’s largest miniature circus diorama. Also on the property, the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art features an impressive sculpture garden and 21 connecting galleries containing priceless works by masters such as Rubens, El Greco and Gainsborough. Another highlight of the estate is John Ringling’s former Venetian-style mansion, Ca d’Zan (meaning house of John) where narrated tours document the life of the greatest circus impresario who ever lived.
A Rare Attraction
The 2011 opening of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg was a huge addition to the city and Florida in general. The museum is named after the Spanish artist considered the world’s greatest surrealist painter. Dali died in 1989 and today the largest collection of his works outside of Spain is housed in the architecturally stunning multi-million-dollar facility containing oil paintings, watercolours and drawings, and more than 1,000 sculptures, photos and other objets d’art. An added bonus during 2014 will be a visiting exhibit of more than 100 works by legendary pop artist Andy Warhol on loan from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, Pa.
The Silver Screen
The Florida Film Festival – an accredited event as a qualifying festival for the Oscars – is held every spring at the Enzian Theatre in Maitland, a city that’s part of the Greater Orlando area. The 10-day affair premiers some of the best current, foreign and independent cinema. The line-up typically includes more than 100 films, visiting moviemakers, film stars and numerous fun and food events. For movie lovers, this is a must-attend function. Throughout the year the Enzian also hosts a number of other film events including the Jewish Film Festival, a kids film fest and a South Asian Film Festival.
The state’s music and performing arts scene is both well developed and plentiful. It’s safe to say there isn’t a single Florida metropolis that doesn’t have live theatre, ballet, world-famous orchestras and solo entertainers. Daytona Beach’s Peabody Auditorium regularly hosts renowned groups including the London Symphony Orchestra, and in Fort Lauderdale, the beautiful Broward Center for the Performing Arts presents an annual roster of some of the greatest groups and entertainers on the planet. Miami is likewise a haven for the performing arts with its Adrienne Arsht Center, the Gusman Center and several others that feature everything from film to ballet and various world-class musical performances.
A Multitude of Museums
With at least 300 museums of every size from small to grand, Florida is a museum-lovers nirvana. There’s everything from kids’ museums to outdoor museums, military and history museums, and even one on Amelia Island housed in a former jail. Indeed, the choices are endless. Some have unique attractions such as the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS) that has the largest collection of Cuban art outside of Cuba. In addition, for people unaware that mammoth mastodons once roamed the Florida landscape, MOAS provides an awakening with its immense skeleton of a giant ground sloth. With endless statewide museums, choices include those dedicated to the history and memorabilia associated with water skiing, fishing, police weaponry, the Holocaust and seashells.
A Cultural Experience
On the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, its Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is a living history venue where visitors learn about Seminole traditions and culture dating back to the mid-1800s. Located west of Fort Lauderdale in Florida’s heartland, the museum is home to 30,000 artifacts and archival items including 40 life-size figures depicting activities such as hunting, dancing and canoeing. Surrounded by Everglades flora and fauna, the outdoor part of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum features a long boardwalk leading to a living history village where Seminole artisans and tribal elders can be observed creating beadwork, basketry, woodcarving, clothing and other traditional art forms. There are also regular reenactments of Seminole rituals and ceremonies.
A Tribute to Hemingway
A unique cultural experience is provided at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, the largest city in the state’s famous South Florida Keys. Here, people can tour the Spanish Colonial-style residence where the celebrated author spent a decade writing some of his greatest novels. Hemingway was an avid collector of 17th- and 18th-century Spanish furniture and the house still contains many of his original furnishings. He was also a cat lover and the felines that live on the museum property are said to be descendants of Hemingway’s pets.