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Exploring Florida — The weirdest state in the union

When people think of Florida, the standard attractions come to mind: Disney, pretty beaches, rich Latin culture, etc. Travel blogger at OneWeirdGlobe.com, and guidebook author, Chris Backe, is working on his latest travel book, “What the Florida” and, like his other work, this look at Florida is anything but standard.

WATCH our interview with Chris to learn about the strange and unknown attractions that are worth a look-see if you’re visiting the Sunshine State.

You’ve been busy exploring the unexplored sites and attractions of Florida for your new book. Tell us how this came about?

Florida has a long history of being the weirdest state. Maybe it has something to do with the type of people it attracts, or maybe it’s just the hot weather that makes everyone a little nuts! Florida attracted a unique crowd of people, and as the reputation of the state grew, they chose to open plenty of quirky roadside attractions. Some of them are still open today, like the Weeki Wachee mermaids that entertain and delight. Others have been re-opened, like Ted Smallwood’s Store in Chokoloskee — a general store first established in the early 20th century.

As for me, I started blogging about the offbeat side of things in 2011 while living in South Korea. I had been exploring the country every weekend for three years… and was beginning to get a little bored. I began seeking out the places even the locals hadn’t heard about. A couple of years on, I had gotten into the habit of discovering the offbeat everywhere I went. When my wife and I decided to spend the winter in Florida, it was only natural to find the weird places… and boy there were tons!

What are some of the weird and exotic things to do and see in Florida?

Solomon's Castle in Ona

Solomon’s Castle in Ona

One of my favorite places is Solomon’s Castle in Ona, Florida. Imagine a guy that bought some land in Florida, only to realize it was partially located on a swamp. Undeterred, he proceeded to build a castle out of aluminum printing plates discarded by a local newspaper. In time, he added dozens of stained glass pieces, metal sculptures, and many other pieces of art. It’s a rapid-fire tour full of puns, and a whole lot of fun.

Another cool place is the American Space Museum in Titusville. This is the same town as the much more famous Kennedy Space Center, where all the rockets launch from. The American Space Museum is a more behind-the-scenes look at the many people involved in making the space program a success. There are some wonderful pieces of history here, and many of them are available for kids to touch and play with.

Where do you recommend travelers of varying tastes and demographics stay?

I don’t really get into hotels in the book since there are so many tastes and things to consider. For places to go, the 90-plus places in the book are aimed at a general population, with dozens of places that are kid-friendly and family-friendly.

Millennials
National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee – once a month this place of serious science opens its doors to a public tour. Inside is one seriously huge magnet, a dozen Guinness World Records, and a cryogenics lab you can peek inside.

Young Families
Tallahassee Automobile and Collectibles Museum in Tallahassee – a great look at the cars of the past to the generations of today.

Couples
World Erotic Art Museum in Miami – a “not safe for work” look at erotica across the world and the centuries.

Boomers
Burger Beast Museum in Miami – a surprising look back at the history of hamburgers and restaurants.

American Space Museum in Titusville

American Space Museum in Titusville

Adventure/thrill Seekers
Key West Shipwreck Museum – get in the spirit of the past with a kitschy tour showing the treasures and wrecking industry. I’d also recommend the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville for an exceptional launch simulator with all the warnings you’d expect from an awesome roller coaster ride.

Are there any timely events coming up over the summer that folks should know about and maybe check out?

June has a couple of fun pirate festivals — see the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival in Fort Walton Beach or the Cocoa Beach Pirate Festival in Cocoa Beach. For a wackier time, check out the Celebrity Mascot Games in Orlando and see professional sports mascots compete in crazy games for charity.

For July, get to Key West for the Key Lime Festival. Lots of pies and cocktails. Also in Key West is the Hemingway Days Festival — whether you look like the famous author or just appreciate his work, there’s a lot going on.

Feeling far away without leaving US soil

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Although in many ways, there couldn’t be a better time for international travel — The US dollar is kicking it, and once costly European destinations, like Paris, are very affordable. Despite these golden opportunities, many travel-lovers are skittish about traveling to Europe after a spate of terror attacks.  If you are among this cohort, we’ve got some local destination alternatives that may satiate your appetite for some far off culture, color, and cuisine.

In a recent interview, Jessica Norah, part of a travel blogging duo at Independent Travel Cats, tells us how we can experience a bit of Europe and Asia right here in the US.

WATCH our interview with Jessica Norah, IndependentTravelCats.com

Tell us about your blog, independenttravelcats.com, and the type of readers you attract?

Independent Travel Cats is a travel blog about international travel for independent travels, with a focus on couples travel, history, and mid to luxury range travelers. I attract readers who really want to know a lot of information about a destination as I write very detailed posts. Our readers are sophisticated and tend to have more disposable income than the “average” reader. I also co-run another travel blog with my husband, Laurence Norah called Finding the Universe, which is more focused on travel photography and adventure travel.

Many people would love to travel abroad this year, particularly since the dollar is so strong. But terrorism looms large and families are hesitant about leaving the US.  Can you give us some domestic alternatives to Europe and Asia that offer the feel, flavor, and flair of far reaching destinations?

The U.S. has some obvious more “exotic” locations like Hawaii which has wonderful beaches, volcano parks, and tropical plants. You also have Alaska where you can see glaciers, whales and polar bears. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is another place where it is easy to feel like you are in a foreign country.

In terms of places that feel like Europe. You can also take a “trip to Denmark” by spending a weekend in the little town of Solvang, California. It was founded by a group of Danes as a Danish colony and much of the architecture is Danish. You can eat Danish food, buy Danish dress, and appreciate the Danish history and architecture here.

For a taste of Spain, consider St. Augustine in Florida, it is the oldest city in the country and still has a lot of its Spanish colonial architecture. Or head to New Mexico. Santa Fe has a strong Spanish heritage as does the Old Town of Albuquerque. The central Plaza area of Santa Fe still retains a very European vibe and the city has some of the oldest architecture in the country.

For a taste of Germany, consider Hermann, Missouri or Leavenworth, Washington. Or join in on a Oktoberfest celebration held throughout the country.

Looking for a castle or stately home, plan a visit to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, Monticello in Virginia, Hearst Castle in California, or Stan Hwet Hall in Ohio. There is also a Tuscan style castle winery called Castello di Amorosa in Napa Valley.

Looking for a long rail trip but don’t want to head to Europe, you can book an epic train journey on Amtrak and go across the entire country, discovering new places along the way.

Can’t fly to Switzerland, visit Vail, Aspen, Mammoth Lakes, and Tahoe all have great skiing and snowboarding.

Want to go on safari, The Wilds in central Ohio is a private, non-profit safari park where visitors can see rhinos, giraffes, camels, and other animals in open air enclosures in jeeps.

Experience the desert at the Great Sands Dunes National Park in Colorado.

For a good taste of Asia, you’ll want to head to larger cities like New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. They all have large Asian American communities and you can find areas like Chinatown and Japantown in these cities where you can eat Asian food, buy Asia products, and be in an atmosphere that can transport you to China or Japan.

For those willing to visit our northern neighbor, Canada has retained more of a European connection than the U.S. and places like Vancouver and Montreal have a strong Euro vibe. This year happens to be Canada’s 150th anniversary so visitors can expect many special events and festivities for an unforgettable stay.

If you were to suggest some exotic vacation destinations in the US specifically for couples, what would you suggest?

It depends on the couple of course, but I’d recommend winter holiday lovers head to Vail or Aspen Colorado, beach and tropical vacation lovers head to Hawaii, art lovers to Santa Fe, city trippers to NYC or San Francisco, and those looking for a bit of Tuscany head to Napa Valley.

Families?

Hawaii is always a great destination for families. Hearst Castle is a fun family-friendly visitor attraction, large cities like NYC have tons of family-friendly activities, and there are also safari parks in Ohio and California.

Boomers?

Maybe an Alaska cruises, a trip to Santa Fe, wine tasting in Napa Valley or Sonoma, or a weekend in Solvang for a taste of Denmark.

Any special hints or tips for making these trips extra special or for getting a better deal?

Go some place that you are excited to visit, not to a place that feels like a second choice. Also, remember that exotic just means some place different so don’t just consider places that feel like Europe or Asia, but places where you’ll experience new things. Sometimes these places are much closer to home than we expect. As with any trip, plan ahead well in advance and book early for best deals.

Four fascinating yet lesser known attractions for Spring-Breakers

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

A recent infographic from Reservation Counter, uncovers four unusual, yet little-known US attractions that may offer off-the-beaten-path fun and adventure for families this Spring Break.

Road-trip-Gems-Reservation-Counter-e1489078699457

Don’t get caught by airlines’ code share ticket price mark-ups

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Understanding esoteric subjects, like code sharing, yield management, and confounding airline pricing schemes could easily become a full-time job for the diligent. With the help of former pilot, air travel and insurance expert, Jonathan Breeze,  we’ve uncovered — and hacked — a troublesome pricing pitfall among the airlines.

WATCH our Video Interview with Jonathan Breeze

Don’t get caught by code sharing ticket price mark-ups

First, let’s define what Code Sharing is. Wikipedia defines a Code Share Agreement as an aviation business arrangement where two or more airlines share the same flight; meaning that each airline publishes and markets the flight under its own airline designator and flight number as part of its published timetable or schedule. This is a common practice among major airlines belonging to major airline alliances, such as Star Alliance, Sky Team and Oneworld.

So, let’s assume for a moment that you are an American Airlines frequent flyer. You need to fly to Lima, Peru. So, as a loyal AA customer, you go straight to their site to see what’s available.

Departing on August 15th and returning on August 23rd, the results yield a lowest fare of $3,025 for a non-refundable seat in Business Class. In this particular example, LAN Airlines (LATAM Airlines Group) is the operator of the flight. American Airlines and LAN have a code share agreement and are both part of the oneworld Airline Alliance. That said, the assumption would be that the price would be the price, right? But if you visit LAN’s website and query the same departure and arrival information for the dates above, as you can see there is quite a BIG difference in price — $1,834 vs. $3,025.

Jonathan advises air travelers to be mindful and wary of this yield management practice. If you see that a flight is being operated by a partner of your preferred airline, do a quick cross-check on their website to be sure you are getting the best possible price — if they are partners in a major airline alliance your ability to accrue points/miles will not be affected.

Business travelers, what’s in your suitcase?

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

If you’re a business traveler, a recent survey from DUFL says you’re packing some fancy duds. Banana Republic was the top pick clothing brand cited by female respondents. For the guys, Brooks Brothers’ threads were their top choice.

DUFL, a premium valet app that allows business travelers to travel luggage-free, surveyed 500 of their users to gain insight into what goes in their luggage. See the infographic for additional stats associated with the survey.

“Because of the unique nature of our business – storing, inventorying and shipping clothes, shoes, toiletries, sports gear, etc., we have access to anonymized data related to their travel habits,” says Bill Rinehart, DUFL Founder, Chairman, and CEO. “This data allows us to tailor our business to accommodate the needs of our customers and to do what we set out to do from the beginning – adding convenience and eliminating stress for folks who spend the better part of their time on the road.”
DUFL anatomy of a business traveler