A Bit Of History In Ocala, Florida

Fort King, Ocala, Florida

It’s unusual to come across an early nineteenth century stockade fort in the middle of a Florida town. Not something you expect outside of Disney World. But on a recent drive through central Florida that is what we found in Ocala.

It’s a historically accurate replica of Fort King at its original site. Designated a National Historic Landmark the site is being developed into a park that includes an interesting museum. For the state of Florida this is almost ancient history. Early settlers, Seminole Wars, Andrew Jackson.

There’s history all around us if we just take the time to look and understanding it is important for our future. Here’s a peek into Florida’s history and what happened around Fort King.

Every state in America is noted for its tribes of American Indians that include Comanches, Blackfoot, Algonquin, Shaenee, Shoshone, Sioux and almost a hundred additional tribes. In Florida we recognize the Seminoles as our major Indian tribe, but who are they historically?

It seems Seminole history in Florida starts with bands of Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama migrating to the state in the 1700s. Wars with other tribes along with conflict with the arriving Europeans caused them to move south seeking new lands. At the time Spain controlled Florida and encouraged these Indian migrations hoping to provide a buffer between them and the British colonies to the north.

A fort exhibit

It was at this time that these Florida Indians became known as the Seminole, a name that meant “wild people” or “runaways.”

Florida has long been considered an inhospitable place filled with swamps, and scrub land, cursed with hot weather, high humidity, mosquitoes and alligators. Even so by the late eighteenth century settlers began to look for land to settle in Florida and in 1819 Spain saw the inevitable and agreed to sell Florida to the United States.

Soon these new settlers were coming in conflict with the Seminoles and the government decided the situation needed a solution. In 1823 the Treaty of Moultrie Creek was signed between the United States and leaders of the Seminole Nation. That treaty had the Seminoles relocate to a large tract of land in what is now Central Florida. The treaty also prohibited white persons from entering or settling on those Seminole lands. The Ocala area was central to the Indian towns and the army built Fort King to assure that both sides kept the treaty.

In a reversal of policy Congress passed The Indian Removal Act in 1830 at the urging of President Andrew Jackson who had fought the Seminoles in Florida and defeated the Creek Indians in 1814. This resulted in the forced negotiation of the controversial Treaty of Payne’s Landing requiring that the Seminoles be removed to new lands in what is now Oklahoma.

Engraving from Seminole Wars

A core group of Seminoles, led by the warrior Osceola fiercely opposed the treaty forcing the government to reoccupy Fort King and the associated U.S. Indian Agency. General Wiley Thompson, the U.S. Agent assigned to Fort King and Osceola engaged in a number of confrontations. This resulted in General Thompson ordering Osceola chained and thrown into the guardhouse at the.

Inside the fort

Released several days later, Osceola declared that war was the only option left. On December 28, 1835, he attacked Fort King when Wiley Thompson and Lieutenant Constantine Smith went for a walk outside the post. Thompson was shot numerous times and scalped. Six others were also killed but Fort King was too strong to take. That same day a larger force of Seminole warriors attacked troops on their way to Fort King in a fight known as Dade’s Battle, leaving over 100 soldiers dead. This would become the start of the Second Seminole War.

Fort King was abandoned in May of 1836 in favor of Fort Drane built nearer the swamps where the Seminoles were hold up. Fort King was reoccupied in April of 1837. It served as a base for raids and in 1840 Captain Gabriel Rains of the 7th U.S. Infantry led 16 soldiers on a recon but were attacked by a Seminole war party. They managed to fight their way back to Fort King, with three men killed.

After defeating the army in early battles of the Second Seminole War, Seminole leader Osceola was captured in 1837, when U.S. agents invited him under a truce to talk peace.

Ft. King Historic Marker

Five years later the Second Seminole War was declared over on August 14, 1842. Fort King was evacuated for good the following year. By 1858, when the United States declared a formal end to the Third Seminole War over 3,000 Seminoles were moved west of the Mississippi River leaving only 200 to 300 Seminoles in Florida swamps.

As a footnote, Florida is proud to call the Seminoles our tribe and the Noles are happy to be a part of Florida. back a few years ago when there was a movement to strip sports teams of their Indian names the Seminoles made it very clear that they were thrilled with their name being attached to Florida State. The Noles have done very well in Florida recently with the Hard Rock Cafe International (USA), Inc. being sold to the Seminole Tribe of Florida in 2007 with headquarters at the reservation in Davie, Florida.

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Remarkable Silver Springs Florida

Florida’s Classic Attractions

Florida has always attracted visitors to its’ ocean beaches but, years ago, it also had an assortment of inland tourist destinations. Those old Florida attractions have been dying out, pushed aside and even replaced by theme parks. Unfortunately, history and gardens cannot compete with movie attractions, roller coasters and fantasies.

No closed Cypress Gardens

While Cypress Gardens once drew huge crowds, it was sold and replaced by Legoland. Silver Springs, on the other hand, has seen a revival under Florida State Parks’ new ownership and management. Of the over fifty natural springs in Florida, the largest by far is Silver Springs pushing out five hundred million gallons of clear 72° water every day.

Since the mid-19th century, the natural beauty of Silver Springs has attracted visitors from all over the world. Glass-bottom boat tours of the springs began in the 1870s. In the 1920s, W. Carl Ray and W.M. “Shorty” Davidson, leased the land from Ed Carmichael and developed the area around the headwaters of the Silver River into an attraction that eventually became known as Silver Springs Nature Theme Park. The attraction featured native animal exhibits, amusement rides, and 30 or 90-minute glass-bottom boat tours of the springs. Upon Carmichael’s death he left the springs to the University of Florida

In 1993, the state acquired Silver Springs from the University of Florida, though the concessions continued to be operated privately. In 2013 the state took complete control, merging the springs with the adjacent parkland to create Silver Springs State Park. With reduced cost of admission and boat tour prices, the park has seen a steady upturn in popularity.

The outflow area has water depths that range from very shallow to over fifty feet and the water is so crystal clear it is difficult to believe you are looking at a bottom that far down. The spring feeds the Silver River that flows for three miles until it joins the Ocklawaha River in the Ocala National Forest which than flows into the St. John River. The area is home to dozens of species of fish, birds, alligators and manatees.

In its’ commercial days, Silver Spring also played host to a number of movie and television productions. It was home base for underwater shooting of Loyd Bridges’ Sea Hunt TV show, James Bond’s Moonraker and Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies. It also was the set for The Creature From The Black Lagoon and hosted scenes from Smokey And The Bandit.

 

In addition to a nice concession area and the glass-bottom boat docks, the park is a favorite of kayakers and has great hiking trails. The Florida Park Service is developing a number of new areas like a creative kids playground. It also plays host to concerts and a number of nature programs. Admission is only $2.00 with the boat rides being an additional $11.00.

 

 

Walt Disney World – Staying Inside the “World”

Above – Christmas at Animal Kingdom Lodge

A great number of families have a trip to Disney World as part of their future plans. If this is you, here are a few pointers on selecting accommodations.And we would really recommend staying inside the “World”.

Christmas at The Wilderness Lodge
Christmas at The Wilderness Lodge

First, the Walt Disney World is more than four theme parks. There is Disney Springs (previously Downtown Disney) with more shops and restaurants than you can count. There are two water parks, a sports complex and an entertainment area associated with the Boardwalk Hotel. In addition a number of the on property hotels are worth a visit just to see, like The Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Grand Floridian. There are also dinner shows at the Fort Wilderness Camp Grounds and the Polynesian Village as well as Cirque de Soleil, and  night life at Disney Springs with the soon to open “NBA Experience”.

Throughout the Disney property there is a range of accommodations at various price points. Like most resort areas, the pricing varies by season and there are numerous specials and packages available. Average room rates at Disney properties are around $250 to $300 with economy rooms being in the $125 to $170 range. The premium resorts without specials run $450 and up per night. Even though often listed on the reservation site, many of the units are not readily available because they are part of the Disney Vacation Club system.

Morning at Riverside
Morning at Riverside

The economy range includes the “All-Star” hotels and are priced near what you are used to paying for travel around the U.S. You can also save a considerable amount by selecting a motel “off property”.  The huge supply around Disney World usually keeps prices remarkably low compared to Disney hotels and hotels in general. The biggest disadvantage to staying “off property” is the hassle and cost of parking at the theme parks and missing access to the Disney transportation system. Staying at a Disney World resort lets you park at the inside hotels and gives you the ability to travel around the “World” as you wish until very late at night. Also, if you are booking a resort off-property be aware that many hotels apply a daily “resort fee” on top of the room rate (usually $12 to $20) that may not be quoted as part of the listed room rate.

The Yacht Club Resort
The Yacht Club Resort

Inside the World and going up a bit in cost is Port Orleans, Riverside, Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach, each with its own theme and character. In a similar price range, or maybe a bit higher, are two hotels not actually operated by Disney located in the Boardwalk area. They are the Swan and the Dolphin and come with almost as many perks but no magic bands*.

 

 

Christmas at the Grand Floridian

At the higher end in resorts are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, where animals roam past your balcony, The Boardwalk with its entertainment area and Wilderness Lodge near The Magic Kingdom. Even higher in price are two of the original hotels with monorail stations at their door, the Contemporary and the Polynesian. The crown jewel of Disney World is the Grand Floridian also on the Magic Kingdom monorail loop.

In addition to the Disney operated hotels, there are three areas inside the “World” which feature hotels. They include the Buena Vista area near Disney Springs, the Bonnet Creek area which includes the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club and the exclusive Golden Oaks neighborhood with its Four Seasons Resort. In these areas bus service, if available, is limited.

The transportation system and being close to all there is to offer are two of the main reasons for staying “on property” but the Magic Band system is also a consideration. These bands are connected to your vacation account so you can enter the parks, select FastPass rides, open your hotel door, access your dining plan and charge at many gift shops and restaurants.See our separate article on Magic Bands (link coming).

Following is a complete list of hotels and features:

A building at the Music resort
A building at the Music resort

Disney’s All-Star Resorts (each with its own matching theme)

 

 

  •     Movies Resort
  •     Music Resort
  •     Sports Resort
  •     Pop Century Resort
  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (family suites only)

 

 

Overlooks at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
Overlooks at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (set on an African savannah with live animals).

  •   Jambo House
  •   Kidani Village

Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of our favorite places to stay at Disney World. Really pricey but perhaps worth the expense. See our review HERE (link coming).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boardwalk & Swan across the lake
Boardwalk & Swan across the lake

The Boardwalk area with restaurants, entertainment venues, roaming entertainers, access to Epcot and Disney Studios    Disney’s Beach Club Resort & Villas

  •     Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  •     Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  •     Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  •     Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
  •     The Swan & Dolphin hotels (Not Disney operated)
The Grand Floridian
The Grand Floridian

Seven Seas Lagoon area (access to Magic Kingdom, view nightly fireworks)

  •     Disney’s Contemporary Resort (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Grand Floridian (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Polynesian Resort (monorail loop running thru it)
  •     Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (boat service to Magic Kingdom)
The Coronado Resort
The Coronado Resort

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

Disney’s Old Key West Resort

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside (boat service to Disney Springs)

Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa (near Disney Springs with bus and boat service to Disney Springs)

The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort (boat service to Magic Kingdom).

If you are booking a Disney hotel and are going to visit the parks, it is strongly recommended that you purchase the tickets, set up an account at My Disney Experience website and begin to reserve FastPass for rides.

 

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Spanish Gold and A Lost Opportunity

A Short Story

Opportunity Missed

In 1622 Havana Cuba was the capital of the Spanish Empire in the New World. Treasures of gems, gold and silver poured into Havana from South America, Mexico and the other islands. From there large fleets sailed back to Spain heavily loaded with this treasure. Late that summer a fleet was assembled to sail out of Havana. One of the largest and most heavily armed was the Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Our lady of Atocha) designated to be a rear guard for the fleet. Intending to sail up south of the Keys and head east into the Gulf Stream, shortly after leaving Cuba the fleet was split up and pushed off course by the leading edge of a major hurricane. It pushed the rear of the fleet north toward the Gulf of Mexico and there the Atocha and its sister the Santa Margarita were broken on a reef somewhere west of Key West Florida.

In mid June of 1985 we were spending a weekend with friends in Key West and on Mallory Square a man named Mel Fisher had set up a card table and was selling shares in Treasure Salvors to support his search for the Atocha. I think he may have changed the selling price based on how much people were interested and that afternoon it was $80 a share. One couple on walking away the woman commented she wasn’t giving money to a middle aged man so he could go scuba diving. My friend and I, both being divers were interested but in the end couldn’t see betting that much money on a gamble. After all Mel had been looking for a number of years without finding the wreck.

Less than a month later Mel and his crew found part of the sunken remains of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha just 35 miles southwest of Key West in only 55 feet of water. Immediately stories began circulating that each share was now worth $10,000 or more (I believe that estimate ended up being way low). Talk about missing the boat…

Things To Do Before Visiting Disney World

Back a number of years ago the average Disney World trip involved making a hotel reservation and traveling to Orlando. Once at Disney World you bought your park tickets and spent a few days eating fast food, waiting in lines and riding rides. A lot has changed from those times and today there is much more to do. There are hundreds of places to eat from fast food to fine restaurants and dozens of additional entertainment options. If you plan right, there’s a lot more you can fit in to your visit as well. Following are a number of tips to help you make the most of your vacation.

  1. The First Thing You Have To Do.

Regardless if you are staying at a Disney hotel or outside “The World” you need to get a My Disney Experience account. Setting up your account is free and allows you to register your park tickets. After that you can use FastPass, make restaurant reservations, access your photo account and much more.

  1. Buy Your Park Tickets and Pick Dates

You cannot make use of a number of perks at Disney World until you have your park tickets. Once you have ticket confirmations, register them with My Disney Experience.

  1. The Not-So Secret Tip To Getting On Rides

To make the best use of your park time you need to use FastPass. Most people probably know about FastPass but you really need to be up to date on how it works. The first tip to booking FastPass rides is you need to purchase park tickets. You than register the tickets on My Disney Experience, pick dates you intend to visit the park and start making FastPass reservations. This one step can save you hours of waiting in lines.

  1. Order or Buy a MagicBand

If you are staying at a Disney Resort you will automatically receive a MagicBand either in the mail or at check-in. If not you can buy them at My Disney Store. Once you have a band you can register it at My Disney Experience and connect your park tickets and FastPass choices to the MagicBand. Once you get to the park just tap and proceed.

  1. Carefully Plan Your Visit

The simple fact is there is more to do than can be fit into a month or two. In order to make the most of your trip you have to get out a calendar and start planning which days you will want to do what. Picking a date for each park is important so that you can start making FastPass reservations. Also some restaurant and special event reservations are hard to get so you need to book as soon as possible.

  1. Build In Some “Down Time”

If your trip is going to be more than a few days make sure you include some down time in your calendar. A couple of days in the parks can wear anyone out, so fit in some recuperation time. Planning an afternoon at a pool or cruising around the lakes and canals could be just the thing. Also plan an evening over at Disney Springs. There is lots of entertainment and good restaurants, especially after dark.

  1. Make Restaurant Reservations

With the explosion in prepaid meal plan use it is getting harder and harder to get into restaurants around “The World”. It’s a very good idea to make some reservations so you don’t waste hours waiting for a table.

  1. Make Special Event Reservations

There are a great number of special events to consider during your vacation. From the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue to Dessert Parties and fireworks cruises they all require reservations with many far in advance. WDW Special Events.

  1. Include and Make Plans For Water Parks And Shows

In addition to the main theme parks there are also two water parks and additional shows like Cirque du Soleil (a new one will be opening soon) to consider. While reservations may not be necessary they still need a spot on your calendar.

  1. Book Your Magical Express

If you are staying at a Disney property and are flying in to Orlando you need to make a reservation on the Disney Magical Express. It’s free and probably the best way to get back and forth from and to the airport.

As the Mouse says “See you real soon” and have a great time…

Dolphin Watching On Indian River Florida

dolphin surfing a boat wake
Dolphin surfing the boat wake

A day spent on the Indian River in Florida was an easy adventure. Just south of the Kennedy Space Center the water and land intertwine making a sanctuary for marine life and water birds sharing the space with expensive estate homes and marinas.

Indian River shore
The coast from the Indian River

Recently we took advantage of a Groupon and booked a morning excursion with Good Natured River Tours and we had a great time. Cruising out of the marina next to Grills Riverside restaurant the trip went out on the Indian River and circled back toward Banana River and the tip of Merritt Island.

A number of dolphins seem to have made their permanent home in these sheltered waters and in addition to raiding crab traps they really love surfing in the wake of boats. That alone makes the trip worthwhile.

feeding frezy

Brown pelicans, anhingas, herons and gulls where everywhere. At one point the water near the riverbank was a froth and we went over to take a look. It seemed a large school of fish had come in and the seabirds, along with a few dolphins were taking advantage of the situation. The water was an explosion of froth, wings and flippers with hundreds of anhingas sticking their heads out of the water or bursting into flight.

All along the river’s banks were trees and boat sheds with the nests of Osprey decorating their tops, where male Osprey were hoping that there handiwork would attract a female.

Onboard everyone was busy with phones and cameras trying (hoping) they would be fast enough to catch a photograph of a dolphin as their dorsal fins broke the surface. Not an easy job. The sky was blue and the temperature pleasant and the crew were very knowledgeable about the wildlife and area. It ended back at the marina with a late lunch on the deck of Grills Riverside – highly recommended.

Grills restaurant
The deck at Grills

 

Florida’s Fossil Reef Park

A Short Story

Discovering Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Over the past few decades when visiting the Florida Keys we would drive past a dirt road with a locked chain link fence on Windley Key in the upper Keys. A number of years ago the gate, while still locked, displayed a new sign that read “Windley Key Fossil Reef”. Today it is open to the public as a state park. On our recent Keys drive we stopped in and spent a couple of hours visiting the Visitors Center and hiking the park.

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park  is between mile markers 84 and 85.5, between Plantation Key and Upper Matecumbe Key.

If you’re planning a trip to the Florida Keys this often overlooked park is really worthy of a visit. Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park provides an interesting exposure of a geological formation known as the Key Largo Limestone. This is a limestone rock fossil quarry; and the material is known locally as “keystone”. The entire quarry is comprised of a Pleistocene fossil reef, estimated between 100-125,000 years old. A majority of the keys are formed on this fossil reef system. The ocean levels rose and fell multiple times after the last Ice Age, and stabilized over the last 5,000 years. The top 25 feet of the old coral reef became exposed, died and laid the foundation to form Windley Key Fossil Reef .

Want to go exploring for fossils? Oddly one place to look is your nearest mall or new hotel or office building. On the floor of many of these places is polished limestone made mostly of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the form of the minerals calcite or aragonite, that contain an abundance of fossils or fossil traces. The fossils under your feet may be macroscopic or microscopic. The macroscopic fossils often include crinoid stems, brachiopods, gastropods, and the remains of other hard shelled mollusk. In Florida the main form are the remains of these ancient coral reefs.

So next time you’re in Florida, visit a coral reef without even getting wet.