The Sunshine State

Like many northern families, Florida was a frequent destination for my family in the 60's and 70's. I've traveled down at least a dozen times since, taking Tanya and the kids in 2002, 2004 and 2007. Another trip is planned for 2010.

Florida has definitely changed quite a bit in thirty-plus years, as I can remember miles of swamps and orange groves between the different towns in which we stayed. Now it's a cacophony of theme parks, shopping malls and gated housing developments. Long gone are those roadside places we begged our parents to stop for a bite to eat; Stuckey's Lums, der Weinerschnitzel and Dapper Dan's Ice Cream. Even Ron Jon's, a Cocoa Beach landmark, has gone from a mecca for surfing enthusiasts to a virtual LL Bean for the vacationing beach crowd. And count me in among those lined up to purchase $40 beach towels emblazoned with their logo.

Wolfies / Cocoa Beach 1972We frequently stayed in Cocoa Beach. Although this was during the height of the Apollo missions, Cape Canaveral wasn't the attraction it is today. Motels on the ocean were relatively inexpensive, mostly catering to the burgeoning space coast workforce. The Holiday Inn and Ramada (pictured left) are now one and the same resort. One year, while staying at the Ramada, a licensee opened a competing Ramada across the street. I recall teams of lawyers in suits and ties dotting the pool for most of our vacation. My brother and I liked staying at the hipper Holiday Inn best, but always went over to Wolfies for breakfast.

StuckeysBetween the years 1968-1979, we spent at least a night in Winter Haven, St. Augustine, Titusville, Dundee, Merrit Island, Palm Bay, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Ormond Beach, Ocala, Daytona Beach and Fort Pierce. With Disney World still in the planning stages, we enjoyed the attractions of Cypress Gardens, Weekee Wachie, Silver Springs and Ponce de Leon's "Fountain of Youth."

Published at last:

Back in 2003, I read an article regarding Holiday Inn having a "Towel Amnesty Day." It stated all guests who had pilfered towels over the years would be completely forgiven. However to attain this absolution, the hotel chain was looking for interesting stories of how these linens were lifted from their rooms. Not to prevent continued thievery, but to assemble these stories in a coffee table book. My story made the cut (click here / Chapter 2) and aside from owning up to my ill-gotten booty, I must also confess that the "towel" was actually an ashtray.

In 1996, I drove from Miami down (and back) over the Overseas Highway to Key West with my friends Russ Fleischman and Jim Bender. Key West is an exquisite destination, but you have to do "the drive" at least once. The view is surreal, not just going over all those bridges, but observing the original structures (from the railroad and original highway) alongside the current route. The "Seven Mile Bridge" (precisely 6.7) historically gets the most attention, but my favorite is the original Bahai Honda Bridge.

from "keyshistory.org"Although Monroe County floated the idea of a highway to Key West, it was Henry Flagler who actually built the original bridges for his railroad. (His original destination was Cuba, but he died long before that ever came close to fruition.) After the Hurricane of 1935 tore up most of the tracks, Monroe County decided to fulfill its long desire for an Overseas Highway.

When the route was converted to handle automobile traffic, engineers simply widened the base of all the railroad bridges to accommodate vehicular traffic (pictured at right). But when it came to the Bahai Honda structure, there was a major problem. Since the Bahai Honda Canal is significantly deeper than the other aquatic crossings along the route, a camelback trestle railroad bridge had been built over the canal. It was obvious the space inside the trestle was too narrow for two lanes of automobile traffic, so the road surface was built over the top of the structure - some 60 feet up in the air! And "camelback" implies just that; humps along the top gave the final road the resemblance of a roller coaster. Alas, I'll never experience that ride as two huge segments of the bridge were removed from each side, probably to keep someone like me from even "thinking" about it. Bahai Honda State Park does allow you to walk up one side and from there you can image what a wheel-gripping experience that must have been.

History of the Overseas Highway, click here

Bahai Honda State Park is one of the prettiest beaches in the US
In Spring 2004, we returned to Florida and, in addition to a three-day stay at our favorite Holiday Inn at Cocoa Beach, we spent three nights in South Beach. This was my first stay in Miami. The beach was beautiful, the architecture is fascinating and the Holocaust Museum is a humbling experience. (more photos here)

If you're in central Florida, a must stop is the Silver Moon Drive-In Theater in Lakeland. Tanya, myself, and the kids saw "Snow Dogs" and had a blast. Adults $3, kids under 12 free and a free refill on the popcorn! Bring a map if you're visiting from the east. Directions to and from I-4 are very confusing.

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pictures ©1997-2007 Kratoville
Oversee Highway photo courtesy of "keyhistory.org"
Holiday Inn photo courtesy of Greater Greensboro Open Blog