As you may have noticed, we’re really into our colours here at Florida First. We’re very aware that Mondays in January often bring on the blues, so we’re pushing back against the doldrums this year with our own alternative colour scheme.
Last week we introduced you to Pink Monday (and a chance to win a souvenir Garden Flamingo), so this week we’re going to do the same thing, but just change the hue from pink to glorious green – and give you another chance to get in on the flamingo action (just leave us a comment on our social media to be part of the fun)!
Because, if there’s one thing you notice as you fly in to the Sunshine State it’s that there is an awful lot of green territory just about everywhere you look as you come in to land, whether the airport is Orlando, Miami or Tampa.
And this is definitely A Good Thing. Green is usually a healthy sign in Florida, as well as an indication of how much of the state remains pristine and unspoiled, just waiting to be discovered by visitors for its natural wonderlands, from the Everglades in the south – the fabled ‘River of Grass’ – to the scenic woodland of Big Shoals State Park in the north (one of 175 state parks that add true lustre to the overall picture).
Green is also the colour of ecotourism and conservation, which we now find in super-abundance throughout the state. You don’t have to go far anywhere in Florida to encounter off-the-beaten-track adventures or nature excursions, while the wildlife can also be green (notably the iguanas that you’ll find throughout southern Florida!). Kayaking and paddle-boarding are second nature to most Floridians, and cycling and hiking trails are equally popular.
Even the theme parks have added to the array of environmentally friendly ‘green’ initiatives in recent years, with Walt Disney World introducing vast solar power developments that will produce the equivalent amount of electricity to supply more than 10,000 homes and greatly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, while Legoland Florida is turning its car parks into solar-power ‘farms.’
And then there are the regular organisations dedicated to preserving the ecology and natural resources of this beautiful destination, including Audubon of Florida (the state’s most influential conservation group) and the imaginative Florida Green Lodging Program, which highlights places to stay that go above and beyond the basics of recycling and maintenance to lower their carbon footprint.
Climate change is another issue that is currently impacting the state, and you will find that there are active programmes in place to address this problem, too, as well as more awareness at government level of the need to be climate aware.
Holiday-makers can even visit a fast-developing green ‘city’, in the shape of Babcock Ranch, a 440-acre new town that aims to be fully self-sustainable, with an emphasis on energy and water conservation through innovative renewable energy programmes and new technology. Or how about another kind of green – Green Cove Springs, with its natural sulfur springs and annual Soul Food Festival?
But what does all this mean for your Florida holiday? Quite a lot actually. The essential message is that this is a state where you can genuinely kick back and enjoy all the benefits of the best man-made attractions right alongside the natural ones.
Green is not just a colour but a way of life for dozens of eco-warriors who are happy to lead carfully-crafted excursions, whether it might be bioluminescent kayak tours or airboat rides deep into the immaculate marshlands and waterways of this endlessly fascinating place.
In fact, modern Florida is as much about nature as it is about theme parks and beaches. And, with that in mind, we thought we would highlight our Magnificent Seven Natural Attractions in the state, along with the best way to enjoy them:
Mangrove Tunnel Ecotour – head to Lido Key, Sarasota, for the chance to enjoy this magnificent slice of local nature, taking a kayak tour through the mangrove swamps along the interior coastline and enjoying the ‘tunnel’ effect as you meander through this unique ecosystem.
Where to stay: Any visit to the Sarasota area is enhanced by a stay at the fabulous Hyatt Regency Sarasota.
Blue Spring State Park – Florida is famous for its fresh spring-fed rivers and waterways, and one of the best can be found just north of Orlando, where manatees, fish and turtles can all be seen in the crystal-clear waters, and a kayak tour will take you deep into the heart of the pristine forest.
Where to stay: In between Orlando and Blue Spring is the suburb of Winter Park, where the Alfond Inn is a superb choice.
Torreya State Park – Here’s another journey back into near-prehistoric territory in this heavily-forested area that features the rare Florida Torreya tree, as well as the distinctive bluffs of the Apalachicola River. The fishing and kayaking here are among the best in the state.
Where to stay: Partner a visit to the state park with a stay in historic Tallahassee, and enjoy the antebellum style of The Park Avenue Inn.
Key Biscayne: Savour the delights of sun, sea and forest in this National Park that is adjacent to Miami and affords magnificent sight-seeing with its mangrove forests, historic lighthouse and guided eco-adventures in and around this natural island playground.
Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne is the perfect base from which to enjoy the natural surroundings as well as the big city nearby.
Devil’s Millhopper State Park: Prepare for a geological oddity like no other at the deep sink-hole in the centre of this 71-acre park, where 212 man-made steps lead down to the observation deck that affords a grandstand view of the half-mile bowl-shaped cavity that gives it its name.
Where to stay: Make Gainesville your base for this adventure and combine it with a stay at the charming Laurel Oak Inn.
Myakka River State Park: The majestic Myakka River flows through 58 square miles of one of the state’s oldest parks, which remains in its natural state since the first Native Americans arrived some 10,000 years ago and discovered arching palm trees and live oaks in a true wilderness area.
Where to stay: Sample the laid-back delights of the boutique Virage Hotel in the delightful town of Osprey, just south of Sarasota.
The Everglades: No visit to Florida is fully complete until you have experienced the awe-inspiring immensity of the Everglades, the vast wetlands that are home to teeming wildlife, incredible bio-diversity and epic panoramas, with a wide variety of eco-tours on offer throughout.
Where to stay: Miami and Fort Lauderdale both offer ready access to the Everglades, but we prefer to visit from Naples, where the Naples Bay Resort & Marina is a great base from which to explore.
Ultimately, green is the colour of excitement and adventure in Florida, and we know our visitors will get full value for their Sunshine State holiday at all the above – and much more besides!
You can also seek out more natural adventures on our special Florida Wildlife Holidays section.
Susan & Simon Veness are the UK’s leading experts on Florida, having written about it for more than 25 years and sold more than half a million copies of their books about Orlando, Disney and the Sunshine State.