Canadian Travel Press
Issue Date: Sep 04, 2017
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Discover some surprises in the Sunshine State

Tourists can connect with nature at Wild Florida (pictured above). Photo: Scott Audette



In 2016, Florida saw more than 3.3 million Canadian visitors enter the Sunshine State. Canada continues to be Florida’s No.1 international market for visitation, but over the past few years, fewer Canadians have been visiting the Sunshine State.
I am, however, unequivocally committed to reversing that trend and getting back to bringing record numbers of Canadians to our great state.
Florida has so much to offer Canadians. Most Canadians know about Disney, Universal and Sea World, which are all amazing attractions. In addition to those, Florida has an endless number of unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences that Canadians love. Florida’s rich diversity of destinations is a perfect match for the diversity of Canadians’ tastes.

Let’s share
Over the past few months, I’ve been travelling the state, and I’d love to share first-hand some of these unique experiences that Florida has to offer.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Central Florida and Miami. I began my trip by visiting Ocala/Marion County in North Central Florida, also known as “horse country.”

Ocala/Marion County known as “horse country”. Photo: Jacqui Janetzko

Ocala offers visitors winding community pathways lined with oak trees and the opportunity to explore miles of untainted nature. Ocala and the region’s freshwater streams, rolling hills and clean air remain unspoiled, have been used for Hollywood movies and have something for the relaxing traveller and adventure enthusiasts alike.
Next up, I had the opportunity to tour LEGOLAND in Winter Haven. LEGOLAND is a world-renowned destination that offers more than 50 rides, shows and attractions that focus on interactivity, education and fun. As you can see from the photo above, I was a big fan of the Star Wars Exhibit, and cannot wait to return.

Back to nature
Another must-see attraction in Central Florida is Bok Tower Gardens located in Lake Wales. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, this lush, garden-filled seven-and-a-half acre property includes a 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion, a 205-foot Singing Tower with a 60-bell carillon and two nature preserve trails. Sitting on a bench, under a tree next to the koi pond listening to a live carillon concert and looking out over the rolling landscape is a rare tranquil treat.

Florida has plenty to offer the outdoor enthusiast. Photo: Visit Florida

‘Amping’ it Up
I amped up the adventure as I met with Christopher Gould and his team at Jungle Island, one of the true gems of Miami. Jungle Island, a favourite South Florida landmark, is an intimate zoological park located in the heart of Miami, between downtown Miami and South Beach. Experience some of the world’s rarest and most exotic animals, engaging animal shows and informative experiences, while getting lost in a lush canopy of tropical trees and waterfalls.
I got wild at Wild Florida, an airboats and gator park in Kissimmee. Wild Florida provides an unforgettable Everglades experience that promotes a connection with animals, while inspiring education and conservation. They are dedicated to protect, conserve and enhance Florida’s diverse ecosystem. I know I’ll never forget my time here, as I got up close and personal with a sloth in one of their new encounters.
From there, the excitement continued as I travelled to Sawgrass Recreation Park in Weston and jumped on an airboat to take a ride through the Everglades with Gator Tim as my captain. I saw first-hand how unique the experience is that they offer and how important it is to showcase the beauty of our state to all of our visitors.
Stay tuned as I continue to bring you along my Florida-bound journey and share in the excitement with monthly articles to keep you “in-the-know.”

Ken Lawson is the CEO and President of Visit Florida. He will be writing articles for Canadian Travel Press on the latest Florida adventures and developments as he tours to meet partners across the Sunshine State.