Follow Your Sunshine

There’s no doubt that Canadians know Florida well, observed VISIT FLORIDA’s Sam May during a stop at Press Today’s offices in Toronto yesterday, but he’s quick to add that there’s more to the state that they may not know about.

In fact, May explained to PT that VISIT FLORIDA has done a bit of a re-branding and is focusing on the diversity of the state’s tourism offerings, as well as the many off-the-beaten path options available to Canadian visitors who may be looking for something a little different.

VISIT FLORIDA’s Meagan Dougherty agreed with May, telling PT that the message to visitors was that when they come to Florida, they should “Follow Your Sunshine” – do what they want to do because in Florida, there’s something different for everyone.

Dougherty was also quick to point out that travel agents and tour operators are a big part of VISIT FLORIDA’s plans, pointing out that the organization’s new CFO, Gerardo Llanes is a big supporter of the travel trade, and clearly aware of what they can do for a destination.

May and Dougherty were accompanied on the Toronto visit by Ashley Dobbs of the Ocala Visitors and Convention Bureau; Kolby Cucyk Gayson of Florida’s Sports Coast; Nicole Stacey of Visit Pensacola; Suzanne Pelisson Beasley of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment; and Miles Saunders of Discover Crystal River.

Each of them had a story to tell about some off-the-beaten experiences that their destinations or attractions offered visitors.


Ocala VCB’s Dobbs described her destination as the horse capital of the world, with visitors able to enjoy horseback riding, farm tours and farm & carriage tours from several operators in the area. Plus for three months each year – from January to March – Ocala is home for a major horse show extravaganza.

The area also boasts two state parks – Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs – as well as the Ocala National Forest for those visitors who want to get out into nature.

Orlando and Tampa are the closest airports to Ocala.

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Let’s Play!

That’s the tagline of Florida’s newly brand Sports Coast, previously Visit Pasco.

The destination’s Kolby Kucyk Gayson told Press Today, that it’s a destination that’s all about the combination of some great sports venues and an unending range of sporting activities, plus the area offers a range of natural wonders, including 35 parks, nature trails, inshore fishing and which has just recently added a new experience – recreational scalloping for visitors.

And she said that she believes the new scalloping experience will be one that tour operators embrace.

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Well known to Canadians, SeaWorld continues to grow its reputation as a global leader in marine conservation, animal rescue and a number of other areas of sustainability.

As SeaWorld’s Suzanne Pelisson Beasley explains it, the goal is to inspire and educate each of its guests visiting its parks in such a way that they leave believing that they can make a difference.

As for new developments, SeaWorld has eliminated single-use plastic bags and straws and also polystyrene foam dinnerware from all of its parks.

Sesame Street Land is now opening now open, offering six acres of fully interactive fun for kids of all ages in the Sesame Street neighbourhood; and there’s a host of new attractions at the company’s other parks.

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Located on Florida’s Panhandle, Pensacola was established in 1559, so it has a long history of welcoming visitors.

With miles of coastline, Nicole Stacey of Visit Pensacola points out that visitors can enjoy a traditional beach vacation as the area offers all the ingredients necessary for that type of holiday, but they can also explore that area’s history – and considering Pensacola has been around for something like 450 years – there’s a lot to discover starting with Historic Pensacola Village.

On the other hand, there’s lots of fun places, like Flora-Bama which is located on Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida, and offers live entertainment 365 days a year and which has become famous for its signature drink, the Bushwacker.

Stacey noted too that Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels, Fort Pickens and a host of museums, orchestras, symphonies, ballet and art galleries. Its downtown features boutiques for shopping and the cuisine offers a lot of local flare.

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In the warm weather, over a thousand manatees live in the shallow, seagrass rich waters off Crystal River and in the winter, when those waters cool, they swim up the rivers to find warmer waters.

Crystal River’s Miles Saunders explained that it is the only area where visitors, accompanied by certified guides, are allowed to swim with the manatees and passively observe them.

In all, he told PT, that 30 tour companies offer tours, with the manatee season running from November to March each year.

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