10 Florida Attractions That Are Not Theme Parks

When planning a summer vacation, many travelers choose Florida attractions for some good family fun and look forward to the trip all year. Others, not interested in the theme park experience, are turning to ecotourism opportunities in Florida that provide vacation fun and have a more positive impact on the planet.

Ecotourism has travelers visiting fragile, pristine and protected areas of the planet as a low-impact alternative to mass tourism. Educating the traveler along the way, ecotourism commonly provides funds for ecological conservation that directly benefits local communities. In Florida, Cocoa Beach is a coastal city that has a wide variety of ecotourism opportunities about an hour from popular theme parks and attractions.

1. Canaveral National Seashore is a 24-mile beach with birding, fishing and wildlife run by the National Park Service.

2. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located on the John F. Kennedy Space Center, east of Titusville, Florida.

3. Cocoa Beach Wildside Tours is a Nature Tour Boat operating out of Cocoa Beach, Florida. They provide a close up experience with Manatees, Porpoises, Wild Birds and Alligators.

4. Blue Heron Adventures showcases the Indian River Lagoon and Bottlenose Dolphins, along with the opportunity to watch endangered Florida Manatees play.

5. Island Boat Lines offer daily eco-tours departing from various locations throughout the Space Coast. Optional cruises feature the Cocoa Beach Thousand Islands, Port Canaveral & THE LOCKS, Barge Canal and Historical Cocoa Village.

6. The Great Florida Birding Trail is a collection of sites throughout Florida selected for their excellent bird watching or bird education opportunities.

7. Brevard Zoo is the result of the popularity of on-site kayaking in Brevard Zoo’s 22-acre wetlands. The Brevard Zoo is also offering kayaking eco-tours of the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon.

8. Grasshopper Airboat Eco-Tours is located on the St. Johns River West of Cocoa. There, travelers can experience a unique and thrilling Florida airboat ride adventure.

9. Inlet Marina offers Pelican Island and Indian River Lagoon Tours in addition to canoe and kayak rentals.

10. Fun Day tours is an eco-tour operator providing over 20 new, and unique, half- and full-day, guided nature and wildlife adventures for preformed groups, plus a “VIP” privately guided group tour of Kennedy Space Center.

Florida is also home to the Everglades, a protected area in danger as we see in this video:

Flickr photo by Elido Turco – Gigi

Your cruise comments really do matter

At the end of every cruise, on just about every cruise line, passengers are asked to rate the whole experience through guest comment cards. Cruise lines use the information captured through this process for a whole bunch of things. Passenger comments tell them how they are doing in areas from dining to housekeeping to shore excursions and more. Changes in the way cruise lines do business are often the direct result of what passengers have to say about it all. A good example of what is done with this information was released yesterday by Carnival Cruise Lines.

The embarkation team at any cruise port has a big job to do in a very short amount of time. When a ship comes in to a home port, the port that sailings begin and end in, there is a lot to be done. A great deal of the work is behind the scenes stuff that passengers don’t see like re-supplying the ship with food, supplies, fuel and the like.

Getting the old passengers off the ship so the new ones can come on is a lot of work to be done in a very short period of time. That’s what the embarkation team does and it is one of the seemingly trivial parts of Carnival’s guest comment card survey. Filling out that form at the end of a cruise that section is probably a bit of a blur to most guests unless they had a bad experience. But it’s not trivial to the cruise line and Carnival recently recognized the embarkation team at Port Canaveral.

The Carnival Port Canaveral embarkation team once again earned top honors in the company’s annual guest comment card survey, which ranks embarkation personnel from the lines’ 11 year-round home-ports in a variety of service and process-related categories. This marks the sixth time that Carnival’s Port Canaveral team has earned the award in the past 13 years.

“For Port Canaveral to be named Carnival’s ‘Embarkation Port of the Year’ six times in 13 years is a testament to the commitment to superior service of this hard-working group and the spirit of cooperation that exists between our guest logistics team and the port’s operations personnel,” said Milly Martin, senior director of guest logistics for Carnival Cruise Lines.

Under the direction of Guest Logistics Manager Maritza Ferry, the 135-member team was recognized for their outstanding professionalism, enthusiasm, and friendliness while assisting guests embarking on the two Carnival ships that sail from Port Canaveral year-round.

How they do getting guests on and off the ship is important to passengers and the cruise port authority too. Nothing happens until the ship has been cleared by port authorities. That process can be slowed down for a number of reasons including an inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs or Immigration officials. But once the ship has been cleared, the test of an embarkation team begins in earnest.

“The dedication to service from Carnival’s embarkation team and the port’s operations staff again proves to be a winning combination,” said Stan Payne, CEO, Port Canaveral. “From the time of arrival in our parking lots to their departure post-cruise, passengers benefit from the joint efforts of the team of professionals at Port Canaveral working to provide a quality vacation experience from start to finish.”

So yes, when they tell you on the ship that your comments are important, believe that. The hard work those people do to get thousands of people on and off a ship is worthy of a comment or two.

Disney Dream to sail in profitable waters, magic a bonus

When new Disney Dream arrived in Florida this week, crowds gathered to celebrate. New ships arriving are always a special event and this one was no exception. But beyond the first-look hoopla, the new ship will have some real-world financial impact that’s pretty cool to consider.

Buoyed by a nod from Wall Street analysts, shares in Walt Disney Co hit a 10-year high Wednesday, due in part to the arrival of Disney Dream. The new ship and sister-ship Disney Fantasy coming in 2012 represent a $1.8 billion investment that will increase the line’s guest capacity by nearly 150 percent.

Older and smaller ships Disney Magic and Wonder will be redeployed to make room for the new, larger ships that bring with them more jobs and more revenue for ports they visit too. The Bahamas will see an estimated $3 million additional spending and $900,000 in tax revenue the first year alone.

The cruise business has been a profitable venture for Disney, with ships sailing fuller and demanding higher prices than other major cruise lines. While other lines carry an average of two guests per cabin, Disney’s family focus gets them an average of 3 and that adds up to higher profits.

It’s no surprise that rival lines Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line have tried to capture that profit magic by adding Dreamworks and Nickelodeon characters to their on-board programming. It’s a bold attempt to stifle the effect of Disney’s increased capacity but side by side, it’s pretty hard to beat the mouse on his own turf.

“Oh, this line is all for kids?” you say? Not so fast.

Disney has gone out of its way to attract adults as well with new features on board that let adults ditch the kids, at night anyway, for features along the lines of the latest and greatest being offered by the newest of ships on other lines.

Wrap it all up, tie a bow on it and sing “Happy Birthday”, Disney Cruise Line’s new child may very well be the future of cruise vacations. Now that’s magical.

Photo- Disney Cruise Line

Cruise ports green up and look to the future

To passengers, U.S. cruise embarkation ports may all look about the same. On a good day, we pass through them, either coming or going, in a matter of minutes without much regard for what goes on there. We know that security is a big part of what they do and feel good about seeing law enforcement there, making sure the whole process runs smoothly and without incident. Lately, some of our ports are moving forward with plans to make the whole process more secure, easier and even a bit more green.

The Port of San Diego opened a new $28 million Port Pavilion that will provide green shore-side power to cruise ships. The new facility serves as an auxiliary terminal to the Port’s main B Street Cruise Ship Terminal and is also available for public events when cruise ships are not in port.

Earlier this year, Princess Cruises Island Princess plugged in at the Port of San Francisco to a system that was built as a cooperative effort by the Port of San Francisco, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Environmental Protection Agency, Holland America Line and Princess.

The Port of Los Angeles just completed it’s World Cruise Center solar rooftop project. Estimated to produce 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, the $10.8 million project will also result in an estimated $200,000 in energy cost savings.

On the East coast, Florida’s Port Canaveral is looking to the future also with plans for a $100 million expansion program that includes a new terminal and more cargo facilities. “Just when the economic recovery should be moving forward at a steadier pace, we will be ready.” said Port Canaveral CEO Stan Payne.

Not long ago, Florida’s Port Everglades set out plans for a $2 billion expansion over the next 20 years that included a $75 million expansion to accommodate the worlds largest cruise ships, Oasis and Allure of the Seas.

Photo courtesy Port of Los Angeles

New Disney Dream features magical water-coaster

Disney Cruise Line’s new Disney Dream will set sail from Florida on January 26, 2011. On board will be several new features not seen before on cruise ships along with a good dose of that trademark Disney “magic”.

Two big features are getting a lot of attention, the AquaDuck on-board water coaster and Magical Portholes on inside cabins.

Taking advantage of Disney’s vast theme-park experience, the line custom designed an attraction worthy of land-based parks especially for the new ship. The AquaDuck water coaster will sweep guests on a 765-foot high-speed flume ride with uphill acceleration and a swing-out loop letting them look down to the ocean 150 feet below, all in about a minute.

From the “Why didn’t I think of that?” department, Magical Portholes make standard inside staterooms something special. High-resolution cameras stream live digital video to each stateroom, reflecting the scene outside.

Look for Mickey and friends to swim by the porthole of each cabin from time to time too.

Currently on her way across the Atlantic and heading to Port Canaveral, Florida, new Disney Dream is the first of two new ships from the line with sister-ship Disney Fantasy scheduled to sail in 2012.

Photo courtesy Disney Cruise Line