Travel to Florida: what you need to know for 2022

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Mickey Mouse turns 50!

Well, OK, not Mickey himself since the venerable mouse was first drawn by Walt Disney in 1928.

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But one of Mickey’s homes around the world, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout 2022 after launching in October 2021.

This is just one of the many celebrations, events and happenings you need to know about this year in Florida.

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Much of this was discussed at last week’s annual Florida Huddle – the official state tourism fair sponsored by Visit Florida – including an in-depth discussion of how to guide visitors with disabilities across Florida and what that travel agents need to know.

Top Events

We’ve already mentioned Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration, and it promises to be an extravagant gala year, WDW-style.

That’s not all, however, when it comes to theme parks. SeaWorld Orlando is set to open the Ice Breaker roller coaster on February 18. Ice Breaker will become the theme park’s first launch roller coaster and will feature four backward and forward launches.

The Ice Breaker roller coaster at SeaWorld Orlando. (photo courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment)

If you want to go to Universal Orlando, book by Feb. 9 for travel through May 22 and get a spectacular deal — five days, five nights, and park tickets for $89 per person, per night on the basis of a family of four.

Key West is basically a party every night, but here’s a very special one. From March 19-30, the city will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first settlement in Key West.

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In Plant City, the annual Strawberry Festival will be held March 3-13. It’s an amazing time, both for the delicious strawberries and the great concerts and other events that attract half a million visitors every year when there’s no global virus to expect.

Step up your intellectual game at the Sunshine State Book Festival in Gainesville on April 9-10. Admission is free and over 100 authors will be present so you can also get an autograph or three.

Country superstars Morgan Wallen, Jason Aldean, Ashley McBride and more will headline this year’s Country Thunder from October 21-23 at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee.

An accessible state

Among the many things that Visit Florida is proud of is its plethora of disability access events across the state.

Florida has taken the lead in the United States by not just complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The state and its tourism officials have made a strong commitment to accessibility for locals and tourists – for example by ensuring that there are Mobimats on the beaches of Amelia Island, Fort Lauderdale, of Franklin County, Pensacola and more, reducing the obvious barriers for beach-loving wheelchair users.

The JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island has expanded its accessibility initiatives to include a spotting scope for color-blind visitors.

Silver Springs State Park recently added a brand new accessible boat to its fleet of glass bottom boats for exploring Silver Springs near Ocala. The benches on this new boat raise and lower, making it wheelchair accessible.

A woman in a beach wheelchair on a beach in South Walton, Florida.
A woman in a beach wheelchair on a beach in South Walton, Florida. (photo via South Walton)

For travel agents, some great advice comes from Jamie Tantillo, owner of Adventures by Jamie travel agency in Tampa, a full-service agency that focuses on travelers with special needs. Tantillo also serves as the accessibility liaison for Visit Tampa Bay.

“One of the most important things I can share is that you have to be willing to ask the hard questions,” she said. “You might not think about that when you book a trip. Asking “How would you use the toilet?” Is normal. When you’re dealing with someone who has a mobility issue like me, that’s a really important thing to know. Do they use a catheter? Can they just be transferred to the toilet? Do they need help? It may not feel comfortable to you at first, but knowing all of this information is imperative to meeting your client’s needs.

Tantillo said each case is different. Just because one person is in a wheelchair doesn’t mean it’s the same as another person.

“Don’t assume we’re all the same,” she said.

Underrated Gems

It’s not just beaches and theme parks, you know.

Of course, the beach is the big draw, especially in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, the Keys, Daytona, Sanibel and Captiva on the West Coast, and the Panhandle beaches.

One of the most underrated, however – but certainly still fairly well known, thanks ‘I Dream of Jeannie – is Cocoa Beach. Not only is it some of the best surfing in the world, as multiple surf champion Kelly Slater can attest, but there’s also the great Ron Jon Surf Shop. It’s a perfect tourist attraction even if you don’t surf. Experience all the beauty of nature in the moonlight surrounded by bioluminescence on a kayaking tour. And, oh yeah, there’s a little thing nearby called the Kennedy Space Center where many rocket launches have taken place as part of the US space program.

In Tampa, swim or paddle with manatees in the Crystal River and go cave diving in a prehistoric spring at Devil’s Den.

Snorkeling with a Manatee in Crystal River, Florida
Snorkeling with a manatee in Crystal River, Florida. (photo via Vladimir Mladenovic/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Everglades National Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and it’s more than just airboating. Explore literally hundreds of species besides alligators in the Everglades. Snorkel and scuba dive around corals at John Pennekamp State Park, America’s first underwater park

Sports

Little known fact – the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup champions for the past two years have been the Tampa Lightning. His Major League Baseball brothers, the Tampa Bay Rays, have made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, including a World Series appearance in 2020. Their National Football League colleagues, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers , won the Super Bowl in 2021.

Sports are huge in Florida, and not just in the so-called four major sports. NASCAR holds three major races a year on its 36-race schedule – one in Miami and two in Daytona Beach, including the Super Bowl of auto racing, the Daytona 500 each February.

Daytona 500, NASCAR, racing
The Daytona 500. (Photo via Flickr/Steven N. Moskowitz)

College football is monstrous, with big-name programs like University of Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF and more. High school football games are also hugely appealing, as some of the best prep talent in the country resides in Florida.

There is also boating, boating, surfing, tennis and so many other participatory sports for travelers.

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