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Grand Getaways

Now that the holidays have come and gone and 2022 is underway, it’s time to think about some much-deserved R&R. While planning a full-scale vacation still may have complications due to safety or budget reasons, we’re blessed in the Central Florida area to have a number of options for a quick escape to get refreshed, whether right in our own backyard or a short drive away. Here are just a few to think about when planning your next trip.

The Lightner Museum

Summary: Located in the historic downtown section of St. Augustine, the Lightner Museum is housed in the former Alcazar Hotel, which was built in 1888 and experienced great success as a resort until closing during the Great Depression. In 1948, Chicago publisher Otto Lightner transformed the space into an eclectic museum, and today it continues to feature a permanent collection of fine and decorative art and natural history specimens, along with a wide variety of exhibitions, events and educational programs.

New and notable: Visitors can enjoy three new exhibitions this spring, all opening on April 1. Bouke de Vries: War and Pieces presents the interpretation of an 18th century tablescape from de Vries, an internationally renowned Dutch artist. Dana Hargove: Iceland Series is a display of watercolor paintings from Hargrove, a professor of studio art at Rollins College, from her time spent in Northern Iceland. And finally, Contemporary Chronicles of St. Augustine uses a combination of large-format photographs, hand-drawn maps and interactive photographic flip books to give guests a deeper look into the Lightner’s hometown and America’s oldest city.

Perfect for: Not just art aficionados but anyone who appreciates history, architecture and the opportunity to experience different cultures from around the world.

One more thing: Café Alcazar is a perfect spot to grab lunch after a visit to the Lightner not just because of its menu, but also because it is located in the former indoor swimming pool of the Alcazar Hotel, the largest in the world during its time.

Wild Florida 

Summary: Famous for its airboat tours through the Florida Everglades—where guests can see gators, eagles and other wildlife in their natural habitats—Wild Florida has so much more to offer. The Alligator Park offers a closer look at more than 200 exotic animals, such as lemurs, bobcats and two-toed sloths, and includes a petting zoo and playground for kids, as well as a show featuring Crusher, the park’s largest American alligator weighing in at over 1,000 pounds. No trip is complete without taking in the Drive-thru Safari Park, where giraffes, zebras, American bison and other animals roam over 85 acres.

New and notable: The team at Wild Florida is thrilled to be adding two rhinos to the Drive-thru Safari this year. Brave guests can take part in a hands-on encounter and brush the tough skin of these magnificent animals.  

Perfect for: Animal lovers of all ages and families seeking an activity a tad more adventurous than a theme park.

One more thing: Florida residents take advantage of great deals at Wild Florida, from 15% off airboat tours to half-price Gator Park admission costing $7 for adults and $5 for children.

International Drive

Summary: With its wide range of dining and nightlife options, resorts and hotels, and exciting attractions, I-Drive continues to grow as a must-see destination not just for out-of-town visitors but locals who are seeking an escape from the monotony of their everyday lives. Shoppers can hit up the premium outlet stores and choose from their favorite type of cuisine at an impressive selection of restaurants, then cap the night at TopGolf or ICON Park.

New and notable: ICON Park, the entertainment complex in the heart of I-Drive, may be best-known for The Wheel, a 400-foot, awe-inspiring observation wheel, but there are two more attractions that must be experienced firsthand to believe. At 300 feet tall, The Orlando SlingShot is the world’s tallest and launches riders out of an exploding volcano approximately 450 feet into the sky at speeds up to 100 mph. The Orlando FreeFall is also the largest of its kind in the world, standing at 430 feet. Riders can take in the beautiful sites of I-Drive on their way to the top before plunging toward the ground at speeds over 75 mph.

Perfect for: You name it—families in need of a weekend activity, groups of friends catching up, co-workers getting together for happy hour, and the list goes on and on. 

One more thing: The I-RIDE Trolley is a convenient and affordable way to get to and from hundreds of destinations on I-Drive and give the younger or older individuals in your party a break from walking.

Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden

Summary: This tropical wonderland, the only frost-free botanical garden to be found in the continental United States, is home to many endangered flora and fauna species. It also has more than 200 species of birds and 40 species of butterflies and is the premier destination for taking in the wonders of Mother Nature, appreciating biodiversity and becoming educated in its importance.

New and notable: Last year was the 85th anniversary of Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden, and the celebration has been pushed back to 2022 due to COVID-19. The hope is to have a worthy party marking its founding in the 1930s with a nod to that era’s food, wine and live music.

Perfect for: Couples seeking a peaceful weekend getaway or anyone interested in learning more about how to protect the environment.

One more thing: There are three membership packages available and benefits include free admission, invitations to special events, volunteer opportunities and discounts at the gift shop.

Hammock Beach Golf Resort & Spa

Summary: Located just south of historic St. Augustine, this luxurious resort along the Atlantic Coast features pristine beaches, golf courses designed by two of the sport’s legends—Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson—a fantasy pool complex the kids will love and six unique dining experiences. Daytona International Speedway and the World Golf Hall of Fame are short drives away.

New and notable: Atlantic Grille, known for its fresh seafood and ocean views, now welcomes pets on its patio and offers a special menu for your furry friends.

Perfect for: Buddies on a golf trip, for sure, but also partners on a romantic getaway or corporate events.

One more thing: Residents of the Sunshine State receive up to 12% off their stay when they present a valid Florida ID at check-in.