Florida Travel: What You Need To Know for 2022

Mickey Mouse is turning 50!

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

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But one of Mickey’s homes around the world, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., is having its 50th birthday throughout the entirety of 2022 after kicking it off in October of 2021.

It’s just one of many celebrations, events and happenings for you 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 travel trade show for the state sponsored by Visit Florida – including a knowledgeable discussion about guiding disabled visitors through Florida and what travel agents need to know.

Top Events

We already mentioned Walt Disney World’s 50th-anniversary celebration, and it promises to be a year of gala extravaganzas befitting the WDW way.

That’s not all, however, when it comes to the 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 coaster and boast four backward and forward launches.

SeaWorld Orlando’s Ice Breaker roller coaster. (photo courtesy of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment)

If you’re looking to go to Universal Orlando, book by February 9 for travel through May 22 and get a spectacular deal – five days, five nights and tickets to the parks for $89 per person per night based on a family of four.

Key West is basically a party every night, but here’s an extra 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 from March 3-13. This is an incredible time, as much for the delicious strawberries as for the terrific concerts and other events that draw half a million visitors every year when there’s not a worldwide virus to attend to.

Up your intellectual game at the Sunshine State Book Festival in Gainesville on April 9 and 10. There is free admission, and more than 100 authors will be in attendance for you to also corral 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

Of the many things that Visit Florida prides itself on is its plethora of disabled access events across the state.

Florida has taken the lead in the US with more than 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 alike – such as making sure there are Mobimats on the beaches at Amelia Island, Fort Lauderdale, Franklin County, Pensacola and many others, reducing the obvious hurdles for wheelchair -bound beach lovers.

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

Silver Springs State Park recently added a brand new, accessible boat to its fleet of glass-bottom boats to explore the Silver Springs, near Ocala. The benches on this new boat lift up and down, making it accessible for wheelchairs.

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

“One of the biggest things that I can share is you have to be OK with asking the hard questions,” she said. “You might not think of that when you’re booking travel. Asking ‘How would you use the restroom?’ is normal. When you’re dealing with somebody that has a mobility challenge like I do, that is a very important thing to know. Do they use a catheter? Can they just transfer to the toilet? Do they need help? It might not seem comfortable to you at first, but knowing all that information is imperative to meeting the needs of your client.”

Tantillo said every 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 alike,” she said.

Underrated Gems

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

Sure, 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 known, thank you ‘I Dream of Jeannie – is Cocoa Beach. Not only is this some of the best surfing in the world as multiple surfing champion Kelly Slater can attest, but it also has the great Ron Jon Surf Shop. It’s a perfect tourist draw even if you don’t surf. Discover all of nature’s beauty in the moonlight surrounded by bioluminescence on a kayak tour. And, oh yeah, there’s some little thing nearby called the Kennedy Space Center where numerous rocket launches have taken place as part of America’s space program.

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

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

The Everglades National Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and it’s way more than just airboating. Explore literally hundreds of species besides gators in the Everglades. Do some snorkeling and scuba diving around coral at John Pennekamp State Park, the first undersea park in the US

Sports

Little-known fact – the National Hockey League Stanley Cup champions the last two years have been the Tampa Lightning. Its Major League Baseball brethren, 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 big-time in Florida, and not just in the so-called four major sports. NASCAR hosts 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 every February.

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

College football is monstrous, with name programs such as the University of Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF and more. High school football games are a huge draw as well, as some of the best prep talent in the country resides in Florida.

There’s boating, paddling, surfing, tennis and so many other participatory sports for travelers as well.

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