02 JUL 2019: Call them missionaries – a delegation of half a dozen disciples of Florida calling in Canada to spread the gospel, and latest news, from the Sunshine State.

On hand for the media mission to Toronto June 24 and 25 were Kolby Kucyk Gayson of Florida’s Sports Coast; Nicole Stacey from Visit Pensacola; Ashley Dobbs of Ocala-Marion County VCB; Miles Saunders, Discover Crystal River; and Suzanne Pelisson Beasley, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment;, as well as Visit Florida’s Meagan Dougherty, Sam May and Canadian rep, Sana Keller (see photo).

And from manatees to horseback riding, and sport fishing to state history, the group had plenty to impart, not the least that there is much more to Florida than its theme parks, and, as Visit Florida, is quick to counsel: it’s a destination made for exploring.

Here’s what was on their minds:

Florida’s Sports Coast: Not sure where Pasco County is? That’s why the region has been rebranded Florida’s Sports Coast (not to be confused with Space Coast). Located about half an hour due north of Tampa, the area has ample opportunities for outdoor leisure pursuits, including two state parks and venues such as the largest indoor ice centre in the southeast, says Kucyk Gayson. The county’s coast is not really known for its beaches, but ideal for sport fishing, as are inland lakes and rivers. It’s also a great place to take advantage of scallop season, which starts this month and has enjoyed a massive comeback in recent years.

Pensacola: Florida’s westernmost city (on the Panhandle near the Alabama border) is renowned for its Gulf of Mexico beaches and family-friendly vibe, but don’t forget the city’s burgeoning cultural scene, from museums and galleries to symphony and local chef-inspired cuisine (and dearth of chain restaurants). America’s “oldest settlement” also boasts an ongoing roster of events, such as a November’s songwriter festival. And don’t even get Nicole Stacey going about the Mullet Toss (dead fish, not men with 1980s hairstyles).

Ocala-Marion County: About 90 minutes north of Orlando and Tampa, landlocked Marion County (primary town, Ocala) is about as dead centre as can be in Florida. It’s also the horse capital of the state, manifesting itself in a host of activities for visitors, from farm tours to horse riding and carriage tours, to (specialized) show jumping and even swimming with horses. Ashley Dobbs points out that many Canadians drive through Marion Co. on their way south and should consider stopping to discover the pastoral setting and quaint downtowns – a “different destination than what you normally see in Florida.”

Crystal River: It’s all about manatees here, the cows of the sea. Dubbed the Manatee capital of the world, close to a thousand of the gentle beasts make there way from the Gulf of Mexico to winter (Nov.-March) in warm local springs, rivers and the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge. Located about an hour and 15 minutes north of Tampa, the region is also known for its seafood – especially scallops – sport fishing, and restaurants that will cook a visitor’s catch.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment: “We want you to be entertained, but we also want you to be educated and inspired,” says Suzanne Pelisson Beasley, who points out that the organization has always been about rescue, research and conservation first and theme parks second, even if it didn’t traditionally talk about it. And to that end, she points out that SeaWorld has passed the 35,000 animals rescued milestone. Even new attractions like the Tigris coaster at Busch Gardens Tampa has an educational component about tiger conservation, she says.

visitFlorida

Back row: Suzanne Pelisson Beasley, SeaWorld; Nicole Stacey,Visit Pensacola; Kolby Kucyk Gayson, Florida’s Sports Coast;  Visit Florida’s Meagan Dougherty; Canadian rep, Sana Keller; Ashley Dobbs, Ocala-Marion County VCB;

Front row: Visit Florida’s Sam May; Miles Saunders, Discover Crystal River; and Parks & Entertainment

 

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Michael Baginski

Editor at Large, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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