Tag Archives: Florida

How To Experience Kissimmee If You Don’t Love Theme Parks

a taxidermied hog in the Osceola County History Center — Experience Kissimmee
Not the kind of wildlife some people expect to experience in Kissimmee, yet here he is. Or she. I didn’t check.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

In college, I lived oh-so-briefly in Kissimmee. It was quite the experience.

The Kissimmee Experiment (1994)

Despite attending UCF (go Knights!), I moved to the Kissimmee area because I had a part-time job at Disney and the commute from my apartment in Winter Park to Lake Buena Vista was not… ideal. Orlando, the saying goes, is an hour from Orlando — and neither Winter Park nor Lake Buena Vista were technically in Orlando.

In the early- and mid-90s, Kissimmee had a lot of “dinner-and-show” experiences, likely spurred by the popularity of Medieval Times. I never set foot in any of them while I lived there.  Kissimmee was close to my part-time job (which, at the time, was a lot more fun than some of the courses I had to take outside my major), and that was all that mattered.

On occasion, I would meander outside the touristy areas. I remember a lovely downtown that had almost no one wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and a flea market in the St. Cloud area. A lot about this time in my life — my early twenties — is blurry now (for a lot of reasons but most of which I should work out in therapy, not here, so let’s move on, shall we?), but when, a few months into what I can only call the Kissimmee Experiment, I moved back to the coast, I wasn’t thrilled to leave Central Florida but I was definitely OK with losing the dinner-and-show vibe.

Experience Kissimmee (2024)

A few weeks ago, I decided to revisit Kissimmee. I wanted to see what I could find beneath the tourist veneer.

There’s plenty; so much so that I expect we’ll make another trip out there soon, because once you start looking at the area not as a tourist, but as someone who loves Florida, there’s plenty to experience in Kissimmee.

a gator hatchling in a tank at the Osceola County History Center
This little guy was quite real — and quite annoyed by my presence.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Top Three Kissimmee Experiences

  1. Osceola County History Center
    I cannot say enough about how well done this history center is. They start with pre-EuroAmerican history and move through present-day. You’ll find kid-friendly and adult-sensitive exhibits, respectable representation of Black Floridians, and nature education. Overall, it’s a top-notch experience for history buffs.
  2. Woodsby’s Cafe
    Woodsby’s took us about 20 minutes away from our resort, and about twice as far, metaphorically, from the tourists. I hope you listen to the podcast to hear what a visit here taught me about believing Florida’s mainstream media press, but if you don’t, know that I had a wonderful experience and a wonderful meal in a diverse, welcoming environment.
  3. Downtown Kissimmee
    Once again, real life trumps the idea that Florida doesn’t have history. Antebellum architecture and a sense of place pervade.

Kissimmee Lodging

Legacy Vacations hosted us (and the dogs) at one of their one-bedroom suites. My honest take: It’s comfortable, well-appointed, diverse, and committed to sustainability. The units aren’t new, but they’re well-maintained, and if I had kids, I’d easily book a week here and never leave the property.  It’s farther than you’d think from Disney, but most of the people there didn’t seem interested in Disney. Perfect for families, comfortable enough for couples, and at the end of the day, I’m happy to show love to a B Corp committed to making a difference in the world.

How To Do Kissimmee: The Podcast

Here’s the podcast Rick and I recorded about the Osceola County History Center, paddling the headwaters to the Everglades at Shingle Creek, and so many other things you can do there that don’t require theme park admission.

Get More Florida!

Finally, if you love Florida, please support my Florida travel habit, my dogs, and this website. Here’s how:

Florida’s 2024 Hurricane Season: Don’t Panic

Great Miami Hurricane barometer via National Weather Service
As Florida’s 2024 hurricane season begins, let’s remember how far we’ve come with forecasting. Pictured: Barometer from the 1926 hurricane.
Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service.

As Florida’s 2024 hurricane season opens, Rick Kilby and I talked about Florida’s hurricane history, hurricane prep, and — this is clutch — how to prepare without freaking out.

My forthcoming book, Florida Spectacular: Extraordinary Places and Exceptional Lives, has a chapter about how Florida forecasting and experience has made the world better prepared  for a storm. (Hey, if you want to pre-order that, please do so from an indie bookstore like St. Pete’s Tombolo Books. We all love Amazon but we having bookstores in our cities and towns more, right?)

It sounds odd, but I’m a huge fans of hurricanes. I’ve written before about the Hurricane of 1928, and wrote a series about the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in the Everglades and Florida Keys.

Why my fascination? Well, while no one wants to see loss of life, hurricanes are a vital part of the natural order of things. Without them, we’d have devastating forest fires, too many nutrients in our rivers and lakes, and less food production in the ocean. There’s a host of benefits — don’t take my word for it; check out this article — but it’s hard to appreciate those when there’s an oak tree in your living room and you suddenly have waterfront property that may have downed live power lines, right?

So, don’t fear hurricanes. Prepare. Rick and I talk about some ways you can do that on our podcast. Take a listen.

Florida’s 2024 Hurricane Season: Links We Mentioned


Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida Life by Iza Duffy Hardy

Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen

Hurricane prep suggestions: Turn off your TV and check hurricanes.gov, the least weather-terroristy source for real news. Instead of bottled water, buy five gallon reusable jugs (we suggest glass, but you can get plastic ones, too) and a USB-powered water dispenser (you can recharge it in your car if needed). You can also get a five-galloon cooler with a dispenser built in the bottom.

Support the Show with a one-time or recurring donation

Support the podcast! For $5/month, you get premium Florida Keys history and travel tips with Brad Bertelli and Cathy Salustri. (Here’s some info about Florida Keys Spectacular)

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How You Can Help Florida Springs

one of Florida springs near Tampa surrounded. by cypress trees
Florida springs are amazing, but they need your help, Here’s how you can keep them special and pristine. 
Photo by Cathy Salustri

This week on the podcast, Ryan Smart, Executive Director of the Florida Springs Council, joined me and Rick to answer a listener’s questions about Florida springs.

Last week, I spoke in Ocala about Florida springs, and after the talk, Meg Young, who was in the audience, had more questions. Here’s what we told her about how you can help Florida springs.

Q: If the springs naturally come to the surface, why would the bottled water companies need permits to pump out? Would they not just capture the water as it surfaces? Or are they forcing the spring to produce more than natural? 

A: We answer this more in-depth in the podcast, but it’s because they don’t scoop the water out of the springhead — they tap the spring with a well, and they need permission for that. And it’s actually taking away from spring production, not the other way around.

Q:  I remember years ago when I lived in Orlando there was a Spring on the westbound lanes of Hwy. 17-92 in Longwood and people, including myself, would just stop with empty milk bottles and fill up with the spring water and drink it at home. They have since shut the location off from the public and I don’t know the current status of that water.

A: That’s near the now-gone famous tree in Sanford, the Senator, and it is closed to the public. Rick has memories of this and talks about it on the ‘cast.

Q: How many gallons of water does a third-magnitude spring produce per minute? 

A: Between 1-10 cubic feet per second, so that’s between 60 and 600 cubic feet per minute.

Q: Could you repeat the ways to help Florida springs? 

A: We’d be glad to!

  1. Stop drinking bottled water.
  2. Plant Florida-friendly landscaping.
  3. Turn off your irrigation or change to drip irrigation.
  4. Don’t fertilize.
  5. Connect with and support with a group advocating for springs. A great start is the Florida Springs Council or any of Florida’s  Riverkeepers. Get involved!

Things You Can Do To Help Florida Springs

Berkey water filters

Five-gallon water jugs and USB water jug dispensers

Speak out against bad bills, like these.

Links We Mentioned

Santa Fe Springs Celebration (April 27, 2024)

Take a road trip to these Florida springs — but be careful to leave no trace!