|The fort of Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine stands witness to over 330 years of history and culture.|
When Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon came ashore somewhere around St. Augustine in 1513, he essentially became the first celebrity tourist to the Sunshine State. Countless other “explorers” have followed in his footsteps, with about 2 million a year being the norm these days. That number is expected to boom in 2013 as the city prepares to celebrate its quincentennial.
Speaking at the Florida Huddle in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year, Richard Goldman, executive director of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, touted the city’s historical significance as well as its contemporary appeal. He noted that St. Augustine was built in a European style walkable city, and the Spanish embraced diversity in a way that others in America didn’t. It was they who chartered the first free African city in North America, Fort Mose, built adjacent to St. Augustine. Long before the Underground Railroad of Civil War times, as the sheltered slaves fled north, a well-known freedom route for slaves flowed southward to Spanish Florida, Goldman emphasized.
|St. Augustine/Ponte Vedra offers 42 miles of ocean beaches.|
“History does not always mean talking heads and your history teacher from high school,” Goldman said, noting that visitors will discover authentic history in St. Augustine and environs, and they can also witness or participate in contemporary events, such as the Players Championship for golf fans and cultural festivals and celebrations that spur people to travel.
When asked by Travel Agent about whether St. Augustine would be inviting royalty to its celebration, much as Williamsburg, VA, did with its recent celebration, Goldman replied: “Yes, I can give you some hints. Royalty is involved, but at this point, we can’t address particular dates and where royalty will be...but there is commitment.” He noted that “the eyes of the world, or at least of our hemisphere will be on Florida,” adding that St. Augustine’s celebration will not encompass just one huge event, but rather a series of them.
|St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum.|
While it may never be known exactly where Ponce de Leon came ashore along Florida’s east coast, it can be narrowed to a very specific geographic area, according to Goldman, given that the explorer and his officers were good journal keepers. On April 2, 1513, the day prior to his landing on Florida’s shores, the ship’s navigator logged their position at 30 degrees, eight minutes, just south of what is today Ponte Vedra Beach and a few miles north of St. Augustine. In honor of this historic milestone, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches will host the next Florida Huddle, January 24-26, 2013.
From the perspective of Visit Florida, the official Florida tourism industry marketing corporation, supporting the anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s “discovery” of the Sunshine State by Europeans is linked to supporting other ethnic heritages as well. Viva Florida, a collaboration between Visit Florida and the Florida Department of State, is the state’s portal for efforts and information about Spanish, French, native American, African-American, Jewish, Cuban and British heritage.
Agents with clients interested in the upcoming Ponce de Leon celebration can visit that website for details on the Spanish Colonial Heritage Trail, which looks at the history of the Spanish in Florida, showcases sites of interest and offers ideas for drive tours.
While 2013 is certainly going to be extra special for St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, there has always been plenty of things to see and do there that you can recommend to your clients in 2012—or any year.
* For recreation, there are 42 miles of ocean beaches, fishing charters, kayaking, and golf courses galore—including championship courses at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine and The Stadium Course at Sawgrass. There are also abundant options for clients who enjoy shopping (from boutiques to outlet malls), fine dining and nightlife.
* History buffs can explore the Old City—with its storied collection of homes, museums, forts and the lush, green park at the Fountain of Youth. The scarred walls of Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument, still stand witness to over 330 years of history and culture. St. Augustine’s rich maritime history is represented by Florida’s first lighthouse. It doubles as a museum, with exhibits in the keepers’ house about the Coast Guard in WWII, shipwrecks, and the lives of the keepers and their families. Visitors can also climb the 219 steps to the top of the 165-foot tower for breathtaking views.
* For some contemporary fun, there’s the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, the one-of-a-kind exhibits at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum, ghost tours and more.
The area also has a great variety of accommodations, including an abundance of bed-and-breakfasts, several of which are converted Victorian-style homes dating to the late 19th century. For those clients who prefer the familiarity of a “name” hotel, a number of chains are represented, such as Best Western, Comfort Inn & Suites, Days Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Hampton Inn, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Marriott and Courtyard by Marriott, Quality Inn, Ramada, Renaissance, and Wingate by Wyndham.