FLORIDA: Disney’s magic extends beyond Orlando – TravelMole true

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FLORIDA: Disney’s magic extends beyond Orlando

Sunday, 21 Jan, 2013 0

From the themed craziness of Orlando, Bev Fearis and family drive two hours north east to the historical coastal city of St Augustine and find there’s a bit of Disney-style magic being created there too.

St Augustine is celebrating a big birthday this year. In fact, it’s a biggy not just for St Augustine but for the whole of Florida because 2013 marks 500 years since the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León arrived on Florida’s east coast and gave the state its name – La Florida, or ‘flower’ (they landed in the spring).

Some 50 years later, on August 28 1565, a second Spanish convoy, this time led by admiral Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, arrived off the coast of Florida and created St Augustine, making it the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American continent.

For this reason, St Augustine is often referred to as the ‘Old City’ and each year attracts thousands of school groups, from all across Florida and beyond, who come here to learn about their history. The city is home to the oldest wooden school house (1763), the oldest house (1720), the oldest standing European fort (Castillo de San Marcos 1695), and the oldest store (1840).

All of them are brought to life by a mix of personal stories, amateur actors in costumes (otherwise known as reenactors) or moving and talking models. In fact, Disney ‘imagineers’ have helped create a few of the newer attractions – the fabulous Pirate and Treasure Museum and the new Colonial Quarter, due to open next month. But more of those later.



We’re staying in the perfect location in historic St George Street, right in the heart of the action. This pedestrianised street is teaming with historic buildings, quaint little shops, bars and eateries – a bit like Main Street Disney but real. At one end, tucked into a little shady green square, is the St George’s Inn, an independently-owned bed and breakfast that’s split into four separate buildings among the shops and cafes. Click here for a review of the St George’s Inn.

Our two-bed suite has a wooden deck overlooking the square and it’s tempting just to sit and people-watch, but there’s lots to see and do so we dump our luggage and jump on the town trolley bus.

These green and gold buses do a circular tour of the city, picking up and dropping off at 22 of its main attractions. As you go, the driver gives you an entertaining insight into the city’s history, but it helps if you get on at number 1.

We got on at number 19 (the closest to our hotel) and it wasn’t until we’d done the whole circuit that we started to make sense of it all. The tour took just over an hour and helped us decide which attractions we’d explore further the next day. It was a good introduction to the city and helped us get our bearings.

That night, we took a stroll down St George Street, taking in the sights and sounds. Nearly every bar had live music, mostly bluesy guitarists, and we passed several groups of people on ghost tours. Horse-drawn carriages clip clopped by down the streets lit up with fairy lights. St Augustine is also renowned for its ‘Nights of Lights’ from mid November to the end of January. Every restaurant, shop, tree and railing in the historic area is covered in white fairy lights. It was almost as magical as Disney.







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Linsey McNeill

Editor Linsey McNeill has been writing about travel for more than three decades. Bylines include The Times, Telegraph, Observer, Guardian and Which? plus the South China Morning Post. She also shares insider tips on thetraveljournalist.co.uk

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