Time Flies: Things to Do in Florida Airports

No one likes to be stuck at the airport. But if you find yourself with a layover, the Sunshine State is a pretty decent place to pass the hours. Miami International Airport (MIA) Dining: Trying to decide where to eat at Miami's airport is like trying to decide where to eat in the city itself. You have many great options. In a nod in Miami's Cuban influence, consider La Carreta in Terminal D. It's one of several Cuban eateries at the airport, serving up pastelitos (turnovers) and croquetas (croquettes), plus a variety of salads, sandwiches and more. Other standouts include The Counter for a great burger, Shula's Bar and Grill for surf-'n-turf and Barcardi Mojito for a spirited start to your trip. Shopping: Score a slam dunk with the basketball fan in your life when you come home with a souvenir from the airport's new Miami Heat store. Open since December, the 1,000-square-foot retail space is chock-full of all things Heat, from jerseys and iPhone cases to bed sheets and bobbleheads. Find it near Gate D-32 in the American Airlines terminal. Another must-do retail therapy stop in Terminal D is the Shoppes at Ocean Drive . Named for Miami's famed shopping thoroughfare, it's actually 10 stores in one. At nearly 10,000 square feet, the shopping paradise houses retailers such as Solstice Sunglass Boutique , Hugo Boss Sport and Prive Gourmet Market . If You Go: 2100 NW 42nd Ave., Miami, 305-876-7000, miami-airport.com Orlando International Airport (MCO) Dining: Skip the hot dogs and pizza and have an unprecedented airport dining experience at one of two great restaurants inside the Hyatt Regency Orlando , in the main terminal. McCoy's Bar and Grill features food you'd love to eat at any dinner party, with offerings such as baked brie and Cornish hen. The menu includes plenty of healthy choices, too, with sushi and a decent selection of organic and vegetarian options. Then there's the more formal Hemisphere Steak and Seafood , offering upscale fare like filet mignon and swordfish piccata. Shopping: Leave it to Orlando's airport to include retail outlets for Walt Disney World , SeaWorld Orlando , Universal Orlando and Kennedy Space Center . This is your chance to grab a last-minute souvenir for the same price as you'd pay in the parks. You can also pose with statues of iconic park characters, like Cinderella or Harry Potter, in front of each store. Art: Browse the main terminal to check out the airport's permanent art collection, featuring notable 20th century artists like Doris Leeper and Duane Hanson – both inductees into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame. If You Go: One Jeff Fuqua Blvd., Orlando, 407-825-2001, orlandoairports.net Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) Relaxation: Plenty of airports offer chair massages, but this one contains a full-service spa. At Comfort Zone Spa , you can relieve the stress of traveling, combat stale airplane air with a facial, get beach-ready with a wax job or just treat yourself to a mani-pedi. Entertainment: Many airports showcase special entertainment on holidays, but Jacksonville has live music every day of the year. In the center courtyard, enjoy a different performance each day – a solo saxophonist, jazz guitarist, singer/keyboard player, old-style crooners, North Florida folk music and more. Performance times vary. Art: You'll find pieces by Jacksonville artists throughout the airport, from the pre-security wood carvings by Grant Ward to post-security paintings by Jason John. Also be sure to visit the Sky Gallery , which for the next few months features an exhibit on Jacksonville's historic Riverside Avondale district. If You Go: 2400 Yankee Clipper Drive, 904-741-2000, Jacksonville, flyjax.com Tampa International Airport (TPA) Relaxation: Take the elevators to the Blue side baggage claim, and check out the aquariums, which you can see from inside and outside the building. Also on the Blue side is an oasis of green space. With fountains and benches, it's the perfect place to curl up with that novel you bought in the airport bookstore. Dining: Tampa International Airport really stepped up its culinary game in 2012 with the addition of Cigar City Brewing , the popular local chain Green Iguana , Shula's Bar and Grill and Shula Burger . Another new addition getting rave reviews is First Flight , a wine bar by the popular Tampa restaurant Mise En Place . Located in the center terminal, it serves beer, wine and appetizers. But perhaps the most “Tampa” restaurant of all is Columbia Restaurant Cafe , an offshoot of the century-old Cuban restaurant that started in Tampa and has since expanded to locations across the state. Settle in for Cuban comfort food such as Spanish bean soup, the Ybor City devil crab croquette and, of course, a Cuban sandwich. Buen provecho . Artwork: Frequent travelers will appreciate the rotating art gallery on Level 3 of the main terminal, which periodically changes its featured works. The focus is always on Florida artists. If You Go: 4100 George J. Bean Parkway, Tampa, 813-870-8700, tampaairport.com

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Time Flies: Things to Do in Florida Airports

Hope Takes Flight at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

At first glance, it appears to be just a nice lakeside bungalow residence. But as one gets closer, it's not only the sign that denotes something special here; at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey , every day brings another story of survival and awe – and sometimes heart-breaking loss. Since 1979, the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland – less than eight miles north of Orlando and a short jaunt off Interstate 4 – has treated more than 17,000 injured or orphaned raptors, averaging about 650 admissions a year. A North American leader in specialized eagle care and rehabilitation of sick or injured birds of prey, the center releases roughly 40 percent of its raptor patients back to the wild. That includes eagles, hawks, falcons, osprey, kites and owls. Those unable to survive on their own are either placed in nature parks around the country or become residents here. pullquote Visitors to the Center, whose admission fees help pay for the raptors' care, can see up close more than 20 resident raptor species, and enjoy the grounds' butterfly gardens, boardwalk, lake and the Audubon House – a 1920s bungalow with original hardwood floors that holds artifacts, information and a back porch that is home to small owls and falcons. They might also catch the staff and volunteers in action. On a weekday morning under a blue Florida sky, a team of handlers loads a Bald Eagle into a truck, preparing for the drive back to the eagle's territory and its release after several months of rehabilitation from a leg wound. Meanwhile, staff and volunteers make ready for the arrival of an injured hawk as visitors amble outside through self-guided tours. “What's next? A Cooper's Hawk,” says Gwen Zinck of Oviedo, Fla. Zinck is here with sons Kelvin, 10, and Griffin, 8, both home schooled. “OK, why are these here, where's the book?” Zinck says. She's standing before the large outdoor wooden enclosures, reading from the guide book that tells stories of recovery from illness and injuries – like that of Lily, a Mississippi Kite admitted in 1995 as a nestling with a severe respiratory infection that the staff spent two weeks saving. X-ray images of a Red-shouldered Hawk with a pellet in the right ulna posted on the trauma clinic window reveal another frequent source of injury – gunshot wounds. “About 85 percent come in from human-wildlife interface,” says Katie Warner, the center's director. That includes vehicle strikes as roads encroach further into wildlife habitat. A video in the Audubon House shows behind-the-scenes work in the trauma clinic – where raptors are examined and treated for eye injuries, broken bones, dehydration and poisoning. Surgeries are performed at the nearby veterinary hospital of Dr. Robert Hess. When healed, birds are moved to outdoor mews. Those ready for flight training then go to larger enclosures to strengthen muscles before release. “They're coming to see the big girl,” calls rehabilitation supervisor Dianna Flynt, who is wearing a thick glove up to her elbow. She stands next to Paige, a majestic Bald Eagle sitting on an outdoor perch. Flynt is referring to a group of four people, including 4-year-old Lucy Roberts and her father, Steve, of Lake Mary, rushing toward Paige. “It's awesome,” says their family friend Adam Gravett, visiting from Texas. “It's so cool to be able to see them up close. You can't see them in the wild.” Unlike residents like Paige, birds rehabilitated for release get numbers, not names. “They are wild animals. We don't anthropomorphize our patients,” Flynt says. But residents do get names. Their distinct personalities are impossible to ignore, she says. Like T.J. and Prairie, two Bald Eagles, a “pair bond,” the center's only eagle couple. They had mated for life. Prairie had been brought here by Audubon member Doris Mager in 1979 when the center opened with a Baldwin family donation following Mager's five-day awareness campaign – perched inside an inactive eagle's nest. Prairie had been shot with an arrow, which led to the amputation of her right wing. T.J. was brought in a year later, his left wing severed at the shoulder, likely by a power line. The two young eagles courted between their enclosures, passing branches to each other. The center staff put them together. They became inseparable for the next 30 years. Though they never hatched their own eggs, they once served as foster parents, incubating an egg from a fallen nest. Once, when Prairie needed treatment at the clinic, she stopped eating, says Flynt. The staff brought T.J. in beside her, and she started to eat again. Now the staff and volunteers are keeping a close watch on Prairie because T.J. died the weekend before, she says. He lay down the previous Friday night after dinner and never woke up. A necropsy showed no obvious signs of illness, just age. Prairie has not been the same. “She didn't eat the first couple of days,” Flynt says. “She's not as sassy. She's pretty unlike herself.” “It's heartbreaking,” she adds, as visitors pass Prairie's enclosure, unaware of what happened. Though the center experiences triumphs of releases like the one that morning and research breakthroughs such as prosthetic beaks and whirlpool bath therapy, Flynt predicts only time will reveal if Prairie will recover from this sort of blow. “How is she going to cope, or will she? We don't know what to expect,” she says. The humans, she adds, will continue trying to give the best life possible for their raptor residents: “It's all about quality of life for these birds.” If You Go The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey is located at 1101 Audubon Way in Maitland. Center hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. It is closed Mondays and holidays. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for children, except for those under 3, who enter free. Every year the Center reaches more than 20,000 visitors, students and teachers with its environmental educational programming on birds of prey and habitat conservation. For more information about the Center, its volunteer and educational programs or how to adopt a bird or otherwise contribute, visit fl.audubon.org/audubon-center-birds-prey or call 407-644-0190. Directions: From Interstate 4, take exit 88 and head east on Lee Road. Take the first left onto Wymore Boulevard and then a right onto Kennedy Boulevard. Turn left onto East Avenue. Audubon Way will be the third left, and the Center is immediately on the right.

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Hope Takes Flight at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

Jacksonville’s Nights of Lights Brighten the Season

Don’t miss Florida’s most historic city glowing in lights this winter. The 18th annual Nights of Lights celebration takes place nightly through Jan. 31 with buildings decorated to the rooftops with dazzling white lights. For the second year in a row, National Geographic Traveler has named St. Augustine one of the Top 10 Places in the World to view holiday lights. The history of St. Augustine comes alive with luminaries and storytellers located at ancient buildings and inns throughout the town. For the best views, hop on a trolley tour through the brick streets and soak up the magic of historic Florida. This year, start a new family tradition with the Nights of Lights. Visit www.floridashistoriccoast.com to plan your trip. — Carrie McLaren

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Jacksonville’s Nights of Lights Brighten the Season

Celebrate the Season in Lakeland and Go Country

Celebrate the holiday season in the country this year at the CornFusion Corn Maze in Lakeland. Each Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 23, families can enjoy a 30-minute lighted hayride and a live Nativity scene. Gather the family around the campfire for an evening of roasting s’mores and holiday songs. Kids of all ages can meet Cowboy Santa Claus and experience life on the ranch. Admission is $10 for adults, and $8 for ages 5-10, free for kids under age four. The Smith Family Ranch is located at 13444 Moore Road in Lakeland. For more information, call (863) 859-6472. — Carrie McLaren

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Celebrate the Season in Lakeland and Go Country

New Fantasyland Ignites 2-Year Makeover at Walt Disney World

When Walt Disney World opened more than 40 years ago in Lake Buena Vista just outside Orlando , the Dapper Dans, the enormously popular and talented barbershop quartet, became a mainstay on Main Street. Guests could get a haircut in a working barbershop and enjoy vocal harmony from the 1940s such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” or “Lida Rose.” The Disney melody included “Zip A Dee Do Da,” “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “When You Wish Upon A Star.” In 2013, the Dapper Dans will proclaim themselves the “original boy band,” singing songs from One Direction, *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys along with their traditional music. It’s all part of Disney’s “Limited Time Magic,” which promises 52 individual weeks of limited time shows, merchandise and food along with the resurfacing of “classic” Disney favorites all year. “We are planning many surprises throughout the year to make memories that will last a lifetime,” said Meg Crofton, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts President. It’s part of a number of new promotions and theme park expansions on Disney’s list in the coming two years. The most ambitious of these is the continuation of the opening of the New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom . In 2013, Walt Disney World will open the Princess Fairytale Hall, replacing Snow White’s Scary Adventures, which closed in May 2012. The hall will provide a permanent home in a castle-like setting for Disney’s princesses where visitors can meet them and have their photo taken. In case you are having trouble naming the fictional female heroines, they are: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana and Rapunzel. In July 2013, the newest princess, Brave’s Merida, will have her princess coronation. Though Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are absent from New Fantasyland for the moment, an ambitious new roller coaster, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, will open in 2014. The unique musical coaster will combine two ride styles: a roller coaster that sways from side-to-side, and a typical Disney ride that features audio animatronics, said Tom Staggs, Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman. The coaster construction area is hidden behind a large wall in New Fantasyland, but the Seven Dwarfs offer visitors a sneak peak through a “crack” in a wooden door. The Dwarfs can be heard singing amid sounds of hammering and banging. Through the crack, visitors can watch construction workers putting together the giant multi-level ride. In addition to Limited Time Magic and the New Fantasyland expansion: The second weekend in January 2013, Disney will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of its Disney Marathon, which draws 65,000 runners from around the world. The marathon weekend and festival will feature a new Mickey Mouse Medal, celebrity runners, and new experiences for new and experienced runners along the 26.2-mile route that weaves through Disney parks. In February 2013, with a kickoff during Black History Month, Epcot will showcase more than 40 pieces of art, artifacts, books, sculptures and manuscripts that document the triumphs and struggles of African Americans from 1632 to present from The Kinsey Collection. The Kinsey Collection will make its home at the American Heritage Gallery inside the park. In collaboration with director James Cameron, a new Avatar -theme land is planned for Disney’s Animal Kingdom . Disney and Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and Fox Filmed Entertainment have partnered for the expansion. Construction will begin in 2013. Highlights of Limited Time Magic Promotions for 2013 True Love: Disney will celebrate romance during the week of Valentine’s Day in February 2013. Disney princes join their princesses to meet park guests in special settings, prix fixe menus turn up at select restaurants, and Valentine collectibles will be offered for the week. Independence Week: Disney salutes America with red, white and blue through the week of Independence Day, July 4, 2013, with a fireworks party. Mickey Mouse appears in his patriotic finest and guests will find special USA shirts, ear hats and other limited-edition souvenirs. Pirate Week: A special week celebrating everything Capt. Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean is scheduled with a buccaneer bash including pirate bands, pirate meet-and-greets and more. Long Lost Friends Week: Lost friends week will highlight lesser-known Disney characters including Flik, Clarabelle Cow, Remy, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Disney guests will have the chance to vote online for which characters they want to see come out of the shadows and highlighted during this week. Unleash the Villains: Friday the 13th in September will be a special “Limited Magic Day” at Disney. Hollywood Studios will remain open until the 13th Hour (1 a.m.). Maleficent, Capt. Hook, Jafar and other Disney villains will host a dance party, complete with limited-edition collectibles and nighttime mischief. Golden Horseshoe Revue: The fabled Frontierland show returns to California's Disneyland for one month in 2013 with potential plans for Walt Disney World to showcase the dancing, corny jokes and Vaudeville-type show that was among Walt Disney’s favorites. How can you find out about Limited Time Magic in advance? Disney will announce its various promotions via the Walt Disney World website , Disney Parks blog and Facebook and Twitter pages adding to the “element of surprise.”

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New Fantasyland Ignites 2-Year Makeover at Walt Disney World

The Grinch: A Grouch Everyone Loves Is at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without the Grinch, the grouchy but beloved character made famous in Dr. Seuss’s 1957 book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” The story of the Grinch’s hatred of the holiday and his “two sizes too small” heart, transformed by the warmth and love shown by the Whos down in Who-ville, is a classic tale that kids have been crazy about for decades. If you love the Grinch, you won’t want to miss visiting Universal’s Islands of Adventure this season. The Grinch comes to life in a “ Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular .” The colorful, theatrical musical tells the story in a 20-minute show loaded with singing, dancing, colorful costumes and silly humor. The set combines brightly painted homes in Who-ville with an animated background and confetti snow falling on the audience. Max, the Grinch’s long-suffering but loyal red-boned coonhound, even makes an appearance driving the sled. The real live mutt playing Max comes out when the Grinch returns to Who-ville to give back all the lights, ornaments and presents he stole while trying to take Christmas away. Mannheim Steamroller, known for its new age Christmas music, wrote the original musical score for the theme park’s Grinch show. (The group is performing an hourlong concert at adjacent Universal Studios beginning at 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in the month of December.) Singers in the Grinch show perform a half dozen well-known songs from the 1966 cartoon including the famous “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” written by Dr. Seuss. Musical shows run throughout the day, and afterward families can visit with the characters for picture-taking at nearby Seuss Landing. Visitors can also schedule reservations for breakfast with the characters. The “Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular” runs through Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013 and is included as part of general admission to Islands of Adventure. — Susan Clary

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The Grinch: A Grouch Everyone Loves Is at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Young at Art Museum Holds Winter Festival Dec. 15

Celebrate a multicultural holiday season with an artistic flair at Young at Art Museum's Winter Festival Dec. 15 from noon to 4 p.m. in Davie. The event promises fun for all ages, including a multicultural ornament craft, Taiko drumming and tea ceremony, Dreidel games, snowflake silk screening, snowman prints, stick puppets and photos with Santa Claus. The $26 million, 55,000-square-foot facility, which opened this year, has art classes for all ages, plus some crazy-fun exhibits. There’s an area for the tiny tots to explore, a children’s library and a teen center with high-tech toys such as recording equipment and computers for graphic design. You’ll see exhibits on the environment, cultural traditions, archeology and more. If you’re into green living, you’ll love that cisterns collect rain water from the roof to feed the toilets, and kids can gauge water saved each day. For info, call 954-424-0058 or visit the museum online . — Julie Landry Laviolette

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Young at Art Museum Holds Winter Festival Dec. 15

Take a Holiday Photo with a Dolphin

Want to take your holiday photo with a dolphin? Grab your Santa hat or reindeer antlers and head to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key. The holiday photo can be added on ($15-$30) to the “Meet the Dolphin” program ($25) through Dec. 22. The Dolphin Research Center, at 58901 Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys, offers visitors an intimate look at Atlantic dolphins and California Sea Lions. My kids and I love it because the Tiki hut-lined walkways are just a few feet from the dolphins, who like to lie on their sides and “people watch.” Here, laid-back trainers lead dolphins in singing, dancing and jumping educational programs every half hour. Entrance is $20 for adults; $15 for kids, with a discount coupon at www.dolphins.org. Call 305-289-1121. — Julie Landry Laviolette

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Take a Holiday Photo with a Dolphin

A Day at the Beach: Pass-A-Grille

It's a glorious fall day on Pass-A-Grille Beach and, with a cloudless blue sky and the majestic Loews Don CeSar Hotel as their backdrop, Ron Wilson and his 2-year-old son Justin are playing catch with a foam football. The Wilsons had left New York City two days before with temperatures in the 40s and overcast skies. Temperatures in the mid-70s and a gentle breeze coming off the Gulf of Mexico seemed almost surreal to Wilson and his family. “Look at this,” Wilson said, spreading his arms, twisting at the hips and pointing in nearly all directions at the sand, calm turquoise waters and pink grandeur of the Don CeSar. “What more could you ask for? If you can't be relaxed and happy here, man, you can't relax and be happy.” pullquote Located on the extreme southern end of St. Pete Beach , Pass-A-Grille offers what many visitors describe as one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the world. The cleanliness and whiteness of the sands rival those anywhere. And there are few days here when the weather is anything less than beach-like. Even in the winter months of January and February, the average temperature at Pass-A-Grille climbs above 60 degrees. Ask most locals and they will say Pass-A-Grille starts at the Don CeSar and extends south to the very tip of this narrow strip of land, where the serene bay views of Gulf Boulevard join with the expansive beach views of Gulf Way. Unlike the northern end of St. Pete Beach, no high-rises or large condominiums can be found on Pass-A-Grille. Only the Don CeSar, which opened in 1928, rises higher than a few stories. Most structures are private homes and locally-owned businesses nestled among the sand dunes. From 22nd Avenue to the tip of the peninsula on First Avenue, 1.2-mile Pass-A-Grille offers almost unheard-of public beach access. Hundreds of parking spots are a couple hundred yards or less from the Gulf. Electronic pay stations can be found nearby and the rates, controlled by the city, are reasonable. Use the wooden walkways to cross over the sand dunes to the beach and start enjoying the panorama. You can stroll north toward the Don CeSar and look for shells along the water's edge, or go for a swim. Or just relax in a beach chair with a good book. There are no schedules here. Besides the clarity of the water, one of the major attractions about beaches along Florida's west coast is the relative calmness of the water. For the most part, waves rarely crest above two feet and shoreline currents are generally slow because of the gradual drop-off of the sea floor. Between 8th and 10th avenues, the historic section of the beach presents something for nearly everyone – numerous restaurants featuring fresh seafood, shopping at small boutiques, shops and art galleries, and local watering holes for adults to unwind as the sun sets on the Gulf. At the Paradise Grille , you can grab a burger and fries and eat outside along the beach. The Hurricane Restaurant is a large, three-story wooden building famous for its grouper sandwiches and rooftop views of the Gulf. Many might call Shadrack's a classic “dive bar,” but one that's friendly, dark and cool. The “staff” here is usually just the bartender. Along the bay side of this section of Pass-A-Grille are several cozy art galleries. All of them are within walking distance of the beach. Other interesting galleries can be found a short drive away toward the Don CeSar. Among them are the Nancy Markoe Gallery , which features works from more than 450 American artists and artisans, and adjacent to the Don CeSar, the Suntan Art Center , a volunteer, nonprofit organization featuring works from local artists. Another part of Pass-A-Grille's laid-back feel are the locally owned and operated hotels and bed and breakfast locations. Most are one- and two-story structures and all are a short walk to the water. Some are grand old wooden homes that have been converted into warm, inviting places to stay. Check out accommodations such as the Coconut Inn on 11th Avenue, or the aptly-named Island's End Resort at the tip of the peninsula, where you can rent one-bedroom cottages or even a three-bedroom home with a private pool. The cottages are linked together by wooden walkways and surrounded by lush foliage, gazebos and decks. Useful websites: visitpassagrille.com stpetebeach.org Bill Ward is a longtime Florida journalist, having reported for the Tampa Bay Times and Tampa Tribune.

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A Day at the Beach: Pass-A-Grille