ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Spring and summertime visitors to St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches will find a selection of new and exciting changes awaiting in one of America’s most historical and luxurious destinations. In addition to outstanding golf, 42 miles of exquisite beaches and the charm of the Nation’s oldest city, visitors will find their stay may need to be extended to experience all the new items on their “must see” list.
Super Creatures: By summer, visitors to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park will be greeted by an array of new residents that are sure to impress. Now under construction, the new exhibit will provide a home for a one of the largest snakes in the world – a female python nearly 22 feet in length! Nearby, a Komodo dragon – the world’s largest lizard-and a crocodile monitor—the world’s longest lizard — will thrill visitors. Adding to the excitement at the new exhibit will be deadly king cobras and a Cassowary – a large and colorful flightless bird found in Australia and New Guinea. In addition, the park’s daily educational programs will be enhanced with new opportunities for school groups – including overnight sleepovers in the only place in the world where every species of crocodilian can be found. http://www.alligatorfarm.com/
Ripley’s Facelift: Believe it or not, the first of Robert Ripley’s famous museums is undergoing a facelift. One of the most-recognized symbols of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Castle Warden is a Moorish Revival mansion in St. Augustine that has been the flagship of Ripley’s museums since the early 1950s. The museum will remain open throughout the renovation process that, when completed, will provide visitors with a fresh look at the collection of oddities that has thrilled millions for more than 50 years. Much of the effort will focus on Castle Warden’s exterior, including a replacement of the roof, restoration of window moldings, and a piece-by-piece refitting and restoration of the museum’s beautiful stained-glass ceiling. Even the giant, bronze Chinese statues will be getting a makeover before returning to their guardianship of the main entrance when the work is completed in early spring. http://www.staugustine-ripleys.com/
Vilano Beach Town Center: By summer, an entirely new Town Center will greet visitors to Vilano Beach, the picturesque seaside village just across St, Augustine inlet from the nation’s oldest city. A $12.5 million testament to the imagination, determination and hard work of local residents, the new Town Center will show off its art deco-style buildings from the heyday of its tourism era of the 1940s and ’50s. Plus, there will be new elements including a tower at the entrance, mosaic-tiled sidewalks, seating areas, a fountain and impressive Florida landscaping. Already in place is a lifelike sculpture of three dolphins cavorting above the entrance to the fishing pier. The sculpture spans 27 feet across the old drawbridge roadway and arch 20 feet into the air. Nearby, two bronze, programmable bells in the Town Center Tower will soon greet each beautiful sunset with musical renditions. http://www.vilanonbeachfl.com/ www.scenicala.org/VilanoBeach.aspx
Villa Zorayda: Closed for nearly a decade, the magnificent Villa Zorayda will re-open to the public in early 2008. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Villa Zorayda was built in 1883 as the winter home of eccentric Boston millionaire Franklin Smith. An exact copy of a portion of the Alhambra castle in Granada, Spain, the building represents one of the first examples of poured concrete construction in the United States. A popular gambling casino in the 1920s, the villa has also served as a movie location. Today, its Arabian Nightsl interior houses an impressive collection of art – including furniture carved from tropical hardwoods, treasures from the Middle East and Egypt, sculptures and artifacts from the villa’s storied past – including a more-than-two thousand year-old carpet made of cat hair.
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Thar Be Pirates!: St, Augustine’s long history as both a target for pirate raiders and a haven for seagoing desperados will come to life once more when Black Raven Adventures set sail from the oldest city. By summer, this exciting new attraction should be cruising Matanzas Bay. For more details, go to: http://www.blackravenadventures.com/ Jack Nicklaus Exhibit at World Golf Hall of Fame: The World Golf Hall of Fame opened a special exhibit that celebrates the stories of Jack Nicklaus’ benchmark career in golf and his successful career and life off the course. “Jack Nicklaus: Golf’s Golden Champion” http://www.wgv.com/hof/nicklaus.php opened in conjunction with the 2007 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and will be on display through November 2008. The exhibition covers his youth and storied amateur career and extends through the greatest professional career to date, showcasing artifacts, memorabilia, photos, video and text. The exhibit includes golf memorabilia and awards from golf events won by Nicklaus as well as memorabilia from other events in his life. The World Golf Hall of Fame and IMAX Theatre are located at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine. http://www.wgv.com/
Victorian Picnic: During the Victorian Age, enjoying a family picnic on the seaside grounds of the St. Augustine Lighthouse was one of the most popular diversions for visitors to the Oldest City. Today, this relaxing activity has been re-created at the Lighthouse where a Victorian picnic basket filled with a delicious lunch and popular games of the late 1800s can be made available on 48 hours notice. In addition to admission to the beautiful lighthouse tower and museum, the Victorian Picnic includes a walking tour of the light station grounds and a guidebook with photos showing families enjoying the same type of picnic at the lighthouse more than 100 years ago. For more details, call 904.829.0745 or go to http://www.staugustinelighthouse.com/
New Gallery Brings Exhilarating Point of View: The latest addition to the more than 50 art galleries located in the St. Augustine area will serve as the studio of Conrad van Wyk, noted international architect. Located on ancient Hypolita Street in the Casa del Hidalgo, built by the Spanish Government, the gallery presents Van Wyk with the perfect setting for creating his special reflections on everyday life in the Nation’s oldest city. The new gallery enhances the city’s distinction as one of the America’s best small art towns. For more information on the local art scene, including the popular Art Walk held on the first Friday or each month, go to: http://www.staugustinegalleries.com/ and http://www.staaa.org/
Chocolate Anyone?: Claude Franques, one of America’s finest French chefs, and his wife Nicole have opened the Chocolate Room in Ponte Vedra. Their St. Augustine shop on Hypolita Street is a masterpiece of handmade, fine European chocolates and a popular gathering place for Friday evening wine and chocolate tasting. The new Chocolate Room located on US 1 brings Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville the same personal attention and flawless Belgian chocolates that are enjoyed in St. Augustine. Call 904.808.8395.
*In addition to attractions, visitors will find exciting accommodations upgrades to choose from – including:
Renaissance Resort Renovation: The final touches are now being made on an impressive $10 million renovation of the Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village in St. Augustine. Located next door to the World Golf Hall of Fame, the resort’s renovation included the complete remodeling of all 301 guest rooms, dramatic changes to the resort’s atrium, remodeling the restaurant and bar, installation of new lighting in public areas – even the addition of a new “signature scent”.
From new carpeting, flooring and color schemes to new furniture, soft goods, window treatments and flat screen televisions in the guest rooms, this renovation will undoubtedly make this outstanding property even more appealing to both corporate guests and vacationing families. http://www.worldgolfrenaissance.com/
Sawgrass Gets New Look: Just completed, a $3.3 million renovation of the magnificent seven-story lobby at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort and Spa in Ponte Vedra is sure to impress both new and returning guests. The new lobby features glass balconies on all floors to provide a great view of the lobby’s beautiful art deco floor.
Also new is Kelly’s Bar, an authentic Irish pub located adjacent to the lobby. The lobby renovation was the final step in a $56 million improvement package completed last year that included a complete refurbishment of the adjacent THE PLAYERS Stadium golf course, the construction of a new and gorgeous TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse, and a transformation of the resort’s guest rooms – an average of $30,000 in improvements were made to each room. http://www.sawgrassmarriott.com/
*In 2008, many visitors will also be able to take advantage of a new way to travel to St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches:
Skybus: For the first time in more than 50 years, commercial air service has returned to St. Augustine. Skybus, one of the nation’s newest and most innovative airlines, now offers daily air service to the Oldest City via new Airbus 319s – the most technologically-advanced and fuel-efficient jets in commercial service. Each flight brings up to 156 passengers riding in leather-seat comfort to enjoy the history, golf, beaches and Old World ambiance of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches. Flights are currently available from Columbus, Ohio; Boston (Portsmouth, New Hampshire); and Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, North Carolina. For details, go to: http://www.skybus.com/
*And for those who want a unique and memorable experience, a new program offers just what is needed:
Railcar 90: Henry Flagler, the millionaire father of Florida tourism, prided himself on giving his special guests special experiences – including visits to Railcar 90, his opulent personal railcar. Today, that same level of exclusivity is offered to those who join Railcar 90 – a free, membership program offered through the Visitors and Convention Bureau’s website. Railcar 90 members receive access to inspiring, fun and memorable adventures available only to them on a limited basis. For details, go to: http://www.getaway4florida.com/
For more information on vacation opportunities, attractions and accommodations in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, go to www.getaway4Florida.com or call 1.800.653.2489. Read the Jetsetters Magazine feature about Historic Romance in St. Augustine.