Go East Friends, Go East

By James Ellsworth

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Horace Greeley may have coined the phrase "Go West, young man" in 1865 but, after 150 years, perhaps it's time to consider a new direction.

Many West Coasters think only of the western point of the compass when wanting to beat the Canadian winter, travelling to Hawaii, Mexico or California. But with careful research of airlines and travel time, the same approximate effort can get you to Florida on the East Coast. It may seem like going against the flow. But British Columbians know all about salmon and swimming upstream.

I'm not making comparisons; that would be unfair. The Hawaiian Islands are beautiful and unique; Mexico has its own charm although security issues and occasional warnings by Foreign Affairs may cause a moment's reconsideration. And California and Arizona have their own touristy draws to lure the snowbird migration.

But with comparable sub-tropical temperatures and flora; endless wide, white sandy beaches; and a plethora of ways to spend a day or night, Florida deserves some thought for winter getaways and experiencing American culture.
The Push and Pull of Florida

The wet, dreary, storm-watching month of November seems to be the biggest push to get away from western wintry climes. From 2012 to 2014, over four million Canadians, on average, travelled to the United States each November, with about 700,000 going to Florida in the fourth quarter of the year.

Florida presents a wonderful climate most months. If one uses November as a bellwether, however, the Sunshine State can compete with the best of destinations. The Tampa Bay area averages highs in November of 26 Celsius and lows of 16 Celsius, Fort Lauderdale is only slightly warmer. This compares favourably to Honolulu and Puerto Vallarta at 29C and 21C, and presents more comfort than Phoenix at 23 and eight degrees.  

November is a great time to escape the grey west coast, whether it is outdoor activity, wish-list experiences for the family, or spectator sports to draw you and yours away. There are plenty of deals in Florida to help offset any currency exchange rates.

Activities Galore

If one were to focus only on Central West Florida and the environs of Tampa Bay, one would find a virtual potpourri of what the state has to offer, all within an hour or 100 kilometres away. The list includes a variety on offer, from Disney World in Kissimmee, to the Ringling Brothers estate in Sarasota, or the beaches of St. Petersburg all as easy day trips. If one wanted to go a bit further, say a two-hour drive, then astronaut wannabes could visit Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Likewise, history and golf aficionados could explore 450-year-old St. Augustine's, which also has been home to the World Golf Hall of Fame since 1998.

And speaking of golf, you could play the King and Bear course at the World Golf village in St. Augustine's, but choices abound in the Central West region. Tampa Bay has over 100 golf courses with six ranked in the top 75 of Florida by Golf Digest. And within an hour of that city you can play the historic Bobby Jones Golf Course in Sarasota or a round at Sandpiper Golf Course in Sun City Center, often at discounted prices in low-season November.

In fact, Sun City Center is an innovative active retirement living plan, a Del Webb concept. He started them in the 1960s in Arizona, California and Florida. They now dot several states. A Del Webb-designed retirement community is an interesting experience. The idea of Activity, Economy and Individuality combines affordable model homes surrounded by golf courses and other community amenities, such as pools, libraries, tennis courts, and biking trails in close proximity to supports including hospitals and shopping.

Beaches are a necessary allure for a winter holiday and Florida beaches are among the best. The Tampa Bay area has over 10 Gulf Coast beaches. Clearwater Beach was voted “best beach town” in 2013 and has four kilometres of fine sandy beach. Indian Rocks Beach has 27 access points on its four-kilometre stretch. Beach life, however, offers more than just sand and surf, wading and reading.

Treasure Island beach is wide enough to host Sanding Ovations, the Master Cup Sand Sculpting Competition and Music Festival, a four-day competition of 10 sand sculpting masters from throughout North America, Europe and Asia, as well as southern blues bands. Incidentally, there are two other Florida venues for master sand sculpting competitions in November; Siesta Key near Sarasota and Fort Myers.

Sports and Shopping

Nothing immerses you in American culture like sports and shopping.
Much more than other getaway destinations, Florida has professional sports for spectators. In November, you can take in NHL hockey (Tampa Bay Lightning or Florida Panthers); NFL football (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); and basketball (Orlando Magic). Or you may want to sample the ubiquitous high school or college football and basketball games to soak up American values.

Gainesville, a two-hour drive from Tampa, is home to the University of Florida Gators. Attending a Florida State University Seminoles vs. Gators football game at the ‘Swamp” (an 88,000+ capacity stadium) will throw you into the middle of a college experience that is pure Americana. Usually the last game of the season, this football game is considered one of the fiercest rivalries. In fact, there are three Gator home games in November 2015. Included in the spectacle are the Fightin’ Gators, the 2013 recipient of the Sudler Cup for top university marching band.

There have been many analyses of what sport means in American culture, from warriors and militarization, to gender equality (now one in three athletes in the US is female); to the socializing tailgate parties and Friday Night lights phenomenon. Attending a sports venue can be a portal into later discussions of culture and the differences in Canada or one's own youthful experience.

Black Friday, the day after the American Thanksgiving Day, falls on November 27, 2015. Originally associated with traffic jams connected to the first day of Christmas shopping, it has since signified the positive retail colour of profit. Over 80 billion dollars in sales are expected in 2015 as people line up to take advantage of incredible deals. Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day in the US since 2003.

Some see shopping on Black Friday as a national duty to help the American economy; or to be part of a large celebratory crowd (approximately 133 million in the US in 2014); or as one cynic said, to be part of an event where people vie for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they have.

Florida boasts 361 days of sunshine annually. Whether it's Fort Lauderdale on the eastern Atlantic coast or the Tampa Bay environs on the western Gulf coast, the Sunshine State offers a cornucopia of holiday fun. The diversity is limitless in the November sun. You could be surprised by Florida either as grandparents planning a multi-generational family holiday or simply to enjoy an adult respite.

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