Recently we had an opportunity to go out of state and the “Welcome to Florida” sign is something we anticipate. As always, we stopped in at the Florida Visitor’s Center. This time it was The Joseph O. Striska Official Welcome Center located on I-75 in beautiful Hamilton County.
In all, there actually are five official welcome centers in the Sunshine State, So far, we have visited three of them. We since have learned that Florida is one of the first states to establish the so-called “Tourist Information Houses.”
Did you know that in addition to the five roadside welcome centers, Florida has one for boats? Neither did we. It’s a marine welcome center on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fernandina Beach.
The Welcome Center
Pulling into the Welcome Center, we were greeted with a complete complex. There was parking for cars, motorhomes and vehicles pulling trailers. We found several picnic areas for people to stop and have a bite to eat. In addition, designers provided some grassy areas where folks could walk their dogs or just relax before heading out again.
There also were some photo spots both inside and out.
The Welcome Center is spacious, yet crammed with all kinds of brochures, booklets, maps, cards and other sorts of tourist information to let people know where to go and what to see. Because we travel all over Florida, this was a treasure trove for us. They even gave us a bag to store all the materials we found.
Ease of Access
One thing that made it easy for us was that each of the little nooks was set up by region. If we wanted to go to the Atlantic coast or the Gulf coast, if we wished to go to the north, central or south – each area had its own section. That made our vacation planning easy. We also were alerted to some places and attractions we’d not been aware of.
Remember how we said there were more selfie opportunities? Inside the Welcome Center were numerous displays that were both informational and attractive. One of our favorites was the one highlighting the “Visit Florida” prototype sports car.
Driven by a powerful Corvette engine, it has run at Daytona and at the 12 Hours of Sebring. The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring recently was voted as America’s Number One Sports Car Racing Event – in the most recent USA Today’s 10Best poll.
Anyone who follows us, knows we are fans of racing and of pirates. We also found a great display for Florida pirates – with a kid-sized ship just right for youngsters to climb aboard and have a great photo opportunity.
In fact, there are lots of pirate festivals in Florida – as well as pirate ships that sail on a regular basis out of several Florida ports. We blogged about those noting that Arr-gust is Pirate Month in the Sunshine State.
Once you’ve had your opportunity to relax, take some photos and make some plans – you might want to let the folks back home know you arrived OK. The visitor’s center has obliged. You can find some free post cards at the desk. They also hand out free Florida maps so you can find your way about.
We always pick up a couple of maps. Despite our GPS and directional printouts, maps always come in handy for some spur-of-the-moment excursions.
One of the most helpful displays is the SunPass table. There are a couple of kiosks as well. These little transponders can make the use of Florida’s toll roads a joy rather than a burden. Driving Florida’s toll roads with a SunPass Transponder means no hassle no matter what toll road you drive.
You sail on by the toll booth, a camera notes your pass and deducts it from your account automatically.
It works in all lanes, including the express lane. Plus, you always pay the lowest toll. We have found that the SunPass works in some other states as well. It has been worth it’s weight in gold to us.
A Worthwhile Stop
So whether this is your first trip to Florida, or are seasoned veterans (like we are), The Florida Visitors’ Center is a great stop. You can relax a bit. Plus, you might find out about destination locations you’d not heard of previously.
Our one great disappointment was that there no longer was free orange juice available. Apparently cutbacks to the citrus industry sparked that change. We hope Captain Citrus can swoop in and remedy that situation soon!
If not – remember to get yourself some real Florida orange juice from a place like Maxwell’s Groves. That way you can get a real taste of Florida.
In any event, when you stop by any of the Visitor’s Centers, enjoy our welcome to Florida. And make certain you tell them that we at Florida Fun Travel say “Have a Sunny Day.”