The Attraction is Natural

Central Florida's natural attractions excite the imagination of all ages.

There are just a few places I know that can enchant us all, from parents with babes in arms to the teen who wants adrenaline-charged fun to grandparents looking for a great escape with the grandkids. Central Florida's Polk County can charm them all.

Lake Wales' Bok Tower Gardens is a secluded oasis of azaleas, oaks and pines, all landscaped to surround and set off the 205-foot coquina and carved-marble Bok Tower, which houses a 60-bell carillon. Lunch at the Blue Palmetto Café and enjoy a recital while walking the serpentine paths past reflecting pools. Watch the Carillon player maneuver the levers and foot pedals that make the bells sing, and see how the tower was built in the onsite museum.

Want to really fly? Venture into aviation's past at Polk City's Fantasy of Flight, located just off I-4, to the north. The part-museum, part-theme park attraction gives you a tactile feel for the history of flight. From the entrance near the Compass Rose Diner head through the turnstile of the fuselage of an aircraft and into a dark, cool tunnel, with a large video screen at the end. There's a breeze, and the screen evokes a sense of floating through clouds and blue sky. It definitely sets the mood. As you continue along, each room you come to feels like you've walked on a sound stage and right into the action. Fantasy of Flight claims the world's largest private collection of vintage aircraft and each afternoon one aircraft does a demo flight. Biplane rides and hot-air balloon rides are available, too. Watch for special events, such as the classic Mustangs & Mustangs (cars and fighter aircraft) gathering each April. Says founder Kermit Weeks, "I want to emotionally involve people, inspire and entertain them." He does.

Just a wee bit west, off I-4, you'll find the Florida Air Museum at the SUN 'n FUN campus, near the Lakeland Airport, where there are more one-of-a-kind hand-built aircraft than anywhere else in Florida. The museum, designated the State's official aviation museum and education center, houses artifacts that include Howard Hughes memorabilia and an impressive archive of aviation books, magazines, manuscripts and photos.

The annual week-long Sun 'n' Fun International Fly-In and Expo held each March or April draws hundreds of thousands to its air shows, trade show and educational sessions, but that's not the only month the museum shines. In the summer it is day camp for youth and offers an overnight camp.

In November, Wings 'n Things introduces the excitement of aviation in the fun atmosphere of a weekend campout. Children are taught by pilots, meteorologists, astronomers and NASA specialists. Nights are for stargazing with the professionals.

Any day, though, the museum is the perfect place to inspire kids (or kids at heart) as they imagine themselves deftly turning and twisting their way through an aerial ballet like the sky dancers at the annual air show.

So, what inspires you? From towered vistas to gardens, roller coasters to concerts, from the nostalgic plop-plop of a biplane's engine to the roar of a fighter jet's afterburners, central Florida offers families of all ages, sizes and shapes a place to dream and play. The attraction, you see, is natural.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners


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