Author Archives: April Kuhlman

Travel Writer Susan Morrell Shares her Impression of the Magic City

Miami Nice “Miami isn’t just about the beach – it’s also a place where cultures collide to spectacular effect,” says travel writer Susan Morrell in an article published in the Irish Sunday Business Post in April 2013. Her impression of the Magic City is not so different from the sense of place Dragonfly Expeditions strives to express during our Miami tours. Morrell joined us on a Miami Magic City – Bus and Walking Tour back in January. Her article is a personal account of her visit to Miami; she describes everything from how out-of-place yet welcomed she felt in Little Havana to the type of dessert she had in South Beach. Morrell calls Miami a “unique cultural mosaic” and elaborates on every neighborhood she was able to visit during her trip. Keep reading (or click on the image and zoom in) for “Miami Nice” by Susan Morrell. Continue reading

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Meet the Team – Guide Sally

SallyWhat do the following vocations have in common: sailing instructor in Rhode Island (“fun!”), office manager for a large financial firm (“terrible”), theater director, art teacher, owner of a gift and gourmet food company (“lots of fun”), and artist? They all appear on our guide Sally Willits’ colorful resume. Her residences have been just as varied as her jobs: Sally was born in NYC and spent her early years on the north shore of Long Island – “Pretty much where The Great Gatsby took place; but post-war, NOT 1920’s jazz age,” she jokes. She has also spent time in Greenwich (RI), Philadelphia (PA), Wyomissing (PA), Annapolis (MD), Peachblossom Creek on the Eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay between Oxford and Easton (MD), and Wilmington (DE). Continue reading

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Brazilian Magazine Features the Everglades

Brazilian journalist Christine Engelberg joined us on our famous Everglades Backwater Tour in the fall of 2012. The article she wrote about her experience was published in the March issue of TOP Magazine; click on the photo below and zoom in to read “Miami through Clyde Butcher’s Lenses.” For all non-Portuguese speakers, here is a little summary: As she asks in her article, “How about getting to know Miami from a different perspective than do most of the tourists who visit the city?” Engelberg agrees with Condé Nast Traveler and National Geographic when they recommend the Everglades Backwater Tour as one of the most interesting eco tours available. She considers it an excellent option if you want to learn about the biodiversity of this wild ecosystem. The cypress trees and wild birds made Engelberg feel in touch with nature while trekking through the swamp. Impressed by the beauty of Clyde Butcher’s photography, which she viewed in the Big Cypress Gallery as part of the tour, she chose one of his images to illustrate the article.

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Exploring Florida’s Waterways – the Ocklawaha River

What do alligators, bacon-wrapped Oreos, and hillbillies have in common? They were all part of my weekend canoe trip down the Ocklawaha River near Ocala, FL. Exploring Florida’s waterways is part of my continuing discovery of the Sunshine State. I encountered my first alligator while kayaking on the “wild and scenic” Loxahatchee River, I helped locals clear trash from the mangroves in Biscayne Bay, I celebrated my first Florida Fourth of July by swimming in the Atlantic, and I experienced the Gulf by catamaran. Last month I had the opportunity to canoe an 18-mile portion of the Ocklawaha River.

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The Travel Channel Features Dragonfly Expeditions

The Travel Channel recently aired a special about the Everglades called “Park Secrets” in which they featured our popular Miccosukee Indian Heritage Airboat Tour. Appearing in the short clip is John Tigertail, a long time friend and partner of Dragonfly Expeditions. His family of the Miccosukee’s Panther Clan takes our guests via airboat to a hunting camp and a family camp. Participants explore the two tree islands, learn about the Miccosukee way of life, and have a chance to see and interact with the various animals (like alligators and turtles) kept on the islands for release. Charles Kropke, also speaking in this segment, brings up the little-known fact that the Everglades is not actually a swamp, but an immense, slow-flowing river. Click the image above to watch the Travel Channel clip!

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Meet the Team – Guide Jhon

If I had to describe Jhon Garcia in one word, that word would be “worldly.” Jhon is Colombian and grew up in the Andes Mountains, thousands of feet above sea level and far from any ocean. But instead of on ancient sediments, his current home now sits on the sandy soil of South Florida. After living in Bogotá, Columbia where he worked in the ecotourism industry, Jhon originally moved to Florida to study anthropology, a science that allows him to combine his many passions, at FIU. He also studied art and music in a local conservatory, the New World School of the Arts. Jhon plays two Andean instruments, a type of flute called a quena and a small guitar made from an armadillo shell called a charango. In 2011 he produced his own album with a few local musicians. After living in the US for many years, Jhon feels that most artistic forms of the western hemisphere resonate within him.

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Journalist Paul De Windt Explains why Miami is a Bridge Connecting the Americas

As those of us who live in the Miami-Dade area are well aware, each and every one of the neighborhoods that make up Miami has its own special flavor. Quaint Coral Gables could not be more different than saucy Little Havana, laid-back Coconut Grove, or sexy South Beach. Dragonfly Expeditions’ city tour, Miami Magic City Bus and Walking Tour, introduces guests to several of Miami’s communities and shares the stories behind each neighborhood’s drastically different development. Paul De Windt, publisher of a newspaper called The Daily Herald, joined us on a city tour last September. The Daily Herald, which is distributed in several places throughout the Dutch Caribbean, featured De Windt’s article in the “Business, Culture, & Leisure” section. De Windt’s work provides a snapshot of each area to which he was exposed during his visit to Miami. In addition, his closing sentence evinces the fact that our tour clearly imparts a true sense of place to a visitor, which is one of Dragonfly Expeditions’ most sought-after goals. Keep reading to see De Windt’s article.

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The Nature Conservancy’s Everglades Sweepstakes

On the right-hand side of our monthly newsletter is a list of organizations we are proud to call partners. These companies and organizations are either Dragonfly Expeditions’ sister companies or local not-for-profit organizations that we support financially, with our time, and in other ways. One of these is The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an incredibly successful environmental organization that is dedicated to protecting endangered landscapes around the globe. We donated one of our most popular activities – the Everglades Backwater Tour – to The Nature Conservancy of Florida as the prize in their 2013 sweepstakes. Continue reading

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Save the Rain Tree

On the south side of the New River, across from Fort Lauderdale’s historic district, towers a stunningly large tree. The tree is an Albizia Saman – more commonly known as a “rain tree” because its leaves curl up during precipitation. One of our guides, Chris Brennan, recently brought to our attention that this nationally-treasured tree is in danger. This species of tree might look familiar to you because an even larger rain tree in Tobago served as the site where castaways built an elaborate tree house in the movie Swiss Family Robinson.

In 1982, the Fort Lauderdale rain tree was declared the largest of its species in the state of Florida. And since Florida is the only state in the US where rain trees grow, it is probably the largest in the country. In 1987, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission added this six-story-high tree to a list of 36 protected trees to ensure that it would not be damaged or removed. However, developer and property owner Asi Cymbal has plans to build an enormous condominium in the same location. If this rain tree is destroyed, only 11 protected trees will remain standing in the city. Continue reading

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South Beach: Stories of a Renaissance – The Second Edition

Photo by Michelle Yan

Michelle, one of our guides-in-training, was cycling through South Beach one day and saw a peculiar sight: a skateboarder carrying a copy of a very familiar book. After chasing him down and becoming a traffic hazard in the process, she found out that the young man had just purchased South Beach: Stories of a Renaissance and was going to send it to his girlfriend in Korea as a gift.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, our resident author Charles J. Kropke co-published the first edition of this book with Eleanor Goldstein in February 2011. The book has been a great success and continues to sell strongly; I have seen its bright blue cover through the window in locations such as the Villa Vizcaya Gift Shop and Books & Books stores. We are very proud to announce that the first edition of this book is completely sold out and that the second edition is currently being printed! Continue reading

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Kick off Women’s History Month on March 1 with the Miami-Dade Women’s History Coalition

Did you know that March is National Women’s History Month? And did you know that Miami is the only major US city to boast a woman founder? The Women’s History Coalition of Miami-Dade County  is sponsoring a public event to kick off Women’s History Month and to honor Julia Tuttle, the “mother of Miami.” The event will take place in the Miami City Cemetery at Tuttle’s gravesite (1800 NE 2nd Avenue) at noon on March 1. Penny Lambeth, Chair of the Cemetery Restoration Committee, will be giving a presentation dressed as Julia Tuttle. Continue reading for more information about the Coalition and this event. Continue reading

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Thoughts on Developing a Tour: Five Centuries in the Making – A Walking Tour of Downtown Miami

If you could step back in time and visit Miami 100; 50; or even 20 years ago, you would find a very different place than you would today. Perhaps because Miami is a place constantly in flux, its past is often forgotten or simply masked by the city’s loud and flashy reputation.  Downtown Miami is a great symbol of that ongoing transformation.  One of our most popular tours – the Miami Magic City Bus and Walking Tour – introduces guests to Miami’s various neighborhoods, including a brief stop in downtown.  The past several years have seen the development of four tours that explore each Miami neighborhood in depth: Coral Gables – The City Beautiful, A Path through Old Cocoanut Grove, Cuban Heritage Tour, and Tropical Deco in a Fabled Playground. But something was missing – we didn’t have a tour for that fifth Miami neighborhood: downtown. For a long time, we had dreamt of creating a product that focused on the downtown area and would educate Miami’s visitors on how the history of downtown Miami and its dynamic present are linked. Last year, our intern Janine helped make that dream a reality and we can now share with visitors what the tens of thousands of the new downtown high-rise condo residents have already discovered.
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Peter Morrell Shares his Eye-Opening South Florida Experience

South Florida has had a bad reputation as a cultural wasteland for a long time. Part of Dragonfly Expeditions’ mission is to change that perception and to show our guests the different aspects of South Florida culture. Therefore we were happy to see a different kind of message on The Cultural Voyager. This is a website that strives to bring to its readers the latest news about world travel and maintains the belief that cultural exploration should be the focus of any vacation. If you pull up the website, you will be greeted by an assortment of brilliant images accompanying articles about topics such as the world’s most famous mummy, an artist in Cornwall, and a cultural celebration in Amsterdam. But the image at the top of the page looks familiar; that’s because it’s a shot of Miami Beach.

Peter Morrell, editor of the website, visited Miami in December 2012 and participated in one of our most popular activities: the Cuban Heritage Tour. Morrell’s stay in Miami prompted him to write “A Cultural Odyssey in Florida,” an article that was recently published on The Cultural Voyager. It is the first of a series of articles he is writing about Florida culture. Morrell’s piece was also published on About My Generation, a website that aims to inspire, inform, and motivate readers over age 50. The caption at the top of Morrell’s article resonates with Dragonfly Expeditions’ idea of Florida: “Peter Morrell finds that there is a lot more to the Sunshine State than beaches and theme parks…”

Click here to read Morrell’s article about his visit to the Magic City and keep in mind that Dragonfly Expeditions offers several experiences that focus on Florida’s diverse culture and art.

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The Other Dragonflies

With its prehistoric appearance, extraordinarily flying abilities, and intriguing name, the dragonfly has forever been a popular symbol in art and culture that has represented everything from courage, happiness, and summer (in Japanese culture) to swiftness and water (in Native American culture). In Europe’s Middle Ages, this dazzling insect was called the “devil’s darning needle” not only because of its long, slender shape but also because it was believed to be a servant of the devil. In Portugal, folks call it the “eye-snatcher” and in Wales, the “adder’s servant.” With its endless associations and meanings, it’s not surprising that many companies have included the word “dragonfly” in their titles or have used the creature as a mascot. In Dragonfly Expeditions’ younger days, we received occasional phone calls asking if we were related to or a part of similarly-named companies in Puerto Rico or South Africa. Although Dragonfly Expeditions does have several sister companies – for example, Green Heron Gifts and Windjammer Sailing Adventures – none of them have the word dragonfly in their title.  The confused callers piqued our interest, so we did our homework on these other Dragonfly companies. And since I have been working with Dragonfly Expeditions, I have noticed even more dragonflies flitting about. Click below to unravel the mystery of the other dragonflies! Continue reading

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What’s it Like to Have an Office Inside the Biltmore Hotel?

“What’s it like to work in an office inside the Biltmore Hotel?” is a question we are almost always asked by first-time visitors to our office. The Biltmore Hotel is a truly unique place to work. After all, the building appears on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts a spiraling Moorish Giralda tower, houses a pool that was unrivaled in size for many years, and is rumored to be haunted. Walking into the main lobby, visitors are greeted by amicable bell boys, two small aviaries, and soaring, barrel-vaulted ceilings complete with hand-painted frescos. The interior also features travertine floors, marble columns, elaborate leaded glass fixtures, and carved mahogany furnishings. As a company that believes strongly in preserving important Miami landmarks, it seems only fitting that Dragonfly Expeditions’ office should be located inside one of them. Below are some examples of what we and some of our neighbors think about walking into the Biltmore Hotel each morning for work.

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Canadian Writer Donna Carter Explains why Miami is the Perfect Meeting Destination

A central part of Dragonfly Expeditions’ target audience is made up of corporate groups; companies of all sizes use Miami as both a destination for corporate events and incentive travel. Donna Carter is a Cobourg, Ontario-based freelance writer who had the opportunity to visit Miami as part of one of these groups.

In the following article, Carter presents Dragonfly Expeditions and shares her opinion about what in particular makes Miami one of the most popular US destinations for corporate gatherings. Her work was published by MeetingsCanada.com, which helps meeting planners in learning about and contacting potential partners for events and promotions. Carter’s article was published in the company’s magazine Meetings+Incentive Travel. In addition to focusing on the world’s most popular destinations for meetings and incentive travel, the magazine also features articles on topics such as hotels, venues, convention centers, marketing and finance, health and safety, business trends and research, and daily news.

Read more to discover why Miami is one of the best locations for corporate events and incentive travel and how Dragonfly Expeditions brings out this destination’s real sense of place. Continue reading

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Meet the Team – Guide Justin

Justin Law is a true Florida Cracker, having lived in Central and South Florida all his life. Certainly this has made him in touch with a state in which most of its inhabitants have moved in from other places. Justin is anything but tired of the Sunshine State. Although he admits that he probably takes some things for granted due to his lifelong residence in Florida, he says that his favorite thing about living here “isn’t the cities, but the natural beauty that Florida has to offer.” He says that he “likes to explore the Everglades, canoe in local lakes or in Biscayne Bay, and fish offshore in a motorboat.” Continue reading

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Cookie & Peaches

As the Dragonfly Expeditions team sits around the table during our weekly meeting on Monday mornings, it’s not uncommon for us to feel something small brush past our ankles. It’s not a mouse. It’s the tail of a Chihuahua; or to be more specific – two Chihuahuas. We are proud to introduce the most recent additions to the Dragonfly Expeditions family: Cookie and Peaches. Our two newest friends wasted no time in making themselves at home in the Biltmore Hotel. When Stephanie, intern for our sister company Windjammer Sailing Adventures (located in the office next door), moved to Miami from Germany, she didn’t come alone. She arrived in the US with two little and loveable dogs in tow. It took some getting used to, but now we can’t imagine the workday without Cookie and Peaches frolicking between our two offices. Read more to find out which dog is a mother of five and which dog weighs less than six pounds! Continue reading

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Freelance Journalist Maeve Hosea Shares her Perspective on Miami and the ‘Glades

The dry winter season is the best time to experience the Florida Everglades, so we thought it would be fitting to share a first-hand account of this one-of-a-kind ecosystem.

Maeve Hosea (click here to visit her on Twitter) is one of many to whom Dragonfly Expeditions has had the pleasure of introducing South Florida’s wild side. This freelance journalist from London had the opportunity to wade through the swamp with us on our Everglades Backwater Tour. Hosea’s article appeared in Sainsbury’s Magazine and touches on all of Dragonfly Expeditions’ passions; it provides a refreshing break from the publications typically expelled by the Magic City (you know what I mean – the ones that focus on glamorous celebrities and the rumors that follow them). Hosea shares her swamp walk experience by writing about culture and ecology. In addition, her article goes into detail about several projects Miami has undertaken to promote a more sustainable lifestyle for the city’s visitors and inhabitants. Read below to learn why she calls Miami a “collision of the natural and manmade world” and what made her appreciate the effort required to transform a huge swamp into a tourist’s paradise.

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A Chance to Visit Miami-Dade’s Most Famous, Private Historic Homes

The Villagers, a Miami-based not-for-profit historic preservation organization and a long-time partner of Dragonfly Expeditions, is hosting an event in December that we wanted to bring to your attention: Their annual Historic House Tour takes place on Saturday, December 1st from 10:30am to 3:00pm. During this tour, participants get the chance to visit six elegant houses including Adrienne Arsht’s Villa Serena (famous for previous owner William Jennings Bryan) and Arva Moore Parks’ mansion. The day’s agenda includes sites in Coconut Grove, South Miami, and Brickell Avenue. The Historic House Tour is a well-established event that is respected for its selection of extraordinary homes; each location provides outstanding architectural or historic value. Tickets are available through a $30 donation to The Villagers and the money will go towards local preservation work. This is a great chance to grab a few friends and see those places that you’ve “always wanted to visit but never found the time!” Continue reading

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Margaritaville Travel AdventuresTM – the Inaugural Trip

Just last month, Margaritaville Travel AdventuresTM successfully ran its first excursion, the Lost Shaker of Salt AdventureTM. The week-long trip began with a bang in South Beach and took a group of Jimmy Buffett fans all the way south to Duval Street in Key West. This diverse and enthusiastic collection of Parrot Heads had the opportunity to live the iconic island lifestyle of Jimmy Buffett while exploring hidden corners of the Florida Keys, kayaking, participating in a scavenger hunt, making new friends, and of course, relaxing! Participant feedback included quotes like “Unless you’ve already found paradise – this is the next best thing – trying to find it with a great bunch of people!” “It was an adventure, not a tour, yet we experienced very interesting sites and also had a blast with the other members of the group. Group size was perfect and a great mix of personalities!” and “Parrot heads forever! The staff was incredible! Locations fun and funky and the group was the perfect blend of friendliness and crazy off-beat humor and fun!” But the journey wasn’t just enjoyable for the guests. Mo Fries, the Tour Director, had the experience of a lifetime; read more to find out why.

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Still-Speaking Shipwrecks

The year is 1966 and it’s about 4:00am on New Year’s morning. A magnificent schooner cuts through the waves off the coast of Florida, the moonlight reflecting off her polished teak deck and illuminating the name Mandalay painted in script on her side. Twenty-some passengers are on their way back from a luxurious cruise to the Bahamas – but everything was not shipshape on this ship. The sleeping passengers wouldn’t have guessed that someone’s miscalculation from the night before had put them more than 15 miles off course and on New Year’s Day 1966, the cruisers were rudely awakened as a violent shudder ran through the ship’s timbers. As the Mandalay ground to a halt and began to tilt precariously, pajama-clad passengers rushed out of their cabins to see what was happening. Continue reading

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Miami’s Wynwood Art District – Reflections of a Travel Writer

Richard Varr is an author and member of the SATW (Society of American Travel Writers). He participated in an architectural tour with us earlier this year during which we introduced him to several Miami neighborhoods, including the Miami Modern (MiMo) and Wynwood Art Districts. With more galleries opening, distinguished artists appearing, and more unique and striking graffiti appearing day by day, the Wynwood Art District is garnering an increasing popularity throughout the state, the country, and the art scene in general. Continue reading

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Introducing Windjammer Sailing Adventures – our Sister Company

Captain Mike Burke established Windjammer Barefoot Cruises over 60 years ago. For landlubbers everywhere, he offered a world of rekindled childhood, the spirit of carefree pirates, and the experience of sailing on a tall ship. The world of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises consisted of rescued schooners, salt spray, turquoise Caribbean seas, pristine anchorages, far-flung ports, and of course bare feet. But dreams are fragile things, and in September 2007, this Captain’s dream was on its way to Davy Jones’ locker. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises went bankrupt, its remaining assets were auctioned off, and all who were a part of that world mourned. But the unique world of Windjammer never really died. Continue reading

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Meet the Team – Guide Elizabeth

Like many before her, the snow and cold of the Midwest pushed Elizabeth Wedlake south to Florida. This Chicago native moved to Miami and spent several years visiting the Caribbean island of Saba to help her late husband with his orchid research. During her stint in the Caribbean, she not only learned about Saba’s culture and wildlife, but also became acquainted with the Sea and Learn program.

Elizabeth’s occupational history spans many industries, including luxury transportation, management, naturalist studies, and freelance event planning. Continue reading

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Observations from the International Coastal Cleanup

In mid-September, several members of our team participated in a great community event that we wanted to share with you. Each year, on the third Saturday of September, the Ocean Conservancy sponsors an International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). Volunteers in over 100 countries spend their morning out on the beach removing debris that not only clogs waterways, but also threatens the safety of boaters and wildlife. Early in the morning, Megan and I joined local volunteers just off the Rickenbacker Causeway. Continue reading

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Meet the Team – Guide Yeraldine

Yeraldine (pronounced like “Geraldine”) Ordonez first started working with Dragonfly Expeditions when a mutual friend of Megan Fries suggested that she check out the company. Constantly a victim of wanderlust, Yeraldine had just returned from a backpacking trip in South America when she was informed that Dragonfly Expeditions was looking for guides. Her diverse travel background made her a fitting leader for the company and she thought it a “wonderful surprise to find a welcomed match between my passions and their job description.”

She is always looking for her next adventure. Her never-ending energy and enthusiasm make Yeraldine a great guide who always tries to impart a true sense of place to the individuals journeying with her. Add the desires to travel, discover new places, and create cultural connections – and she is a perfect fit for Dragonfly Expeditions and our own vision and mission.

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A First-Hand Account of the Cuban Heritage Tour

The following article was written by Jerry Luciani, a staff writer for TravelGuys who experienced the Cuban Heritage Tour led by Charles Kropke. We wanted to share Jerry’s article with you because it provides a different and very detailed perspective on one of Dragonfly Expeditions’ most popular tours.

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“A look at the real Miami, from Miami Beach to Little Havana”

Miami, it’s the place where the rich and famous go to play. The place where fancy cars and beautiful people are outdone only by the glorious buildings done up in soft pastels and glowing neon. But there’s more to this city in the sun than Ferraris and fashion. A short drive from the beach will take you to another world: Little Havana, epicenter of the Cuban culture that has become as much a part of the city’s character as the art deco hotels lining Ocean Drive.

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Thoughts on Developing a Tour: Streamside Biking along the Loxahatchee

In our continuous effort to craft tours that explore the hidden corners of Florida and create unique experiences, we developed Streamside Biking along the Loxahatchee. This bike journey combines ecology, history, and exercise – and even lets us explore the river without getting our feet wet!

Back in 1985, this slow-moving stream became Florida’s first of two federally designated “Wild and Scenic” rivers and remains one of the most wild-looking places in South Florida today. Dragonfly Expeditions already utilizes the Loxahatchee River for kayak outings, but we wanted to come up with another way for our guests to experience this one-of-a-kind region. Our new bike trip alongside this winding tributary gives guests the opportunity to acquire an entirely different perspective of the river and its surrounding landscape. Continue reading

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The Perfect Blend of Teambuilding and Sustainable Tourism

Following is an excerpt of an article from Meeting NewsFlorida Green Guide: Recreation and Teambuilding.  Author Heidi Waldrop Bay describes how corporate responsibility, team building and sustainable tourism can come together in Florida’s natural areas.  She illustrates through the testimonial of a meeting planner how even for a well-traveled audience, a familiar destination can offer something different.

“Eco Tourism: Everybody’s Doing It
Florida-bound groups are jumping at the opportunity to get back to nature

(…) Protecting Florida’s natural bounty is not just the responsibility of the tour operator.  Planners can do simple things that make a big difference in the experience for the group and also help the environment.  “We encourage people to turn off their cell phones, because sounds like that amplify and it is hard for people to enjoy the wilderness,” said Charles Kropke, owner of Dragonfly Expeditions, in Coral Gables, FL.  Also, planners should designate a group leader to carry a simple trash bag and pick up things the participants don’t.  “You don’t have to make a big deal of it,” emphasized Kropke, “but it demonstrates to everyone how seamless caring for the environment can be.” (…)

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