Florida offers wide range of destinations perfect for fall vacations

 

McClatchy Newspapers

Autumn will soon be upon us, and that's great news for travelers. Summer's heat slackens, resorts and roads are less crowded and the cost of travel takes a tumble.

Yet there's still a lot to keep Florida vacationers busy at that time of year. Halloween brings spooky celebrations all over the state, but particularly in the theme parks. Several major events and festivals are on tap, and many hotels and resorts offer special deals in autumn.

-HALLOWEEN

Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights will run 23 days this year, four more than in 2006. New this year: Grisly characters from legendary horror films - Jason from "Friday the 13th," Freddy Krueger from "Nightmare on Elm Street" and Leatherface from "Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

The park also will serve up its usual haunted houses, scare zones, gory ghouls and maniacal mutants - enough spooky stuff to unsettle even the most unflappable guests. Dates are Sept. 28 and 29, Oct. 4-7, 11-14, 18-21, 24-28 and Oct. 31-Nov. 3. Nightly admission (or a 13-night Frequent Fear Pass) is $64.95, up $5 from last year. 407-363-8000, www.universalorlando.com.

Also guaranteed to cast a Halloween chill is Busch Gardens' annual Howl-O-Scream. Awaiting guests are six haunted houses, five scare zones and three surreal shows.

The Tampa park's fright fest will run for 16 nights (Oct. 5 and 6, 11-13, 18-21 and 25-28) plus a discounted Freaky Preview Sept. 28-30, $29.95. General admission is $61.95, $51.95 for Florida residents when buying online (also check local businesses for discounts up to $25). 888-800-5447, www.buschgardens.com.

Purposely less frightening is Walt Disney World's Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, aimed at younger kids. This year it will take place on 20 nights, the most ever. Dates are Sept. 14, 21, 28 and 30; Oct. 4, 5, 8, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 21, 23, 25, 26, 28, 30 and 31; and Nov. 2. 407-824-4321, www.waltdisneyworld.com. General adult admission, $41.49 in advance, $45.95 at the door.

SeaWorld Orlando's Halloween Spooktacular also presents at a less scary face, with an underwater show and trick-or-treating. Dates are Oct. 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 26-28 and 31. 800-327-2424, www.seaworldorlando.com. General adult admission, $64.95; Florida residents pay $53.95 and can come back the next day.

At Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in Winter Haven, Phobia, Sept. 28-30 and Oct. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 26-28 and 31, features haunted houses and scare zones, plus trick-or-treating for younger guests. New at the park since July: Starliner, a historic wooden coaster moved from Panama City. 863-324-2111, www.cypressgardens.com. General adult admission, $44.95.

-FESTIVALS, EVENTS

Fantasy Fest, Key West, Oct. 19-28: This bizarre, raucous fete features freaky characters and such events as a Torso Tapestries contest, There's No Place Like Gnome brunch, Pet Masquerade party, Pimp and Ho Party, costume competitions, street parties and the annual Headdress Ball.

It culminates with 70,000 spectators ogling the sometimes X-rated Captain Morgan Fantasy Fest Parade, a procession of weird floats, dolled-up participants and uninhibited craziness. 305-296-1817, www.fantasyfest.net. Free.

Biketoberfest, Daytona Beach, Oct. 18-21: Some 100,000 motorcycle fans will jam into Daytona Beach for this annual event. Many of them will be cruising around Destination Daytona, a growing complex in Ormond Beach centered around the world's biggest Harley-Davidson dealership, though some events still will focus on Main Street. 866-296-8970, www.biketoberfest.com.

Kennedy Space Center, Titusville, Nov. 1-4; launch dates Oct. 20 and Dec. 6: A major exhibition, World Space Expo 2007, will celebrate 50 years of space exploration at the center with four pavilions of exhibits and several events.

A highlight will be an Aerial Salute on Nov. 3 and 4, featuring flybys by the USAF Thunderbirds, USAF F-22 Raptor, US Army Golden Knights parachute team, USAF F-15 Eagle, US Navy F-18 Super Hornet, USAF 920th Rescue Wing and two USAF P-51 vintage aircraft.

Visitors also will be able to access the newly opened $60-million Shuttle Launch Experience, and if they time their visits right, they can even witness a real Shuttle launch - Discovery is scheduled to fly Oct. 20, Atlantis on Dec. 6.

Admission to the center, good for two days within one week, is $38 adult, $28 ages 3-11, and includes bus tour, exhibits, IMAX theater, Hall of Fame, Shuttle Launch Experience, and World Space Expo days. 321-449-4444, www.kennedyspacecenter.com.

Sleepless Night, Miami Beach: Nov. 3 Taking a cue from highly successful "Nuit Blanche" in Paris, many of the city's major cultural institutions, restaurants, clubs, hotels and shops will remain open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The all-night event will be the first of its kind in the United States. On tap are performances, fashion shows, art exhibits, tours, dance, music, film and other cultural offerings, all free. 305-673-7577, www.miamibeachfl.gov.

Florida Folk Festival, White Springs, Nov. 9-11: One of Florida's major celebrations, this fete is normally held at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in May but was canceled this year because of wildfires in the region. The three-day music and arts festival has been rescheduled for Veterans Day weekend, Nov. 9-11. 877-635-3655, www.floridastateparks.org/stephenfoster. Admission, $4 per car.

Following is a sampling of the many packages available. Unless otherwise stated, prices are per person double occupancy and may or may not include resort fees, taxes, gratuities and other fees and charges. Packages are subject to availability, validity dates, blackout dates, minimum stays and booking deadlines, and their prices and terms may change without notice.

Cirque du Soleil: Florida residents can attend Orlando's original Cirque show in Downtown Disney, "La Nouba," at a discounted price through Sept. 22. Specially priced tickets start at $49, compared to the regular price of $63-up. 407-WDW-SEAT, www.disneyworld.com/lanouba.

-THEME PARKS: Florida residents can get discounted admissions. Some of the offerings:

-Walt Disney World: Three-day play pass for the price of two; one-day Park Hopper pass for price of one-day, one-park pass. 407-824-4321.

-Busch Gardens, Tampa: Overnight Fright Package during Howl-O-Scream combines a HOS ticket and one-night stay, price as yet undetermined.

-Universal Orlando: Florida resident Gory Getaway package starts at $169 per person, includes two nights lodging and one night admission to Halloween Horror Nights. 877-801-9720.

-SeaWorld Orlando: Florida residents can visit Discovery Cove for $199, savings of up to $80, Sept. 5-Oct. 7 and Nov. 12-Dec. 20.

Orlando: Certain hotels participating in the Endless Summer promotion include a free extra night's lodging or extra round of golf to Nov. 15. The annual Magical Dining promotion offers three-course, prix-fixe dinners at $19 or $29 at participating restaurants Sept. 1-30. 888-675- 4386, www.orlandoinfo.com/endlesssummer.

Sarasota: During the month of September, seven museums are offering buy one, get one free admission for Florida residents under a 30 Days of Discovery promotion. Among museums are the Ringling Museum of Art, Selby Botanical Gardens and Mote Aquarium. 800-522- 9799, www.30daysofdiscovery.com.

Marriott Delray Beach: Escape to Summer package includes complimentary valet parking, one in-room movie per day and breakfast daily. Cost is $229 per room per night, to Sept. 30. 877-389- 0169, www.marriottdelraybeach.com.

Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater Beach: New hotel on beach opens Aug. 29. The Escape package starts at $198 per room per night, includes signature sunset drink, breakfast buffet, two-hour bicycle rental, beach ritual session. Internet room rates start at $159. Package good through Dec. 30. 877-726-3111, www.sandpearl.com.

Captiva Beach Resort, Sarasota: White Sand and Sunsets Escape includes three nights lodging in a deluxe room, full kitchen, bottle of wine, breakfast at off-site restaurant, beach chairs and umbrella for two, dinner for two at one of four off-site restaurants, one breakfast in bed, two one-hour in-room massages. Off-site meals have price limits. Price is $385 per person to Dec. 18. 800-349- 4131, www.captivabeachresort.com.

Key Largo Grande Resort, Key Largo: Watersports Package includes choice of parasail flight, wave runner rental, enviro-tour of Everglades, snorkeling tour or Hobie Cat rental. Package starts at $126 per night for two people through Dec. 31. 866- 597-5397, www.keylargogrande.com.

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, Destin: Stay and Play Golf Package for four includes one round of golf per day at Baytowne Golf Club, golf cart, greens fees, unlimited practice balls and lodging in a three-bedroom Dockside Villa. Minimum two-night stay required. Price is $157 per person per night for each of four golfers ($139 in late fall). 800-470-7389, www.sandestin.com.

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