Florida's quirky alternate lodgings
Robert Tubbs of Manchester, N.H., was looking for a place to stay on Amelia Island in Florida "when Katie's Light jumped out at me."
Katie's Light is a replica lighthouse directly on the beach about two miles from Fernandina Beach. With three bedrooms and 21/2 baths, it features a combined kitchen, dining room, and entertainment area on the first level and a spiral staircase up to the bedroom on the second level. The deck wraps around the house.
"It was terrific, really lived up to its billing,'' Tubbs says. He, his wife, and a friendly couple rented the light for a week.
It isn't a real lighthouse, but a copy, built in 1980, of the famous Thomas Point lighthouse on Chesapeake Bay. Rental is $380 a day and $2,280 a week through February, $485 a day and $2,910 a week March through September.
Information: www.ameliaislandvacation.com/houses/katieslight, 1-800-772-3359.
A lighthouse isn't the only unusual accommodation available to Florida visitors.
Treehouse/yurtHow about a treehouse?
The two-story Yurt Tree House is about 35 miles northwest of Gainesville. The 16-by-16-foot lower deck has a propane stove, fresh water, an outhouse with composting toilet, cooking gear, chairs, and a table. Stairs lead to the screened-in bedroom, with a queen-size futon mattress, 2-inch foam sleeping mats, and blankets (sheets and pillows are extra). A transparent dome in the umbrella roof lets you see the moon and stars.
You can drive to the treehouse, or get there by waterbike or canoe on the Santa Fe River. Two waterbikes and two wide-tire bicycles are free to guests. Rent is $30 per adult, $20 per child under 12, $90 minimum for one-night stays, plus $50 refundable deposit.
Information: www.clubfla.org/treehouse.aspx, 352-275-3833.
There's also a yurt for rent in North Florida's Torreya State Park on the Apalachicola River. It's a 20-foot round domed tent with flooring, electricity, a lockable wooden door, and three large screened windows. The yurt accommodates five people and includes air conditioning and heating, a skylight, two queen beds, and one single. Bed linens are not provided, and pets are not allowed. The yurt rents for $40.
Underwater lodgeGuest rooms are 21 feet underwater at the Jules' Undersea Lodge in Key Largo. You have to scuba dive to enter the lodge, which has two bedrooms and a common room. Each bedroom has a private refrigerator and sink, intercom, telephone, and 42-inch round window.
The common room contains a mini-kitchen, dining and entertainment areas, and another 42-inch window.
The facility is air-conditioned. The lodge usually hosts two couples, each with a private bedroom and sharing the rest of the lodge. Staff is on duty 24 hours a day, and a "mer-chef" dives to the lodge to prepare and serve a gourmet dinner. Late-night snacks can include delivery of a pizza from a local shop.
Guests have included former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and rock stars Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Jon Fishman of Phish.
Rates range from $400 to $500 per person per night, including meals and dive gear; group of four starts at $275 per person.
Information: www.jul.com, 305-451-2353.
Dude ranchYou don't have to go out West to spend time at a dude ranch. Florida has a couple of them operating year-round.
Circle F Dude Ranch in Lake Wales offers several kinds of stays. Family weekends are priced at $499 for the first four people, $99 for additional guests: two nights' lodging, six meals, and most activities, including swimming, canoeing, fishing, volleyball, tennis, entertainment, campfire program, hayrides, and family softball. Some activities cost extra. Family weekends will be April 22 to 24, May 6 to 8, May 27 to 29, Nov. 25 to 27, and Dec. 2 to 4.
Circle F also will have Spring Break camps March 13 to 18 and 20 to 25 at $425 per person, plus women's weekends and group rentals. And four summer camp sessions are scheduled: June 12 to 25, $2,195; June 26 to July 16, $2,695; July 17 to Aug. 6, $2,695; and Aug. 7 to 16, $1,695. Summer enrollment is limited to 100 boys and 110 girls age 6 to 16.
At Westgate River Ranch in Lake Wales, amenities include horseback riding, nine-hole golf course, boat rentals, trap and skeet range, hayrides and cookouts, a petting farm, heated outdoor pool, tennis, basketball, video arcade, smokehouse grill, general store, River Ranch Saloon, Western store, barbecue facilities, even a wedding chapel. Most activities require additional fees. Minimum check-in age is 18. Room rates start at $119 per night.
Theme hotelsOrlando's theme parks, particularly Walt Disney World, have made a business of building theme hotels. Wilderness Lodge resembles a national park lodge, with a great log lobby with a steaming stream running through it. In Animal Kingdom Lodge, you may spot a rhinoceros or elephant outside the window of your African-themed hotel.
At Universal Studios, the Portofino Bay Hotel replicates an Italian hotel, with piazzas, porticos, shops, and authentic Italian dishes, and the Royal Pacific Hotel brings back memories of South Pacific resorts.
Orlando has two other striking properties: Doubletree Castle Hotel, a medieval-themed palace with witchy spires and other little magical touches; and Nickelodeon Suites, where you can have the slime of your life with SpongeBob, Dora, Cosmo, and the gang.
Log cabinA log cabin doesn't have to be a primitive abode.
This two-bedroom, one-bath Western cedar home has air-conditioning, satellite TV, VCR, fully equipped kitchen, fireplace, and wood floors.
Nestled among hardwood trees between Crystal River and Homosassa Springs on the Gulf Coast, the log cabin is about eight miles east of Inverness and close to the Withlacoochee River.
Built in 1990, the cabin can sleep six and is close to Tampa Bay's major attractions. Rates: $225 to $265 for three nights, $395 to $495 a week.
Information: www.woodedretreats.net/index.html, 727-446-1200.
HouseboatOne final idea: Book a movable hotel.
Houseboats are available at spots across the state, from the Panhandle to the Keys. A good place to take out a houseboat for a few days is the Holly Bluff Marina on the St. Johns River.
My family enjoyed exploring the river and some of the springs in central Florida. We went fishing and swimming, visited state parks, cooked on a grill on the boat, and ran around on a skiff that came with the boat. There's a real feeling of freedom that we've never gotten staying in an ordinary hotel. Vive la différence.
Houseboats come in various sizes. For example, a 38-foot four-sleeper at Holly Bluff Marina runs $750 to $850 for a weekend or $1,300 to $1,400 for a week. A 53-foot 10-sleeper costs $1,600 to $1,700 for a weekend or $2,700 to $2,800 for a week. Add the cost of gasoline and taxes.
Information: www.hollybluff.com/rental_houseboat.htm, 1-800-237-5105.