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Florida Cruises

Key West, Florida

About Florida

Long a haven for beachcombers, sun worshippers and theme park–goers, the state of Florida has a long history and rich culture that are often overlooked. Indeed, it’s been said that many visitors come here to relax on the inviting coasts and return to explore the state’s fascinating past.

More than 100 years before Protestant pilgrims famously landed at Plymouth Rock, Juan Ponce de León set foot on Florida’s shores in 1513, making this southern state the first in the continental US to be visited by Europeans. The Spanish explorer even coined the name that it still enjoys today: “land of flowers.” The city of St. Augustine, on the state’s northeastern shore, was established just 50 years later and would become the longest inhabited European-founded city in the contiguous US.

During the Seven Years’ War, Spain gave Florida to the British in return for Havana, Cuba. A period of fast development followed. Yet the new Floridians had no interest in breaking free from England. Once Britain was defeated in the American Revolution, the Loyalists fled and the Spanish returned, but their influence waned as new Americans arrived from the north. The Louisiana Purchase brought Florida into the fold of the United States, but not without the loss of the local Native Americans in the First Seminole War, famously led by Andrew Jackson.

Florida’s involvement in the American Civil War was minimal. It was more important to the state to become a free and independent state of its own accord, rather than part of the Confederacy. After the war, tens of thousands of former slaves went north to avoid persecution. The 20th century brought great economic prosperity, due in no small part to the invention of air conditioning, which allowed people to live in its hot climate comfortably. Since then, Florida has blossomed into one of the most visited destinations in the world, with glittering seaside cities, expansive national parks, and endless sand beaches in lively resort towns.

Florida Lifestyle and Culture

Life moves slowly in the “Sunshine State,” once known primarily for its citrus industry and boiled peanuts sold at roadside stands. Today, the state is home to a bright and compelling blend of culture and entertainment seen in few other parts of the world.

Hispanic and Latino influence remains a central part of Florida’s cultural identity. In Miami’s Little Havana, family patriarchs play dominoes in city parks and vendors prepare Cuban sandwiches at local delis. Streets are lined with elegant colonial architecture hinting at Spain’s influence. Echoes of Europe can be found in the playful art deco buildings. And strains of jazz and Delta blues, born from African American history, spill onto city streets from nightclubs.

Citrus crops still blanket the sun-baked landscapes, and agriculture remains a central element of the culture and economy. The bounty of the sea is equally important. Fresh fish appears on menus throughout the state, and the chefs of Miami, Key West, Ft. Lauderdale and beyond are inventing ever more colorful and flavorful creations. Their “Floribbean cuisine” showcases local ingredients and many Caribbean and Latin American influences. Key lime pie is a signature dish not to be missed in Key West.

Florida Sights and Landmarks

A beloved leisure destination for Floridians and visitors alike, the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area exudes the carefree attitude of southern Florida’s coast. In Miami, a thriving Cuban culture infuses Little Havana and gleaming high-rises overlook Biscayne Bay. On the outlying barrier islands, South Beach is an intoxicating blend of seaside glamour and art deco pastel brilliance. Farther north, the seven-mile-long Ft. Lauderdale Beach provides a more leisurely air. Along Las Olas Boulevard, cafés and boutiques invite lingering and endless browsing. With its location straddling the Intracoastal Waterway, you can hop a boat to tour charming neighborhoods and secluded marshlands.

Inland from Miami, the Everglades provide a glimpse of Florida’s backwaters in their unspoiled beauty and tranquility. Though famed for their resident alligators, these tropical wetlands comprise a vast natural wonder that stretches across much of southern Florida. In the wet season, the Everglades are fed by the waters of Lake Okeechobee, which discharges a river that grows to 60 miles wide and 100 miles long to Florida Bay, at the state’s southern tip.

Key West is famously known for its carefree culture. The southernmost city connected with the continental United States, this fascinating palm-lined enclave celebrates its lively beach atmosphere with nightly sunset gatherings at Mallory Square. The heralded Duval Street is graced with elegant historic architecture, from old Bahamian-style homes to Spanish-influenced Victorian mansions. For all its remoteness as the final key in the long line of Florida Keys, Key West was also home to two of America’s most renowned figures. President Harry S. Truman’s Winter White House is preserved today as a historic monument. And Ernest Hemingway is said to have written several novels from his house, which today is famously home to dozens of cats.