More than 131 million travelers visited Florida in 2019 to dive into beach fun, theme park action, heritage and cultural activities and eco-adventure. While 2020 has proven a challenging year for tourism throughout the U.S., it’s hoped that travel will rebound in the new year.
So, what’s new in Florida for 2021? Here’s a small sampling of new attractions, hotels and tourism activities that will debut or open in the new year.
The historic Lee House Boutique Hotel in downtown Pensacola is undergoing a facelift following its recent purchase. The renovation is expected to be completed early in 2021. Opposite Pensacola Bay, this hotel is in a quaint 1860s-style building with a wraparound porch. It’s close to museums and the archaeological trails of Historic Pensacola Village.
Visitors interested in outdoor adventure often head for the Fanning Springs area to enjoy canoeing, cave diving, fishing, biking on the 40-mile Nature Coast State Trail and tubing down the Suwannee or Sante Fe Rivers. Set to open in early 2021 is the new Best Western Premier Fanning Springs Hotel & Resort. The new hotel’s top floor will have a sundeck lounge for enjoying food, drinks and sunsets.
Opening February 1 along Florida’s Emerald Coast is the 250-room Hotel Effie Sandestin. The new property will have an upscale spa, state-of-the-art fitness center and the only rooftop pool in the area. It will also offer a 13,000-square-foot ballroom.
On the northern Atlantic coastline of Florida, the new Margaritaville Beach Hotel on Jacksonville Beach will open in spring with 202 guest rooms, a two-story restaurant, beachside pool and fitness center. In downtown Jacksonville, the new, 128-room Downtown Hyatt Place is expected to open in April 2021. One highlight is a rooftop patio.
Allowing visitors to explore downtown St. Augustine and its beaches in a more fluid and eco-friendly way is the new DRIFTERS Out Post bike-sharing system, which connects local businesses to residents and visitors. Visitors can jump on a bike and visit spots throughout the destination with the smartphone app, Movatic.
In Tampa, the new Iron Gwazi roller coaster will open this coming spring at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. It will become North America‘s tallest and the world’s steepest and fastest hybrid rollercoaster. Thrill seekers will love the 12 “airtime” features, as the coaster reaches speeds of up to 76 mph.
Two hotels on St. Pete Beach are being updated with nearly $30 million in improvements with one undergoing a rebrand. Grand Plaza Hotel and The Beachcomber, both owned by affiliates of Miami-based Gencom and operated by Benchmark, will both get a fresh look and upgraded experiences. Construction began in November and will wrap up by mid-year.
Fans of Discovery Network‘s hit series, “American Chopper” will be eager to learn that in May, Paul Teutul, Sr., of “Orange County Choppers” fame and area hospitality executive Keith Overton will open the new OCC Road House & Museum, adjacent to Bert’s Barracuda Harley Davidson in St. Petersburg. Based on Teutul’s wildly popular OCC brand, the destination restaurant will be decked out with a fleet of Teutul’s custom choppers featured on “American Chopper,” plus hundreds of rare items from his biker memorabilia collection.
In North Port, just north of Sarasota, the new Hampton Inn & Suites will debut in 2021, the first new hotel to open in North Port since 1973. The hotel is a new prototype for Hilton and is near CoolToday Park, the new Atlanta Braves‘ spring training stadium.
In Sarasota County, two attractions will become one in 2021. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is taking over Historic Spanish Point on Little Sarasota Bay. The latter is both an archaeological site and one of the state’s largest waterfront preserves showcasing native Florida flora. From February 13 through June 27, the gardens’ downtown Sarasota campus will display “Roy Lichtenstein: Monet’s Garden Goes Pop!” That’s the pop artist’s “take” on Claude Monet’s paintings of his garden and surroundings at Giverny. Visitors strolling through the 15-acre gardens will see large-scale artworks and a transformation of the gardens into Monet’s garden, as envisioned by Lichtenstein.
Within the past year, Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLAND Florida Resort have all unveiled new rides and features, with more coming.
For example, Walt Disney World Resort’s EPCOT is undergoing the largest transformation of any Disney park in history, a multi-year project that with unify EPCOT with four neighborhoods: World Showcase, World Celebration, World Nature and World Discovery.
In summer 2021, Universal Orlando Resort will launch Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Florida’s fastest and tallest launch coaster, along with a pack of “fierce Velociraptors.” The roller coaster will feature intense maneuvers that catapult riders up to 70 mph and more than 150 feet in the air.
The video below shows thrills for riders on the Jurassic World VelociCoaster:
If consumers love ancient ruins and stories about past civilizations, one good option is a “Pompeii: The Immortal City” exhibition, which continues its run at the Orlando Science Center through January 24, 2021. It’s only one of three sites in the United States that will host this special exhibit. In 24 hours, Pompeii and neighboring Herculaneum were buried by the catastrophic eruption of Italy‘s Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Exploring this exhibit’s artwork, replicas of artifacts, interactive mechanical devices and multimedia experiences, visitors will “dive into” daily life in this first-century Roman town and hear and feel the volcano’s roar.
Along the Space Coast, two SpaceX Crew Dragon launches are planned in from Cape Canaveral in 2021. Weather permitting, Crew-2 is currently scheduled for March 30, while Crew-3 will be in fall, and there is the potential for splashdowns to occur off the coast. In addition, on March 29, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket will launch Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on a second unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station. ULA and Boeing also are shooting for June for their crew test flight.
The littlest future astronauts will have a new attraction to fuel their imaginations as Planet Play opens January 1 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. This new play area will create a fun environment for kids ages 2 to 12 to learn about the planets and technologies used in space exploration.
In Martin County, the new, redesigned Sailfish Sands will open as with a championship 18-hole golf course on the site of the former Martin County Golf Course. It’s one of the few “reversible courses” in the U.S. Golfers can play it clockwise or counterclockwise on specific days. Sailfish Sands also gas tee boxes that can accommodate kids and senior citizens, as well as seasoned and new golfers. Another perk is a 13-acre driving range with low level lights for evening play and interactive LED targets.
On Hutchinson Island, the Florida Oceanographic Society will open a new Ocean EcoCenter with interactive exhibits, eco-educational programs, and new activities. A new Ocean Deck will be used for lectures and event space, plus new Lagoon Bridges will carry visitors to the island and provide up-close views of the 750,000-gallon Gamefish Lagoon.
Opening this year in Fort Myers are a new riverfront Oxbow Bar & Grill, Oxbow Retail & Rentals and Caloosa Sound Amphitheater, all along the Caloosahatchee River. They’re located near the newly opened 12-story Luminary Hotel & Co, the area’s first hotel in the Autograph Collection of Marriott International.
A $15 million-room renovation at Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village, will be completed by February. The Cape Coral project includes increased room inventory and a new design based on the concept of biophilia, a belief that people have an innate need to connect with nature. Each guestroom will include natural, Florida-sourced materials with patterns related to water and accents that complement the waterfront views.
In Naples, The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort will debut a new swimming pool and an immersive water activity experience, starting in May 2021. Those features are part of the resort’s “remastering,” which also included the opening of a new outdoor dining experience in late 2020.
The Museum of the Everglades in Everglades City is hosting a new “Indomitable – the Life & Art of Camille Brock Baumgartner” exhibit, which opened this month and runs through February 27. This retrospective exhibit recounts the colorful story of the late artist who lived in Everglades City between 1977 and 1994.This retrospective exhibit features a variety of her works as well as photos.
In Broward County, the Gale Boutique Hotel & Residences Fort Lauderdale will open in January. A complete transformation of the historic Escape Hotel space, it will offer 96 rooms, 120 condominiums, a rooftop sky deck, fitness center, spa and pool.
Also opening in January are a new 137-room Courtyard Fort Lauderdale Downtown, and two properties in Pompano Beach—Tru by Hilton and Hilton Home2Suites. In Delray Beach, the new Opal Grand Oceanfront Resort & Spa will open in early 2021 with new exteriors, guest rooms, meeting space and more.
For shopping enthusiasts, the 174-room AC Hotels by Marriott Fort Lauderdale Sawgrass Mills will open in Sunrise, adjacent to the mall. It will have an arts focused library, rooftop restaurant, health and fitness center and lounge with tapas-style menu and craft beers and cocktails.
Fort Lauderdale‘s Las Olas Boulevard will welcome the Cuba Libra Restaurant & Rum Bar, a concept by chef-partner Guillermo Perot, in early 2021.
Farther south in Miami, a major new attraction that just opened is the new SkyViews Miami, towering above Bayside Marketplace near PortMiami. Visitors board 42 enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas for 15-minute rides with great views of Biscayne Bay, Bayfront Park and Miami’s skyline. One VIP gondola is be outfitted with a glass-bottom floor, leather bucket seats and an LED lightshow.
The largest exhibition about flying reptiles ever mounted in the United States, “Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs,” will open May 15 at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science in Miami. Organized by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, it will highlight scientific research and feature rare pterosaur fossil casts and replicas of fossils from Italy, Germany, China, the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil.
Visitors will peruse life-sized models, videos and interactive exhibits. In one motion sensor-based interactive experience, museum goers can “pilot” two species of pterosaurs through virtual prehistoric landscapes.
In South Beach‘s Art Deco District, the oceanfront Kimpton Surfcomber is in the final stages of a renovation of accommodations and public spaces. Inspired by the romance of southern France, the new design is playful, simple, clean and earthy.
The Florida Keys
A new Fairfield Inn & Suites in Marathon in the Florida Keys just debuted; it was a compete renovation (with a fresh new look and brand) of the former Holiday Inn Express Marathon by OTO Development. Jet skis, kayaks and paddle boards are available for rent from the on-site Deep Blue Dive and Marina, plus the hotel has a boat ramp.
These are only a few of the many new attractions, hotels, exhibits and tourism services that are new in the “Sunshine State.” Stay tuned here for additional updates in the coming weeks.
For more information, visit www.visitflorida.org.
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