The Travel Writer

BEYOND THE UKULELE: HAWAI’I’S SONG OF HIDDEN TREASURES

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With its distinct overflow of lush vegetation romantically embraced by long rows of glistening indigo waters, Hawai’i has, for years, captivated the hearts of the curious, the famous and the imaginative. Perhaps it is its tantalizing song of golden sunsets and sun-kissed beaches or its harmonious bliss that dances with every sway of the wind that lures people to Hawai’i. Nevertheless, it’s no surprise it was love at first sight for Rock and Roll fishlegend Elvis Presley and is currently a home away from home for TV talk show legend Oprah Winfrey. Known to many as a piece of heaven on earth, each island of Hawai’i has its own extraordinary personality, its own unique cultural joie de vivre and a shared desire to present it all in an impossibly beautiful light.

CRUISING TO HAWAI’I 

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Exploring all the intricacies of the islands of Hawai’i may take a lifetime but is worth every breath. Visitors from all over the globe covet its panoramic kaleidoscope of delight, lei greetings, history, culture, adventure and romance. With more and more major cruise lines adding the islands of Hawai’i to their port of call list; it’s now easier than ever to gander firsthand

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at the breathtaking sunrises and timeless fascination of Hawai’i.

Most of the cruise ships allow for the exploration of over half of the seven inhabited islands. Two of the best, Kaua’i & Maui, are each appreciated for their own sublime contrast and pristine effervescence. In Kaua’i, expect to become one with nature’s earth child and explore adventures of untold discovery – never seen; never touched; never explored. Maui will hypnotize you with its romanticeuphoria and entice you with its immaculate tropical rhythm.

KAUA’I, HI

If hiking along the Nā Pali Coast, kayaking down the Wailua River or taking a

kayhaw helicopter tour amidst searing cliffs that hover as high as 4,000 feet entice you, then you belong in the arms of Kaua’i. Kaua’i is the oldest and fourth largest island located in the northern region of Hawai’i intertwined by jagged cliffs, emerald valleys and waterfalls, statuesque mountaintops and inexplicable elements of nature. Each adventure tells a story of historic wonders and senescent majesty. Live in the moment with Kaua’i’s dramatic beauty and find yourself immersed in its rich culture and natural heritage.

MAUI, HI

Explore endless beauty under the stars of Maui where many whisper, “I do” bsandbetween joyous tears and others become one with the magnificent black sand beaches and aquatic ubiquity. Take an early whale-watching journey along the coast of Lahaina, snorkel in the crystalline waters of Molokini or birdsofpmarvel at the dormant volcano of Haleakalā. It’s easy to find love off the beaten path of Maui. Surround yourself with the quintessential essence of florthe island while enjoying native delights. Gaze passionately at the colorful bamboo orchids, silk oaks and bird of paradises on a visit to the Kula Botanical Garden or mingle with the locals in Maui’s charming small towns. See for yourself why Maui is known as the “Best Island in the World” and why thousands of people visit every year.

kauaihawaiiNow is the time to discover paradise. Hawai’i is a smooth sail away. Find your passion; find your song and you will surely find a Hawai’ian island to suit. When you make Hawai’i your next dream vacation destination, it’s inevitable that you will be ready to ‘Hana Hou’– do it all over again.

Written by: WanJira Banfield

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BIMINI HONORS THE LEGACY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

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The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

These are the compelling words of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who has faced tremendous challenges throughout his life yet found immeasurable solace amid the exhilarating essence of Bimini, Bahamas. Dr, King first visited the island in 1964. This is where Dr. King’s legacy continues to live on.

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Because Dr. King’s presence so significantly impacted the people of Bimini, the city honored his character, his sacrifice and his journey with a bronze bust of his image, which was mounted right in the heart of the island at the Bimini Craft Centre in Alice Town.

Honored by the dedication and tremendous love Bimini has continually shown for Dr. King, his son, Martin Luther King III arrived on the island for the first time ever with his wife, Arndrea Waters King to accept the tribute on behalf of his father.

“This is an extremely special visit because I knew my mom had shared the experiences that my dad went through coming down to Bimini,” King III shared, “It’s one thing to talk about this and hear mom tell the stories. It’s totally different thing to visit. It’s really quite fulfilling. To get a true understanding of what a tranquil, peaceful and exhilarating place Bimini is.”

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Much like the eloquence of Dr. King, many of the nation’s dignitaries and representatives were brought together in Bimini for this grand commemoration and plaque unveiling. Guests included Prime Minister Perry Christie, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration Fred Mitchell, Minister of Tourism Obie Wilcombe, Chair of the MLK Plaque Project Joyce Danford, representatives from the country’s U.S. Embassy and other attendees.

The Prime Minister has always been moved by the sacrifices of Dr. King and the common ideals and aspirations.

“This event marks the establishment of an international memorial in Bimini honoring the transforming work and great legacy of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Dr Martin Luther King Jr.,” the Prime Minister stated, “His extreme sacrifice, brilliant life, his vision of non-violent change while impacting the United States of America and the international community, inspired the founding fathers of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, led by our first Prime Minister, the Honorable Sir Lynden Pindling in this nation’s struggle for self-determination and independence.”

Local boat builder and fifth-generation Bimini native Captain Ansil Saunders’ eyes always light up when he recalls the profound conversations he shared with Dr. King through the mile-long stretch of sea known as Bonefish Creek.

“King used to say that Bimini was so peaceful and close to nature that only God could have created such a spot,” said Saunders. “He loved this place. I could tell when he first stepped on the soil that there was something special about him and Bimini.”

Martin Luther King III instantly understood how important the trips to Bimini were for his father the moment he experienced the journey through Bonefish Creek firsthand.

“ I am sure that dad was quite tired from the tremendous and traumatic stress he was under and to be able to come here to rest, relax and to do writing…it was probably therapeutic.”

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There; in the midst of lush green mangroves and pristine blue waters, a similar bust of Dr. King was mounted. Visitors, guests, residents and friends who seek to find true connectivity with nature can now experience that same journey Dr. King took when he wrote his last speech, which was delivered in 1968. He was assassinated just a few days later.

A colleague of Dr. King’s once told King III that …“your father conquered the love of wealth and the fear of death.” At the Martin Luther King Plaque Project Scholarship Banquet, King III shared how that quote changed his life to live with true purpose and make every moment a victory.

“We can win victories in our neighborhood, we can win a victory in our school, we can win a victory in our places of worship. Some of us will win victories in our cities and nations and some even in our world. But be ashamed to die until you’ve done a little something,” concluded King III.

Proceeds from the Scholarship Banquet supported an effort for full four-year scholarships for Bahamian students to attend Edward Waters College in Northern Florida.

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Bimini remains an international haven for visitors to come experience the tranquility that Dr. King loved. The island changed his life and will forever be a revivifying sanctuary for Martin Luther King III and his entire family.

“My wife and I are so honored to have this experience. And so thankful to the people of Bimini and the Bahamas for making this a reality to chart in history forever,” shared King III, “…On behalf of my family I want to thank this nation, thank this island.

Written by: WanJira Banfield

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INSIDE ROATAN, HONDURAS:

Honduras’ enduring African culture

Cultural “Mascaro” dancer representing the exuberant boldness of the ancestral warrior garb

To travel to Honduras is to walk into the richness of Africa.

There is a saying by the Kikuyu people of Kenya: ” Indo ni kurimithanio” — which means, “riches are found in cultivating together.” In the ennobling land of Roatan, Honduras, this African expression of harmony, solidarity and traditional growth survives among the unique perennial landscape, and radiates from the cultural lifestyle of the people.

The significance of African culture in Honduras dates back to the 16th century. The fusion of African migrants, the indigenous Indians and the nearby Caribbean influence, birthed the Afro-Honduran people — also known as “Garifuna” or “Black Caribs.” The aesthetic remnants of their African heritage is identified in the locking of the hair, the “meztico” or “mixed” languages, the donning of cowry shells, the masked ‘Mascaro’ honduras-wb-garifuna-elderdances, the colorful and flowing whimsical garbs and ancestral drumming, the creation of natural musical instruments, the vivacious art, the respect for the land and the solidarity among one other. There’s no doubt that the drumbeat of the land are blissfully mimicked by the hearts of the Afro-Honduran people.

FOR MORE PHOTOS-

CLICK HERE: http://www.thegrio.com/travel-and-leisure/honduras-african-culture.php

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UNCOVER THE PURE PERFECTION OF ALASKA

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Inspiration is born within some of the most breathtaking destinations where delicate wilderness embraces harmonious solitude; where birdsal2 with a 6-foot long wingspan soar high above arctic landscapes then gracefully descend on the water’s edge; where streams of vivacious salmon dance to the sound of frigid waves crashing and where miles and miles of snowcapped glistening terrain are hidden amidst agile waters.

Prepare to enjoy the best of both worlds while cruising along the most beautifully versatile regions within the heart of Alaska. Whether you’re the adventure connoisseur who sees beyond the affinity of luxury or the ambitious traveler who desires more than the sparkle of champagne, Alaska’s uninhabited coves of wilderness and exotic excursions will undoubtedly leave you in awe. 

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From Ketchikan to Seward and every exhilarating city in between, expect to encounter a deeper meaning of fascination. Just a short flight from Anchorage, observe bears in their natural habitat engaging candidly. Take a scenic tour and a behind-the-scenes look into Alaska’s dog sledding lifestyle in the heart of Denali Park. Gaze wondrously at the magnificent whales enjoying their aquaticwha surroundings. Whitewater raft through the brisk waters of Canyon Run or glide freely above the dramatically vast skies on over 6,000 feet of zip-lines and experience firsthand what it means to have the “wind beneath your wings.”

Feel compelled to deviate from the norm and explore the off-beaten path of Alaska’s ravishing beauty. The rewards are tremendous, the surprises are abundant and the memories will last a lifetime.

Written by: WanJira Banfield 

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IT’S BETTER IN THE BAHAMAS:

THE BIMINI EDITION

A mere 50 miles off the coast of Miami lies the smallest island of the Bahamas,

surrounded by what many proclaim to be the clearest waters in the world.

Staring down at least 100 feet into the water, one can see groups of small fish swimming along the sandy bottom,

and brightly vivid reefs sashaying underneath the waves.

Seeking to boost the number of visitors to the island in tough economic times, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation recently invited WanJira and other media on a press tour of the exotic locale. Participating journalists & writers had the opportunity to experience breathtaking beaches, world-class shopping, mouth-watering Bahamian cuisine, and an endless array of outdoor activities.Bimini, known as the “The Big Game Fishing Capitol of the World,” has become home to the finest fishing in the Bahamas. It is no surprise that sportsmen and fishing enthusiasts are consistent visitors to the island all year round.

Harlem’s own congressman of the 1970s, and self-proclaimed fishing aficionado, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was a well-known resident of Bimini for some time.From the local craft center to the exquisite Dolphin House built by local author and historian Ashley Saunders, the profound evidence of the island’s rich history and natural amenities are astonishing. The Bimini Museum itself houses remarkable displays of Bimini residents from the past and present. It contains items such as a copy of the Bahamas Constitution, signed by Prime Minister Lynden Pindling; the immigration card of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who visited the island more than once; old photos, writings and artifacts that depict the island’s heritage; and displays of athletes who represented Bimini on the international level, such as the late William “Yama Bahama” Butler, a world-ranked middleweight contender who sparred with Muhammad Ali in the 1960s.

The journey began in Alice Town, North Bimini, which is the commercial and main tourist center. Because of the island’s modest size, the most common mode of transportation is a golf cart. But don’t be apprehensive or alarmed, for the golf cart experience allows for up-close-and-personal Bimini native travel. En route, much of the streets were filled with school children dressed in uniform and locals setting up shop for the day. As the journey continued, the tour group was engulfed in the savoring aroma of baking bread and cake in the air, which followed us for miles. When we arrived at our destination, we settled in and braced ourselves for a historic journey like none other.

THE HISTORY

Nestled on the blue effervescing waters of North Bimini, one can gaze across the mile-long stretch of sea known as Bonefish Creek. Few may realize the immense history and African-American connection that the island of Bimini possesses in its rows and rows of green lush mangrove trees.

We were whisked away on a small boat through the dense layers of greenery, leaving the point of embarkation further and further from sight. Leading this voyage was 76-year-old Ansil Saunders, a local boat builder and fifth-generation Bimini native. Within minutes, the small boat in which we were traveling came to a stop. As the boat rocked gently amid the waters, the most defining sound was the whispers of the wind, which caused the waters to briskly splash against the boat.  Saunders looked up into the cloudy skies and took a deep breath, as if he felt a strong presence in the air. He called this specific spot the “Holy Grounds.” He said that where we were sitting is the same exact spot where he brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964 to write his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

I can recall King saying how peaceful it was here and how the air seemed so calm,” Saunders shared. In 1968, King returned to Bimini to prepare for his sanitation workers’ rally speech, held in Memphis, Tenn., just three days before his assassination. It would be King’s final speech.

As Saunders fought back tears while continuing his story of Dr. King, he let out a sigh of hope, as he linked King’s life to the promise of the recent election of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. “To me, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the prophecy, and Barack Obama is the fulfillment,” Saunders told Wanjira.

LOCAL TREASURES

If one seeks to find connectivity with nature, the earth and the seas, Bimini is an incredible place to visit. The Nature Trail, along with the local museums, represents small treasures scattered throughout the island. There is also the famous Fountain of  Youth, an area within the island that many claim has given them a revival, due to the medicinal forces of the water.  It is said that this “Healing Hole” possesses the magical powers of rejuvenation and healing.The Bimini Bay Resort and Marina in North Bimini and Bimini Sands Resort and Marina in South Bimini are both perfect resting spots for a calming, atmospheric trip, especially for family vacations.

Although much of the northern part of the island is in a developmental battle to preserve its natural resources and wildlife sea habitat, it still has not lost its land appreciation and aquatic delight. To really get to the heart of the island, Big Johns Hotel, and Conch Shell Bar and Lounge,  provide that authentic charming island lifestyle. The scenic views beyond the horizons are breathtaking, and a sun-kissed orange and purple sunset awaits you at the end of each day. Although small in size as just over a 9-mile stretch of land, Bimini has much to offer to the inquisitive traveler. One thing you can count on is the people of Bimini, also known as Biminites, who will forever reveal a huge sense of culture, heritage and humble pride for their island.

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SOUTH FLORIDA STAY-CATION SERIES:

Shhhhhhhhhh!!!! South Florida’s Best Senior Travel Secrets

By: WanJira B.

This post is for the generation that doesn’t let a little pain slow them down..
..the generation that says “just because I get a half-off discount doesn’t mean I give half of the effort”…
and this is for the generation that has come a long way and refuses to stop now… that’s right!

This one is for the snowbird/senior traveler!
And boy do I have some amazing travel secrets for you.

There are so many areas of South Florida that cater to seniors and their vacation desires, but I say let’s kick it off with Fort Lauderdale.
If you’re looking for something a little bit more on the low-key side with subtle sparks of enlightenment.. Fort Lauderdale is that spot.

Formerly known as being a spring break destination, Fort Lauderdale has evolved throughout time. It still has its appealing and sophisticated nightife, and of course…it will always be great for its sun-bathing goodness.

There are rows and rows of panoramic golf courses, fishing and boating excursions and a very welcoming beachfront promenade known as the Riverwalk.

There, you’ll find a variety of exclusive dining experiences from small outdoor cafés to upscale eateries.

WANJIRA’S TOP 3 EATERIES IN RIVERWALK

– La Marina
– Mangoes Restaurant and Lounge
– Thai on the Beach

Fort Lauderdale has some great neighbors to its north and to its south; from Boca Raton, West Palm Beach and even Miami. They are all great for Golden-agers seeking to soak up the sun and experience rest and relaxation.

Besides, if you’ve ever thought about calling South Florida your home and seek to retire here one day, why not use your vacation as a time to do some exploration?

We can call it “The Sunshine Journey Home.”

*originally posted on VISITFLORIDA.org/writeawaysfla.com

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Enjoying the South Florida Serenity Spa Experience

By: WanJira B.

Whether it’s to escape from the stresses of the world, or just a group of friends looking to take a rest and relaxation vacation…a session at a beautiful spa in South Florida will always do the trick.

WanJira’s TOP 5 FAVE SPAS:
– Aqualina Resort and Spa
– Doral Golf Resort and Spa
– Mayfair Hotel and Spa
– Fontainebleau Resort and Spa
– The Grove Isla Hotel and Spa

For the newbie who is excited about the vacation spa experience but not quite familiar with it…No worries. I’ll take you through it. The opportunity to relax …relate …release and unwind should be your right and quite the luxury. So we’ll go over what to wear, what’s appropriate and of course the right amount to tip.

WANJIRA’S TOP SPA TIPS:

Never just ” SHOW UP”

It’s always a good idea to do some research first to pick a great spa and book an appointment in advance. Many of my favorite spas (and most of them overall) don’t accept walk-ins. So book about a week in advance and share with them any special needs or allergies so they can prepare to accommodate you accordingly. You can never ask for TOO MUCH… This is what they do. And besides it’s a service they enjoy and will be well compensated for, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.


Get Familiar with a Spa’s OVERALL POLICY

If for any chance you have to cancel or reschedule, make sure you know the spa’s cancellation policy. Most of the spas I know usually accept at least 24 hours but be sure to double check. I would hate to have you end up being responsible for a full treatment you never received.


You are NOT Mr. T.
“I pity the fool who brings valuables to a spa!”

Try not to wear too much jewelry when you’re heading to your spa session. No jewelry would be best. Leave the rings, chains, necklaces and earrings at home. Not only are the spas not responsible for missing or lost items, but it just isn’t necessary.

Always TIP

Gratuity is usually not included unless a spa mentions it. Otherwise 15 to 20% gratuity is quite standard and courteous.  Saying thank you for a great job is always courteous but they REALLY feel your gratitude when they count their tips at the end of the day. Always tip!

*originally posted on VISITFLORIDA.org/writeawaysfla.com

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THE PERFECT SUMMER SHOWCASE VACATION:

‘La Reina’ en South Florida: “Celia Cruz” The Musical Tribute
By: WanJira Banfield

Blue and blonde wigs, vibrant purple and hot pink sequined dresses, lashes long enough to caress the clouds, and a powerful voice that has moved audiences all over the world…all just snippets of the life of Cuban musical sensation Celia Cruz.

Miami’s largest performing arts center also known as The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County re-launched the late international music star back into the hearts of her fans with the hit musical Celia: The Life & Music of Celia Cruz. The show returned to Miami by popluar demand and is bigger and better than ever.

So if you’re planning a trip this summer and have unwavering love for the soul stirring music of Celia Cruz…

Anissa Gathers as Celia Cruz

YOU MUST see this show during your stay!

A love story like no other, the events of Cruz’s life were recreated through the eyes of her beloved grief-stricken husband, Pedro Knight, who in ailing health took the audience on a magnificent timetable of tribulations, successes, fears, passions and, above all, love.

The rollercoaster ride of emotions included explosive performances from New York, Mexico, England and even Zaire, Africa. Each memory came to life as the audience witnessed Cruz’s musical growth and relished in some of her major hits. Prepare to see a lot more costume changes and extraordinary dancers!

The performances of Quimbara, Guantanamera and La Vida es un Carnival will be sure to light up the room.

The bright flaring gowns along with the Latin-infused choreography will transform the room into a dance hall.

By the end of the showcase, you will definitely be on your feet!

New York native Anissa Gathers, who plays Celia, couldn’t have been more prepared for the role.

“I was initially playing the part of Celia’s mother, but there was a sudden cast change and I was asked to step into the role of Celia. I was more than ready,” Gathers stated.

Celia: The Life & Music of Celia Cruz runs through June 21 so it is the best Fathers Day getaway gift there is.

Select performances contain dialogue in both English and Spanish, while others are spoken exclusively in Spanish.

All songs are sung in Spanish at every performance.

To book your summer showcase vacation visit http://www.visitflorida.com

Contact http://www.arshtcenter.org or 305-949-6722 for ticket information and more extraordinary shows.

AZZUUUCARRRRR!!!!!

*originally posted on VISITFLORIDA.org/writeawaysfla.com

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Above the earth and under the waters:

The earth friendly travel guide to the Keys


By: WanJira B.

Amidst every branch lies a leaf evolving in time to soon become one with the gust of wind that crosses its path. Between every root lies a desire for the sunrays to bring it life to play out its scrupulous role on land.

If you take a minute to look…all around us we’re surrounded by the beauties of the earth.
We go on throughout our days and even plan our vacations and forget that we can still show love for our beautiful world.

Environment friendly travel is not only the new fad but it gives us just another chance to tell Mother Earth… Thank You!

Many travelers are getting in on the eco -travel bandwagon and its quite the talk of the town here in the Keys!

Caribbean Watersports & Enviro-Tours

Located right at the Key Largo Grande in Key Largo, the folks over at the Caribbean Watersports and Enviro-tours live by the motto…”The More You Play, The Less You Pay!

The “Play” ranges from WaveRunners, the Enviro-Tours and Snorkeling.
You even get the ‘Write Away’ Discount of 10% off the 2nd activity, 15% off the 3rd and 20% off the 4th.

After you make your way through all the water sports adventures, there’s a sanctuary you must see.

The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center presented by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is truly a South Florida favorite.

“I travel all the way from Colorado every year just for this sanctuary. I wouldnt want to be anywhere else,” Sandra Zetian of Colorado shared.

Underwater Festival

This place has such an extraordinary array of exhibits as munificent as anything you’ve ever seen. Some of the exhibits include an interactive map of the Keys, a replica of the Aquarius underwater laboratory, and an underwater video camera that allows guests to observe coral spawning, assess damage from a boat grounding or monitor the health of a coral reef.

So we all have been to a festival right?… If you ask me I think they’re actually some of the most exciting events ever. But have you ever been to one…. underwater???

It’s called the annual Underwater Music Festival presented by the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce and it is quite the scene. The quirky underwater concert takes place at Looe Key Reef, an area of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary located approximately six miles south of Big Pine Key.

Over 600 divers and snorkelers swim their way every year to explore the beauties of the seas and listen to some good music in the process.

Through all the fun, it is all in an effort to promote preservation of the Florida Keys’ unique coral reef ecosystem. The musical broadcast incorporates diver awareness announcements written and recorded by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary officials offering tips on how people can enjoy the ocean while minimizing 
the impact on the reef and overall marine environment.

How can you beat that? An underwater concert with a cause?

What an extraordinary vacation for the true environmentalistic traveler…

*originally posted on VISITFLORIDA.org/writeawaysfla.com

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