Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Ringling Estate and Art Museum in Sarasota

(Click on photos for larger images.)

The John and Mable Ringling Estate is a large campus that includes the Art Museum, Circus Museums, Ca d'Zan mansion and the historic Asolo Theatre. The Ringlings are famous for their part in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

The circus overwintered in Sarasota, Florida in the early 20th century. The number of people, animals, and equipment that moved with the circus was enormous. It was like moving an entire town by railroad. When you think of a circus the first thing you picture is the performers and their animals, but there was so much more going on behind the scenes. There was a different set of tented stables for the performing horses and work horses. A large group of animals was part of a menagerie kept in its own tent as a traveling zoo. There were blacksmiths, carpenters, mechanics, cooks, set designers, and costume designers to name a few skilled workers that traveled with the circus.

The calliope is a steam powered organ. It is in the Circus Museum along with a lot of other colorful wagons and animal cages that were part of circus parades.

There were trams to take you around the park. This tram stop is in front of the Ca d'Zan mansion. Ca d'Zan means "House of John" in Venetian dialect. It was the winter residence of John and Mable Ringling and was constructed in the 1920's. It is an enormous Venetian style palace by the water.

The place is so ornate that it's gaudy, but when you think of circus people living here, it fits. This photo is of a room used as a dance hall.

The ceiling depicts couples dancing. Each segment has different characters in colorful costumes. If you look closely you'll find that one of the couples is John and Mable Ringling in costume. You can tell that the mansion wasn't just for John and Mable. The rooms on the lower floors were for entertaining a lot of people.

This facade faces the waters of Sarasota bay. The floor of the terrace is made of colored marble. There are so many details to marvel at. After we left Ca d'Zan we got on a tram headed for the famous Ringling Art Museum.

We were in awe when we stepped into the Art Museum's courtyard.

Here's a gilded room in the Art Museum. As amazing as it is, we didn't make it through the entire Art Museum. There is so much to see here.

You can get a map of the grounds at the ticket counter. I recommend picking out the things you want to see most and going there first. It's hard see it all in one day. You can also plan your visit using the web site

As we were leaving I heard circus music playing in my head. I thought of a sign in one of the Circus Museum buildings that reads "May All Your Days be Circus Days."

Open Daily 7 days a week 10am - 5:30pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Days

Adults $20
Children (ages 6-17) $7
Children under 6 Free of Charge
Discounts for Seniors, Teachers, and Active US Military personnel

Parking is free.

More photos of the Ringling Estate and Art Museum in Sarasota, Florida

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fort DeSoto

(Click on photos for larger images.)

Today we visited the old fort at Fort DeSoto Park. Construction of the fort began in 1898. The fort is built into the side of a hill, and is not visible to approaching ships. Grass, trees and other plants cover the artillery area. It was meant to defend Tampa Bay during the Spanish American War. No shots were fired here other than practice shots. Houses and administration buildings were once nearby. All that remains of them are the foundations.

Storage of artillery materials was in the lower level inside the hill. One of the chambers has historical photos, maps, and drawings.

The data booth is behind the cannons.

You can walk along the top of the fort and look down on the cannons.

The things that look like little green houses are for ventilation of the storage chambers below.

A view of the fishing pier from the top of the fort.

A view of the beach from the top of the fort.

We usually come to Fort DeSoto Park to go to the beach. Winter is a good time to walk around or ride bikes. There is a snack bar and gift shop near the fort. Bike and kayak rentals are also nearby.

More photos of Fort DeSoto historic site.

$0.35 per car
Parking is free

Friday, February 13, 2009

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

We picked up some visitors from the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, had lunch at Clearwater beach, and went to Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). The animals here have been found injured, are rescued, and then rehabilitated to be released back to their natural habitat. CMA's specialty is with dolphins, sea turtles, and sea otters, to name a few species. Those that can't be released become permanent residents here. What makes this place different from other zoos or aquariums is that each of these animals has a name and a story.

We walked downstairs to look in the windows of the big dolphin tank. This dolphin is one of four permanent residents. His name is Nicholas. The white marks on his back are scars from sunburn. He was stranded as a calf with his mother Noelle on Christmas Eve 2002. His mother did not survive. Nicholas was too young to have learned how to hunt on his own, and has since been a resident here.

Nicholas and a trainer during the dolphin show.

Nicholas looking through the window at Winter. She was very chatty. They say that she is the most vocal dolphin here.

Winter is the most famous resident at CMA. She was found wrapped in a crab trap when she was 3 months old. She lost her tail as a result of her injuries. Winter learned how to swim side to side like sharks do. She has been an inspiration to handicapped people around the world.

A prosthetic tail was developed for her. The new technology developed for the tail has helped improve human prosthetics.

A sea turtle diving. A sign with the name and story for each animal was by their tank.

We enjoyed seeing the animals and seashell displays. Our guests from Ohio had never seen dolphins up close. It's fun introducing people to new experiences.

Admission Fees
Adults $11.00
Children (age 3-12) $7.50
Seniors (age 60+) $9.00

Parking is free.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium also offers boat tours, behind the scenes tours, and dolphin photo ops.