Florida's Fourth: Red, white, hot and boom!

Special Correspondent

With July 4 landing on a Thursday this year, it is easy to put together a four-day getaway that costs us only one workday. If the idea of a mini-vacation in Florida to take in the Fourth festivities is appealing to you, here are some popular destinations and what they offer for Independence Day weekend:
            Daytona Beach – The Coke Zero 400 has been an Independence Day weekend tradition in Daytona Beach for nearly five decades. This year the event, on July 6, will see Kevin Harvick defending his title in the 160-lap, 400-mile holiday weekend classic. A fireworks display will light up the skies after the race. Ticket prices range from $10 to $159. Visit www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
            Florida Keys – Independence Day fireworks and festivities are presented throughout the Keys on July 4. Among them: Key Largo offers fireworks at Blackwater Sound, where viewing is best at bayside restaurants around Mile Markers 103-104; Islamorada’s Founders Park is the site of an old-fashioned “Spirit of Islamorada” celebration; Marathon’s Sombrero Beach hosts a family-friendly extravaganza; the Lower Keys’ fireworks display is set for Sugarloaf Airport, Mile Marker 17 bayside, and Key West’s luxurious Casa Marina Resort & Beach Club is the site of a picnic celebration and fireworks. Visit www.fla-keys.com/calendarofevents for complete regional listings and individual event details.
            Orlando – Festivities in Orlando include several July 4 events at the major theme parks included in regular admission: Independence Day at SeaWorld Orlando, where as part of SeaWorld Orlando’s Summer Nights, a special Fourth of July Reflections show will feature an expanded fireworks show timed to patriotic music (www.seaworldorlando.com); Independence Day at Universal Orlando Resort with a special version of the popular Universal 360: A Cinesphere Spectacular, a cinematic adventure that combines cutting-edge projection technology with lasers and pyrotechnics to bring movies to life (www.universalorlando.com); and Independence Day at Walt Disney World Resort with “Disney’s Celebrate America! - A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky” at Magic Kingdom starting at 9 p.m. The holiday-inspired “IllumiNations: Reflections of the Earth” at Epcot starts at 10 p.m., and a special July 4th fireworks presentation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will begin at 10 p.m. At the Magic Kingdom, by the way, festivities expand to seven days during the Independence Week at Magic Kingdom, June 30 – July 6 with a Fourth of July Fireworks Party with patriotic lighting bathing the Disney castles on both coasts. Mickey Mouse appears in his patriotic finest and guests will find special USA shirts, Ear Hats and other limited-edition souvenirs (www.disneyworld.com).
            Orlando festivities away from the theme parks include Fireworks at the Fountain on July 4. The event celebrates the United States’ independence with a free fireworks display and laser show around Lake Eola in downtown Orlando. Visitors and residents can pack picnic baskets and bring blankets for an old-fashioned summertime picnic at downtown Orlando’s Lake Eola from 4 p.m. – 10 p.m. Admission is free. Visit www.cityoforlando.net.
            Panama City Beach – The Star Spangled Spectacular at Pier Park on July 4 offers entertainment, children’s activities, and a fireworks display at 9 p.m. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. Admission is free. Log on to www.visitpanamacitybeach.com.
            Sanibel – The Independence Day Celebration on Sanibel features an old-fashioned hometown parade down Periwinkle Way starting on July 4 at 9:30 a.m. Parade participants will treat the crowd to candy, gifts and cool-down water sprays. Community picnics with free food and beverage follow at Jerry’s Shopping Center. Then visitors can join islanders for the noontime Road Rally, a scavenger-type hunt through the island. Also on July 4, the celebration begins at 6 p.m. at The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, and fireworks mark the coming of nightfall at the Sanibel Causeway. More area festivities include the Fourth of July Freedom Fest in downtown Fort Myers with free live music, children’s activities and fireworks in the Historic River District from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on July 4. Fireworks are slated to begin at 9:30 p.m. Preferred seating is $5; or bring your own lawn chair. Visit www.fortmyers-sanibel.com.
            St. Augustine –  The Fourth of July Concert & Fireworks in St. Augustine on presents a free, two-hour concert by the All Star Orchestra in the historic Plaza de la Constitucion, one South Castillo Drive, in the heart of the Old City on July 4. The concert starts at 6 p.m. and one of the East Coast’s largest fireworks displays bursts above the ancient Castillo de San Marcos and reflects in the waters of Matanzas Bay beginning at 9:30 p.m. The 20-minute show is synchronized to a patriotic soundtrack. Best vantage points for viewing the fireworks are located along the bay front between the Castillo and the Bridge of Lions. Visit www.floridashistoriccoast.com.
            Winter Haven – LEGOLAND Florida presents Red, Brick & Boom on July 4-7. Visitors can don special 3D glasses that turn ordinary fireworks into millions of exploding bricks. Festivities are included in regular admission. Visit www.LEGOLAND.com.

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