Florida tops lists of 'coolest places,' 'hot spots'
Allure ranges from real wilderness to the theme park kind
January 4, 1999
Web posted at: 2:47 p.m. EST (1947 GMT)
(CNN) -- Florida is expected to be a magnet this year for two very different kinds of travelers -- the nature-loving tourist who wants to trek through the wilderness and the vacationer with big theme park adventures in mind.
The World Wildlife Fund has picked the Sunshine State's Withlacoochee State Forest as the pinnacle of its "Top 10 Coolest Places You've Never Seen" in North America. Meanwhile, a "Hot Spots" survey of American travel agents has dubbed Orlando the most popular U.S. destination in 1999.
So where and what in the world is Withlacoochee? The 154,000-acre state park lies about 10 miles from the Gulf Coast and about 60 miles north of Tampa. Its diverse charms include swamps, rivers and sand hills.
State officials expect Withlacoochee's hipster designation to mean more visitors. The WWF described the park as "representative of the pine forests of the U.S. Southeast, where mature stands of longleaf pines have created a habitat type found nowhere else on Earth." According to the WWF, the pines allow plenty of light to reach the forest floor, creating perfect conditions for as many as 200 plant species at a single site.
Another Florida site also made the WWF "coolest places" list, just behind Withlacoochee. Dry Tortugas National Park, located on the extreme western end of the Florida Keys, came in at No. 2.
The World Wildlife Fund's "Top 10 Coolest Places You've Never Seen" are:|
1. Withlacoochee State Forest, Florida
2. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
3. Torngat Mountains, Canada
4. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas
5. Queen Charlotte Islands, off Canada's west coast
6. Old Rag Mountain, Virginia
7. Klamath-Syskiyou Forests, border of California, Oregon
8. Eckert James River Bat Cave, central Texas
9. Cuatro Cienagas, Chihuahuan Desert, Mexico
10. Camp Pendleton, southern California
The top ten domestic cities ASTA agents expect to book for 1999 are:|
2. Las Vegas
3. New York
4. San Francisco
5. Los Angeles
8. New Orleans
9. Washington, D.C.
Travelers are already expected to flock to Florida for a completely different vacation experience. Orlando -- with all its theme park glory -- maintained its place as most popular U.S. destination when travel agents were asked to list the top 10 cities they expected to book for 1999. Las Vegas and New York trailed Orlando in the American Society of Travel Agents/Fodor's Annual Hot Spots Forecast for 1999.
Travel agents said the upcoming openings of Universal Studios Islands of Adventure and Walt Disney World's new Animal Kingdom theme park have sparked renewed interest in the Orlando area.
Florida headed the list of favorite states for the seventh year in a row, with California in second place, followed by Nevada and New York.
The ASTA/Fodor's forecast predicts that 1999 will be a good year for travel. Ninety-one percent of ASTA travel agents surveyed expect travelers to spend at least as much or more on travel in 1999 than they did in 1998.
"Demand for travel remains one of the best barometers for gauging Americans' outlook on the economy, and from what the ASTA travel agents have told us, there is reason to be optimistic in 1999," said ASTA President and CEO Joe Galloway.
London was named as the most popular international city to visit, followed by Paris and Rome. Costa Rica remained in first place for ecotourism.
The "hot emerging" destinations for the new year were Branson, Missouri, and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Cruising was cited as the top "hot emerging" travel activity for 1999.