By Brian Reed
For years, scholars have debated what exactly the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was searching for when he began his journey north from what is now Puerto Rico. Some believe he was
looking for gold and riches, and others claim he was looking for the famed Fountain of Youth. No one knows for sure.
What we do know is that Ponce de Leon landed in an area he called “La Florida” and became the first European to set foot in what is now the United States.
Nearly 500 years after the first expedition hit the Florida coast, travellers are still finding treasures in the surf and sand of the Sunshine State and other coastal areas around the country. Among the most memorable seashore experiences are special events that celebrate the history and nature of these beautiful areas. Here are six to catch.
500th Anniversary of Ponce de Leon
St. Augustine, Florida
On April 3, 1513, the crew from Ponce de Leon’s fleet came ashore in La Florida, the name that was given to this new land when it was first sighted. St. Augustine, will celebrate the 500th anniversary of this famous landing with commemorative events throughout 2013.
The festivities will start April 2, when a statue of Ponce de Leon will be dedicated at the point where, while still at sea, his spotter first saw land. The next day, costumed interpreters will re-enact Ponce de Leon’s landing in the historic downtown bay. This will be followed by a Mass at St. Augustine’s Cathedral Basilica and a commemoration of a baptismal font, identical to the one in which Ponce de Leon himself was baptized and a gift from the mayor of Santervas, Spain, the birthplace of Ponce de Leon.
“You won’t see an event like this anywhere else,” said Barbara Golden, communications manager at the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. “The authenticity and the effort that the re-enactors and community put into representing the first documented landing of Europeans in the continental U.S. is really special.”
September 6-8 will bring the 448th St. Augustine Founder’s Day Celebration, which includes celebrations and authentic re-enactments of the landing and the establishment of St. Augustine by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
There’s never a bad time to have lobster, but some times are better than others. What could be more sublime than getting ready for the arrival of summer with a delicious lobster buffet on the water as boats glide by?
Lobster Days is a laid-back Memorial Day tradition for locals and tourists alike in Mystic.
“Although Lobster Days takes place on the grounds of Mystic Seaport, it is really a community event for the town of Mystic,” said Dan McFadden, director of communications at Mystic Seaport. “It is a major fundraiser for the local Rotary Club, and they all pitch in; and they are the ones preparing and serving the food. So it has a small-town New England feel, which is a nice aspect to it for the out-of-town visitor. “
Since the event takes place on the grounds of Mystic Seaport, a 19th-century seafaring village surrounded by historic watercraft, groups can stroll the grounds or take a water taxi through the 19-acre grounds after filling up on lobster.
Visitors can also get on the water on a Cape Cod catboat or the 1908 steamboat Sabino, both of which run 30-minute cruises throughout the day. Sabino is the oldest operating coal-fired steamboat in the country and a national historic landmark.
For three memorable days in June, the downtown Norfolk waterfront transforms into a boater’s paradise as dozens of tall ships and military vessels sail into town.
“We have tall ships from all over the world that are docked in Norfolk’s Elizabeth River, and guests can tour the ships free of cost during the festival,” said Heather Bilodeau, communications director at Festevents, the organization that puts on the festival. “They will also be able to see them in all their glory sailing down the river in the annual Parade of Sail. “
Although the lineup of ships for 2013 is yet to be finalized, in 2012 the festival featured two-dozen tall ships and more than 30 military vessels, including a submarine, a destroyer and an amphibious assault ship.
The festival also includes music from local, regional and national artists and the largest fireworks show on the East Coast. With the proximity to the coast, the festival is a great place to get your seafood fix. And don’t miss the Fleet Chef Challenge, where 25 chefs compete in a culinary competition.
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