Physically, celadon porcelain from the Ming and Qing Dynasties and a 13-foot skeleton of the giant ground sloth don’t have too much in common. But both explore how our world has evolved and how we perceive it—making both perfectly suited for display in the eclectic exhibits of the Museum of Arts & Sciences. The 100,000-square-foot museum—which perches on a 90-acre nature preserve—houses a planetarium alongside myriad exhibits that delve into art, history, and science.
The museum’s particularly impressive assembly of Cuban art draws visitors through 300 years of history with more than 200 rare maps, paintings, and ceramics. Nearby, the exhibit of Chinese art glimmers with gemstones, bronzes, and cloisonné. Visitors also peruse crafts made closer to home in the 4,000-square-foot gallery of American art, where portraits by Gilbert Stuart and landscapes by George Bonfield hang on walls, rather than on the traditional horse’s withers. In addition to its traditional art galleries, the Museum of Arts & Sciences also hosts more fragile objects inside the Helene B. Roberson Visible Storage Building, a 4,400-square-foot glass-fronted space designed to maintain exhibits in a climate-controlled state.
Younger museum-goers can gaze longingly at the 800 teddy bears on display in the Americana-focused Root Family Museum before heading to the Charles and Linda Williams Children’s Museum to explore ever-changing, hands-on science exhibits. In addition to assembling and testing model racecars, whippersnappers strum the 16 laser beams of a laser harp and try the "Pull Yourself Up" exhibit. Daily shows in the planetarium continue scientific education by unlocking the night sky’s mysteries, such as why stars don’t go out when you blow on them.
Historically, women artists have often struggled to find a space to express themselves in a field dominated by men. The Florida Museum for Women Artists works to change that by offering 7,300 square feet of facilities and galleries dedicated to promoting and showcasing women artists and their work. Three different galleries allow visitors to gaze upon a selection of contemporary art in exhibitions that rotate ever 10 weeks and include juried shows, selections from collections, and traveling exhibits. Previous and upcoming exhibitions include a variety of ceramic, sculptural, and painted works, along with photographs and textiles. Past shows have even included the innovative exhibit Witness to Creativity, which allowed viewers to watch live as artists created installations over the course of a week. The facility also includes a museum shop and café and also hosts fused-glass jewelry, wineglass painting, and mosaic classes.
The Central Florida Zoo swings open creaking gates to intrepid adults for a spooky evening of dancing, dining, and revelry. Ghouls and guests over 21 years of age can swill $1 beer and $2 wine and mixed drinks while nibbling on a selection of bizarre foods. Participants don disguises to compete in the costume contest, challenge partners to a selection of carnival games, or scream soprano arias on haunted train rides. Live bands and Venue 13 DJ Paul Vaine send music echoing through the zoo, to which guests jig at a zombie ball. Guests recall their fright night with a skull mug and skeleton-hand shot glass to take home as well as with a picture from the photo booth that captures both grins and ghosts giving bunny ears.
Teaching hips to swivel to new circumferences, dance instructors impart their masterful moves unto students in the respected tradition Arthur Murray schools have upheld since 1912. Students can bring a partner to their lessons or fly solo and dance with the instructor. Protégés may find their new moves applicable in a number of settings, such as when prepping for a wedding dance or when blending into an airport crowd that breaks out in the cha-cha. Embodying the three-count time of a stately waltz brings partners in close, and rumba moves or swing steps add vibrancy and playfulness to a repertoire.
The Orlando studio provides a warm, aesthetically sound environment for engaging in private and group dance lessons. The full class schedule is well suited to teaching feet to slice and dice a rug until it is no longer recognizable.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse has been keeping its luminous eye on the Atlantic’s endless horizon since 1874. In the 130 years since, the tower of Alabama brick and Philadelphia iron has served as the home of light keepers, a beacon to sailors, and a target of arson, eventually benefiting from a 15-year restoration project that commenced in 1980. Today, a staff of historians and protectors is eager to share the rich history of the nation's oldest port, not only through education and preservation but also by letting guests explore.
Visitors can scale the 165-foot, black-and-white lighthouse's 219 steps to the bright-red observation deck to catch breathtaking views of St. Augustine and spot gangs of dolphins making trouble by the shore. Lens-room tours allow up-close access to the regularly off-limits Fresnel lens, built in 1873, which weighs 2,000 pounds and shepherds ships with a light that radiates for 25 miles on a clear night. The clink of champagne glasses adds an element of glamour to Sunset Moonrise events, whereas Dark of the Moon tours let guests in after-hours to hear the tales of paranormal activity that earned the lighthouse a feature on Ghost Hunters.
With an in-depth collection of Victorian-era art and artifacts, Lightner Museum could find no better setting to house its works than the former Alcazar Hotel, built in 1887. Relics cover three floors of the intricately architected building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designed in Spanish-Renaissance style by the visionaries behind the New York Public Library. Inside the magnificent lobby, whitewashed pillars connect high ceilings bordered by intricate plastered molds with amaranthine-hued mosaic floors.
Wander into the Science and Industry room for views of a taxidermied crocodile suspended from the ceiling, mingling among cases filled with statuettes and antique globes. Moving into neighboring galleries, a carved and gilded neoclassical rocking chair and colorful, mosaic-like Louis Comfort Tiffany lamps provide insight into the daily lives of Victorian citizens. Other 19th-century paintings and statues showcase the era's artistic inspiration as well as its curious fashions, such as wearing Santa Claus hats year-round.