Many ways to let the Sunshine State in during the Covid crisis

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Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico can be seen on the live webcam at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico can be seen on the live webcam at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

So what are we to do with ourselves, six weeks after social distancing shut down the tourism industry?

We can't really visit Florida just yet or send clients there. Even though the beaches in Jacksonville have opened, they're not intended to host tourists.

However, there are myriad ways to experience or learn about Florida without leaving your home. One of the ones I wasn't aware of until recently is Visit Florida's Beach Finder tool, which we can fire up from the comfort of our armchairs.

The Beach Finder algorithm ranks beaches based on four variables. Users decide on a sliding scale whether they want a beach that is laid back or adventurous, family friendly or romantic, action packed or secluded and manicured or au naturel.

I made some rather random picks and the finder spit out Seaside, a beach in the Florida Panhandle that I happen to like a lot. It claimed I was a 91% match. Once I homed in on a beach, the finder gave me a ton of information: current temperatures, the nearest airport, a destination video, even a page on gourmet food trucks.

And the Beach Finder is just a beginning. Miss the sunsets on Florida's Gulf Coast?  The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club's live webcam has you covered.

"We know how much our guests love the stunning skyscape and spectacular sunsets on our beach, so we wanted to share the news that everyone can view the sunsets from home, until they are able to visit in person," said Jason Parsons, general manager of the shoreside resort.

Sunsets are currently around 7:50 p.m. Eastern time. Check the exact time here.

Beyond Naples, there is an astonishing number of live webcams streaming images of Florida, from Mallory Square  on Key West to the Pensacola beaches. Of course, stay-at-home protocols mean not much is shakin' except the leaves on the trees on most webcams (although sometimes there are dolphins cavorting here, at the Keys' Dolphin Research Center site). The center also features a Live From the Lagoons session on its Facebook page every day at about 1 p.m. Eastern time where dolphins or sea lions are the main attraction; videos from the sessions also are available on the page anytime.

But if your browser takes you to Pensacola, check out one of the many virtual tours crafted by Visit Pensacola, such as one of the National Naval Aviation Museum. It's a visit I'll certainly look into when travel resumes.

If you're partial to podcasts, there are naturally a few you can download to keep up with Floridania.  A recent Finding Florida podcast explores why professional wrestling has been deemed essential by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Also, Tampa Bay Times writer Justine Griffin talks about her father's struggling restaurant. Beer lovers can check out the What Ales Ya podcast about Florida brewers and their beers.

Jaime "Jemmy" Legagneur and Glenn Hebert, hosts of the Finding Florida podcast.
Jaime "Jemmy" Legagneur and Glenn Hebert, hosts of the Finding Florida podcast.

Bloggers at AllEars.net have also been active speculators on the subject. The official DisneyParks blog can help agents keep up with the bewildering number of attractions, rules, bargains and logistical details of the parks. One page that delighted me was Find Your Zen with Disney, four park videos with enhanced lighting and special effects.

For agents who are catching up on some online training while business is paused, the theme parks have courses that lead to certifications, including Disney College of Knowledge and UniversalandU. Visit Florida also has a certification course.

Finally, for agents who prefer to pass their time in more traditional fashion, I recommend two books about Florida. Although the citrus industry has changed since it was written, John McPhee's "Oranges" is a wonderful read.

So is "An Ecotourist's Guide to the Everglades and the Florida Keys," by Travel Weekly's own Robert Silk.

And the final word on that subject comes in River of Grass, the 1947 classic by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, which always gives me goosebumps with its opening line: "There are no other Everglades in the world."

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