University of Florida

Gainesville, Florida home of the Florida Gators and the University of Florida. I am lucky enough to be spending four years at one of my favorite places in the state.

UF was just named the best college in the state of Florida and that can be accredited to our high standards and talented students. It isn’t easy getting into UF and high test scores and GPAs are required, so it’s an honor to be named number one after all of our hard work. It also has to do with our difficult courses and students who still succeed.

Aside from being an incredible school academically, the University of Florida has highly recognized athletics, many of them being national champions.

First, the Florida football team is one of the best in the nation. Just this past season, we were the SEC East champions and played against Alabama in the SEC Championship. We tend to always be ranked in the top 20 nationally and going to games is always exciting.

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Football season is always the best season because of all of the events going on. Tailgates every weekend, road trips for away games, and obviously being in the stands on game days are so hype! The energy in the stadium is indescribable and one of the coolest feelings about being a Gator.

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Our baseball team just won the National Championship this past year for the first time! It was quite an experience being a freshman and seeing our team come back from Omaha as champions.

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UF women’s gymnastics is not a sport that most people pay attention to but easily my favorite (actually football and gymnastics are tied) because I can relate to it so much. The gymnastics team is actually the reason I have wanted to be a Gator my whole life. I used to dream of being on the team and would train hoping to one day be recruited.

The excitement that flows through the O’Connell Center on Friday nights is like no other, especially when Gator gymnasts take the floor, do their Gator Chomp and the crowd does it with them. It gives me goosebumps every time.

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Besides having stellar academics and athletics, another significant part of the University of Florida is Greek life. Fraternities and sororities have many benefits that people don’t always see, however, you can’t change everyone’s mind.

From my own personal experience, I know that being in a Greek organization provides a community of people who are pretty similar to yourself and gives you a ton of friends; it helps you get involved and gives you many connections to jobs, internships and other types of opportunities; it helps you give back to the community; and plenty of other perks like having a home away from home and, in some cases, be a cheaper option to live, dine and pay dues altogether!

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Here at the University of Florida, one of the largest events we hold is Dance Marathon. Many people know a lot about it and others don’t so if you aren’t sure what DM is, go ahead and click the link above. However, Dance Marathon is held close to the hearts of thousands of students here at UF and we are proud to say that this past year we raised $2,724,324.19 for the kids!

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There are a lot of involvement opportunities for students including Florida Blue Key, Cicerones, Student Government, Gator Football Ambassadors and Preview Staff. There is something for everybody, which is another reason to love UF.

Things to do in the area are endless. If you enjoy water and sports, visit Lake Wauburg or Ginnie Springs. Lake Wauburg is a great place to tan, kayak, paddle board or even paddle boat. Ginnie Springs is a beautiful place for diving and snorkeling, but it is super cold and kept at a constant 72 degrees. Paynes Praire is a special place that a lot of students visit for the sunrise and sunset. You can even do a walking trail and walk right next to alligators! Also, check out Bob’s River Place.

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UF is a place that creates a lot of memories, friendships and opportunities for everyone in the area. We are connected to the city of Gainesville and residents in the area. I couldn’t imagine spending my college years anywhere else and I am grateful I get to do it at the best school ever.

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Walt Disney World, Florida

Most people plan a trip to Orlando with the intention of going to Disney World. When I go to Orlando, nine out of 10 times I am going to Disney. I can always count on Disney World to put a smile on my face, even if I am just driving past.

The options are endless at Walt Disney World. If you want to go to an amusement park, they have four. If you want a water park, they have two. If you want to shop, eat or even watch performances, then visit Disney Springs. However, I think I’ll start with the amusement parks.

The Magic Kingdom is the most known park of them all, and that is mostly thanks to Cinderella’s Castle which is in the heart of Magic Kingdom and at the end of Main Street U.S.A. This park is also known for the famous Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain.

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The Magic Kingdom is also known for it’s the spectacular fireworks show every night at nine p.m. and the holiday transformations it hosts that make the park seem like a scene from a movie. Another cool thing is the only way to get to the park itself is by a monorail or ferry.

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Moving onto the next park and that is Epcot. Epcot is an interesting place because not only does it represent countries from all around the world, but it incorporates rides into them. The monorail system also connects the Magic Kingdom to Epcot so going from one park to the next is easy without getting in your car!

I love Epcot for the cultures it shows. You can walk “around the world” because the countries are in a giant circle, and try new foods and drinks from each country without even leaving Disney World!

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Many of the rides at Epcot are really cool. Test Track by Chevrolet is a thrill that allows you to create (and by create I mean you design the specs of the car and then get on the ride) your own car and test it out on the track to see how fast you can go, how the brakes work, and more. They also just opened a new ride for the movie, Frozen! Along with other rides like Mission: Space, Nemo and Soarin’.

The third park is what used to be named MGM Studios, and is now called Hollywood Studios. This park is home to some of Disney’s biggest thrills, Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller coaster. The lines for these two are usually about two hours so I highly recommend getting fast passes. Hollywood Studios also has Star Wars and Toy Story Mania, along with lots of shows to watch!

 

IMG_5403 (1)The final park is the Animal Kingdom which is a special place. Here you get the opportunity to learn about animals from all over the world, in Asia, Africa and more. There are some rides but Expedition Everest is another huge ride and definitely a hit. Kilimanjaro Safaris is a ride that everyone loves and is great for all ages because you get on a safari bus and drive through different terrains to view animals from elephants to lions to hippos!

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Disney’s the Animal Kingdom also just opened Pandora- The World of Avatar in May 2017. I have yet to visit since it opened but I will be going in a few weeks and I am so excited! There are a couple of new rides and lots of foods and drinks to try.

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Aside from the amusement parks, there are two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Both are unique because each is themed. So Typhoon Lagoon is much more tropical and has a surfing program if you want to learn how to surf. Blizzard Beach is obviously snowy related with rides like Summit Plummet and Tobbagan Racers.

If thrills and rides aren’t really your thing, Disney world has a downtown shopping area called Disney Springs. This is one of my favorite places to go, usually on the night that we get to Orlando and it’s too late to go to a park. They have restaurants like Rainforest Cafe, House of Blues, Planet Hollywood and Paradiso 37. There are other quicker places to eat besides a restaurant but they have a huge variety.

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Shopping is a big part of Disney Springs too. They have stores that you would find in a mall like Lily Pulitzer, Fit2Run and Sephora; but they also have some magical Mickey stores like the Bibbidi Boppidi Boutique, Disney’s Days of Christmas, pin traders shops, Goofy’s Candy Company and the World of Disney. There are so many things to see and do in Disney Springs that you could make a day of it!

Another huge part of my childhood was spent at ESPN Wide World of Sports. I have competed here for both gymnastics and cheerleading. It is right in the middle of Disney property and hosts many large events.

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One big event that Wide World of Sports hosts is the Cheerleading Worlds. Every year at the end of April, a weekend long competition occurs and teams from all over the nation and some parts of the world compete to be number one. I have competed here in many competitions for cheerleading but unfortunately never at Worlds. However, year after year I was lucky enough to compete here for gymnastics and win some pretty good awards.

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To me, Disney World is like its own town. There are places to stay, places to eat, things to do, places to shop and more. If you get the chance to go to Disney World, try to do as much as possible and enjoy it. I know that whenever I go, I instantly get in a better mood and have a smile on my face, thanks to the Disney magic!

Orlando, Florida

One of the main places that pop into people’s heads when they think of Florida is Orlando. Maybe because it is known for its famous amusement parks, or maybe because it’s just a huge city in Florida, but it is a lot more than just that.

Right smack in the middle of Florida is the huge city, Orlando, which just so happens to be the place I was born. Although I only lived there for a mere 4 years, I still have many memories from there.

A lot of my memories consist of lake days with my family and friends, picking oranges off orange trees behind my house and attending the Orlando Science Center.

The Orlando Science Center is a place where I spent a lot of time because it was such a fun place, especially for children. It provides a lot of educational and hands-on experiences. Although I haven’t been since I was young, it is definitely a place I would like to visit and see how it has evolved.

A lot of my time in Orlando has been spent in different amusement parks, including Universal Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, SeaWorld and of course Disney World (but I have so much to say about Disney, that I’m saving that for another post).

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If you’re looking for a thrill, definitely visit both Universal parks. With roller coasters, themed areas and simulators, there are rides for any type of person. Between Universal’s two parks, you have so much to do. Especially with the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the brand new Volcano Bay water park.

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SeaWorld is a great place to learn about the ocean and animals in it. It has some really exhilarating rides too, but definitely not as thrilling as Universal. A lot of the shows at SeaWorld are exciting to watch and you can definitely learn cool facts while there!

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Another huge part of Orlando is the University of Central Florida. It is among one of the top universities in Florida. It is a great school for engineering and a ton of fun with lots going on around it. It’s a giant campus in Orlando with different campuses all over the area. It also has some perks with the amusement parks surrounding it and gives student discounts to UCF students!

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I have spent a ton of time at UCF visiting friends, attending cheerleading camps, going to football games and more. I’ve seen a lot of UCF and have done a lot of things there so I can agree that it is a fun place to be.

Orlando is an extremely touristy city so shopping is a big part of Orlando. There are two outlets (The Premium Outlets and the Vineland Outlets) in the middle of Orlando that contain a variety of stores. If you want Nike, Forever 21, Vera Bradley, or even Bath and Body Works, the outlets have it! They are some of the biggest outlets I have ever seen.

Orlando is close to many beaches including Clearwater, New Smyrna and Cocoa Beach. These beaches are all along the Atlantic coast of Florida so you can definitely catch some bigger waves than the Gulf Coast.

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Orlando has a plethora of things to do, and more than just amusement parks! For little kids, I highly recommend the Orlando Science Center, Gatorland and even SeaWorld. For older kids, amusement parks tend to be a favorite. Whether it’s Volcano Bay, Universal, SeaWorld, Disney or even FunSpot, those are always fun-filled options. And if you’re considering colleges, be sure to tour UCF!

P.S. If you are interested in Disney specifically, look for my next post!

Tampa, Florida

Almost everyone knows about the city of Tampa, Florida. And with this great comes some beautiful beaches, fantastic food and lots of things to do.

Growing up I did not spend immense amounts of time there, but I had the opportunity to compete there multiple times. Since I was six years old, I competed as a gymnast, and I stuck with it for nine years. Many competitions were held in the Tampa Bay, which meant we would stay and explore some of the area.me gymnastics blog

A couple of the times I competed there, the annual event Gasparilla was occurring. This is a huge festival put on to celebrate pirates and the invasion of a Jose Gaspar. It consists of many different events for people of all ages for a whole week. There is a parade, music performances, a race and much more. It’s a fun-filled week and everyone enjoys going!

Tampa is also known for having lovely beaches with soft, white sand and gorgeous sunsets. With Tampa being set on the Gulf Coast of Florida, the water is slightly colder and the waves aren’t extremely rough, but the sand is super fine and soft to the touch making it a very relaxing place to watch the sun go down over the horizon at night.

Another hot spot in the Tampa area is the amusement park, Busch Gardens, which features both thrilling rides and animal exhibits. I have been here multiple times for school field trips, trips with my cheer team, vacations with friends and even for a date function with my sorority!IMG_9031

Busch Gardens is the perfect place for all ages, whether you are older and want intense, exciting rides, or if you have young children and just want a calm day with gentle rides and adventures with animals, Busch Gardens has you covered.

I have been to the amusement park many times and have always had something to do. One of my favorite rides is Cheetah Hunt, which is a rollercoaster all about speed. Another great one to check out is the famous Sheikra that has a 90-degree drop! The park also features some water rides too.falcons fury ride

Tampa is also home to the University of South Florida Bulls and the University of Tampa. The University of Tampa is a smaller private college in the heart of downtown Tampa.

USF is a state university home to many students from all over Florida and the country. With a variety of athletics, over 80 undergraduate majors and in the beautiful Tampa area, it’s an ideal place to get a college education for many people.usf cheerpbc cheer usf

I personally really enjoy going to Tampa. I may not spend a ton of time in the area, but every time I go, I enjoy myself. Not only have I visited for gymnastics competitions, but I have been there for cheerleading competitions, to go to Busch Gardens, for my high school Thespian State Festival, and to visit friends.

There are so many opportunities to take up while visiting the Tampa area. So if you’re in town I highly recommend trying out various foods and restaurants, relaxing at the beaches, going to Busch Gardens, and taking part in the Gasparilla Festival, but only if you are there at the right time!

The Florida Keys

Aside from being a beautiful vacation spot, the Florida Keys is a very unique place and to me, it holds a huge part of my heart. (WARNING: Super sentimental post coming!!)

Every year for the past eight years, my family has been lucky enough to visit this tropical paradise for weeks on end. In the beginning, the tradition was staying for one week. Eventually, this turned into visiting for a month at a time.

I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity I have each year and I’m even more grateful that I have gotten to experience it with my childhood best friend. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone who has been a constant in their life for 15 years, but I am blessed to have her and her family act as my second one.whiddon and johnson fish kids

From Key Largo to Islamorada and now Marathon, we have rented homes in so many different little keys. Each one has special characteristics that keep the memories from fading. Personally, my favorite key is Islamorada because of the numerous experiences we had there, but I think I’ll start from the beginning.

The first time we rented a house was in Key Largo and we were in town for a week. Every day, us 11-year-old kids would wake up at the crack of dawn to go out on the water. We have a boat so snorkeling was the center of the trip. Key Largo is the diving capital of the world and known for its unimaginably beautiful reefs. One of my absolute favorites is Dry Rocks that contains the Christ of the Abyss statue. It is a huge, colorful and flourishing reef that has a statue along the edge that’s great for pictures.

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However, as years moved on, we moved down through the keys and stayed in Islamorada. The great thing about this key is that it still has that touristy vibe, but isn’t as crowded as Key Largo. More people actually reside here but it definitely is vibrant and “keys-ey.”

One of the best restaurants and a place you have to stop at is Robbie’s. It is a local Bayside restaurant that has vendors sell souvenirs and amazing fresh fish. However, the aspect that makes it such a hit is that it is surrounded by Tarpon and you can feed them with your bare hands. They will actually jump out of the water and take it straight from your fingertips! Scary and exhilarating at the same time! Here is a picture of my little brother almost feeding the tarpon with his toes!clarkie tarpon

Islamorada is also home to Islamorada Fish Company and Bass Pro Shop, which is another pit stop anytime we drive by. The store is massive and is great if you need fishing shirts. There is also a delicious restaurant right out the back doors in case you need another meal.

Another plus of Islamorada is that you will definitely see locations from the Netflix original Bloodlines. A majority of the show was filmed in this key, in spots like Lorelai’s and The Whistle Shop.

Recently, my family decided to stay in Marathon, which is a key that is pretty far south and close to Key West. Marathon is more of a residential area but still has beautiful waters. Not as touristy but some incredible restaurants and just south of the key itself is the monumental 7 Mile Bridge.IMG_0572

As we make our way to the bottom of the keys, we tackle the one and only, Key West. Although we have never stayed in Key West, I am always sure to at least make a day trip down there. From Sloppy Joes to the famous Duval Street to Mallory Square for the sunset, there are plenty of things to do. If you want to shop, you can choose from clothing to jewelry to Kinos, which is a go-to place and a well-known flip flop store and I shamelessly own about eight pairs. If you want activities, there is parasailing, renting scooters, watching the sunset, photo opportunities especially at the Southernmost Point. IMG_0550

But if you want some good quality dining, the options are endless. Whether you’re in the mood for burgers, fish, pizza or key lime pie on a stick, you can turn the corner and pick your place. However, my all time favorite restaurant in Key West is the cutest little places called Blue Heaven. I will never take a trip to Key West without stopping here for breakfast.

Blue Heaven is a slightly hidden little spot covered with trees and full of local Key West roosters running around. They have plenty of options for picky eaters, but also very savory items too. And if eating with the roosters isn’t your thing, just ask to sit inside! Dining at Blue Heaven is a unique experience and a pretty hot spot.FAE67CB3-3B7B-4249-88F4-964914174608

The Keys has turned into a second home for me however, I am always finding new things to do and try. It is a place full of opportunity, fun and adventure. So if you take anything away from this post, here are some go-to spots to things to do: snorkel at any reef you can find, go parasailing, fish on a charter boat or your own, watch the sunset every night (it’s always different and always beautiful), try local restaurants (Blue Heaven, Robbies, Island Fisheries, etc.), visit John Pennekamp State Park, and be sure to take lots of pictures even if they don’t do the scenery justice!

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West Palm Beach, Florida

Many people have at least heard of the city of West Palm Beach, Florida. Whether it be from Drake’s song “Redemption” when he says that “West Palm girls are spoiled rotten,” or because President Trump has an estate on Palm Beach island, almost everyone knows about the city.

To me, West Palm Beach is home. It is where I have grown up and where so many of my life-long friends are. Even though it is known for being a wealthy area with beautiful beaches, it is a lot more than that, especially to me.

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The activities to do in West Palm are endless. From the Palm Beach Zoo to Downtown City Place, there is something for everyone.

Growing up, going to school field trips and weekend extravaganzas consisted of visiting Lion Country Safari, attending plays and musicals at the Kravis Center, touring the Flager Museum, running around Okeeheelee Park, and boating to Peanut Island. So in case, people assumed that West Palm Beach was only for adults, they clearly haven’t been here because there are plenty of opportunities for kids!

During the day, the beaches are definitely the place to be. The sun is shining bright, the smell of suntan lotion is prominent and there is soft sand that is perfect for sandcastles. If you’re lucky, the beaches won’t be too crowded but won’t be empty either, making it just the right amount of people to enjoy the company and the water.

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The nightlife for adults is always a blast downtown at CityPlace. Cityplace consists of many stores, restaurants, bars, and other things to do like bowling alleys and movie theaters.

Some of the definite places to stop and eat at are Rocco’s Tacos, which is a Tequila bar with Mexican food and fresh tableside guacamole; La Sirena for some quality Italian food; Okeechobee Steakhouse; and E.R. Bradley’s will provide an oceanside dining and music experience.

Other to-do activities that are more than just sitting down are visiting Rapids Waterpark; painting at Uptown Art; going paddle boarding, fishing or snorkeling on a charter boat; attending Lion Country Safari; diving with DivaDuck Amphibious Tours; Everglades Airboat rides; watching a game at Roger Dean Stadium, and one of my personal favorite things to do is attend a country concert at the Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre.

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Whether you visit for the experience or for the beaches, there are so many adventures to take part in. Lots of people are lucky enough to get to visit the city of West Palm Beach, but an even smaller amount of people are lucky enough to call this beautiful place home.

I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up and live anywhere else, and that is something almost everyone that lives here would agree on!