Six of the area's top inland destination attractions have joined forces to promote the fun of a Southwest Florida inland vacation. The effort is called "Discover IT!"
It is the now popular trend of "staycations" - vacationing in your local area - that not only helps many in an unsteady economy, but allows them to rediscover treasures in their own backyard.
"Staycations have improved the local economy significantly," said Shell Factory & Nature Park Owner Tom Cronin Sr. "Our business has definitely picked up significantly. It is ahead of last year and the reason is the staycation concept. It is from the economy; people are staying here and enjoying local attractions."
The Imaginarium Hands On Museum & Aquarium in east Fort Myers is a popular year-round attraction.
"It's a great opportunity. For a long time people forgot what was close by," said Matt Johnson, general manager of the City of Fort Myers Cultural and Historic Affairs.
And it is not just the beaches that people can visit. There are inland attractions as well.
"We all love the beaches and their beauty, but people can discover what treasures we have inland, historical sites. We're trying to get that word out," said Johnson.
The six entities that have banded together, offering discount programs now through Labor Day, are The Shell Factory & Nature Park, The Southwest Florida Museum of History, the Imaginarium Hands-On Museum & Aquarium, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, the Calusa Nature Center and The Butterfly Estates.
Helena Finnegan from the museum put the discount program together. "It is extremely popular," she said. "In fact, it really has snowballed."
The entities are offering a minimum $1 off admission per person and each is promoting the others, with many offering additional discounts specific to their locations. Those additional incentives are on their websites and in newspaper and magazine promotions.
"We are excited - it's being received so well and is being expanded in the coming weeks to include other attractions and being promoted not only regionally, but statewide as well," said Johnson. "It's been a trend for a few years now. People aren't traveling that far. They are looking in their own backyard for opportunities."
"All of these attractions are within a close proximity to each other, so it makes it very easy for visitors to take advantage of a full day of inland attractions," said Merry Coffman, marketing representative for the Edison & Ford Winter Estates. "It's exciting for the Edison Estates to partner with other attractions. We have a lot of great community partners, so it is exciting to work with our attraction partners."
"I think this will be very successful, because not only can visitors take advantage of this discount program, but also residents will be able to enjoy these cultural attractions in the area."
"It's a good promotion, we're glad to do something with these fine institutions," said Public Relations Director Melinda Russek of the Calusa Nature Center. "We're hoping to do more promotions like this, and more for families as well."
What's happening now
at these attractions
Each attractions has something new or interesting.
At the Shell Factory, it is now Christmas in July, where the Holiday Store is profiled throughout the month. Regular guests look forward to seeing Rita Glosson, aka "Mrs. Claus" in her costume, something she has done for the last four years. Holiday music comes out of each speaker within the shops. "People like coming in and buying decorations now and collectibles. At Christmas time, their budget is on gifts."
The Shell Factory is also offering family and package discounts throughout the summer.
Owner Cronin also noted that the influx of steady business is now allowing him to launch new attractions within his own complex in the future. "We are looking at four new projects, which we will announce in August," he said.
Matt Johnson is in charge of two of the attractions - the Museum and Imaginarium.
"The Museum of History is the region's largest historical archive and the museum has been lucky to host some fantastic exhibits including the King Tut Exhibit. It is open right now and will be running through August 15."
The King Tut Exhibit is made up of more than 100 authentic replicas of the treasures in Kings' Tut's tomb. "They represent pieces that will never again leave Egypt," he said. "Immediately following King Tut we open the Clyde Butcher Exhibit Aug. 24."
Of the Imaginarium, he said, "This is Southwest Florida's only hands-on science center and aquarium. We feature exhibits including a hands-on marine touch tank, a hurricane simulator, we also have an animal lab that features hands-on demonstrations with alligators, snakes and other animals. We also have a 3-D theater."
Russek talked about events at the Calusa Nature Center. "We have the laser light show starting again, on July 23. We also have the popular Rocky Horror Picture Show event again Aug. 14. We invite people in costume."
Those who attended the original Rocky Horror Shows always show up, she said, but it is mix of those and newcomers, younger people who want to experience the campy phenomenon. "The younger crew is very energetic. We've also increased the family-oriented things we do. We have a Night At The Museum where patrons can actually stay over, and we are going to do "Labyrinth" Night in October, a costume ball and show the movie. That's more for the little kids."
Susan Watson, special events coordinator for the Butterfly Estates, talked about that facility.
"We are educationally fun. We are a native breeding facility which means that if you come to the Butterfly Estates we can help you learn what to plant in order to attract butterflies to your yard," said Watson,
"The Estates are actually four different buildings, with the Butterfly Conservatory, a cafe, gift shop, and an ice cream and fudge factory. All are historic and have a local family history that is unique. Our Conservatory is 3,614 square feet of tropical rain forest where you walk among the butterflies."
Watson said the venue has been hosting more and more special events. "We've had corporate events, weddings, birthday parties, wine tastings, fund raisers and bridal and baby showers. Membership at the Butterfly Estates does have its privileges. We do member events plus you receive a 10 percent discount at each of our venues every time you come if you are a member. You get unlimited access to the Conservancy for one year if you are a member, which it very family friendly."
At the Edison & Ford Estates, there is always something new. "This summer we started doing demonstrations of Edison inventions, along with a new museum tour," said Coffman.
They are held throughout the day, every half hour and include the Edison Phonograph and other presentations including antique cars and tours of the lab. On July 29, we are hosting a "Behind The Scenes Sneak Peek Tour" starting at 9:30 a.m. Reservations are required. You go inside the homes with the curatorial staff.
It's a VIP visitor experience, she said.
For current promotions and discounts, visit any of the attraction websites.