Join MLC Alumni and fellow WELS members
for a sixteen-day, fifteen-night guided tour:
Crystal River, Silver Springs, Tarpon Springs, Ringling Museum, Selby Gardens, Myakka River, Babcock Ranch, Edison/Ford Estates, Sanibel Island Wildlife Sanctuary and Shell Museum, Everglades National Park, Theatre of the Sea, Key West, Divine Savior Academy, Jungle Queen Cruise, and Bok Tower Gardens. Our current daily plan also includes opportunities to see sunsets from sandy beaches every other night.
January 10-25, 2022
$2745 Double Occupancy
$3745 Single Occupancy
W/ELS members are invited to join the MLC Alumni Association for an affordable, enjoyable, and educational tour in the sunny south. In 1513, Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon named this region. The name comes from a Spanish word “florido,” which means “full of flowers.” Our plan is to forego the amusement parks and focus on God’s majesty as featured in Florida’s fabulous flora and fauna.
Your cost includes parking options in New Ulm or Bloomington, shuttle service to MSP, round-trip flights to Orlando (with one checked bag + personal item), deluxe motorcoach service, attraction admissions, guide fees, 15 hotel nights (no single-night stays), most gratuities, 20+ meals, and much more.
Minnesota vs Sarasota: Fellow Midwesterners, note the following fun facts about January 15.
New Ulm’s sunrise is 7:50 and sunset is 5:05 (9 hrs 15 mins of daylight).
Sarasota’s sunrise is 7:21 and sunset is 5:58 (10 hrs 37 mins of daylight).
New Ulm’s average low is 5 and the average high is 23 (coldest day of the year).
Sarasota’s average low is 49 and the average high is 74 (about 50 degrees warmer).
Tour Director Steve Balza will do his best to keep us comfortable, safe, and on schedule. MLC Professor Emeritus Roger Klockziem will be along to share insights and help us gain a greater appreciation of God’s dandy designs. WELS pastors will feed our souls with daily devotions and lead us in praise of our Creator. We believe we’ve put together an itinerary that hits the highlights, includes some lesser-known gems, and allows some free time for you to relax and refresh.
Single occupancy (one person/room) cost is $3745 and double occupancy (two persons/room) is $2745 per person. If you are traveling solo but would prefer having a same-gender roommate to split costs, please note that on your registration form, and we will do our best to accommodate.
Discounts: Deduct $250 if you are driving or making your own flight arrangements (duration of tour parking available in Orlando). $20 discounts are available to previous travelers, seniors 62+, and those making full payment by Sept 15.
Gratuities: Tips for our bus drivers, guides, and group meal servers are included in your cost. Tips for hotel housekeepers, non-included meal servers, etc., are your responsibility.
Payments: Confirmed passengers must submit a $500 payment by September 15 or one week after registration if registering after that date. The remaining balance is due November 15. Once confirmed, cancellations will receive refunds according to the schedule below:
Cancel by October 15, 2021: $125 fee
October 16 – November 15, 2021: $250 fee
November 16 – December 15, 2021: $500 fee
December 15 – December 31, 2021: $1000 fee
January 1, 2022 or after: $1500 fee
In each case, the penalty will be cut in half if a replacement traveler is found.
All passengers will receive a family membership to the Edison/Ford Estates. Included is FREE reciprocal admission for all of 2022 at many museums and gardens across the country. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden are just a small sample. But wait, that’s not all! Benefits apply to you, your spouse, and up to four children or grandchildren under age 18. It’s the tour that keeps on giving!
CONFIRMED PASSENGERS AND WAITLISTS
Registration opens for online or phone registration on Monday, August 16, at noon Central. We will fill confirmed spaces on a first-come-first-served basis. Remaining registrants will be placed on a waitlist. In the past, waitlist members who have been able to keep their schedule clear have frequently made it on board. Waitlisted registrants do not need to send any deposit or payment until they are confirmed passengers.
Those flying will need to have a valid government-issued photo ID. The TSA’s Real ID requirement has been moved back to May 3, 2023. We do not plan to require vaccination, but those without vaccination will need to follow local protocols and may be excluded from some activities per local regulations. We reserve the right to change our requirements as conditions warrant. Those who feel compelled to cancel due to COVID concerns may be offered a refund.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a high level of mobility required, we rate this tour as a 4. All passengers will need to get in and out of the bus (about four stairs) on a regular basis. All passengers will also be required to transport their bag between the bus and hotel rooms. Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate wheelchairs, and those with difficulty walking a mile or more may struggle. Fortunately, Florida is flat. You’ll have free time in various places to take walks on beaches and boardwalks. As always, we encourage travelers to know their limitations.
CANCELLATION CONCERNS AND TRIP INSURANCE
If the trip is cancelled due to new or heightened pandemic concerns or the like, our plan is to either rebook for the identical dates in 2023 or cancel all together and fully refund all passengers. Trip insurance is not offered. If desired, individuals may purchase a policy through a provider of their choice.
Contact tour manager Steve Balza (firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-217-1731).
Our overnights will include a nice mix of chain hotels and privately owned properties. All are multi-night stays (two or three in each spot) so you can settle in a bit. All are entirely non-smoking with complimentary breakfast and WiFi. All receive excellent reviews and should provide us with comfortable rest in beautiful settings. Click on the hotel names to read TripAdvisor reviews, or on the images to visit their official websites.
Plantation Inn and Golf Resort, Crystal River
Upon arrival, we’ll enjoy three nights at this wonderful waterfront resort near the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Meals here include dinner at the on-site restaurant on our first night along with three breakfasts and a mixer/reception. A rare free day here offers activity options in the area (kayak by or swim with manatees, rent some clubs and hit the links, rent a boat and cruise the bay) or simply relax and refresh at the resort. The hotel’s gorgeous grounds and bayside setting will provide a fitting start to our tour of the Sunshine State.
Ameniti Bay, Sarasota
Receiving a 5 of 5 rating on Tripadvisor is no small feat. It means you are doing something right . . . very right. What might that be? We’ll find out during our three-night stay. I have a feeling it may have something to do with quality rooms (ours will be two-queen suites or one-king rooms with a balcony). It might mean that the breakfast is beyond basic (with cooked-to-order omelets, fresh fruit, and fresh-squeezed juices). It might mean that they have an exceptional staff and top-notch service. Perhaps people love their zero-depth entry resort pool, gas grills, and comfortable outdoor social spaces. Or . . . it could be all of the above!
Hampton Inn, Fort Myers
Another 5 of 5 Tripadvisor hotel? Yes . . . 1579 guests gave it a “5” while only 7 gave it a “1.” That says something. This Hilton brand chain hotel has consistently ranked in the Top Five of all Fort Myers hotels for more than five years. Nothing flashy but top-notch service, clean and comfortable rooms, a hot breakfast with a nice variety, and a pool to help you stay cool. Our two nights here will certainly be a delight.
Fairfield Inn, Florida City
This nearly new (opened in early 2021) Marriott brand hotel will provide us a comfortable spot conveniently located a half-hour from the Everglades and a half-hour from the Keys. Complimentary breakfast, nearby restaurants, and a refreshing pool make it the ideal spot for our quick two-night stay.
Sonesta ES Suites, Plantation
Designed for extended stays, this spot will spoil us with the size of our suites. Each has a separate living room, kitchen, bath, and bedroom. This former Staybridge Suites has been recently refurbished and rebranded. In spite of its suburban Fort Lauderdale location, the outdoor pool is set amidst a lush, tropical feel that will provide a nice spot to relax in during our two-night visit.
Drury Inn, Orlando
The Drury brand is rapidly growing in popularity and deservedly so. Perhaps its most unique feature is its complimentary “Kickback” . . . a 5:30-7:00 pm snack (could be a meal) that rotates nightly and includes beer, wine, and mixed drinks. We’ll enjoy two “kickbacks” as one of our three nights here will have us out and about in Daytona Beach. A final free day (Monday, January 24) provides another opportunity to soak in the sun or shade by the indoor/outdoor pool, chow down at the next door Chick-fil-A, or arrange your own visit to Universal Studios – taking advantage of the hotel’s free shuttle.
For those departing with us on the group flight from MSP (Minneapolis), our current plan has us departing fairly early (6:00 am from New Ulm and 7:45 from Bloomington) and returning fairly late (8:00 pm to Bloomington and 10:00 pm to New Ulm). You’ll have the option to reserve a room the night before our departure (Sunday, January 9) and/or the night of our return (Tuesday, January 25) at Fairfield Inn (free shuttle to and from MSP) across from Mall of America in Bloomington, or at the Best Western Plus in New Ulm. A special rate of $100/room inclusive of tax (1-2 people/room) is available only when including it on your registration and paying as part of your package. Those staying at Best Western Plus in New Ulm will need to drive to MLC and park there. Those staying at Fairfield Inn can drive to Bloomington Lutheran Church and park there, or we will pick you up at the hotel if you are flying in and using the hotel shuttle.
Upon arrival in Orlando, we’ll work our way west to Crystal River, where we’ll spend the next three days on the Nature Coast – “old Florida” – filled with dense forests, natural springs, wide-open prairies, blackwater rivers, and some wonderful wildlife. We’ll encounter some of God’s coolest creatures in this area. Planned ventures include your choice of kayaking or a guided glass-bottom boat tour at Silver Springs State Park (might see a monkey), a visit to the famed Three Sisters Springs (just 1.5 miles from our resort and winter home to many manatees), and a dolphin-watching pontoon cruise to an island for some shell-seeking. Our final three nights will be quite the contrast in the heart of Orlando’s tourist trade. We will worship at Crown of Glory in Orlando and escape the city with excursions to De Leon Springs, Daytona Beach, and Bok Tower Gardens. There we’ll take in a carillon demo and smell some fragrant flowers. A “free day” at each location is also part of the plan.
Three nights in Sarasota will give us a nice taste of “the Cultural Coast.” This area, popular with artists and musicians, is home to the Ringling Museum, Florida’s official state art museum . . . who knew? We’ll view the extensive collection of 16th-20th century European works, stroll the beautiful courtyard, and take in the Circus exhibits. Additional attractions include Myakka River (cruise along with the gators), Babcock Ranch (swamp bus eco tour), and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. We’ll worship with our faith family at Ascension, Sarasota, then head further south where our two nights in Fort Myers will introduce us to “the Lee Island Coast.” Highlights there include the Edison/Ford Estates (homes, workshops, and gardens of the famous innovator and inventor), Six Mile Cypress (short, shady boardwalk stroll through a slough), and Sanibel Island (Shell Museum and Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge).
Our four nights in “the Gold Coast” will be split between Florida City (Gateway to the Keys and Everglades) and Fort Lauderdale (nicknamed the Venice of America for its 300+ miles of canals). As we head east from Fort Myers, we’ll visit Shark Valley (no sharks but a good number of gators) for a tram tour in the Everglades National Park. The next day we’ll venture 113 miles across the Overseas Highway with an animal show stop at Theatre of the Sea before reaching Key West. There you can opt for a historical walking tour or free time to shop and explore. Before we head north, we’ll visit and learn a little about one of the largest schools in the synod, Divine Savior Academy in Doral. Our final day in South Florida will find us traversing the canals on the Jungle Queen cruise and enjoying the sites and scents of Flamingo Gardens.
Flora and Fauna
One focus of our Florida journey will be giving God glory for the wide variety and dandy designs seen in the state’s flora (plants) and fauna (animals). Cabbage Palms (also known as Sabal Palmetto – the state tree and one of 12 native palms), Orange Groves (the blossom of which is the state flower), and the colorful Bougainvillea are sure to delight. Alligators, manatees, and Roseate Spoonbills are just a few of the many amazing animals we’ll encounter. Other creatures with growing populations in the state such as armadillos, green iguanas, and Burmese pythons are not native and also problematic. We’ll learn why.
Sun and Sand
Of course, no trip to Florida would be complete without getting some sand on our feet. Lord willing, we will be able to see sunsets (every other night) from several of Florida’s most famous beaches. Lido Key/Sarasota, Fort Myers Beach, and Key West offer some of the best. Others beaches we plan to visit include Fort Island, St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale, and Daytona.
You have the option to take the group flight from Minneapolis (MSP) Terminal 2 to Orlando (MCO) on January 10, with the return from MCO to MSP Terminal 2 on January 25, or you can make your own flight arrangements. Our current flight details are noted below.
Monday, January 10 Sun Country #343 MSP-MCO 10:00 am-2:16 pm
Tuesday, January 25 Sun Country #352 MCO-MSP 3:45 pm-6:16 pm
Schedule changes between now and January are possible. We’ll update the times as changes occur.
Group flight passengers will enjoy complimentary parking and coach transportation to MSP, departing from MLC in New Ulm or from Bloomington Lutheran Church, 9350 Portland Ave S, Bloomington. One round-trip checked bag (plus one “personal item”) are included in your cost. See Sun Country’s website for size and weight limitations.
Upon arrival in Phoenix, we’ll travel on a deluxe motor coach with the highly rated Escot Bus Lines. The coach is complete with air conditioning, every-seat outlets, DVD/AV system, reclining seats, and a restroom. Due to space limitations, each person is limited to one suitcase (rollers recommended) as well as a small carry-on or personal item that you will need to keep on the plane (under the seat) and on the bus with you. We will load and unload the luggage from the bus, but you will be responsible for transporting your luggage to and from your room.
Those making their own flight arrangements should plan to meet the group on January 10 at the MCO airport. Because schedule changes are likely and delayed flights could occur, we recommend that those meeting us in Orlando arrive a day early. Our intent is to drop off at MCO about two hours before our flight on January 25. As of August 1, our plan is to arrive at 1:30 pm. Again, final details are TBD.
Perhaps your plan involves an extended stay down south before or after the tour. If so, you may wish to drive to Orlando and enjoy complimentary parking for the length of the tour at nearby Crown of Glory Lutheran Church, 2101 S Apopka Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL (WELS) where start-of-tour pickup and end-of-tour dropoff are also possible (must request this benefit on your registration form). Our journey will officially begin and end at Orlando International Airport (MCO).
The “2022 MLC Alumni Florida Tour Registration Form” will be available at this link at noon Central Time Monday, August 23 (delayed one week – our apologies). The tour is open to all WELS members.
The first 48 to register will be listed as confirmed passengers. Anyone who registers after the tour is full will go on a waitlist. If you register on August 23, you’ll be notified of your status (confirmed or waitlist) by email or phone later that day or on Tuesday, August 24. We will do our best to update the survey and website once we know that the confirmed spots are filled.
Information you will need to complete the survey includes . . .
* Your full name as it appears (or will appear) on your government-issued ID, date of birth, address, phone number, gender, and church membership.
* Emergency contact name, relationship, and phone (cannot be another tour passenger).
* Your rooming preference (single room, double with a known roommate, or double with an assigned roommate). Roommates will always be assigned 2 beds. Married couples will have the option of choosing 1 or 2 beds or no preference. We will do our best to accommodate.
* You will also check boxes noting the discounts you qualify for ($20 each for Seniors 62+ by January 10, previous MLC Alumni Tour travelers, or those making full payment within 7 days of receiving notice of their confirmed status).
* Your preference to take the round trip group flights from Minneapolis MSP to Orlando MCO or to make your own transportation arrangement ($250/person savings).
* Those electing to take the flight can also choose to park and take the shuttle from MLC in New Ulm or Bloomington Lutheran near the MSP airport. You may also choose simply to meet us at the airport.
* Those on the group flight may also reserve a room at the Best Western Plus in New Ulm on Sunday, January 9, and/or Tuesday, January 25. If you register and pay as part of your tour, the rate would be $100/room including tax. You may also decline the option and make your own arrangement. The same arrangement is available at a TBD hotel near the MSP airport.
Interested in learning more about the various places we plan to visit on the tour?
Clicking on the names of the sites listed below will take you to their listing on TripAdvisor.com, the nation’s #1 site for reviews of hotels, attractions, and restaurants. You’re also invited to view this collection of YouTube videos featuring tour destinations.
Silver Springs SP Three Sisters Spring Ft Island Gulf Beach Manatee Experience
Tarpon Springs Cruise St Pete Beach Bok Tower Gardens DeLeon Springs
Daytona Beach Universal Citywalk Disney Springs Crown of Glory (WELS)
Morse Museum of Art Leu Gardens
Ringling Museum Marie Selby Gardens Myakka River Cruise Myakka Tree Canopy
Babcock Ranch St Armands Lido Key Beach Ascension (WELS)
Six Mile Cypress Sun Harvest Citrus Edison/Ford Estates Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge
Shell Museum Fort Myers Beach Bowditch Point
Everglades/Tram Robert is Here Theater of the Sea Key West
Fairchild Gardens Miami Beach Divine Savior (WELS) Flamingo Gardens
Jungle Queen Riverboat Ft Lauderdale Beach
Click on the images below to view a gallery of pictures from past adventures.
Martin Luther College
1995 Luther Court
New Ulm, MN 56073
1 (507) 354-8221
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