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Try these unusual hotels for your next Florida vacation

Some travelers think that the place where you lay your head on the road is just that — a place to sleep, or change clothes. But there are some trips where the accommodations are the main attraction. • This summer, you might consider booking the family into one of these unusual "hotels" in Florida. • After all, every kid wants to stay in a tree house.

Lighthouse

The romance of staying in a lighthouse is the dream of many adults. But when the lighthouse is at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean on Florida's northernmost barrier island, it's good enough for kids, too.

Katie's Light is a replica lighthouse directly on the beach about 2 miles from Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. With three bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths, it features a combined kitchen, dining room and entertainment area on the first level and a spiral staircase up to the bedrooms on the second level. The deck wraps completely around the house.

Of course, this isn't a real lighthouse but a copy built in 1980 of the famous Thomas Point lighthouse on Chesapeake Bay. Rental is $475 a day ($380 after Labor Day) or $3,150 per week. For information, call toll-free 1-800-772-3359 or go to ameliaislandvacation.com.

Yurt tree house

The Yurt Tree House, a two-story dwelling set in a tree, is about 35 miles northwest of Gainesville, in Gilchrist County. On a 16- by 16-foot platform downstairs, campers find a propane stove, fresh water, outhouse with composting toilet, cooking gear, chairs and a table. Upstairs is the bedroom with carpet, rugs and pillows. A transparent dome covering the circular rooftop allows you to see the moon and stars.

You can access the tree house by land or the Santa Fe River. Two wide-tire and two hydrobikes are free to guests staying two or more nights. Rent is $30 per adult, $20 per child, plus $30 refundable deposit. For information go to clubfla.org/treehouse.aspx.

Another yurt is found in Torreya State Park on the Apalachicola River in North Florida. It's a 20-foot round, domed tent with flooring, electricity, a lockable wooden door and three large screened windows. The yurt accommodates five people and includes air-conditioning, heating, a skylight, two queen beds and one single. Bed linens are not provided. The yurt rents for $40. For information and reservations, call toll-free 1-800-326-3521.

Underwaterlodge

Guest rooms are located 21 feet underwater at the Jules' Undersea Lodge in Key Largo. You have to scuba dive down to enter the lodge, which has two bedrooms and a common room. Each bedroom has a private refrigerator and sink, intercom and telephone. A 42-inch-round window is in each bedroom.

A common room contains a minikitchen, dining and entertainment areas as well as another 42-inch window.

The facility is air-conditioned. The lodge usually hosts two separate groups, each with a private bedroom and sharing the rest of the lodge. The staff of the lodge stays on duty around the clock to provide services to guests. A "mer-chef'' scuba dives down to the lodge to prepare and serve a gourmet dinner for the guests; late-night snacks can even include pizza delivery.

Guests of the lodge have included former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau and rock stars Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Jon Fishman of Phish.

Costs range from $375 to $475 per person per night, including meals and dive gear. For information, call (305) 451-2353 or go to www.jul.com.

Themed hotels

Orlando's theme parks, particularly Walt Disney World, have made a business of building themed hotels. One Disney hotel is reminiscent of a national park lodge, complete with a great log lobby and steaming stream. In another, you may spot a rhinoceros or elephant outside the window of your African-themed hotel.

At Universal Studios, the Portofino Bay Hotel replicates an Italian setting, with piazzas, porticos and shops with authentic Italian deli foods, and the Royal Pacific Hotel brings to mind South Pacific establishments.

Two other hotels in Orlando — not in theme parks — are striking properties. One is Doubletree Castle Hotel, medievally themed throughout with witchy spires and other little magical touches. The other is Nickelodeon Suites, where, as they say, you can have the slime of your life with SpongeBob, Dora, Cosmo and the gang.

Log cabin

A log cabin doesn't have to be a primitive abode.

This two-bedroom, one-bath western cedar home has modern conveniences — air-conditioning, television, VCR, fully equipped kitchen, fireplace and wood floors.

Nestled among hardwood trees between Crystal River and Homosassa Springs, the log cabin is located about 8 miles east of Inverness and close to the Withlacoochee River.

Built in 1990, the cabin can sleep six and is close enough to Hillsborough and Pinellas counties to make it a weekend trip. Price: $225-$265 for three nights or $395-$495 weekly rate. For information, call (727) 446-1200 or go to www.woodedretreats.net.

Houseboat

Houseboats are found in a number of locales in Florida. A good place to take out a houseboat for a few days is from the Holly Bluff Marina on the St. Johns River.

My family and I went houseboating a couple of times and enjoyed exploring the river and some of the springs in central Florida. We fished and swam, visited state parks, cooked on a grill on the boat and ran around on a skiff we also rented. There's a feeling of freedom we enjoyed on the houseboat that we've never gotten staying in an ordinary hotel. Vive la difference. For information about houseboat rentals at Holly Bluff, call toll-free (800) 237-5105 or go to hollybluff.com.

Houseboats come in various sizes. A 38-foot, four-sleeper boat at Holly Marina runs $750-$850 for a weekend, plus the cost of gasoline. A 53-foot, 10-sleeper boat runs $1,600-$1,700 for the weekend. Houseboats are also for rent in other areas of Florida, from the Keys to the Panhandle.

Dude ranch

You don't have to go out West to spend time at a dude ranch. Florida has the Westgate River Ranch in Lake Wales offering all manner of Western fun.

Resort amenities include horseback riding, a marina, nine-hole golf course, boat rentals, trap and skeet range, hayrides and cookouts, a petting farm, heated outdoor pool, tennis and basketball, video arcade, smokehouse grill, general store, River Ranch Saloon, Western store, barbecue facilities and even a wedding chapel. A Saturday night rodeo includes trick riding, bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing and rodeo clown antics.

Airboat rides are available on the Kissimmee River. Also rentable are 20-foot pontoon boats that can hold up to eight passengers. You can also take a swamp buggy ride through the woods.

Minimum check-in age is 18 years. Rates start at $90 per night. For more information, call (863) 692-1321 or go to www.wgriverranch.com.

Another dude ranch, the Circle F Dude Ranch, also in Lake Wales, offers several kinds of stays. Family weekends are priced at $499 for the first four people; this price includes two nights lodging and six meals. Family weekends are May 28-30, Sept. 3-5 and Nov. 26-28.

Four summer camp sessions are conducted. Session 1 runs June 13-26, cost $2,195; Session 2, June 27-July 17, $2,695; Session 3, July 18-Aug. 7, $2,695; Session 4, Aug. 8-17, $1,695. Summer enrollment is limited to 100 boys and 110 girls ages 6-16. For information, call (863) 676-4113, www.circlefduderanchcamp.com.

Try these unusual hotels for your next Florida vacation 05/05/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 2:18pm]

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