When she moved to St. Augustine years ago, Cindy Stavely knew she wanted to be involved with the tourism industry. She’s had her hands in everything, from working at an alligator farm to giving ghost tours and working for the Old Town Trolley. Today, she manages three of the city’s top attractions, and with five grandchildren, she sees the history and wonder through their eyes.
Q: Tell us about St. Augustine’s run-in with pirates.
A: The first pirate attack was by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. He came in and pretty much burned down the city, but the Spanish re-built. Then in the 17th century, after another pirate attack, Queen Mariana of Spain had the Castillo de San Marcos built to protect the city.
Q: How can visitors experience this pirate lore in the city?
A: We have one of the largest authentic collections of pirate artifacts in the world, with more than 800 items in the museum. Some of it includes actual treasure, which is a real privilege to have. We have a touch-screen book with all the significant pirates from the golden age of piracy. We give people a treasure map to fill in, and we give them a little prize. We also have Johnny Depp’s sword and Dustin Hoffman’s hook and some props from the Goonies. Visitors can hear a 3D audio show that Disney Imagineers developed for us. It’s very spine-chilling and really cool. It’s a very immersive, interactive experience.
Q: What is one of your favorite spots in St. Augustine?
A: Flagler College, the Lightner Museum and the Casa Monica Hotel are all catty-cornered from each other. You’ve got these three significant turn-of-the-century buildings all right there. If you have time, definitely tour them all, but just admiring the buildings is worth it.
Q: Is there a favorite shop where you’d send a visitor?
A: Mercado de España. They ship manchego cheese and ibérico ham, olive oils, chorizo sausages and other Spanish food products to their store. They also have great Spanish wines.
Q: How will the city celebrate its 450th anniversary next year?
I think the whole year will be significant. There has been a lot of good publicity about St. Augustine lately. Just the whole year everyone will step up the game and put some great events out there. We’ll walk away in 2015 and say, that was a great commemoration.
Q: How would you describe your perfect day in the city?
A: I really enjoy getting up early and walking up St. George Street. It’s a pedestrian-friendly street and all the buildings are historic or a reproduction of the original. Before people are out and about, it’s a great time to experience the city. Mary’s Harborview Café has a great breakfast, it’s family-owned and operated, and has a great view of the bay. I love walking through the Castillo De San Marcos and then going over to the Pirates Museum, Colonial Quarter and the First Colony at the Government House. The trolleys are a great way to hop on and off and see the attractions: the beautiful churches, the mission, and getting a feel for the architecture. For lunch, Taberna del Caballo and has some of the best sangria in town. You might see some garrison soldiers you’d run into while you were in there, while enjoying some great tapas. Afterward, I'd take a walk on the seawall by the bayfront; invariably you’ll see dolphins jumping in the Matanzas Bay. For dinner, there are so many great choices. The Tasting Room on Cuna Street is a good choice. They have a new chefs table experience with five courses and wine pairings. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s a really new great, creative dining experience. If there's time after dinner, I would recommend a sunset sail on the Freedom Schooner.