Florida's welcome centers no longer give tourists free orange juice

click to enlarge Florida's welcome centers no longer give tourists free orange juice
1960s postcard with Florida welcome station two miles north of Havana on U.S. 27, via Florida Memory
The orange, and the liquid goodness squeezed from each one, are symbols of Florida. That's why some state welcome centers once gave out complimentary orange juice, greeting travelers on the Florida roads with an OJ toast. It became a tradition starting in 1949, as northeastern Florida "hospitality houses" grew into welcome centers near Jacksonville and Jennings. That free four-ounce cup of orange juice was a fun and tasty way of getting ready to commune with the state and it reminded everyone that most citrus fruit in the U.S. is grown in Florida.

But alas, travelers can no longer guzzle down Florida sunshine in a glass – and welcome center staff are hearing complaints about it.

"All day, every day," said T.J. Gilliam, assistant manager at the welcome center on Interstate 95 north of Jacksonville. Gilliam told the Tampa Bay Times that "some people aren’t that nice when they find out about it."

The bill to fund the free juice was vetoed by then-governor Rick Scott in 2015. Since then, the Florida Department of Citrus volunteered to foot the tab, but in recent years, just about all Florida budgets have been cut – including the Florida Department of Citrus from $46 million in 2005 to around $15 million today. That prompted state officials to no longer support fronting the $250,000 cost for the juice.

Visit Florida, which runs the welcome centers, has laid off more than 40 people recently and, as such, hasn't leapt across the table to grab the bill. Visit Florida has heard about it too, says the Times.

"No juice? Bummer," said one written complaint.

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