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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Relax and Enjoy the Scenery on a Winter Park Boat Tour

Winter Park Boat Tour
Photo courtesy of scenicboattours.com
If you've been to Orlando enough times, the whole theme park scene gets kind of old. Even if you've never been here before, sometimes you just need a day to kick back, relax and unwind - you're on vacation after all!

One thing you can do to turn your vacation into ... well ... a vacation, is head up to Winter Park for the Orlando area's most unique and casual shopping experience. Just a half hour North of the theme parks, there's really no better place to head if you want to pick up something totally different for that hard to shop for person (especially if that "someone" is you).

There's more to do in Winter Park than just shop, though. There are several excellent restaurants, a number of great museums and something that even few locals know about - the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tours. American Car Rental's Karen, who could spend days just strolling up and down Park Avenue, shopping, likes to give her feet a break now and then and take a relaxing boat ride through the tranquil waters of Winter Park before heading back to the shops, looking for the next "rare find."

Leaving from Lake Osceola, the hour long cruise navigates three of the seven lakes in the area's chain of lakes as well as two canals. At any given time, you may see a variety of cranes diving into the water after the large fish that populate the waters. Because the waters are so clear, you'll likely see some bird's next meal as you glide along. Don't be surprised if you see an alligator or two lazily basking in the sun, too!

A popular spot for boaters, you're bound to see plenty of people water skiing, jet skiing and don't be surprised if you see the Rollins College crew team working out in preparation for their next big race.

What people really enjoy about the cruise is the narrated tour. You'll pass by some of the most impressive mansions in the Orlando area and learn about some of the inhabitants of those palatial estates. The immaculate lawns and landscaping are beautiful and blend in perfectly with the yawning cypress trees, dense ferns, swaying palm trees and sub-tropical flowers that line the shores.

Less than five minutes from Park Avenue's sidewalk shopping and dining, Winter Park Scenic Boat Tours is located at the east end of Morse Blvd. where it meets Lake Osceola. Tours leave every hour, on the hour, beginning at 10:00 am. The last cruise departs at 4:00 pm. You can experience boat tours every day of the year except Christmas day.

Admission is only $12.00 for adults and $6.00 for children age 2-11 (under 2 is free). You can't find a whole lot to do in the Orlando area for less money than that!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It's Manatee Season in Florida - See Them at Blue Spring State Park

Manatees at Blue Spring State Park
One of the greatest things about visiting Florida is being able to see wildlife that you can't see at home. Whether it is a pod of dolphins swimming through the surf, a majestic hawk or egret soaring high above or a lizard hopping from leaf to leaf in a bush, there is almost always some new animal encounter to experience.

One of the most magical wildlife experiences - spotting a Manatee in the wild - only happens during the winter season. This is the only time of year when you can count on seeing manatees if you know where to go. If you're in the Orlando area, that place would be Blue Spring State Park. American Car Rental's Nariusky lists Blue Springs as one of her favorite places to see wildlife in Florida.

The springs, themselves, feed over 104 million gallons of water into the St. Johns river per day. An extensive underwater cave system exists which supplies a stream of warm, crystal clear water year round. It is this warm, pure water that attracts a growing number of West Indies manatees to the park every year.

Scuba divers, especially, like coming to Blue Spring State Park. Exploring the underwater cave system is always a big thrill and the year round 72° water temperature make it possible to dive during all seasons. In fact, Jacques Cousteau filmed his 1971 documentary, The Forgotten Mermaids, at Blue Spring State Park, which brought international focus to the plight of the endangered manatees.

Snorkelers, too, enjoy floating on top of the water and seeing much further down than they can typically see in other bodies of water. Even swimmers and people in canoes or kayaks enjoy the crystal clear waters and wildlife that abounds in the park.

Blue Spring State Park is home to at least 15 threatened or endangered plants and animals. In addition to manatees, it is home to black bears, the Florida scrub jay, gopher tortoises, alligators, a variety of hawks and wading birds as well as being one of only two known places where Okeechobee gourds live.

Because Blue Spring State Park is a designated manatee refuge, the spring and spring run are closed to all water activities including swimming, diving, boating and snorkeling from November 15 to March 15. This ensures that the manatees can exist in a safe, natural, undisturbed environment.

This doesn't mean that you can't enjoy them; though, there are viewing platforms that allow visitors to see plenty of  the "sea cows." Don't be surprised if you see mom and calf manatee pairs doing barrel rolls as they swim underneath you!

Thursby House at Blue Spring State Park
After spending a day viewing manatees or enjoying the water, you can check out the Thursby plantation, built in 1872, which is located within the park. Nearby, you can also enter the haunted Russ House if you dare. For an amusing experience, stop by Cassadega, a town known for its mediums, fortune tellers and psychics, on your way in or out of the park.

Blue Spring State Park is open every day of the year from 8:00 am to sunset on a first come, first served basis. When the park is full (which happens early during busy seasons), no more visitors will be allowed access to the park until others leave the park. A waiting line of vehicles is a frequent occurrence.

Admission fees to Blue Spring State Park are as follows:
  • Per vehicle: $6.00 (maximum of 8 people; $2.00 per extra passenger)
  • Single Occupant Vehicle: $4.00
  • Pedestrians & Bicyclists: $2.00