It’s coming: summer time in Florida and the temperature is already hot. The big theme parks are crowded with huge lines awaiting a short flight to Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or a quick train ride from Hogsmeade at Universal Studios.
Perhaps this is a good time to think about going into Florida’s attraction past, where there’s room to walk under the shaded trails and perhaps sail on a glass-boat along a river of cool spring water. Not all of Old Time Florida has been leveled by the rise of gigantic amusement worlds.
In fact the State of Florida has rescued some of the most scenic wonders of Florida and maintained them for future generations. The good news is that that if some of these places seem a little more low key, they are also a lot lower in price and crowds.
So here is a little drive around Florida to some spots I have enjoyed for decades.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on US19 in Spring Hill north of Saint Petersburg still has the mermaid show, but for just $13 adults and $8 kids you get the mermaids, a wildlife show, riverboat rides, and access to Buccaneer Bay, a complete waterpark. You can also rent a kayak and explore the spring river. Parking is not $10 – it is free.
All these visitor oriented state parks have continued restaurant service for visitors.
Twenty miles up the road on US19 is Homosassa Springs State Park with the same low fees. The floating underwater Fish Bowl is still there as are all the manatees, pontoon boat rides, and wildlife shows. What will shock urban folk is how quiet a park heavily forested will seem compared to the noise level at the mega-parks.
The Old Fish Bowl Takes You Down To The Springs
People who travel I-75 by Ocala will be pleased to see Silver Springs State Park offers the glass boat rides gliding over the crystal clear springs of the Silver River. But today you can rent kayaks and canoes and even some family-sized vessels to take your own 4.5 river trip. Plus this park has cabins and RV facilities.
The Silver River Has Been Popular Since the 1870’s
Many famous old commercial attractions have survived into the 21st Century. At Vero Beach, you can still see the beauty of McKee Botanical Gardens, an attraction since the 1930’s. The incredible bamboo structures of folk artist and founder Waldo Sexton are still part of the site.
McKee Gardens Is Soooo Restful
Maybe the influence of having the beachside Disney Vero Beach Resort nearby has influenced the Gardens. Kids can check out for free to take some five different nature adventures around the gardens.
I always loved visiting West Palm Beach’s Lion Country Safari, the first drive-through zoo in the nation. There are still 900 animals to greet you real close. At a cost of one-third the big places, you can visit here with its five rides, restaurants, amusement park, and wildlife shows. There is also a Koa Campground on the location.
Dreaming About A Convertible?
In Miami there is still the famous Miami Seaquarium (1955) Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay. The park always has specials and events so you need to look at the online discounts, which include a Family Four Pack for $99.
Forget Playing With Dolphins When You Can Sea Trek
Of course, it costs extra if you want to play with a dolphin, swim with a seal, pet a penguin, or take an underwater reef exploration. This is not the park I recall first visiting when I was a college student at the University of Miami in the 1960’s.
If you prefer birds Miami’s Parrot Jungle (1936) is now Jungle Island and it is located in a zoological park on Watson Island. The birds are still around but people today seem to like sloths and lemurs more.
“We’re Jungle Island not Parrot Jungle.”
I have just touched the tip of these attractions. The Shell Factory down in North Fort Myers is now a complete amusement park. Gatorland in Orlando still has the gators, but now you can fly over them on a zip line. That’s as interactive as you will get with Florida alligators.
No Jumping Gators Allowed!