Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour
Unbelievably, I had lived in the Orlando area for 6 years before I heard a whisper about the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. I had to ask the Manager of the Publix in Orlando, a life-long Orlando resident, how to find it! A hidden treasure indeed and a great place to take visiting guests.
This one-hour boat trip cruises through the natural beauty of the lakes and canals around historic Winter Park in northeast Orlando. The scenic boat tour leaves the dock every day except Christmas Day. First trips are at 10 a.m. and run hourly thereafter until 4 p.m. At peak times two or three boats run, so you should easily be able to just turn up and get a ride.
Here’s a useful tip – Buy your ticket early and then go for a walk around the town. When the boat is loaded, parties are called by name in the order they bought the tickets, so early ticket-buyers get to pick the best seats.
The pontoon boats are very stable and suitable for the shallower waters in the canals which connect the lakes, but they have no awning to protect from the sun (or the showers!) due to the low bridges. Bench seats are provided for around 18 passengers. The ticket office stands on the edge of the lake and opens before the first trip of the day just before 10 a.m. Benches under a canopy are provided on the dock whilst you wait for the boat to arrive. The boat skippers are excellent tour narrators and they give a good patter about the sights and the wildlife, a few corny jokes and will happily answer any questions.
The boat trip begins on Lake Osceola where there are many multi-million dollar homes along the shores. After navigating through the interconnecting canal, the trip continues
around Lake Virginia. The lake is shared with other boats, fishermen, jet skis and even a water-skier or two. Expect to see plenty of birds such as blue herons, which were nesting in the trees during my early-April trip. There are egrets, ducks and ducklings, anhingas, little blue herons and even osprey living in the live oaks which hang over the lake. Bougainvillea, sleeping hibiscus and plenty of bamboo add to the natural interest.
The exclusive Rollins College campus is spread along the edge of Lake Virginia with some fine buildings and it is the source of some interesting facts and anecdotes. After returning and traversing Lake Osceola along the eastern shore the boat then navigates through the winding Venetian canal and Lake Maitland opens out before you. The Kraft Azalea Park is a picture in early spring. Enjoy viewing the beautiful gardens and multi-million dollar mansions which are the winter homes of wealthy American families.
After a most enjoyable hour the trip ends back at the dock and you probably feel in need of refreshment. Park Avenue in Winter Park is a short walk from the lake. It is a delightful upmarket collection of shops and cafés in which to browse and dine. Across the road are the Amtrak station and a beautiful park with fountains, a heavenly scented rose garden and a pergola. This is also the location of the delightful Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.
There are many more fun and interesting things to do and see so do check out “Days Out Around Cocoa Beach” (available in all formats) which has 15 more places to visit. The Villages residents will also find this a useful addition to my “The Villages” series of books.