Central Florida’s landscape is dotted with lakes and rivers. An entire town an hour southwest of Orlando is actually named Lakeland in tribute to its overabundance of lakes. For those willing to travel just slightly further, the Atlantic Coast beaches beckon to the east and the Gulf Coast to the west. The combination of easy access to so many bodies of water with hot summers and mild winters makes Central Florida truly a boater’s paradise.
In the middle of Downtown Orlando, Lake Eola offers an oasis of peace and tranquility. Once derelict and overrun with the homeless and drug abusing populations, Lake Eola has again been restored to its former beauty. Numerous events take place in the park, from theatre festivals to holiday spectaculars. Both gondolas and swan shaped paddle boats are available for rent. Although the lake is not particularly large by Florida standards, there is still plenty of room for a leisurely excursion with the family. Enjoy feeding the ducks and swans that make the lake home as well.
One of Orlando’s best kept secrets lies just around the corner from Universal Orlando. Turkey Lake Park offers numerous amenities as well as the best fishing in Orlando. The lake is stocked with bass and other species, making it an especially great place for kids to learn to fish.
If you have your own manually powered boat or boat powered by a trolling motor, a great place to use it is in Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont. No gasoline powered motors are permitted, but if your boat is allowed you can fish in four of the six lakes on the property.
In Southeast Orlando, near the airport, nothing beats Moss Park. The largest of Orange County’s parks, Moss Park is also the best place to see true natural Florida, including a large variety of wildlife. The animals are quite used to humans and have lost much of their natural fear. A large, very busy boat dock is available at the front of the park.
A bit further afield, Blue Spring State Park in Orange City (just outside of Daytona Beach) offers the chance to share the waterways with manatees. Swimming with the manatees is strictly prohibited, but a boat trip offers you the chance for an up close and personal glimpse of these amazing creatures. You can rent a canoe or kayak at the park, or sign up for a guided trip on either type of vessel. You could also reserve seats on a guided river tour.
Blue Spring State Park is connected to the St. Johns River. Should you decide to make the trek, you will find a plethora of boating options all along the St. Johns. A romantic dinner cruise, family friendly lunch cruise or exciting wildlife spotting trip are just a few of your options on the well-traveled St. Johns River.
Also near the St. Johns River is the historic DeLeon Springs. Named for the explorer Ponce de Leon, DeLeon Springs has long been considered a health spot with mystical properties. Whether the water can be considered a fountain of youth or not, there is no doubt that the mineral-rich springs are inviting and refreshing. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent in the park, with an easy 3.5 mile trip from DeLeon Springs to Lake Woodruff along the Spring Garden Run.
One of the best spots for kayaking is Wekiwa Springs State Park. Located just 20 minutes outside of Orlando, Wekiwa Springs is located along the Wekiwa River, which dumps into the well-known St. Johns River. If you have your own kayak or canoe, a multi-day boat trip is possible, with campgrounds and small backcountry spots available along the route. Or you can rent a boat for a few hours at the state park, although you are not normally permitted to keep rentals overnight.
For something completely different, how about an airboat tour through Florida’s natural swamps? There are several companies from which to choose. Some tours offer hotel pickup, while for others you would need to make your own way to the site. Airboat tours average 30 minutes to one hour and depart on a regular basis throughout most of the year.
Those who are brave at heart may wish to consider a nighttime alligator search tour. Several of the airboat companies now offer this tour. In the dark of night, alligators hunt for food. This is the ideal time to see gators moving around rather than sleeping on the beach. The tour is fun, educational and just a little bit scary.
Some of the airboat companies will also arrange an alligator hunting tour for you. Alligator hunting season is brief, from September 1 to October 8. You can go along on a hunt as an observer or arrange to do the hunting yourself. Either way, going with a guide rather than on your own is strongly recommended, as requirements are quite stringent.
If you are coming to the Orlando area to get married, consider a river wedding. Some companies offer the services of a fully licensed official to perform a wedding cruise ceremony. Other companies will permit you to charter a boat and bring your own officiant. Either way, a wedding on a Florida waterway is beautiful and romantic in its history and simplicity. Negotiate with your tour operator of choice, and you may be surprised by the package deal you are offered, particularly from the smaller mom and pop tour operations.
The entire Central Florida region is dotted and criss-crossed with lakes and rivers. Additionally, the Atlantic Coast is a short drive to the East, while the Gulf Coast is an easy drive to the West. The easy accessibility of a variety of water types and conditions, combined with Central Florida’s legendary hot summers and mild winters, make this area a natural choice for boating of every kind. Your interests and skill level in boating will determine what boat trips you take, but whatever you decide, make sure to make time to be out on the water. Beyond the theme park and entertainment industry, Central Florida’s waterways are among its most popular features.