Florida Au Natural - My Family Travels

Take a walk on the wild side in sunny Florida – gator walks, coastal cruises, canoe escapes, and more.

Vacationing in Florida is not limited to thrills that flip you upside down, spin you around and repeat everything backwards in just 30 seconds. Florida has a natural side that lets visitors spot a baby alligator or stroll through a cypress swamp. After a few days of upside down, plummeting adventures, why not spend a day or two participating in some of these eco-activities in central Florida, a short distance from many theme parks.

Florida Coastal Cruises (800/881-BOAT or 386/761-2027) at Harvest Marina in New Smyrna Beach offers a two-hour dolphin/manatee cruise, sunset cruises and other boat trips. They operate year-round with three boats departing daily, children under 12 cruise for $16 and adults for $25.

Vacationers can observe cranes, mallards, and otters at the Wetlands Outpost section of Melbourne’s Brevard Zoo (321/254-9453), gateway to 22 acres of wetlands. Open daily; admission is $12.50 for adults, $11.50 for seniors, and $9.50 for children (2-12).  Check the Zoo’s website for a “Giraffe Web Cam” with live footage.  Once there, for just a few dollars you can feed the giraffes or the birds, go on a guided kayak tour, or watch the alligator feedings.

Boggy Creek Airboat Rides (407/344-9550) is quite close to Orlando, in Kissimmee, and offers noisy, motorized trips to view birds, alligators, and wetlands. The ½-hour rates are $25.95 for adults, $18.95 for children (3-10), under 2 years free. You could also take an hour-long night tour for a different view of the wetlands. Click on Discovering Earthly Orlando for a first-hand account of this trip.

Big Tree Park, about 15 miles from downtown Orlando, is in suburban Longwood. The park has a breath-taking cypress tree known as the “Senator.” Why bother with this particular tree? At age 3,500 or so, it’s one of the oldest in America. And at almost 140-feet-tall, it’s also one of the largest. The park is open daily from 8 am to sunset. Click on “Free Orlando!” and read a first-hand account of this park.

Canoe Escape (813/986-2067) enables visitors to paddle through the natural beauty of a 16,000-acre wilderness preserve along the Hillsborough River. Canoers navigate through “alligator alley” where dozens of gators, including some eleven-footers, sunbathe on logs and dive into the river from its banks. Tour guides also point out snakes, turtles, river otters, fish, birds of prey as they relax in their natural habitat. The leisurely trips last from two hours to a full day and include paddling instructions as well as drop-offs and pick-ups at the designated launch spots along the river. Each self-guided trip varies from $23.50-$33.50 per adult paddler and guided tours can cost up to $140. Click on “Canoes Transport Families to the Real Florida,” a first-hand account of this journey.

For information on other eco-options in Florida, contact Visit Florida at 888/6-FLA-USA or visit www.flausa.com

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