By Samantha Chapnick
A Florida vacation is usually about water — either a day at the beach or a dip in the hotel pool. But there are plenty of other, unique ways and places to enjoy the water while you’re in Florida. Here are my family’s top 10:
- Aquatica: Simply the best water park we’ve been to. A 4x speed lazy river, flumes going through dolphin tanks, huge childrens water playground with plenty of lounges, and most importantly — a quota! After the park reaches capacity they close it, so crowds and long lines are NEVER an issue! We live in New York and STILL have a yearly pass.
- Kayaking in Tarpon Bay (J. N. Ding Darling Refuge): Bigger than a pond, calmer than the ocean, sheltered from the wind and no alligators! Either take a nature tour with the experienced guides of Tarpon Bay Explorers or go it alone by renting equipment from them. Expect to see plenty of tarpon, turtles, and mangroves. Excellent for beginners and children (with adult).
- Disney Blizzard Beach: Drop at 30 mph, three rafting adventures, safe snorkeling amidst sharks in a saltwater pool, and all the accompanying fabulous Disney scenic design and fantasy. Mickey take me away! HINT: To avoid the crowds, stay at one of the hotels that offer guest-only special park hours.
- Parasailing: Daytona Parasailing offers the once-in-a-lifetime chance to hang out 2,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean hanging from a parachute (and attached to a boat). NOTE: You do not have to get wet in this activity but can if you want to.
- Picnic on Clearwater beach: Consistently rated the number one beach in America for its pristine white sand and clear gulf water, this is as close to the Caribbean as you are going to get without a passport or clearing customs.
- Swim with the dolphins: Miami Seaquarium Dolphin Odyssey People 52” and taller can get a unique appreciation of these wonderful intelligent animals — and help to conserve them — with a deep-water swim at the Miami Seaquariums‘ Dolphin Odyssey. Spend an hour learning about dolphins and their habits and meeting them face to face. Then get 30 minutes of actually swimming with them.
- Swim in History: Coral Gables Venetian Pool Take a dip in the only pool in the world on the Historic National Register of Places. With two waterfalls, two Venetian towers, a stone bridge connecting them, no chlorine (the pool is fed by natural spring water) and a mermaid watching over all, this is definitely the most unique dip you will take on your Florida vacation. NOTE: Kids under 3 are not even admitted to the facility.
- Spring for some fresh water: Blue Springs Park About as close to swimming in a forest as you’ll get, this park offers several springs staying at a consistent 72 degrees year ’round. Try Johnson Spring to see Aric the Giant (an old and huge Cypress Tree) or Blue Spring with its 50-foot sand beach and diving dock (24 feet depth near dock). Or just take a walk on the boardwalk or hike the many trails in the park. NOTE: This is a pool in the middle of a swamp, so BRING BUG REPELLENT!
- Shelling in Sanibel: Crunch, crunch crunch. One of the last places in the USA where you can still easily find shells on any given day. Colorful scallops, purple urchin shells, sand dollars and clams are plentiful. Unfortunately the more desirable conch type shells (whelks) will require shopping at one of the local stores — over collecting has made them very rare. Or drop in to the Bailey Matthews Shell Museum to get the most comprehensive perspective of shelling anywhere. Added bonus: the beaches are calm and the water is warm year ’round.
- Cruise : One-Day Cruise to the Bahamas. OK, so this isn’t strictly Florida, but it’s a unique way to get in the water while you are on the water. For less than $50 you can take a day cruise to the Bahamas. With Discovery Cruise lines, your money buys a round-trip ride, all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast and dinner, pool and sundeck, entertainment and access to the casino. Kids under 12 go free, and you can go free during your birthday month.
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Samantha Chapnick is a New York writer who scours international destinations looking for what hasn’t been found.