Everyone knows Florida has beautiful beaches and fabulous theme parks to enjoy during vacations. But one of the state’s best-kept “secrets” is its wealth of natural springs. North and north-central Florida are brimming with amazing crystal-clear rivers and pools, each fed by one or more of its own natural springs. One such spot is beautiful Silver Springs Park, a perfect day-trip during your Orlando vacation to Orlando’s Sunshine Resort or The Fountains.
At the Silver Springs wildlife park, these springs pump out enough sparkling clear water to supply the entire city of New York. Of course, this abundance of fresh water attracts a plethora of wildlife as well as visitors eager to see her beauty. The park has made a mission of sharing all it can about the fascinating variety of underwater, land dwelling and winged creatures that make their home near the springs.
A boat tour is the best reason to visit Silver Springs during a vacation, and there are several from which to choose. There’s no better view than from a glass-bottom boat. This mesmerizing tour slowly glides through water that is 99.8% pure, and clear as a bell all the way to its depths where 70 million year old fossils lie quietly. Glass-bottom boat passengers get to visit all seven spring formations at the headwaters, gazing down upon alligators, crawfish, shrimp, dozens of fish varieties, turtles and clams. These boats have seating for everyone and overhead awnings to protect from the sun.
Many Bluegreen owners and guests gravitate toward the Lost River Voyage, which showcases Florida of thousands of years ago, “untouched and untamed.” Magnificent flora and fauna, including towering bald cypress and massive oaks, serve as the backdrop for this eye-opening nature tour. Photographers will want to have their cameras charged and ready, in case they spy alligators, herons, osprey or other indigenous species at feeding time. This tour includes time with a naturalist, who talks about Silver Springs’ wildlife breeding and rehabilitation programs.
You don’t have to board a boat to enjoy Silver Springs wildlife exhibits. There are many, from the rare albino alligator (what Florida vacation would be complete without seeing this?) to the Florida Panther Prowl. Kids will especially love the Kritter Korral petting zoo, where they can make friends with farm animals. Sheep, rabbits, donkeys, turkeys, and goats are all just waiting to pose for pictures and be hand-fed.
Kids will also want to while away the hours at the Kids Ahoy! Playland in Silver Springs, where a shallow lagoon holds a replica of an1800s riverboat. A wildlife-themed carousel is ready for boarding, as are miniature motorboats, a Ferris wheel, slides, crawl tubes, fireman’s pole and more. Want to wear them out before the car ride back to Orlando? Make this your last stop.
The gardeners in your vacation group will be taken by Silver Springs beautiful botanical gardens. Over 138 varieties of exotic and native and exotic plants adorn the shores of the Silver River. A winding pathway through the gardens offers the perfect place to meander or take photos. Many a wedding are held in this gorgeous spot.
Rising above it all—80 feet, to be exact—is The Silver Springs Lighthouse Ride. Its telescoping tower quietly rises from ground level to full height, featuring six-passenger gondolas which afford a panoramic view of everything below. This “aha” moment really underscores the clarity of the springs, as well as the beauty of the gardens.
There are plenty of eateries and an open-air mall within Silver Springs. Ocala may be the place your little boy starts asking to sleep with gators for the foreseeable future. Don’t worry: they have soft, furry ones you can safely take home and commemorate your vacation adventure.