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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Enjoy This Hidden Gem In The Shadow Of Atlanta, GA

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The big city of Atlanta is hiding a wonderful place in its shadow. The suburb of Dunwoody is just minutes from Atlanta, and offers guests affordable accommodations, delicious food, beautiful parks, and more!

Find out why the Atlanta suburb is one of Melanie’s favorite Georgia destinations!

For more fun and adventure in the Dunwoody area, check out the Kidding Around Guide to Travel in Georgia

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Festive Adventure Awaits at the Stone Mountain Christmas Celebration

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Are you looking for a special way to celebrate the holiday season this year? A special activity to enjoy with your family that is outdoors and festive? Have you considered a trip to Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park, for their Christmas Celebration?  We spent opening day as a guest of Stone Mountain Park to check out what a holiday trip to the Georgia attraction will look like. 

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Best Family Things to do Near Daytona Beach

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Planning a trip down I-95? KAG contributor Kristina has some wonderful ideas for families to check out in the Daytona Beach area.

I had the opportunity to spend some time on the Atlantic coast in Central Florida and I tried to make the most of the time I had with my kids. We are homeschooling so I was searching for things to do that were both fun and educational, although you could certainly do any of this stuff without the homeschooling aspect. 

The Daytona Beach area is about a seven-hour drive from Greenville and only about 90 minutes from the Disney hotspot of Orlando. There is a lot to explore in this area and I hope you have the chance to check these places out!

This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Dunlawton Sugar Mill

This old sugar mill has a fascinating history in and of itself and the ruins are really neat to see. You may recognize some similar equipment as was used in the cotton and textile mills in South Carolina. But then you’ve got actual dinosaurs scattered throughout the botanical gardens! They are cement and it’s a blast to find them with your kids. Although kids cannot play on them, they are certainly a fun part of wandering through the beautiful flowers and old oak trees laced with Spanish moss. 

There are also a couple free little libraries throughout the garden (a great opportunity to swap some books on your long drive). Restrooms are available on site.

950 Old Sugar Mill Rd, Port Orange, FL
Admission: Free
Website

Two girls looking through fence at a dinosaur

Museum of Arts and Sciences

We loved this place because it has a huge kids area that combines learning with fun. It has several science-related exhibits that kids can enjoy, a play pizza parlor, a remote-controlled race car track, and even a planaterium. And if you have a Roper Mountain Science Center or WNC Nature Center membership, you get in free.

Admission: $12.95/adults, $6.95/kids ages 6-17, free/under 6; also free if you have an affiliated ASTC membership.
352 S Nova Rd, Daytona Beach, FL
Website

Ponce Preserve

This small park is such a treasure. It has great nature walking trails that wind through the preserve and come to a little playground and tower that you can climb up and look out at the ocean. There are boardwalks through the marshes with kayak launches as well. Birds, crabs, and other wildlife are plentiful. The trail also has some fitness equipment, which my kids loved playing on. 

Admission: free
Website

Two girls walking along sunny path

Marine Discovery Center Boat Tour

We did the full moon boat tour and it was the coolest thing. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the area and we learned all about the local ecosystem, birds, dolphins, and manatees. The sunset was unreal and seeing the full moon rise was amazing. We got to see the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse (which we climbed the week before) so my kids had fun seeing it light up. The Marine Discovery Center also does kayak tours and the boat is covered so you are shaded from the sun. The center itself has some crabs, an eel, a corn snake (which we got to see eat some mice), and other fish plus a walking trail.

520 Barracuda Boulevard, New Smyrna Beach, FL 
Admission: Free to the discovery center itself but the boat tours are an extra cost.
Website 

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

Climb the 203 steps that twist up the middle of Florida’s tallest lighthouse. You can also tour the old houses of former lighthouse keepers and a really neat lighthouse building with lots of mirrored panes that show how the lights work. There are also other historical aspects to the lighthouse which are worth taking some time to explore. 

4931 South Peninsula Drive, Ponce Inlet, FL 
Admission: Free to tour the historical homes and buildings about the lighthouse. To climb the lighthouse, the cost is $6.95/age 12+, $1.95/ages 3-11, free/under 2.
Website

Red lighthouse

Blue Spring State Park

Want to swim and canoe in crystal clear water over the summer and see manatees in the winter? Then you have to go to Blue Spring State Park. It’s an easy day trip from the coast or Orlando and completely worth it. Read our review here

2100 W French Avenue, Orange City, FL
Website

Girl walking down stairs into water

Riverwalk Park

During those hot months, which is most of the year in Florida, Riverwalk Park has a great splashpad and playground plus lots of space for kids to run around. We loved hanging out here. You can also rent kayaks and canoes to use on the river. 

3459 S. Ridgewood Avenue, Port Orange, FL
Website

Children playing at a splash pad

Seabird Island

If you like to fish, this is the place. There are two piers to cast your line into the intercoastal waterway. I didn’t see anyone catch anything when I was there but the view was awesome. You can see the Daytona Beach skyline and it’s just a neat location to check out, maybe have a picnic. There are restrooms and boat launches as well. 

Ramp at the bottom of the bridge onto Daytona Beach
Admission: Free

Kennedy Space Center and Cocoa Beach

Just an hour south of Daytona Beach and the same distance from Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center and nearby Cocoa Beach should definitely by on your day trip list. I love all things space-related so going to the complex was just fascinating. And since my kids and watched the 2020 SpaceX mission, they were just as interested as well – and kept asking if we would be seeing the astronauts, Bob and Doug. Cocoa Beach is close by so going to the pier there and checking out the fun shops was an easy add-on. 

Space Commerce Way,
Admission to the Kennedy Space Center: $57/adult, $47/child
Admission to Cocoa Beach Pier: Free

Ocean pier with covered space at the end

New Smyrna Beach

We spent a day at New Smyrna Beach at Flagler Avenue browsing the shops with lots of cool apparel and jewelry from local artists. We had lunch overlooking the beach at Breakers, which was fairly reasonable. If you want to drive on the beach from there, it will cost you $20. Or just park in area lots and walk on the beach. There is also Smyrna Beach Dunes park with access to fishing and swimming. 

Admission to Dunes Park: $10
Admission to the drive on beach at Flagler Ave: $20

St. Augustine

This was my favorite day trip I took my girls to because the feeling of walking through our country’s oldest city was just amazing. We loved it. Of course there are touristy aspects but the locally made pumpkin spice latte and Castillo San Marcos made me fall in love with the city. The fort – Castillo San Marcos – is built right on the water and has a very interesting history. The free Junior Ranger Program is a must-do if you go to make the most of your visit and learn about it! The old town was such a pleasure to walk through. There are little shops and restaurants and cafes that are fun to wander around in. If you’re Catholic and want to attend Mass, the cathedral downtown is just the place. The church is decorated beautifully. You can head to the Alligator Farm Zoo in St. Augustine to make it a full day trip.

St. Augustine, FL
Admission: No fees to walk around Old Town or the fort, although you’ll have to pay for tickets to Castillo San Marcos and any of the attractions in town.

Two girls walking along a path next to stone fort wall

Where would you choose to go in Florida on the Atlantic Coast?

Get Up Close to Gators, Goats, Birds and More at Wild Florida

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If a trip to Central Florida is in your family’s future, consider a stop at Wild Florida, a gator-themed park that has lots of unique experiences for your family. KAG’s Kristina has the scoop. 

There is a lot to do in the Orlando area besides the theme parks. One such adventure is Wild Florida, less than an hour from downtown Orlando. The park is home to lots of alligators, crocodiles, snakes, a Florida panther, birds, and our favorite – goats. The park also has airboat rides on the nearby lake, the headwaters of the Everglades, as well as a drive-thru safari and unique animal experiences. We only did the gator park so that is what this review will cover. 

Find a place to stay in Orlando, FL. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Alligators and Crocs

Even though South Carolina has alligators, they (thankfully) aren’t located in the Upstate so I’m not too familiar with their characteristics and lifestyles. Wild Florida does a great job of educating their guests on all things gator and croc-related with boards around the park explaining different facts about them. There are also gator feedings twice a day and a place where you can feed smaller ones yourselves. 

We got to see the exotic animal show when we went to Wild Florida, which was super interesting. The guide brought out a blue-tongued skink, a Burmese python, and an American alligator. The crowd loved learning about the animals and seeing them up close. Reptiles have lots of cool facts about them and seeing them up close like that was enjoyable for my kids, especially since they are homeschooled and we are learning about animals like these currently in our studies. 

There are several enclosures throughout Wild Florida that house alligators, including two albino ones. You can walk over a wooden walkway to see tons of alligators right below you in the lagoon – terrifying and fascinating. 

Birds, snakes, and lemurs

Wild Florida has several different snakes at the park like the copperhead, pygmy rattlesnake and even a King Cobra. They also have an enormous Burmese python, which are invasive species in the Everglades just a couple hours south. I love anything having to do with python hunters so seeing one up close was pretty neat. 

They also have a neat aviary where you can walk through a bird enclosure and feed the birds from a stick (there’s a small fee to buy one). There are so many gorgeous birds in the aviary so walking through was quite the memorable experience. 

Several lemurs are at the park, which my kids loved. They are pretty cute I have to say. Other exotic animals live at Wild Florida, many of which have been rescued or donated if their owners couldn’t care for them. 

Petting Zoo

While my kids, ages 9 and 6, enjoyed all the animals at Wild Florida, the petting zoo was our favorite. The park allows you to walk into the big, fenced in space where there are lots of goats and even some baby goats! You can buy food to feed them or just go in and get happy playing with them. 

Readers at Kidding Around Greenville know how obsessed we are with goats so this part of the park was especially awesome. The goats are very friendly and the babies were adorable. It was a lot of fun to play these animals. 

There is also a small cow and large tortoise here plus some peacocks, although we didn’t see anyone trying to pet them. 

Manageable Size

I thought the size of Wild Florida was not too big but also not too small, a very Goldilocks-esque kind of park . There is plenty to see and do plus an on-site restaurant and lots of areas to sit and enjoy a meal.

We spent around two hours there and would have spent more time except that it was brutally hot.  The park had fans and mists everywhere but Florida heat can be oppressive so be sure to hydrate well when you’re there. 

You can add on an airboat ride to your park ticket as well as the drive-thru safari. 

If you want to take a break, there is a shaded playground near the alligator lagoon, which makes for a nice rest.

COVID-10 policies

In accordance with local regulations, masks are mandatory all throughout the park, both indoors and outdoors. 

There are hand sanitizing stations all throughout the park. 

Admission

Admission to the gator park alone is $10/adults (ages 13+) and $8/kids. Follow them on Facebook for special deals. When we went, they were doing a promotion where you got free admission if you donated canned goods to the park.

Wild Florida has several Animal Encounter packages for guests, most of which require kids to be at least 12 years old. You can see what they offer and prices here.

Airboat rides start at $30.50/adults and $27.50/kids. And the drive-thru safari is $29/adult and $20/child. You can also combine experiences with Adventure Packages and they do offer transportation from some parts of Florida.

The park is open daily from 9 am – 6 pm.

Wild Florida
3301 Lake Cypress Rd, Kenansville, FL
407.957.3135

See Manatees and Go Swimming at Crystal Clear Springs in Florida

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Looking for something straight out of a fairy tale where you can see manatees, paddle a kayak, and go swimming in crystalline waters? Blue Spring State Park, less than an hour from Orlando, is the ideal place. Here’s what happened when KAG contributor Kristina took her kids for an adventure there.

You know when you see a photo of someplace that is just so unbelievably gorgeous that you save it on Facebook or Instagram or put it on a list you have of places that you must go to? I have a list like that and Blue Spring State Park has been on it for a bit. I think I found it through a kayaking group and right away, I knew I had to go. 

So when I found myself spending some time in Florida, Blue Spring State Park was at the top of my list and this beautiful oasis with clear, spring water ended up being one of my family’s most fun adventures in the state for lots of reasons. 

This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Florida’s Natural Springs

My grandparents and dad’s family all lived in Florida so I ended up spending a significant amount of time there as a kid and teenager but we never explored that much, spending most of our trips on the Orlando area or at the beach. 

So I didn’t have any knowledge whatsoever of these perfect, clear springs that dot Florida’s hot and humid landscape. There are several in the central part of the state and most are located within Florida’s state parks system. 

The water is so clear because it’s filtered underground through limestone and is abundant in minerals that keep it so pristine (thank you big park educational boards that explained all this). Here is a list of other freshwater springs throughout Florida.

See Manatees

On a previous trip to Florida eons ago, I vaguely remember my parents taking my brothers and I to see manatees. I thought they were pretty neat, having had grown up in the Northeast, where we don’t have the big sea cow around.

Manatees, I learned from watching a YouTube video about them while waiting to get into the park, don’t have a lot of body fat so they need fairly warm water to survive, above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The natural springs are 72 degrees year round so they migrate there every fall and stay till early spring. 

Conservation efforts by Florida’s parks have significantly increased the protection of these gentle giants and their populations have grown. Swimming with them is prohibited.

I didn’t think we would see any manatees while there since we were a little bit early in the fall but surprise, we saw a couple of them! One swam right by us while we were canoeing and then another slipped by us while were tubing down the spring. 

Manatees are super protected by the parks. A woman in a kayak followed the manatees everywhere and told people to basically get out of the way and let the manatee swim wherever it wanted. Her kayak even said “manatee observer”. Legit job. 

Paddle the Spring

I love kayaking and decided this had to happen there. I went through Blue Spring Adventures to rent a three-person canoe, which was super sturdy and spacious. I am much more comfortable in a kayak but the only three-person option, which was my situation with my two small kids, ages 9 and 6. We rented a canoe for an hour and it worked out perfectly since it was the ideal amount of time to paddle the spring and head back without having the kids get bored. 

Blue Spring Adventures also has guided kayak and canoe tours. They are located right inside the park and I thought their prices were very reasonable (we paid around $25 for the hour canoe rental for three people). 

If you are planning on paddling through the spring, be sure to take the first time in the morning since they close that area from 11 am on since more people are swimming and tubing. You are required to wear life jackets, which come with your rental. 

When paddling the spring, you are not allowed to get out of your boat or off your paddleboard and go for a swim. 

The spring flows into the St. John’s River, where bigger boat nature tours are offered. We didn’t do that but the reviews online were very good. 

Swimming in the Spring

The water is a little chilly but it does feel great on a hot day, which are pretty prevalent in sunny Florida. And you can see straight to the bottom, which is around 18 to 20 feet. There are a few platforms that are easily accessible. Kids are welcome to wear puddle jumpers or life vests and you can bring a tube or flotation device as long as it’s not larger than six feet. 

Snorkeling and scuba diving are also permitted. I definitely wanted to snorkel after taking our tubes down the spring a bunch of times. It’s not far at all from the furthest drop in point till where you get out. You can walk down a beautiful boardwalk trail to get to that furthest point where you can swim or put in your tube. 

If you don’t have a tube, you can rent one for $6 for the first hour, $3 for each additional hour. 

Snorkeling seemed really fun. There are huge alligator gar fish (totally harmless) and some smaller fish that you can view just from looking in the water. I can’t even imagine how cool it would be to see them through snorkeling or scuba diving.

What about Gators?

OK, not gonna lie: I Googled the heck out of this topic. In Florida, you have to assume that alligators are present in any freshwater or brackish water springs, lagoons, ponds, etc. So yes, there are alligators there. We saw one in the lily pads while canoeing. 

The park has signs that there are possibly alligators there when you go swimming but gators usually prefer warmer water and in general, are pretty shy and avoid people. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have my eyes peeled the entire time we were in the water!

Also, the park rangers walk the boardwalk that overlooks the spring and they are on the lookout for alligators and will close the swimming area if any are spotted.  The last time someone was killed by an alligator at the spring was in 2015.

Need to Know

Blue Spring State Park is a popular park so you need to get there early, like before they open at 8 am. They will close when they reach capacity, which happens soon after opening. We got there at 7:30 am on a Saturday morning when we had the canoe rental reservation for 8:30 am. We didn’t make it there until 8:40 am with the long line and getting inside the park. 

The ranger told me they let in around 140 cars before they close it. We were probably number 30 or 40 in line. So get there early. 

So many people brought tents and coolers and we even saw an air bed. You can easily spend the day here and apparently that’s what people do. You can bring in food but they also sell hamburgers and hot dogs and other concessions. 

Be sure to bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray. It’s Florida so there will be bugs and sun. Be prepared. 

You can either buy your admission online or just pay when you get there. It’s $6 per car so certainly an affordable trip for a family. 

Blue Spring State Park is an easy day trip from Orlando, where it’s a short 45 minute drive. It’s the same distance from the Daytona Beach area as well. If you’re in the area, a trip to Blue Spring State Park is an amazing adventure that your family won’t forget!

Would you go swimming at Blue Spring State Park?

Blue Spring State Park
2100 W French Avenue, Orange City, FL
https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Blue-Spring 

Walk Over Hundreds of Snapping Gators at This Zoo in Florida: St. Augustine Alligator Farm

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Visiting Florida and want to have an unforgettable gator experience? Then a day at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park is a must-see. Media tickets were provided for this review. 

I think alligators are pretty interesting and I adored Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, so checking out the St. Augustine Alligator Farm when I was in the area was certainly of interest. And I’m thrilled I got the chance to see it because it was truly nothing like I was expecting. 

The zoo is one of the very oldest in the country, founded in 1893. They are accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (which means you get a 50% discount on your tickets if you have a membership to another AZA zoo) and house 24 living species of crocodilians from the Americas, Australia, Asia, and Africa. 

This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

Let’s Start with Lunch

My kids and I got to the zoo right before an alligator feeding, which I was pretty excited to see. I had seen videos of gator feedings, mostly from watching television with my kids (which I’m totally fine admitting so don’t be ashamed) but seeing it in person was a neat experience. 

The alligator lagoon is an open air huge pit with sand, water, and a platform where the zookeeper stood with all the gator food. I had my kids count the gators in lagoon and they guessed around 25 alligators lived there. The zookeeper told the crowd there were 34 gators in all, most of them stealthily swimming towards the platform while others pushing their massive jaws against each other, knowing that food was on the horizon. What a sight. 

These gators were fierce and seeing them up close was a tad scary but also thrilling. The zookeeper talked a little about the gators, what they eat, and how much meat they need to stay healthy and grow. It’s only about 80 pounds a year, which I thought was very low. That’s like us humans eating one sandwich a week. 

We learned the differences between gators and crocs and then got to see a rat getting snatched up by the awaiting gators. The crowd may have let out a couple loud “eeewwwww” sounds. 

So that was our introduction to the Alligator Farm. Then we were off to check out the rest of the zoo.

Land of the Crocodiles

The Alligator Farm has not only tons of alligators but a lot of crocodiles as well and they are some funky looking creatures. Some of them are small and others are massive but others really catch your eye with their long and skinny snouts and razor sharp teeth that are equally terrifying and fascinating. 

There are several educational stations throughout the park where visitors can learn about the lives of the animals that live there. And the park also has other reptiles like snakes and lizards as well as tropical birds and sloths. 

If you’re homeschooling, this is a great trip to make if you’re in the St. Augustine area. The zoo also has dedicated homeschooling days, which are geared towards education and entertainment for school-aged kids. 

The animals are grouped into regions such as Africa and Egypt. We loved the Egyptian area as my kids are currently learning about Ancient Egypt. They were able to see hieroglyphs and pictures of the Egyptian gods. And the exhibit that houses terrifying Gaboon vipers is awesome – it is a sandy bottomed glass box that has a replica of the Ark of the Covenant and weaved baskets. Information about the Nile River and a crocodile is right behind a glass wall – we got stuck in a typical Florida rainshower under the overhang in that part of the park and saw the croc in the water, which then disappeared. He reappeared right next to my youngest, who was standing at the glass wall. I was never more happy for glass. 

Kids Zone

I loved the small kids area next to the funny looking birds. It’s geared for kids ages 3-12 and has shaded areas for sitting, slides, a rope climbing web, and a small climbing wall. It’s perfect for taking a rest while walking around the zoo. 

Next door to the kids play area is the concession stand, which has lots of typical American cuisine like burgers and hot dogs. Definitely try their gourmet popsicles, which are made locally and are delicious. 

Walking Across the Gator Trail and Zip Lining

While you can watch the zookeeper feed the alligators, you can also do so yourself if you dare while walking over the wooden trail that is suspended over a huge lagoon with alligators everywhere you look. Bring some quarters to get the gator treats and throw them overboard. 

And sure, your kids may be short and have to look through the posts down below but don’t pick them up or carry them on your shoulders. Bad idea. They can see the gators below snapping for the treats. 

For those brave souls who want to zip line over the actual croc and gator enclosures, the park allows you to fulfill your daredevil dreams. While we were waiting for the alligator feeding, we heard some zipping noises and looked up – sure enough, people were on a zip line right over the 34 alligators in front of us. This also includes a ropes course over crocodiles. Prices are between $37 – $67 and all participants must be taller than 52 inches, at least 8 years of age, and under 250 pounds

Visiting the Park

The St. Augustine Alligator Farm is open year round from 9 am – 5 pm (closing is at 6 pm over the summer). Adult admission is $27.99 and kids (3-11) are $16.99. They offer a 10% discount to AAA members, military, and senior citizens and you can print out a $1 off coupon at their website.

And since the zoo is accredited with the AZA (if you have a Greenville Zoo or WNC Nature Center membership, you have an AZA-accredited membership), when you show your pass, you get a 50% discount for up to six people.

Hand sanitizing stations are all over the park and masks must be worn indoors. There are only a few indoor exhibits. Everything else is outdoors.

Plan to spend at least a couple hours at the zoo. There is a lot to see and it’s very educational and enjoyable. My kids and I had a blast during our time at the zoo and hope to go back the next time we are in the area. 

St. Augustine is under two hours from Orlando, Florida and about six hours and fifteen minutes from Greenville. There are a lot of other incredible attractions in St. Augustine such as their old town area and Castillo de San Marcos, a fort right on the water, so a day trip from Orlando would be a wonderful family adventure or a long weekend from Greenville!

St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
999 Anastasia Blvd. St. Augustine, FL 32080
904.824.3337
https://www.alligatorfarm.com/ 

Would you love to visit the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoo?

You Can See Dolphins and Explore a Vanishing Island in Hilton Head

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If you love dolphins and nature and are planning a trip to Hilton Head Island, exploring the salt marshes and trying to find dolphins with Island Explorer is the way to go. This story reviews three of Island Explorer’s dolphin cruises out of Hilton Head. Some of those trips were granted as media tickets so we could tell our readers all about these neat experiences. All opinions here are our own.

Find a place to stay in Hilton Head. This article contains Stay22 affiliate links.

The other passengers in our boat all gasped when we caught sight of the first dolphin off of Hilton Head Island on the gorgeous South Carolina coast. Growing up with a love of dolphins, I was right with them, grabbing my camera to capture the beautiful creatures in their natural environment.

My two young kids and I were guests of Island Explorer, led by Captain Jim, who was the very first person to open a water sports company on the island 20 years ago. He started Island Explorer with just a raft and a love of showing visitors the vast diversity of ocean life right off the dock in the salt marshes.

The boat we were on was custom made – Island Explorer has three of them – that was designed for comfort and maximum viewing capabilities of dolphins. It also conforms to US Coast certifications and fits up to 12 passengers. The summer is the company’s busiest time of year for obvious reasons, although they operate from March through Thanksgiving.

Island Explorer dolphin cruise boats Hilton Head Island

Let’s See Some Dolphins

The first time we did a tour with Island Explorer, we enjoyed the one-hour tour of the salt marsh, which Jim describes as a “nursery for ocean life.” I immediately understood this as I had taken my young daughters the evening before to a boardwalk overlooking another salt marsh where fishermen were only catching baby black tip sharks (and throwing them back). Captain Jim described this fertile environment as perfect for the smaller sea life just trying to make their way.

The cool thing is that the tours often take guests during low tide because it’s the best chance to see dolphins – for the reason that the fish have less places to hide from the dolphins and it’s prime feeding time. I love nerdy information like that. 

As we watched the dolphins swim close to the boat, I wondered if Island Explorer has ever taken guests out and not seen dolphins. Nope. They always see them, to the delight of everyone on board.

Another cool thing I loved was that the boat allows guests to bring snacks and drinks. If you have young kids, snacks are essential. They are probably more important than water. My kids were loving an extended snack time plus dolphin watching. Big win.

Dolphin in the water at Hilton Head

Vanishing Island Tour

I had my eye on this tour for over a year so when I had the chance the go, there was no hesitation. The Vanishing Island tour with Island Explorer is a three-hour expedition that takes guests to an island that is only visible during low tide where they can hunt for sand dollars and cool shells.

Vanishing Island is just past Hilton Head Island and Daufuskie Island, the last island in South Carolina, and is a wide expanse of sand. You can only get there by boat but when it’s high tide, it disappears. It feels like you’re out in the ocean walking on water! Because of the currents and tides, sand dollars are aplenty here, much more so than you’ll ever find on the beach. Island Explorer gives you a bag when you board the boat so you can grab as many interesting items from the island as you like.

We found tons of beautiful sand dollars and pretty shells. My kids were in heaven.  We were able to spend over an hour on the island and wandering to other parts of the island through shallow waters. It was a unique experience.

Child walking on the beach at Hilton Head Island

Since the tour goes through the same salt marshes as the other dolphin tours, you get to see dolphins! We got really lucky and saw them doing a unique feeding behavior where they splash their tails really hard in the water to stun the fish and then gobble them up. I only heard about this but had never seen it. I really love dolphins and seeing them in the wild doing their cool things was amazing.

Bring plenty of sunscreen and water since it’s really hot and the summer sun is relentless.

Sunset Dolphin Cruise

The last trip I did with Island Explorer was actually with co-workers – so no kids aboard this time. We had a lot of fun! The trip goes out in the early evening on Broad Creek with plenty of time for dolphin sightseeing and viewing the sunset over the sound.

Guests are welcome to bring aboard snacks and adult beverages if they like. For our sunset cruise, the sky was overcast and far away near the horizon we could see clouds start to gather as we started out of the creek area and past the oyster beds. But our captain was in control and happy to slow the boat down when we spotted our first dolphin near one of the oyster beds, which he told us plenty of information about. He fielded all our questions with ease as he guided the boat out to the waters surrounding Daufuskie Island.

Dolphin in water near a boat

I really want to go to that island, like badly. I was trying to convince him to drop me off for a bit. I wasn’t successful (maybe next time!). Our captain spotted a pod of dolphins near the island and we headed in that direction, which also happened to be in the direction of storm clouds that looked like the alien spaceships of the movie Independence Day. It was pretty cool I have to say. Scary, but neat.

No worries though as our captain was watching the radar – and the dolphins – and checking in with the other boats out in the same area. We decided to turn back at this point for safety and I figured our chances of actually seeing the sunset were pretty slim. I was wrong.

Somehow the dark clouds never reached us. In fact, they parted just enough so we could see the brilliant reds and oranges of the setting sun. It was spectacular. The beauty of the sunset over Broad Creek was stunning. We spotted a few more dolphins on our way back to the dock and really didn’t want to leave.

Sunset over water at Broad Creek.

This cruise was fantastic. One of the better parts of it was that the sun wasn’t beating down on you since it’s much later in the day. It’s a relaxed, but very enjoyable adventure. Kids are welcome on this cruise but if you’d like a date night while on the island, this is the way to go.

Trips

Island Explorer has several trips you can choose from to watch dolphins and explore nature.

There are several tours to choose from. After the pandemic, Island Explorer changed their pricing and business model to focus more on private, chartered tours. However, there are cruises, like the Sunset Dolphin Cruise, where you can still pay by person.

Ready to See Dolphins?

Book a tour now for your Lowcountry trip because summer is the busy season for Island Explorer. The company has won multiple travel awards for their exceptional experiences for guests, and ours was no different. They are top-notch operation and I would choose them again in a heartbeat!

Island Explorer
101 Marshland Road
Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
843.785.2100
book@dolphintourshiltonhead.com
https://www.dolphintourshiltonhead.com

Would your kids love to see some dolphins on your next beach trip?

2021 Has Brought Dinosaurs Back To Life Near Charlotte, NC!

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If you’re looking for a unique family activity with safe social distancing to finish out your summer, look no further than the drive-through version of Jurassic Quest in Concord, North Carolina. The safari experience runs now through February 21st. Purchase tickets soon as they sell out quickly.

Last year, Kidding Around’s Melanie checked out the tour when it stopped at The Atlanta Motor Speedway. For more information in the Concord, North Carolina area, check out Bethany’s Guide to Concord.

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Kiawah Island Is Home To One Of The Top Ten Beaches In The US

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Have you heard of Kiawah Island’s Beachwalker Park? This park is one of the nation’s top ten rated beaches, and it’s just a few hours away off the coast of Charleston. Kidding Around’s Melanie took a trip to Kiawah Island recently, and it didn’t take long for her to see why that honor was warranted!

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See 500,000 LEGO Bricks at NC Arboretum

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Did you know the Nature Connects LEGO brick scultpture exhibit is back at the North Carolina Arboretum? The nature themed exhibit features 16 sculptures made out of Lego bricks by artist Sean Kenney.  In total, the exhibit utilizes nearly 500,000 LEGO bricks in sculptures displayed throughout the arboretum’s gorgeous gardens.

This is a fabulous day trip from Greenville and there’s plenty of space to spread out and safely enjoy the arboretum! We have some things you should know about the exhibit, plus ideas to turn this day trip adventure in to an educational field trip. Homeschoolers, we’re looking at you.

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