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Posts Tagged ‘Florida’

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

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

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

This LEGO Themed Park In Central Florida Will Help You Build The Perfect Vacation

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The Upstate has definitely caught LEGO fever since gaining a LEGO store of its own. KAG Contributor Melanie Coblentz and her family visited LEGOLAND Amusement Park in Florida.

Here’s how she surprised her children and her review of the park.

LEGOLAND is offering guests a new “Peace of Mind” policy during the pandemic. You can read more about the current LEGOLAND cancelation policy, and the other important changes, online.