of the houseboats for rent from Holly Bluff Marina
in DeLand, Fla.
in the deep green heart of central Florida, an eagle’s
cry pierces the morning quiet. Soaring through the
sunrise, she surveys her domain before landing in a
cypress tree high above the St. Johns River. As she
fortifies her nest, an alligator bellows from the
riverbank. Together, they play a primeval role in a story
that predates memory.
the St. Johns River by houseboat, you step into that story
and recapture a bit of what’s lost in our workaday
lives. After a few days, your body adapts to the rhythm of
the tea-colored current and the stillness that marks the
beginning and end of each day.
people visualize theme parks when they think of Florida,
but between Orlando and Daytona, it’s a different world.
There are places on this river that remind me of South
America," said houseboating enthusiast Susan Bradley
of St. Augustine.
a houseboat from Holly Bluff Marina in DeLand, you can
travel this north-flowing river for several hours through
forest and swamp before reaching Astor, a rustic fishing
community. With a quick wave to fishermen perched along
the riverbank, you leave Astor behind and wilderness
soon reach Lake George, Florida’s second largest lake.
If you continue north, the river eventually picks up pace
— and population — at Jacksonville, where it empties
into the Atlantic.
no need to venture that far to discover the river’s true
beauty. Drop anchor off the main channel, and your boat’s
gentle drift reveals a panorama of woods, wildlife and
water reflecting an infinite expanse of sky.
Moore, a live-aboard houseboat owner, wakes most mornings
to see manatees or alligators swimming off the stern. He
recalls the time a National Geographic photographer
visited the St. Johns.
was amazed that this river looks so tropical," Moore
recalled. From Moore’s perspective, the freshwater
springs along the St. Johns are especially exotic.
"They’re unbelievably clear. It’s like swimming
through drinking water."
summertime, the shimmering Blue Spring State Park, just
south of the marina, fills with frolicking families. In
cooler months, hundreds of slow-moving manatees graze in
its 73-degree water.
hours north of the marina, boaters navigate Lake George by
compass and channel marker (GPS is unreliable) to reach
Silver Glen Springs. Raising the propellers and gliding
carefully into the shallow spring run, you discover
turquoise water glowing against the backdrop of Ocala
National Forest. Snorkel over the spring vents, and you
witness the force of nature that gushes forth 65 million
gallons of water daily.
for holidays, the springs and other river anchorages
promise a peaceful night.
heard that silence is the new luxury, and I think that
resonates with most people," Bradley said. "Our
lives are so busy, being on a houseboat gives you the
chance to move at your own pace."
Bluff Marina, 2280 Hontoon Road in DeLand, is 62 miles
from Orlando International Airport and 26 miles from
Daytona Beach International Airport. Fully equipped
houseboats rent from $825 a weekend to $3,300 a week,
depending on size and time of year; 800-237-5105.