a ride on the African Queen, the boat used in the
1951 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine
tourists came to Florida back in the days before Disney,
they still went on “rides.” But in Old Florida, those
rides were boat tours not roller coasters.
Florida by boat is still one of the best ways to enjoy all
floating getaway, you can reach places where there are no
roads and glimpse views you can’t see any other way.
Some of the boats themselves are one-of-a-kind
attractions. Others are such classic Florida experiences
that they have been carrying visitors on these routes for
more than 100 years.
dozens of boat tours in Florida, but here are seven that
stand out for their history or the special experience they
SPRINGS: FLORIDA’S OLDEST GLASS-BOTTOM BOAT TOUR
in the 1870s when an entrepreneur fixed a piece of glass
in the bottom of a rowboat. Tourists flocked here to see
what was then the largest artesian spring in the world,
and Silver Springs became a big money-making attraction.
however, Silver Springs’ success as a tourist attraction
had faded. The state took it over and opened the new
Silver Springs State Park. Fortunately, the traditional
glass-bottom boat tours continue. While the spring no
longer pumps enough water to be first in the world, it is
still a stunning sight. You can still see the bottom
through 20 or 30 feet of water the color of a swimming
pool. Visitors often see wildlife — alligators, turtles,
anhingas, herons plus large fish in and near the clear
glass-bottom boats have been powered by electricity since
the 1930s, and because the trip is short — 30 to 45
minutes — they’re also inexpensive ($11 for adults;
$10 for seniors and children; 5 and under free).
River and its spring are worth more than a half-hour tour,
however, so I recommend you consider the 90-minute River
Boat Tour, which is offered on Fridays, Saturdays and
Sundays. (Tickets are $25 adults; $20 seniors and
children; 5 and under free.)
way to see Silver Springs, though, is by kayak, which you
can rent at the park. It is, without question, one of the
prettiest rivers to kayak in Florida.
Springs Glass-Bottom Boats, 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd.,
Silver Springs; 352-236-7148, silversprings.com/glass-bottom-boats
AUGUSTINE: 100 YEARS TOURING WITH ONE FAMILY
years ago, Henry Flagler was bringing Florida’s first
tourists to St. Augustine on his train and hosting them at
his grand Ponce De Leon Hotel, which is now Flagler
College. To amuse his guests, Flagler arranged for some
locals, Capt. Frank Usina and his wife, to offer oyster
roasts. Pretty soon, Usina was transporting visitors by
boat around St. Augustine’s waters.
later, his descendants are still doing that. A 75-minute
scenic cruise, operated by the fourth generation of the
Usina family, sails under St. Augustine’s much
photographed Bridge of Lions and in front of the Castillo
De San Marcos, past salt marshes with wading birds and out
to the lighthouse. Sightings of dolphins are common.
(Adults, $19; seniors $16; children 4-12 $9.)
do not operate Sept. 3 to Oct. 3.
PARK: 80 YEARS AND COUNTING
Mickey Mouse came to Orlando, folks were enjoying
“jungle cruises” in Orlando. The Winter Park Scenic
Boat Tours started taking visitors through the lakes and
canals of the Winter Park chain in 1938.
tour, you see lushly landscaped lakefront estates and ride
through narrow canals. You’ll see boaters, wading birds
and the occasional alligator. Tour guides offer lots of
stories about local history and the people who lived in
the mansions, plus a few corny jokes. The 18-passenger,
open-air pontoon boats provide a friendly, intimate
one-hour tour. Be sure to bring hats and sunscreen. Tours
leave hourly and accept only cash or checks. ($14 adults;
SPRINGS: MAKE LIKE TARZAN AND EXPLORE ‘THE BLACK
One of the
largest springs in the world and the deepest in Florida,
Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee has a rich history. There
are mastodon bones in the bottom of the river,
archaeological sites along its shores and it was also the
setting for several early Tarzan movies starring Johnny
Weissmuller, as well as “The Creature from the Black
on the boat tour in Edward Ball Wakulla Spring State Park
tells you stories of the mysterious spring (its source has
never been located) while pointing out wildlife, which is
plentiful. Ancient bald cypress trees line the river.
tour is a two-mile loop that takes 45 minutes to an hour
and it’s a bargain ($8 for adults and $5 for children).
The water rarely achieves the aquamarine clarity it once
had, but when it does — usually in late winter or early
spring — Wakulla Spring brings out its glass bottom boat
for special tours.
SEE SUNSET FROM THE WATER
the 1960s, hippies in Key West had turned watching the
daily sunset into a celebration on Mallory Square. Sunset
cruises weren’t far behind.
Historic Key West Seaport has about a dozen sunset cruises
available. You’ll want to search reviews on TripAdvisor
to see which one matches your style and pocketbook. Some
are priced for people celebrating special occasions;
others are doing a higher volume/lower price business.
called the Party Cat promotes itself as the least
expensive sunset cruise at $40 per person. Beer and soft
drinks are included plus music and dancing.
pirate-themed Jolly II Rover, an 80-foot schooner with
jaunty red sails, is $65 and is BYOB. It’s a two-hour
West Cocktail Cruise offers a cruise with cocktails for
$80 per person, with champagne for $70 per person and
craft beer and wine for $42 per person as a low-season
a newer addition to Key West, is a luxury catamaran with a
smaller capacity. It offers beer, wine plus charcuterie
items and cheese for $91 per person. sailargonavis.com
America 2.0 is a tall ship that serves champagne, wine,
beer and hors d’oeurves for $96 per person. sail-keywest.com
SPRINGS: HISTORIC CRUISE PLUS A DAZZLING ISLAND
to Tarpon Springs to dive for sponges, but by the 1920s,
some sponging boats began taking visitors out for tours.
The sponges are long gone, but the Greek heritage and boat
tours live on.
One of the
best things to do from the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks is
take a boat tour, and it offers several delights. First
you tour the Anclote River and hear a little Tarpon
Springs history. Then you head into Gulf waters and spot
dolphins. On some cruises, you head a few miles out and
stop on Anclote Key, a pristine white-sand barrier island
reachable only by boat. Anclote Key is a state park with
an 1887 lighthouse. The tours give visitors a brief time
to enjoy Anclote’s perfect sandy beaches — you’ll
wish you could stay. Visiting the lighthouse is not part
of the tour.
several types of cruises, ranging in price from $16 for a
two-hour dolphin cruise to $38 lunch or dinner cruise with
a beach option.
BE LIKE BOGIE ON THE AFRICAN QUEEN
do this anywhere else: The African Queen boat, the actual
steamboat used in the 1951 movie starring Humphrey Bogart
and Katharine Hepburn, has been beautifully restored to
take visitors on Key Largo cruises.
pricey — best for true fans yearning to sit exactly
where Hepburn and Bogart did — but intimate. The boat is
licensed to take just six passengers at a time and the
canal cruise, at $59 adults, is about 90 minutes long.
Queen, U.S. Highway 1 at Mile Marker 100, Holiday Inn
Docks, Key Largo. 305-451-8080, africanqueenflkeys.com