When people think of Florida they think of beaches and ocean salt waters. And of course Disney. What doesn’t usually come to mind is freshwater lakes. That’s exactly what we decided to explore yesterday.
Central Florida is home to the Chain of Lakes water ways. There are over 50 lakes touching in and around Winter Haven and 24 are connected by canals and a lock. We decided to check it out first hand after our cycling excursion on the Chain of Lakes trail took us over a couple of canals. We boarded an eight seater pontoon boat at the Harbourside Restaurant. https://www.harborsidefl.com/
Our friendly guide, Tristan, helped us onto his boat (actually his parents but he offers tours while on college breaks) for the two hour tour operated by Living Water Boat Tours https://www.livingwatercruises.com/
The starting point is on Lake Shipp and we pull away from the dock to enter the first canal taking us to Lulu Lake. We will see 5 of the lakes in 2 hours and realize you need way more time to do the entire chain justice. Along the way Tristan points out various wildlife and other interesting tidbits. We pass a ball diamond that abuts the canal and was home to MLB spring training in the past but know hosts college tournaments which was happening when we rolled by. LEGO land is another tourist attraction in the area and they feature a water show which we passed.
There are waterskiing schools around the lakes and we were treated to an impromptu performance by a wake boarder. Being a Monday the lakes were fairly untraveled. I was amazed at the depth of the water (very shallow in some cases) as we passed under bridges and had anyone been standing they would have been knocked over. There were no glaring signs pointing out the obvious and thought of all of the crazy signs in Canada hoping to save people from their own stupidity.
We saw an alligator lounging lazily on a decrepit dock. He paid no attention to us as we cruised up to his perch for a closer look. He was accompanied by a feathered friend who clearly wasn’t worried that he’d make a nice dinner. The lakes teemed with other fowl. And fishermen in their boats were enjoying the catch. Some of the lakes are spring fed so they are clear while others are murky and menacing.
According to Tristan, who grew up on the lakes, and lives there to this day, there is plenty of swimming and water activities in the summer. There are numerous restaurants that can be accessed by boat. Because of his familiarity, we were also privy to quaint highlights such as the home of his prom date. Very cute. He pointed out the home of an Olympic swimmer and showed us his practice routine. There was a (slightly dodgy looking now) private pool built in the shape of Florida which was used as an advert to attract men to enlist. Apparently the owner took photos of attractive young ladies posed around the pool and offered a visit to military men upon return from war.
We ended the tour back at the restaurant where enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch at the waters edge. There are definitely plans to return. Maybe on our own boat with Captain Crunch at the helm. Anything’s possible.