The Venice of Florida

Today we grabbed our friends and enjoyed a lively double date in Winter Park. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here three months already! My laundry list of places I want to check out is still pretty long. One got the check mark and it was dandy.

The Scenic Tours of Winter Park are (according to our witty guide) the second oldest tourist attraction in Florida. They started in 1938 (with different boats of course) and have been a must do since then. We aren’t beach dwellers and prefer the proximity to golf courses and other activities than hanging at the beach. That’s a change for us since we are on permanent vacation rather than trying to soak up as much sun and sand as we can in a week off. So our idea of water is on one of the numerous (and I mean hundreds) of fresh water lakes.

The tour of the Winter Park canals and lakes is referred to as the Venice of Florida. And the weather was stellar at about 27C and sunny. We gather at the docks in the heart of WP (Winter Park) and join dozens of others who have chosen the same outing. Tours leave every hour and there are 4 or 5 pontoon boats which can hold about 12 passengers plus the captain. They run a well oiled machine getting people off and on the boats in record time. We shove off and the tour is underway.

The tour includes two lakes and two canals. The views of the lakefront mansions is breathtaking and a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Uber wealthy. The homes and gardens surrounding them are truly magnificent; magazine worthy. The guide gives us tidbits of trivia along the way and mentions that the home owners (many are known celebrities) are grateful for their privacy. They appreciate that the tour isn’t a Hollywood map of the stars. The most we got was “that’s an NBA player and he added a 20,000 square foot addition to accommodate an indoor basketball court”. One of the homes was under construction and will be (at 40,000+ square feet) the largest in the lake and will include a movie theatre, bowling alley and gun range. Really.

After the tour we headed into WP for a bite to eat and a cold drink. We ended up at an al fresco resto on Park Ave which is the main drag in town. It is a fashion show in every sense: amazing cars, designer clothes on leisurely shoppers, flower pots brimming with colourful plants. A truly enchanting village setting with a picturesque train station and park area that’s manicured to the nines. Not to mention the shops: an eclectic selection of boutiques, eateries, wine and cocktail venues, a few brand name stores such as Restoration Hardware/Pottery Barn/Williams Sonoma, a cigar lounge and humidor (buy a stogie and smoke it in the lounge if you like). Basically a grand place to spend a few hours and a few bucks.

Our lunch was delightful and the best part was the view of the bustling sidewalk and road traffic. We savour the ambience and the conversation. But at the end we part ways: gentlemen exit stage left for the cigar lounge and ladies make off for the shops. My friend bought a kimono here last year and was hoping to recreate the vibe; she is not disappointed. There’s a great selection AND they are on sale. Bonus. We make our way down the street and stop in to the shops that are inviting of which there are many. Finally we return to the cigar lounge where we find the men enjoying their stogies and having met a new friend. He’s also puffing away (something he says is a daily event) and we find out some interesting things about him. He lives in one of the homes on the lake we cruised. He has annual trips to Calgary with his polo team. He thinks Cuban cigars are overrated (spoken like someone who’s country had them outlawed for years). All in all a very nice unassuming gentleman who was clearly in a financial stratosphere beyond our galaxy.

Cigars done we make our way via car to our final pit stop of the day. Lombardis Seafood. At Lombardis you can literally feel like you’re at the sea. They have every type of briny delight including our favourite (and reason for stopping in) Florida stone crabs. We try to indulge at least once while we are in Florida. We were first introduced to this delicacy by our friends who wintered here for years before us. Since then we’ve been hooked. The sweet crab meat is buried in the most hard thick shell ;aka stone??) that the fish monger busts with a hammer in store if you want. It’s typically served with a yummy mustard sauce. Delicious!!

We wrap our day revelling at the fabulous weather and the freedom to have done what we did. Florida; fuck yeah!!

Notice the black birds … they are pelicans!

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