Florida is divided into various “coasts.” There’s the Space Coast at the Kennedy Space Center/Port Canaveral area. There’s the Palm Coast by Palm Beach. There’s the Emerald Coast on the panhandle. And then there’s the Nature Coast that stretches from Clearwater to Ochlocknee Bay on the Gulf side. Here is “old Florida” at its best. Spanish moss drapes from live oak trees, endangered Gopher tortoises wander the streets, and life moves at a slower pace. And manatees live here, too.
For the tourist, this is the only place in the country where you can swim with manatees. In the dead of summer you can also scallop by snorkeling in shallow waters and catching the tasty crustaceans. And you can visit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.
The park has an underwater observatory on a manatee viewing platform in the main spring. You can watch the several manatees that live here in the summer months. In the winter, though, hundreds congregate here for the warm spring waters. Various tour operators throughout the area arrange snorkel trips to swim with them at any time of year. Check in Crystal River as well as Homosassa. Wandering the park, though, you will see manatees slip through the water at various locations.
Other animals in the park are mostly native Florida residents. I’m not sure how a hippo joined the group, but Lu the hippo is a crowd-pleaser!
It wouldn’t be a Florida wildlife park without ‘gators. And there are lots of big specimens to oooh and ahhh over. All are securely located behind a fence, as far as we know. A reptile house showcases native snakes, too.
All of the birds on display here are in some way unable to survive in the wild. Flamingoes, pelicans (both white and brown), hawks, owls, and bald eagles all live here. Other wild birds flock to the area of their own accord. From swans to anhingas, to migrating and resident songbirds, you might be surprised at every turn.
It’s just a fun family kind of place that you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Florida.
The springs in this area produce an amazing amount of water. It is where Zepherhills Spring water is bottled. All kinds of sport fish gather at the springs, too. Those are snook in the picture, above. The park also contains a gift shop and small cafe. It takes a few hours to fully travel the entire park, and you can expect crowds in the winter. Why not come during the summer when you can scallop, too?
This side trip makes a perfect pre- or post- cruise adventure if you are departing out of Tampa, Florida, too. When you want to play with the manatees, give me a call at 561-841-2224, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or do some research on your own at www.susanmcdanieltravel.com . I’ll be happy to tell you all the insider secrets you need to enjoy a wonderful experience on Florida’s Nature Coast. It’s one of my favorite places.
Hint: Don’t enter the park off of US 19!