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Visitors to Orlando would be forgiven (or would they?) for thinking that the city is a never-ending, depressing string of motels, strip malls, weird dives selling discounted park tickets, souvenir shacks, and Waffle Houses.  Head over to Kissimmee and – more of the same!  Orlando is a place built for and around the theme park visitor.  But there are people actually living here who exist on a separate plane and do none of this stuff.  And shockingly enough, the city has a history that predates Disney-ification.

Enter Winter Park, the chi chi suburb, northwest of the city.  Long the winter playground of the rich from colder climes.  This genteel area has stately homes, ancient trees covered in swaying moss, swank boutiques, lakes, and canals.  Since 1938 (beat that Mr. Disney), it is also the home of the Scenic Boat Tour.

winter-park-sign

This excursion is the type of thing we normally avoid.  While perfectly reasonably priced, the one hour tour would still cost the eight of us $98 US and we just can’t be doing that y’all.  However, this trip to Orlando has been gifted to us and we really haven’t spent much so we decided bite the bullet and take the tour.

winter-park-spanish-moss

Spanish moss

It was great fun.  We loaded onto an 18-passenger pontoon boat and wondered why there wasn’t a sunroof in the oppressive Florida heat.  All became clear a few minutes later. The tour leaves from the shore of Lake Osceola.  It then navigates narrow, windy canals to enter other lakes.  Our engaging guide told us all kinds of information about the mansions, Rollins College ($65K a year to attend and 12 students to one professor), and local wildlife.  So the reason for no sunroof?  Lo-lo- bridgeda.  Multiple.  Be prepared to duck.

winter-park-mansion

The lake shores are dotted with mansions from all eras.

Although the time spent on the lakes was enjoyable and informative, it was the side trips down the canals that made the excursion.  My kids (7-19 yo) were meh about the outing but the adults aboard thought it was great.

winter-park-canal

We enter a canal

winter-park-canal2

One of the bridges

winter-park-traffic-jam

Traffic jam in the canal. That’s why the speed limit is 5 miles/hour. Guys on the left had to pull over to the boat house and the guy in the distance had to back all the way back out of the canal.

Recommended if you: just can’t do another theme parky thing; like canals; enjoy quirks; happen to be in Winter Park; like viewing waterfront property you could never afford.

Adults – $14 US

Kids 2-11 – $7 US

Tours every hour on the hour, last tour at 4 pm

Cash or cheques (?!) only

Bring water, sunscreen, sunhat

NOTE: it actually feels cooler out on the water and the canal portions of the outing are shaded