A trip to Winter Park, Florida

Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. Copyright Gretta Schifano

The youngest points excitedly and says: ‘Look, there’s a turtle!’ We’re in a flat-bottomed pontoon boat on Lake Osceola and the turtle is bobbing along in the water about a metre away from us – it’s thrilling to see this creature in its natural habitat. We’re on an hour-long Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour and it’s very relaxing. The town of Winter Park was popular with wealthy Northerners as a winter escape in the early 1900s and many of them built mansions around the local lakes. The narrated boat tour brings alive the history of these mansions and offers the chance to spot native plants and wildlife as it winds through the lakes and the canals which connect them.

We’re in Winter Park on the recommendation of Cat at Visit Orlando’s press office. Cat told me that the town of Winter Park offers a great contrast to the theme parks – and she’s right. I find it a welcome antidote to the previous ten days of hustle and bustle.

It takes us about half an hour to drive to Winter Park from our base near Disney World. We park in one of the free car parks and head for the Winter Park Welcome Centre to pick up a map. We’re the only people there and the lady at the desk couldn’t  be kinder. She gives us each a bottle of chilled water to drink and then helps us to plan our afternoon.

From here we follow her suggestion for a lunch venue and head around the corner and along the cobbled street to eat at a modern, friendly, stylish restaurant called 310 Park South. I love my grilled vegetable sandwich with salad and a raspberry dressing. The food is delicious, the best of our trip, and the bill comes to $62.00 with tax for four main courses and drinks.

Lunch at 310 Winter Park. Copyright Gretta Schifano

We then drive a few blocks (it’s terribly hot or we would have walked) through the leafy streets to catch the boat tour, which leaves every hour. It’s a beautiful tour but I wish I’d brought a wide-brimmed hat as there’s absolutely no shade. My husband and children are fine though – I’m paler than them.

After the boat tour we have another short drive to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art which houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany’s father founded the American jewellery company Tiffany & Co and the artist is best known today for his popular stained glass creations. I know the children will be fed up here as they’re hot and bothered and not in the mood to look at art or learn about how stained glass is made. So we find them somewhere cool and comfortable to sit while my husband and I take a whirlwind tour of the museum. Photos aren’t allowed inside, but we see some exquisite exhibits. My favourite is the Tiffany Chapel interior, a vision of mosaic and glass created for the 1893 Chicago world’s fair where it caused a sensation and was seen by more than a million visitors. I actually hold my breath when I first see this creation as it’s so beautiful.

We enjoyed our afternoon at Winter Park and I’d definitely recommend it if you need a change from the theme parks.

Family travel lowdown:

Winter Park Scenic Boat Tours cost $12 for adults, $6 for children age 2-11. My ticket was free for the purposes of this post thanks to the support of Visit Orlando.

Entry to Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is $5 for adults, free for children under 12. We arrived an hour before closing time and were invited in free of charge.

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  1. says

    What a great idea to see something less commercial during your trip. I would have loved the boat trip and the Tiffany museum. Having the place to yourselves was an added bonus.
    I bought myself a hat at the airport before we left for Austria – came in very handy in the sun although, it being a bright pink trilby affair, husband said it was a tad kiss-me-quick!

  2. says

    I’m not sure I could handle the Florida theme parks but the boat trip sounds more up my street. Most of my knowledge of Florida comes from the books of Carl Hiaasen. I love reading these but he doesn’t exactly paint a glowing picture!

  3. says

    Oh I love the sound of this and I love the picture. I’ve never been to Florida, I would love to take the girls, although I’m very fair and do suffer a bit in the heat. I think it could be a great family friendly destination for us and easy to get too from Northern Ireland, it’s one of the few long haul destinations that we can fly direct to.
    Nichola Fabfortymum recently posted…Sunny Beginnings – #OneWeekMy Profile