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.
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:
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.