Today, we are excited to present the first story from our new contributor, Stephanie Bonilla! Her enthusiasm and passions for travel are apparent in her writing and now our fellow cruisers and travelers will benefit, while getting to know her. You can also learn a bit more about Stephanie via our Contributors page!
How many times do cruise takers hop on an aircraft, take a taxi (or Uber), making it just in time to board their ocean greyhound and embark on their next adventure? Countless. How many of those passengers consider exploring the backyard of the ports they originally depart from? Not many.
Port Canaveral, also known as the “turnaround” port, is home to Florida’s second busiest cruise port. With popular cruise lines such as Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian using it to dock their vessels, thousands of passengers pour over gangplanks daily. Although the port’s locality doesn’t have much to offer, there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be explored near-by. Take heed of the following piece of travel wisdom: Disney World will be the top contender when asking the Internet for advice– but there is much more to see in Central Florida than the mouse! Rather than fall victim to the common tourist traps, I challenge you to overcome your Disney itch and travel a little farther north to a place many locals have labeled as Mother Nature’s playground.
Blue Spring State Park
Just under an hour and a half drive from the port and only thirty minutes farther than the greater Orlando-area, wedged between your typical Central Florida neighborhood and more live oak trees than you can count, lies a hidden oasis. Since you can easily obtain all the park’s facts from a simple Internet search, I will refrain from spewing them out at you. All you really need to know is Blue Spring State Park covers over 2,600 acres and serves as a Manatee Refuge to a growing population of buoyant sea cows. The park’s biggest attraction, respectively called Blue Springs, is one of Central Florida’s hidden treasures. For the low fare of $6 per vehicle, visitors can cannon ball into one of nature’s swimming pools, hike miles of unspoiled wilderness, enjoy a barbeque in one of the park’s numerous pavilions, or bait up and cast their fishing line near the river’s shore. No matter what you’re into, this park’s got you covered. Now more on my adventure…
After being greeted by friendly park staff, we quickly stumbled upon a tunnel of trees that lead us to the parking lot. Excited families with multicolored floats in arm caught my eyes as they disappeared behind oak trees, eagerly making their way towards the spring. I quickly got in my two-piece, kicked off my flip-flops and happily lugged my 4-foot hot pink donut float down a windy boardwalk. Arriving at the shore of the awe-inspiring turquoise waters, I could feel the explorer vibes flowing through my body. They were quickly stunned as my skin touched the 73-degree crystalline water. Man, was it cold! It took my body a couple of minutes to adjust to the chilly temperature. Although I’m a Miamian who prefers its lukewarm oceans, the excitement of exploring this swimming hole for the adventurous numbed any feeling of discomfort. You have the option of swimming, tubing, snorkeling or scuba diving down the spring. For those feeling a little more energetic, a thin rope serves as a divider for visitors who prefer to kayak or canoe. Forgot your raft? Equipment rentals for almost all of the water activities mentioned can be rented at the ground’s concession for a small fee—minus the scuba gear. We opted to bring our own floats and goggles in an effort to save a couple of bucks.
As we made our way down the spring, bathers congregated around the spring’s boil, watching jumpers leap off of trees and sandy banks into the clear blue water. This particular area is a magnet for scuba divers, housing an underwater cave and an abundance of marine life. Divers and snorkelers alike delve into the depth of this blue hole, attempting to unlock the cave’s mysteries. After spending a couple of hours soaking up the sun and investigating the spring, we decided to tap out and grab a quick snack.
The park’s grounds have a variety of places visitors can use to kick back and dry off. Pavilions, BBQ pits, and grassy areas can be found just outside the spring’s boardwalk, with families migrating here to get their grub on. For the most part, these areas are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so keep that in mind when making lunch plans. Though the park offers both food and drinks for purchase, we opted to bring our own ham and cheese sandwiches and hung out on the grass. Beer drinkers beware: alcoholic beverages are not allowed on park grounds. As the first one to crave a refreshing IPA to quench my thirst, I must admit I was a little bummed.
As soon as lunch was over, we decided to walk some calories off on one of the park’s nature trails. We began our voyage at Pine Island Trail, a lesser-known, less-used terrain. Immediately upon entering the trailhead, hikers are welcomed by a sign warning them that this is a one-way path. 4.5 miles each way, the trail offers dense forests, shady resting areas, casual scrub-jay sightings, and plenty of photo opps. Nature’s magic is truly felt as you make your way through massive live oaks, leaving the sounds of humans behind. During our hike, we were lucky enough to spot scrub-jays, cardinals, deer, turtles, and a variety of insects. Love bugs are prevalent in this area, so don’t be surprised if a couple of intertwined honeymoon flies land on you. Overall, the long walk was well worth it. Since nearly a mile of the trail is fully exposed to the sun in each direction, I highly recommend that anyone taking this journey apply lots of sunscreen. Also, make sure to bring some H2O with you as well a bug spray. You’ll thank me later.
A Little Lagniappe
If you’re all park’d out and still have time to spare, I highly suggest taking a drive 7 miles west to the near-by city, Deland. Located smack in the middle of Deland’s downtown strip is Santorini Greek Cuisine, a yelper’s dream come true. This little hole-in-the-wall offers great service, an array of Greek food options, and a relaxing vibe. For some of the best Greek food that will ever grace your palette, order the restaurant’s Athenian Chicken with a side of their lemon roasted potatoes. It’s enough for two and probably the best $13 you’ll ever spend.
Sweet tooth nudging you? Walk on over to Pat & Toni’s Chocolate and Sweet Things for your choice of creamy ice cream and chocolate-covered-anything. If chocolate covered bacon doesn’t entice you, try one of their dark mint truffles or imported licorice. It won’t disappoint.
Those with time to kill after getting off a ship at Port Canaveral should not think twice about making it out to this magnificent, pristine land. In less than 10 hours, visitors can enjoy a day full of activities, unforgettable adventures, and great food. Although at first glance this area doesn’t seem like it has much to offer, it proves that venturing away from your typical tourist stomping grounds can pay off. Remember, true adventure seekers don’t have to stand in 3-hour lines wearing Mickey ears!