If you’ve got the time, and are ready for an adventure outside of Orlando’s theme-park-land, consider a pontoon boat rental.
About 40 miles to the North and East of downtown Orlando, or about 30 miles West of Daytona, is part of the scenic and preserved St. Johns River.
At 310 miles in length, the St. Johns is the longest river in the state of Florida.
You can rent a pontoon boat for the day, and take you and up to 7 seven friends or family on a self-piloted excursion on the St. Johns river.
The route you take is entirely up to you. Your pontoon boat rental can include gator watching, manatee watching, fishing, beach sunning, exploring some of the trails at various locations along the river, or doing what we did. Using the well marked and provided map we slowly circumnavigated a circle route that, ultimately, brought us back to the dock where we embarked on our pontoon boat rental. My, the things we saw!
At times the river is broad, and you see no one. Other times you may see another pontoon boat. Since the route on the map varies so much, you can quickly lose yourself (not really – just be alone) on one of the tributaries that evoke rainforest and historic epochs.
On our pontoon boat adventure we motored along at just over steerage way speed. We spent a full day on the river. We enjoyed seeing many gators – up close and personal. Dozens and dozens of turtles were spotted. A half dozen or so manatees were watched, including a manatee pup that had been marked with a broadcast beacon to allow authorities to track its movements. We enjoyed seeing hundreds of birds in flight, nest, on the rookery, all kinds. Every bend in the river brought us a new range of species to enjoy, and most times we were the only boat on that part of the river.
(Many) “vertebrates, numerous species of frogs, salamanders, snakes, and turtles, and alligators proliferate in marsh waters. Most of these animals are active at night. Choruses of frogs are overwhelming; during alligator mating season the grunts of bulls join in. The marshes around the St. Johns River upper basin are teeming with birds. A recent study counted 60,000 birds in one month nesting or feeding in the upper basin. Wading and water birds like the white ibis, wood stork, and purple gallinule depend on the water for raising their young: they prey upon small fish and tadpoles in shallow water and puddles in the dry season. In successful seasons, their colonies can number in the thousands, creating a cacophony of calls and fertilizing trees with their droppings.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Johns_River
Though we didn’t see any, evidently black bears abound along the banks of the river in spots. Wikipedia also reports that along some stretches of the river, you can see bands of rhesus monkeys living in the trees. How they got there is anybody’s guess, though theories abound.
Bring a lunch and a well stocked cooler. Comfort stations are found at a number of locations along the river.
We absolutely enjoyed our day on the St. Johns River near Orlando. As we mentioned, if you have the time and inclination, you can see some of Florida in a way that most folks don’t. Bring your camera. On this page we can hardly even begin to show you the hundreds of photos we took on our pontoon boat rental adventure.
If you are in Orlando in January – March, there is a preferred rate for pontoon boat rental. See Hontoon Pontoon’s website for details.
Hontoon Landing Resort & Marina
2317 River Ridge Road
DeLand FL 32720