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Sanford and Seminole County

Have Much to Offer For Families

Story and photos By Bob Lindsey

Taking cell phone photos from a Black Hammock Adventures’ airboat ride on Lake Jesup, which is said to have the largest Alliigator population of any Florida lake. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Taking photos from a Black Hammock Adventures’ airboat ride on Lake Jesup, which is said to have the largest Alliigator population of any Florida lake. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Back when there were dozens of brick-and-mortar travel agencies in our area, the agents would tell us that Orlando was the top destination for St. Louis vacations. It still is. Families head to Disney World, Universal Studios or Seaworld, then spend a few days at one of the beach communities on the Atlantic side.

In recent years, Orlando North/Seminole County has become a bridging vacation option for Central Florida, because it is only 45 minutes from Disney, 45 minutes from Daytona Beach, and an hour from the Kennedy Space Center. Take a week’s vacation in Central Florida and kick back with a few days in Seminole County.
Orlando North/Seminole County is being called a Florida oasis to enjoy the unspoiled natural surroundings with slow-moving rivers for fishing, boating, kayaking, hiking and other year-round outdoor activities. It’s a bird watcher’s mecca with osprey, herons and even bald eagles. Looking for gators is always a Florida adventure and there are plenty of locations in Seminole County to spot them.
Allegiant Airlines has made it easier and more affordable to fly to Central Florida with daily flights on newer AirBus planes out of Belleville, Illinois’ Mid-America Airport. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Florissant to Mid-America and then a two-hour flight to Orlando-Sanford International Airport in the heart of Seminole County. We flew out of Belleville to Sanford recently and were pleased with the ease of parking (for free!) and rolling our luggage a very short distance into the small, but sleek terminal for check-in. Our flight to Orlando-Sanford was weather delayed (there) a few hours, but after checking our luggage, we were able to leave the Mid-America airport to find several dinner options ten minutes away down I-64. When we returned, we re-entered security with no problems.
We spent a three-day extended weekend in Seminole County with a jam-packed agenda with a wide variety of attractions, including an airboat ride, a lunch cruise on a paddle-wheeler, and samplings of Sanford’s cuisine ranging from southern barbecue to authentic German. A visit to the Central Florida Zoo, the only zoo in that part of Florida, and a one hour adventure in an Escape Room (see story) completed our adventure.
 

Here are some of our experiences in Seminole County that weekend:

Airboat Ride on Lake Jesup

Black Hammock Adventures offers airboat rides on 12-18 passenger airboats on Lake Jesup, one of several shallow lakes in Seminole County. Lake Jesup is said to have the largest alligator population in Florida and on our hot summer morning we saw a few alligators, but we couldn’t get close enough for a quality photo. Never fear, though, because when you return to the dock, there are small gators to hold for your photo ops. (The mouths are taped shut.) Even if you don’t see any gators, you’ll see plenty of feathered friends such as crane, osprey, and bald eagles nesting in the marshy grass and cypress trees on and around Bird Island. Every tour is as unique as the unpredictable and changing wildlife, plus great photos opps. The dock has a restaurant and Lazy Gator Bar with live music on the weekends. Visit: www.theblackhammock.com
BIG WHEEL TURNING: The paddlewheel from the Barbara Lee Cruise Rolling down the St. John’s River. (Pat Lindsey photo)

BIG WHEEL TURNING: The paddlewheel from the Barbara Lee Cruise Rolling down the St. John’s River. (Pat Lindsey photo)

Paddlewheeler Lunch Cruise

St. John’s Rivership offers paddlewheeler lunch and dinner cruises on the Barbara Lee, a mid-size paddlewheeler that leaves the Sanford waterfront on Lake Monroe for three-hour cruises. You can view the lake from the top deck or aft by the paddlewheel as it rolls along a wide section of the St. John’s River that is referred to as Lake Monroe. The scenery along the St. John’s River changes constantly, but we enjoyed seeing residential meet nature when the Barbara Lee cruised past riverfront homes and Florida marshland.
The restaurant aboard features chef prepared cuisine, full table service, with with a choice of seven offered on our lunch cruise. When in Florida we like to try as much seafood as possible, so we chose the Atlantic Salmon fillet with salad and sides. It was a good choice. All during lunch we were entertained by a one-man band who happened to be one of the owners of the Barbara Lee. The price range for lunch and cruise is about $45. www.rivershiptix.com
 
Sanford’s famous clock tower on 1st Street downtown where many building date to the 1880s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Sanford’s famous clock tower on 1st Street downtown where many building date to the 1880s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Discover Downtown Sanford

We spent one afternoon grazing our way through the historic downtown area on the Sanford Food Tour, followed by a brain-taxing experience in the Cat Burglar Escape Room, and concluding with a leisurely walk along the red brick streets and rows of Sanford shops. (see Pat Lindsey’s story on Sanford Dining)
The Ritz Theatre plays cinema classics such as Sunset Blvd. (Bob Lindsey photo)

The Ritz Theatre plays cinema classics such as Sunset Blvd. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Just a few years ago, many of the downtown buildings were abandoned. A major renovation has been underway in recent years and it’s no longer a work-in-progress but a trendy little downtown that seeks to preserve its past.

Sanford sits on the shore of Lake Monroe and was the site of Fort Mellon during the Seminole Wars in the 1830s. In 1870 Henry Shelton Sanford starting planning for “The Great City of South Florida” and it was incorporated as Sanford in 1877. By 1884 Sanford was a prosperous town with wharves, a railroad station and a large hotel. A fire at a bakery in 1887 spread rapidly and destroyed the many wooden buildings. When the town was rebuilt, structures were made of brick and many are standing today.
You can take a walking tour in about an hour, but allow more time for shopping and exploring. There are a dozen or more buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the Commercial Walking District mostly on 1st Street. Among them are the Sanford Museum, Milane Theater, Sanford Herald Building, U.S. Post Office, Bumley-Puleston Building, Rand Building, Imperial Opera House and many others. Many date back to the 1880s.

 

 

 

The kids can cool down at Wharton Smith Tropical Splash Ground in Seminole County’s Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens.

The kids can cool down at Wharton Smith Tropical Splash Ground in Seminole County’s Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

With our world-famous free zoo in St. Louis, other zoos aren’t often on the radar for vacationers from our area. But for a nice family day, Seminole County’s Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens could fit the bill. There’s not a lot of walking, it’s very shaded, and has a modest admission price. Picnic areas near the entrance are free to use and open to the public. There are more than 500 animals, including a rhino, cheetahs, leopards, and reptiles, and giraffe feedings daily. The kids should bring their swim suits to cool down at Wharton Smith Tropical Splash Ground. There’s also a ZOOmAir Adventure course to view the animals in their natural habitats from their perspective—in the air. For more information call (407) 323-4450, or visit: www.centralfloridazoo.org.
 

Seminole County Parks and Wilderness

Large and beautiful Cypress trees (left) are close up along the Brenda Lee Paddlewheel cruise on the St. John’s River. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Large and beautiful Cypress trees (left) are close up along the Brenda Lee Paddlewheel cruise on the St. John’s River. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Perhaps the best reason for visiting Seminole County is to experience Orlando’s Natural Oasis, with acres of wilderness, pristine rivers, such as the Wekiva, to paddle down and more than 30 parks and preserves for hiking, biking, bird watching and more. In a three-day weekend we didn’t have as much time to explore a whole lot, but here are some of most visited areas of Orlando North, a name derived from Seminole County being just north of Orange County and greater Orlando.

Wekiva Springs State Park is a spot for kayaking or canoeing down the gentle Wekiva River, swimming, horseback riding, and has boardwalks and nature trails. Seminole Wekiva Trail is 14 miles along the former Orange Belt Railway and is a recreational area for biking, hiking and exploring. The Seminole trail is part of the larger Florida Natural Scenic Trail running through Seminole County.
The Cross Seminole Trail is about 28 miles and connects to Seminole Wekiva Trail. These two are called Seminole County’s “showcase” trails because of their length, scenic views, and many uses. We didn’t visit Oviedo just off the trail , but it’s described as a quaint town with vintage shops and dining.

We did visit Big Tree Park on this trail and the home of the 3,500-year-old bald cypress called “The Senator,” which was severely burned several years ago. Surrounding it are younger cypress trees in the 2,000-year-old old range. It was going to be our last stop before heading back to Orlando-Sanford airport, but our driver, Casey, made one quick stop for us to see the Old Sanford Stadium, which has been refurbished and made operational. It was the spring training site for the New York Giants and Boston Braves in Babe Ruth’s era.

The Old Sanford Stadium was the spring training site for the New York Giants and Boston Braves in Babe Ruth’s era. (Bob Lindsey photo)

The Old Sanford Stadium was the spring training site for the New York Giants and Boston Braves in Babe Ruth’s era. (Bob Lindsey photo)

Sanford is the main town of about 50,000 residents in Seminole County, but there are several others such as Longwood, Winter Springs, Oviedo and Lake Mary, where we stayed at a first rate Marriott Hotel just minutes from many of the county’s attractions. In general, accommodations are about a third less here than in Orlando (Orange County), another reason families are discovering Orlando North-Seminole County.
For more information call 1-800-800-76832 or visit www.DoOrlandoNorth.com


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