Myakka River State Park has a Airboat Tour – all aboard!

Myakka River State Park has a Airboat Tour – all aboard!

Don’t let a little mystery keep you from going to Myakka River State Park and  taking a Myakka Wildlife Airboat Tour aboard one of the world’s largest covered airboats.

The mystery? Prior to the 1850’s English maps called the river the Asternal River. Then a Seminole Indian told a surveyor the river’s name was “Myakka”. The name was changed. But no one can figure out how to translate the word “Myakka”. Who knows what it means?

This mystery hardly matters to the steady stream of people eager to take a tram or airboat tour, or both. The first task: search for a parking place near the Tram & Airboat Ticket Booth inside Myakka River State Park near Sarasota.

Airboat Tours at Myakka River State Park fill up fast

Winter airboat tour schedule (Dec. 16-May 3) has boats departing at 10 a.m. 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Arrive 30 minutes ahead of time to, hopefully, be assured of a seat. Ticket sales stop five minutes before departure. Cost is $14 plus tax for an adult $7 plus tax for children ages 6-12. Children under the age of five admitted free in adult’s lap.

photo by myakka wildlife tours

Be advised the ticket booth is three miles inside the park entrance. After paying the park fee it might seem going three miles on Park Drive will go by quickly. Not so, especially on weekends. A slow speed limit and several congested areas – the Canopy Walkway area and a bridge with sightseers and fishermen on both sides – means reduced driving.

Toss in bicycles on the road and walkers along the sides – you get the message – start out early to arrive on time for a tour.

The two airboats are named “Myakka Maiden” and “Gator Gal.” Ours on a recent Saturday morning was “Gator Gal.”

Myakka Wildlife Airboat Ride surprisingly quiet

I have to confess to being surprised they didn’t hand out earmuffs or earplugs. My only previous airboat ride was in the Everglades aboard a much smaller, uncovered boat with a huge motor on the back that roared at top volume. As we skimmed over the water flocks of birds rose up out of the grass in protest. Alligators slithered down the banks and disappeared into the mud. Truly we were alien invaders.

Not so on this airboat. It is positively quiet. You can hear the guide/captain speaking. No earmuffs needed. The airboat journey goes across the Upper Myakka Lake to see a whole lot of alligators along the shore and then comes back again. Takes about an hour.

The scenery is postcard perfect and the narration outstanding (suggestion: do bring money to give the guide a tip at the end, he earns it).

See Alligators on Airboat Tour inside Myakka River State Park

Our guide smoothly says this is a shallow lake, sixteen inches to three feet deep at most. Why we could get out and walk back to shore. Some look over the side at the brown water with relief. If the boat tips over we’re fine, right?

But then he questions if you’d want to get into the water with anywhere from 500 to 1000 alligators who live here. Everyone sits up a little straighter. The boat starts looking pretty good and solid.

Myakka wildlife airboat tour

I learned more about alligators in one hour than I’ve ever known. Yes, we saw a lot of them both swimming and sunning along the shore. That plus who knew there was a wild hog problem – and a trapper paid to remove pigs, just to keep the population down?

Turns out centuries ago Spanish explorers arrived in ships that had hogs in the hold. They let them go and then did roundups twice a year. Needless to say, some pigs just kept on moving on and now wild hogs are part of the Florida landscape.

Combine being on the water with blue skies, puffy white clouds, balmy breeze, and a sweeping wild Florida shoreline – all that plus great story telling adds up to an awesome airboat tour.

More Airboat Tours

Two I’ve taken that were outstanding:

Near DeLand: The Fountain of Youth Eco/History boat tour, leaves from inside De Leon Springs State Park, four times a day and goes through Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.

Near Ocala: The glass-bottomed boat tour on the Silver River leaves inside Silver Springs State Park. Use the main entrance on Silver Springs Boulevard.

Upcoming Event

Thursday, March 23, Joine me with the Sarasota Butterfly Club meeting at the Sarasota Garden Club, 1131 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. Topic: Sharing garden tips, also a plant swap. Lucy Tobias leads off with a short Powerpoint on Tips and Tricks to Being Eco Friendly in Your Garden. Also a handout. Her book “Florida Gardens Gone Wild(er)” will be for sale after the meeting. Guests welcome.

More to Explore

Go Greek for a day (or two)

Mount Up – Horseback Riding in Florida

Making Mosaics in Barcelona, Spain





Explore Ocala with Nana & Grandchildren

Explore Ocala with Nana & Grandchildren

I am delighted to present a guest blogger this month – Barbara Fitos, Executive Director of the Community Foundation for Ocala Marion County. Barbara also has another title: she is Nana to four awesome grandchildren. For her blog she shares lively descriptions of the connections between generations and the joy of the Fitos4 having adventures together in Ocala.

By the way, Barbara makes the best cheese grits this side of paradise. Just thought you should know.

Her dream is to someday have a regular column called “Through Barbara’s Eyes”.

And so it begins here. Enjoy



Those of us blessed to be grandparents have a special bond …we can share photos and anecdotes endlessly and when a dear friend, colleague or mere acquaintance joyously announces that they are about to become one – we each smile knowingly and say “Just wait!” Perhaps most importantly, we are there to support each other in life’s sorrows – illness, separation or loss. It matters not what we are called – I inherited my dear mother’s “Nana” title – because we carry that name proudly and whether our grands live in close proximity or hundreds of miles away we as grandparents are linked forever to their lives.

My only son Joseph was raised here in Florida and both sets of his grandparents still resided in my hometown in New Jersey.   Thus time spent with them was precious whether here in Florida celebrating Thanksgiving in shorts – something Nana Rose never adjusted to! – or the Christmas holidays in New Jersey seeing snow for the very first time. Memories and legacies abound.   Some of my fondest memories are of Grandpa Fitos taking long afternoon walks around our neighborhood on a very patient journey of discovery with his two year old grandson…and of course, visits to the iconic Silver Springs.

Ocala - pop pop and great grands
Pop Pop and great grands

Grandchildren live just an hour away from Ocala

And now my son has blessed me with four wonderful grandchildren who I affectionately call the “Fitos4” – yes I said “only” and “four”!   Further blessings abound in that they reside only a little over an hour from Ocala.   With four in tow, they are obviously an active and busy family.

As such, memory sharing plays an important role in their family tradition-making. The grands, for example, curiously want to know about Daddy as a little boy – “Nana – did Daddy really do….?” Well…

My dear Mother – their great grandmother “Nana Rose” passed away long before the grands were born. My youngest granddaughter came rushing out to meet me during one Sunday dinner visit with a photograph in hand saying – “Look, Nana, do you know who this is?   Daddy found this picture!” It was a photo of my Mother with my son – so very special making the connection that Nana Rose was indeed my Mother! Three of the four grands were blessed to know my Dad – their “PopPop”.   He spent the last six years of his life here in FL with all of us – a bridge to the generations…grace abounds!

Mamie & Pop, my son’s in-laws and Marah’s extended family, are vital in creating family memories – Thanksgiving dinners, a special Christmas Eve celebration. While they reside here in Ocala they have a beautiful home on Lake Ontario in upstate NY – a summer vacation tradition eagerly awaited each year.

Overnights provide unique opportunities for exploring and creating new experiences (although only two of the four at a time – wisely!). All things in NanaB’s world belong to NanaB – like the lovely little park across the street.   “Nana, let’s go to your park!” Once there, however, the conversation went like this – “Nana, this is a very nice park but it has no swings!” So off we go to explore the park around the corner, complete with swings, slide & monkey bars – better!

Favorite local pastimes in Ocala for Nana and Grandchildren

Favorite local pastimes include visiting Brick City Center for the Arts when dog houses ruled; Downtown Farmers’ Market; Christmas on the Square (carriage rides with “real horses, Nana!”) .

Ocala - downtown square with Christmas lights
Ocala – downtown square with Christmas lights

Future planned outings include the labyrinth at Sholom Park; Silver River State Park; Art Camp at the Appleton Museum; Turkey Trot at the Frank DeLuca YMCA (for my “Runner Girl” – taking after her Mom – an accomplished marathon runner).

And this “library lady” would be totally remiss without mentioning books, books and more books.   Books that I cherished when my son was little to be passed on to another generation…Good Night Moon, Pat the Bunny, Where the Wild Things Are, the Best Christmas Pageant Ever…and discovering new finds on trips to the library and bookstores – the favorite to date “The Day the Crayons Quit” – a read aloud-laugh out loud delight.   And my dear friend and brilliant author, Lucy Beebe Tobias’ “Mary Margaret Manatee” is a must!

Ocala is the horse capital of the world

And, of course, living in the “Horse Capital of the World” grandparents and grands alike must see and visit some of the amazing farms that surround us. The generosity of spirit of owners and breeders is evident in the open farm policy of many who welcome tours and visitors on a regular basis.   The Founding Chairman of our Community Foundation, Frank Hennessey and his lovely wife, artist Carol Hennessey, are the proud owners of Hennessey Arabians .   Foaling season is not to be missed! And the grands have a standing invitation to come and see up close and first hand this amazing breed.

Ocala horse drawn carriage & grandchildren
Ocala horse drawn carriage & grandchildren

Equestrian events abound throughout the year as well. HITS – Horses in the Sunshine – the annual hunter/jumper winter circuit featured the prestigious World Cup in 2015. The famous Live Oak International that for over twenty years has hosted the premier combined driving event brings equestrians from all over the world to Ocala, FL for this four day event in late March. Ocala’s own Florida Horse Park features year round events including polo.   And one unique event perhaps not as well-known is fox hunting. The Perry Plantation in Gainesville, FL is home to Misty Morning Hounds Hunt Club that hosts traditional fox hunts throughout the season (without live foxes – licorice/anise scents are used instead!) complete with traditional attire, the blessing of the hounds and a sumptuous breakfast following the early morning hunt – spectators follow the route in tally-ho wagons.

We as grandparents are privileged to share in the lived lives of our grandchildren and have that rare opportunity to enrich their lives and ours in creating these special memories of beaches and theme parks, sports events, holidays and birthdays… but most especially those unique community places that become the essence of family life…Blessings to all my fellow “G’Mas” and “G’Pas”.

Ocala - sign to Nana


Pet friendly travel with your canine

Paddle, float and be free

Knott House Museum and More History



Mount Up – Horseback Riding in Florida

Mount Up – Horseback Riding in Florida

In his seminal book A Land Remembered published in 1984 author Patrick Smith traced three generations of a family homesteading in Florida.

Life was tough. Mosquitoes were relentless in their pursuit of human blood and bad guys burned down their first house. But they persisted, built again in another location and gathered herds of cattle – descendents of cows left behind by Spanish explorers.

The annual cattle drives from the Jacksonville area to the west coast Punta Gorda area where freighters waited to take the beef cattle live to Cuba – these drives were fraught with danger. That caught my attention. Cattle drives and cowboys. We had the Wild West right here in Florida. Who knew?

Mount Up and Enjoy Horseback Riding

The cattle drives are gone, except for occasional reenactments, but you can mount up and enjoy horseback riding all over the state.

horseback riding - on the trail at Silver River State Park, Ocala
Riders start off on the horse trail at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

Here is one trip I haven’t done but it sounds intriguing. The Horseback Adventure at Forever Florida in St. Cloud promises to blaze a pioneer style trail. This hour and a half ride on a walking trail goes along historic paths and through a creek.

This adventure is for riders of all skill levels and first timers are welcome. Children must be at least ten years old and be with a parent or guardian. Wearing long pants and closed toed shoes are both a must do. The tour operators promise to match horses with each individual’s personality and experience. Worth it to go and see what kind of horse has your personality! Advance ticket purchase is recommended. Call (866)-854-3837. Price per person is $69.99.

In Venice, located 16 miles south of Sarasota, one horseback riding vendor is Deer Prairie Creek Preserve. Rides are offered October through May. Western saddles used. Prices start at $60 an hour. Note that price is for two people each paying $60 for a one –hour ride. Children must be at least eight years old.

Florida is rightly famous for sun and fun. in Bradenton captures both with horseback riding on the beach and then into Palma Sola Bay. Yes, you will be on a horse that is swimming. Price is $124.95 per person plus taxes and fees. Times vary with the tides (they do low tide).

For more beach riding – Amelia Island, north of Jacksonville, has rides on the beach through Amelia Horseback Riding Cost is $90 per person for an hour. The owner is Debbie Manser and she takes two to four people at a time on her rides.

Note: Most horse riding web sites have calendars with available dates marked or numbers to call.

Two hours north of Orlando, Marion County and Ocala call themselves “Horse Capital of the World” so there – Just move over Kentucky. This horse capital thing is great news for horse lovers. Visit horse farms, see demonstrations and even go riding on the horse trails at Silver Springs State Park.

Check out the self-guided tour of horse farms with a deep list of farms that welcome visitors.

Horseback Riding in Silver Springs State Park

 Silver Springs State Park has an equestrian entrance down the road from the main park entrance (the old Silver Springs) in Ocala The trail goes through a wetland habitat so bring lots of bug spray in the summer. Bring your own horse; there is room for horse trailers. Don’t have a horse but want to ride? Consider taking a trail ride from one to two hours with Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides.

Horseback ridig - reading horse trail maps at Silver Springs State Park, Ocala
Checking out the possible routes at Silver Springs State Park, Ocala. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias

They take ages six and up. Prices for Silver Springs State Park ride are $45 an hour plus tax. Call for reservations at (352) 266-9326. Cactus Jack is also the designated horseback-riding provider for the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.

The ride is mostly shady and goes through pine forests, meadows and oak hammocks. $45 plus tax per person for one hour, $55 plus taxes for an hour and a half and $65 for two hours. A two-hour ride gives you the choice of staying in the woods or riding the Greenway Land Bridge that spans Interstate 75 – a unique structure made for walkers and horseback riders – no cars allowed!

When you see natural Florida on horseback it is a step back in time, a kinship with Spanish explorers, Native Americans and Tobias MacIvey, his wife Emma and his son Zechariah, the pioneer family in A Land Remembered.

Horseback riding - two horses taking a break at Silver Springs State Park
Two horses taking a break. Photo by Lucy Beebe Tobias


Lucy Tobias is teaching a one-day workshop in Ocala for getting on track with your writing. The link is:

When: May 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m

Where: Master the Possibilities, a program of On Top of the World in Ocala.

Cost: $50 for residents. $55 for non residents. Lunch is included.

Writing exercises and hands on beginning of your novel, children’s book, memoir, you name it! Bring paper or an electronic tablet. This will be a great day! Jump in and sign up.



Living History Reenactors are Time Travelers

Soldiers Take Over Fort Clinch Again !

Water Tours Offer Unique View of Florida