A few years ago when we were visiting Florida, we had some guests that wanted to stay and their dates overlapped ours, so we took the booking and decided to spend a few days in a different part of Florida. We chose the Ocala area where we stayed in a fantastic bed and breakfast (sadly now closed) for a couple of days over Thanksgiving.
While we were there we thought we would take advantage to visit Silver Springs Theme Park – it was the original Florida theme park open before Disney World and also one of the largest artesian springs in the world. I’m told that for decades it was Florida’s most popular tourist destinations.When we arrived we were instantly taken back in time – it was a gentle, natural Florida experience. There was no hurry, lots of vegetation, beautiful flower displays and some wildlife. No queues, few people (although back in the heydays of the 60s there were 4-5000 visitors a day).
In the past lots of movies were filmed there including Tarzan and Creature from the Black Lagoon. We loved the stories about the movies while we enjoyed the boat rides. We even saw some of the famous monkeys which had been released during one of the Hollywood filming sessions and never returned to captivity.
There were a few ‘rides’ – not in a Disney magic way, more of a rustic, nostalgic way. There were animal attractions including White Alligators and Florida Panthers. The key attractions of the park though were the glass-bottom boat rides.
We were lucky that we just caught the start of the Silver Springs Christmas Festival Of Lights when the park was decorated by over a million holiday lights.
My lasting memory of the day was standing in the knot of the palm tree which was said to lead to 5 years of good luck.
The Springs Today
Now owned by Florida’s park service, they have been working to restore it to a more natural state. The rides and animal attractions are gone, but you can now enjoy the walkway that overlooks the head spring. Here the water is still blue and crystal clear, making spotting the fish, turtles and alligators very easy.
The Park Service also continue to run the glass bottom boats and have added kayak rentals. Entry to the park is $8 per vehicle with an additional fee if you wish to take the boat tours. All the information that you need should you wish to visit is available at http://www.silversprings.com
I’m really pleased that we got to visit while it was still running, I can imagine what it was like in it’s heyday. I’m equally pleased that it is now being returned to it’s natural state for generations to come to enjoy.