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‘Venice of America’ – Winter Park
I had read a small article about Winter Park; ‘The Venice of America’, and so while out on a shopping trip decided to press on to this small hamlet which is to be found on SR 426 just 5 miles north of downtown Orlando.
Arriving at Park Avenue, the main street in this suburb, we found that parking on the street itself was limited, but were lucky enough to find a free public parking lot on the second side street that I drove down.
My wife and I then decided to look for the boat excursions that we had seen advertised in order to see if the ‘Venice of America’ lived up to it’s name, and were directed down Morse Boulevard. This tree-lined avenue comes to a dead end at Osceola Lake, named after a chief of the Seminole Indian tribe, and this is from where the tour boats depart.
We had approximately half an hour to wait until the next departure and having bought our tickets decided to sit on the benches by the dock rather than walk back into the town. The wait proved fruitful as we sighted an otter, some diving birds and what we thought were cormorants, but turned out to be ‘snake birds’ (or American Anhinga) – so called as they swim with their bodies submerged and just their neck and head showing above the water, in a snake-like fashion.
The trip took us out onto Lake Osceola, towards a small canal and our driver’s constant narration began almost immediately. As we entered the canal we very soon had to back out again as another boat was heading in our direction. Our driver / guide soon pointed out varieties of Tiger Bamboo and Calcutta Bamboo and also some ‘Sleeping Hibiscus’ – so named as it tends to thrive in shady places and its flowers never fully open. It is also aptly named as we were in a ‘no wake zone’ (sorry – that’s the guide’s joke, not mine! ).
Exiting from the canal we emerged into Lake Virginia. From here we were able to get excellent views of Rollins College and numerous splendid lakeside houses. Then it was back through the canal, across Lake Osceola and into another narrow waterway, where this time an approaching boat was able to pull into the mouth of one of the many boathouses in order to let us pass. More bamboo, philodendron and a Purple Glory tree were to be seen as we passed through the canal. We then emerged into Lake Maitland; having passed under Palmer Avenue whose bridge is decorated with original turn of the century (19th / 20th that is) gas lamps that have been converted to electricity. Lake Maitland used to be the home to a large alligator population but a few years ago 150 were captured and released into the Everglades. We returned the same way back to Osceola and the dock, having enjoyed a very pleasant hour.
Although we only saw two of the many canals which connect the lakes in this area I would certainly recommend this trip for those wishing to while away an hour just sitting back and admiring the scenery.
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