Captain Brooks Mitchell has devoted his life to exploring the U.S. coastline's natural splendor. His 35- and 45-foot pontoons cruise the Intracoastal Waterway, indulging guests with 360-degree views of manatees, dolphins, and eagles. Captain Mitchell fosters a congenial atmosphere, stocking his pontoon with beverages and snacks, and, on some cruises, even inviting local musicians aboard to serenade passengers and drown out the mating call of passing tugboats.
Joining forces with Georgia Aquarium's Marineland Dolphin Adventure and the University of Florida's Whitney Lab for Marine Bioscience, Ripple Effect Ecotours launches intrepid kayakers on voyages through the town of Marineland's natural coastal habitat. For four hours, solo paddlers or a group of up to three can traverse the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve's dolphin-laden waters, observing the aquatic residents and testing their alleged intelligence with science-fiction movie trivia. The estuary is located in the biologically diverse area where the Matanzas Inlet collides into the Pellicer Creek Stream. Home to the Jordan and Mellon Islands, the Princess Place Preserve, and the Pellicer Creek Aquatic Preserve, the estuary provides several spots to aimlessly explore the 500+ plant species and 300+ types of fish that call it home. Guests can prepare for adventures by loading sturdy kayaks with sunblock, binoculars, and water shoes.
American Pro Diving Center helps visitors and locals explore the clear, teeming waters of Florida with year-round manatee tours and diving adventures. All-equipment-included manatee snorkel tours in Crystal River or winter expeditions to Homosassa River let snorkelers rub flippers with the rivers' large population of resident sea cows. In-water guides keep the experience safe and fun for both manatees and people, and snorkelers swim in between the gentle creatures, giving them a gentle pat or a canister of whisker wax.
For deeper subterranean adventures, the center offers classes that range from Discover Scuba Diving to full PADI open-water certification, in addition to specialty courses on rescue and wreck diving. Divers can plunge into one of seven diving excursions, including night dives in Rainbow River or mermaid line dancing in the lost city of Atlantis.
The Native Vacations crew constantly views their surroundings with the eyes of explorers. They see opportunity on any terrain, and they search for adventure while aiming to preserve the landscape. On land, the crew coordinates horseback-riding tours that wind through the Withlacoochee Forest. As hooves beat a lazy drumroll in the dappled sunlight, riders watch deer and sherman fox pups as they dart between trees. In the waterways, Native Vacations leads kayaking tours, airboat rides, and snorkeling adventures. Kayak paddles leisurely stir waters populated by dolphins while bald eagles slip through the warm air, and airboats tear across the surface of the Crystal River with the metallic purring of RoboCop drinking warm milk. In the waters of King's Bay, guides teach snorkelers the basics of breathing underwater and allow them to pet any of the elephant-gray mammoths that approach.
Snorkel with Manatees' expert divers lead tours on underwater sojourns to discover peaceful manatees and environs beneath the waves. Offering both group and mini manatee tours year-round, the guides monitor each diver to ensure safe practice with the animals. Their Crystal River scallops tour scours the ocean floor for tasty scallops while avoiding crabs auditioning for The Little Mermaid revival, and the Snorkel with Manatees excursions explore the Crystal, Homosassa, and Chassahowitzka Rivers on airboat. They also teach the fundamentals of their craft during discover scuba-diving lessons.
Pilot your brain-plane into a four-way collision with history, nature, and wildlife at the Tallahassee Museum, where wild-lovers can wander 52 acres of Florida florae and faunae as it floridly lounges in the state's natural greenhouse atmosphere. Saunter along the Habitat Trail, via elevated boardwalks that allow you to view animals from above without intruding into their habitats and TV-watching habits. In addition to waterfowl, foxes, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and river otters, you’ll catch glimpses of the endangered Florida panther, the state’s official mammal, and the endangered red wolf. Step into the pre-Internet world your parents and older siblings grew up in at Big Bend Farm, an 1880s living farmstead with a restored period farmhouse and kitchen, as well as reconstructions of an outhouse, blacksmith shed, and smokehouse. Historical voyeurs, meanwhile, can peer inside the rear windows of the restored 1850s plantation house of Catherine Murat, George Washington’s great-grandniece, who later became part of French royalty by marrying Prince Achille Murat, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. With a plethora of annual events coming up, such as the upcoming Market Days on Dec. 4 and 5, you’ll have plenty of more stimulating things to do this winter than hibernate and alphabetize your action figures.