Silver Springs and Wild Waters are currently closed as they are being converted to a Florida State Park. It is unclear when they will reopen.
What do glass bottom boats, Tarzan movies, and natural Florida have in common? They all have ties to Silver Springs – touted as Nature's Theme Park.
HistorySilver Springs has a rich and long history in Florida. In the mid-1800s tourists flocked by steamboat to see the crystal-clear waters of Silver Springs. In 1878 when Hullam Jones invented the glass bottom boat, its popularity flourished. It was Jones' invention that laid the groundwork for Florida's original natural attraction – Silver Springs.
In the early 1900s the silver screen came to Silver Springs as movie makers realized the beautiful translucent waters were ideal for making underwater movies. Some of the more well-known movies filmed here were six of the original "Tarzan" movies filmed in the 1930s and 1940s. "The Yearling," starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman was filmed in 1946. "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" in 1954, and more than 100 episodes of the famous television series "Sea Hunt," starring Lloyd Bridges.
Today, millions of guests come to the park to see the crystal-clear waters that gush with as much force as they did a century ago.
Silver SpringsIt had been a few years since I had visited Silver Springs. At the time, we lived only minutes from the park, but since my teens had been there on school field trips, we seemed to skip it in favor of other destinations. Our last visit to the park was prompted by a family social, compliments of my husband's company. We decided to take full advantage of the tickets and arrived at the park when it opened.
One of the first attractions inside the entrance is the glass bottom boats. These unique tour boats provide a window into the Silver River where you can see through the crystal-clear water to the various springs that flow at a rate of nearly 550 million gallons of 99.8% pure water each day and feed the Silver River. Each spring has a name and a story – one is where they filmed The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and at another you will see a perfectly preserved sunken boat. The tours skim the shores where you will see sunning turtles, unusual water fowl, and alligators.
There are several restaurants offering a variety of dining choices. Our meal was catered and served in lavish open-air style at the Twin Oaks Mansion. The Mansion serves as a stage for the many concerts and special events held at the park throughout the year. It is also available for weddings and catered events.
Next, we hopped aboard the popular Jeep Safari and saw exotic birds and animals in a natural setting. Your safari guide will provide a zany banter that will keep your attention, but you better hurry... the days of the Safari are numbered. (Update: When the park was last remodeled, this ride was revamped a bit. Now you will board a tram pulled by Wrangler Jeeps for your up close wildlife encounters.)
We boarded another glass bottom boat for the Lost River Voyage. Your guide will point out natural vegetation and native birds and animals along the tour. This tour makes a brief stop at the birds of prey rehabilitation center where we viewed vultures, eagles, and owls.
When you get weary and the kids still have pent-up energy, make a stop at Kids Ahoy! A two-story climbing area and ball pit will keep them busy while you take the load off your feet and relax in the shade. Kids Ahoy also has a pint-size boat ride and cute-as-a-button ferris wheel for the little ones. Age and height restrictions apply.
Located throughout the park are a number of animal exhibits – World of Bears, Big Gator Lagoon, Panther Prowl, and a giraffe encounter. The giraffes are the only animals in the park that you are encouraged to feed as evidenced by a nearby concession selling graham crackers. Did I mention that giraffes have very, very long tongues?
A new attraction that opened earlier this month is Bobby Goldsboro's Swamp Critters of Lost Lagoon. Actors dressed in costume – a raccoon, bear, alligator, frog, and armadillo - dance and sing their way through several country tunes. It's a big hit with the small fry.
Perhaps the only complaint I had at the end of the day was that there was not enough time to "see it all." We did not make it to the live animal shows but caught a glimpse of a couple in progress. They are not only entertaining, but educational. They include Wings of the Springs featuring birds of prey, Reptiles of the World, Birds of the Rainforest, and Creature Feature.
We also missed the Jungle Cruise which travels the Fort King Waterway and the Florida Natives Exhibit. We did enjoy our stroll throughout the park. Topiaries, vine-covered lanai, and southern architecture marked the paths around the attractions providing a pleasing atmosphere and occasional shade to escape the scorching sun.
We felt the day was worthwhile, and even if we had paid to get in, we would have gotten our moneys worth. Our teenagers enjoyed the day also, taking in the glass bottom boats and the Jeep Safari before making their way to the adjacent water park – Wild Waters – to cool off.