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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Finding Florida's natural side

QMy 10-year-old son and I are planning a summer adventure (emphasis on "adventure") in central Florida. We want more than the usual Disney-like tourist options. Any advice for off-the-beaten-track things that would appeal to a young boy (and his dad)?

A: Who needs Disney? Mother Nature can hold her own quite nicely when it comes to special effects, and for a lot less money. At Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, about 35 miles east of Orlando, you and your son can take a nighttime bioluminescent kayak tour on the Indian River. That's right: You don't have to travel to Puerto Rico to experience this eerie phenomenon, in which organisms in the water emit blue-green lights with each dip of your paddle. A Day Away (321-268-2655, offers 2½-hour tours at $32 for adults, $24 for children.

As long as you're in the neighborhood, you could always do the whole Space Coast thing (Kennedy Space Center, 866-737-5235, But back to the nature theme: State parks are a great way to experience the real Florida, with all kinds of ways to get wet. At Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon (352-465-8555,, about an hour and a half northwest of Orlando, there's tubing on the Rainbow River, swimming, canoeing, hiking and bird-watching. Camping is available at $19 a night.
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