We had seen the campy mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs, enjoyed swimming in the cool water of Buccaneer Bay. But after 20 years of living in these parts, the 7-mile kayak venture down the Weeki Wachee River was a long overdue family outing, something to cross off the old bucket list.
Besides, what better way to pass a hot summer's day than to dip a toe — or your whole body — in the crystal-clear spring-fed water that averages 72 to 74 degrees year-round?
The trek was a welcome respite for the four of us as we pushed off the river's sandy bank and floated through a slice of "real Florida," where the big attraction was not a cartoon mouse or a roller coaster, but a live manatee sighting.
We saw three. Up close.
That was awesome.
Paddling is an option for sightseers and break-takers alike. The current will get you there eventually, should you want to sit back and spend time watching the fish, otters or turtles sunning themselves and the many birds foraging for food. We were told to beware of the occasional alligators that were known to be out there, but we didn't encounter any of those. Snakes either.
That was awesome, too.
There are a few places to pause along the way should you want to toss a fishing line, snap some pictures or snack on a sandwich. There are a few shallow swimming holes, too, some complete with primitive ladders leading to rope swings for adventurous souls.
It was a mostly peaceful ride — especially since it was a weekday when river traffic tends to be a little lighter. As we floated from nature's cradle to the residential areas, the quiet gave way to music of various genres floating from river houses, heralding our re-entry into the "real world."
It took about two hours to make our way to the "pickup" site, although our leisurely ride was hastened some by threatening thunder booms and an angry black sky, which graciously held off until we safely disembarked and finished our picnic at Rogers Park.
The best advice is to start out early, take your time and enjoy the day.