boat tours

A Pontoon Boat Tour on Winter Haven’s Chain of Lakes

John grew up in Winter Haven, and as a young boy, spent much of his time on its many lakes, fishing, boating, and, I am sure, getting into trouble. My only familiarity with Winter Haven’s chain of lakes was Lake Eloise, and the waterski show put on by what was then called Cypress Gardens. So when John suggested we take a Pontoon Boat Tour with Living Waters Boat Cruises, so I could see where he spent most of his time as a young boy, I was all in on the idea.

Because we were taking the 2-hour tour, we selected the early 9 am time slot to avoid the heat of the day. We also chose that time slot because your chances of seeing wildlife are much improved in the morning hours. And see wildlife we did.

A video Peek of our Tour

A little History We learned on the Tour

The Canals that connect Winter Haven’s chain of lakes were dug with the purpose of moving citrus crops to the rail lines by boat. The digging started in 1915; however, because of funding shortages and the time it took to dig out the canals, the invention of the truck and the automobile came about and made the canals unnecessary by the time they were completed.

In 1936, Dick and Julie Pope opened Cypress Gardens, and it became billed as Florida’s first commercial theme park for tourists.  Over the years, it became one of the biggest attractions in Florida, known for its water ski shows on Lake Eloise. In fact, Cypress Gardens and Lake Eloise became known as “the waterski capital of the world” because it was the site of many of the sport’s landmarks firsts, and over 50 world records were broken there. To promote Cypress Gardens as a tourist destination Dick Pope managed to convince a major motion picture studio to shoot a film there. In 1953, the motion picture “Easy To Love” starring Esther Williams was released.

On January 15, 2010, the world’s second-largest theme park and attraction operator Merlin Entertainments bought Cypress Gardens. Though Legoland removed much of the old attractions, the botanical gardens were off-limits. In part of a conservation program, Polk County purchased the 30-acre botanical gardens. When Legoland purchased the Cypress Gardens property, it was stipulated by the county that Legoland would maintain the 30-acre gardens at the edge of the park and on the banks of Lake Eloise.

A Great Adventure

The boat tour took us right up to the Legoland property, where we got a good look at the waterski area and the Florida-shaped swimming pool built for the 1953 movie featuring Lake Eloise and the gardens. In fact, one of the later time slots available with Living Water Boat Cruises includes viewing the Legoland Pirate Waterski show.

John and I thoroughly enjoyed our tour, and we got an amazing view of several of the lakes within the 16 lake chain. We saw alligators, a Bald Eagle, Wood Ducks, Whistling Ducks, White Pelican, otters, and scores of beautiful wading birds like Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets, among others.

We went on a cloudy morning, so there was not much sun to speak of, so we were not in the sun; however, had it been sunny, there is a cover that the boat captain will put up to keep you out of the sun and comfortable. The pontoon boat is roomy, and the ride was smooth even though it was a windy day with a chop on the water.

We found the tour cost to be very reasonable considering the going price of other boat excursions in Florida. With John’s senior discount, we got a few bucks off, and the total price for both of us for the two-hour cruise was just under $80. The cost of your tour will be dependent on the tour package you choose.

This is a great adventure; however, as we get closer to the summer months, I would definitely stick to the morning time slot before the day heats up. Also, remember that you can almost guarantee an afternoon thunderstorm on any given Florida summer day, and that will surely mess up any boating adventure.

For your convenience here is a link that will redirect you to Living Water Boat Cruises‘ official website.

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