Category Archives: On the Water in Florida

Winter the dolphin

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

A Day at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Clearwater Marine AquariumThe Clearwater Marine Aquarium has grown into a beach vacation activity that can last a family the better part of a day. Thanks to the Dolphin Tale movies with stars Winter and Hope, interest in the aquarium has risen dramatically, and the things to do and see at the facility have expanded. Going to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is no longer confined to just the main building. You can now take a ferry ride across the harbor, a marine excursion onto the bay, and see an expanded exhibit detailing the filming of the Dolphin Tale movie. All of that is in addition to seeing the dolphin movie stars Winter and Hope, along with the other rescued sea life at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

 

Harborview Center

A great way to see all the sights at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is to start at the Harborview Center. The Harborview Center is located off the beach in downtown Clearwater, at the corner of Cleveland Street and Osceola Street. Inside you will find displays showing you and your kids about the making of the Dolphin Tale movie. While you walk through the center, you will pass various TVs running scenes from the film. Some of the scenes were actually shot at the Harborview Center, allowing you to compare the physical settings in front of you to the movie scenes. Plenty of fun facts about Winter and the movie are posted for visitors to read.  In the Dolphin Tale film, a hurricane impacts the Clearwater area. You can experience a simulated hurricane in an exhibit which puts you at a mock up of a city street with hurricane winds blowing. A hands-on sea life tank allows the kids (and kids at heart) to touch a variety of sea animals. When your viewing is done, you can grab a souvenir at the gift shop to take home some Winter the dolphin memorabilia.

 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium Ferry

Clearwater Beach causewayWhether you start at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium or the Harborview Center, getting from one building to the other is not only easy, it’s fun! You can choose between the Jolly Trolley or the Clearwater Marine Aquarium ferry. The Jolly Trolley is an open air trolley that services Clearwater Beach and the coastline northward to Tarpon Springs. You will be treated to a ride over the scenic causeway bridge, which is included in the price of your admission. Also included in your admission is the alternate water crossing on the ferry. Enjoy a ride under the bridge instead, giving you close up views of Clearwater Harbor.

 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Clearwater Marine Aquarium Features

Dolphin TaleThe highlight of the tour for fans of Winter the dolphin is a trip to see the celebrity dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The aquarium is located halfway across the causeway to Clearwater Beach, in the Island Estates community. Once you arrive at the aquarium, you can view the houseboat used in the filming of Dolphin Tale, which is docked near the entrance. On your way in, be sure to get a green screen photo of your family that you can purchase later with fun sea life edited in around you. The well-stocked gift shop greets you as you walk through the doors, with lots of cool stuff for the kids and the adults. Near the entrance is a small movie theater and a sting ray tank where you can touch the rays. Sea TurtleOn the same level you will find a pirate themed hallway, a life sized diorama of area sea life, and a large tank with fish and a shark. You can also find a kids’ room with drawing books, a TV, smaller aquarium tanks, and full skeletons of otters, dolphins, and a species of a rare, small whale. Nearby is a tank housing rescued sea turtles, giving visitors fantastic underwater views. After you explore the ground floor, it is time to head upstairs to see the famous dolphins.

Winter and Hope

Winter the DolphinViewing Winter the dolphin from Dolphin Tale I, and her new co-star, Hope, from Dolphin Tale II, is very easy. Their tanks are in the open, allowing for plenty of opportunities to view them. During our visit to the aquarium, Winter and Hope where in separate tanks. The two solved the problem by whistling to one another over the wall between them. A larger tank joins to the private ones, allowing Winter and Hope to interact. While we were there, some of the kids lined up for a chance to stand on a platform in front of Hope’s tank to personally meet her.

Rescued Sea Life

Dolphin Tale pelicanNearby you can find a pair of white pelicans which were used in the filming of Dolphin Tale I and II. Other tanks on the same level contain rescued sea turtles and sea otters. Be sure to grab a schedule at the door or check online to find out when the aquarium staff and volunteers will be giving educational talks. You can learn about the lives of these animals in the wild and about the risks they fell victim to that led them to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Another fun attraction is on the top deck of the aquarium. There you will find Nicholas, a dolphin rescued from a stranding along with his mother. Although his mother did not survive, Nicholas has done very well. He is now well known for his antics, such as doing spontaneous flips or splashing the audience. He is young and playful, earning him a reputation as the most energetic dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

 

Sealife Safari Boat Tour

Sealife SafariOne of the best parts of the adventure at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is the Sealife Safari boat tour. Aquarium staff take you on a ride across Clearwater Harbor with some special extras in store. The boat trails a net across the seafloor, pulling up local sea life that are then displayed in tanks throughout the rest of that day before being released. Kids and adults can view native sea life up close, such as sea horses, sea urchins, pin fish, flounder, and more. It is fun to note that when catfish are caught, they are thrown back, because the dolphins of the harbor like to eat them. You stand an excellent chance of seeing local dolphins while out on the bay waters. The boat stops at a popular boating destination called Shell Island. The island is aptly named. It is a shell pile create when the boating channel was dredged in earlier decades. Nowadays boaters can stop off at the island, collecting shells to their hearts’ desire. The Sealife Safari boat allows you to disembark on the tiny island for a short stay before heading back across the water of the harbor. The boat ride offers fantastic views of the turquoise waters of the bay, the shoreline of the City of Clearwater, the beach causeway and bridge, and the barrier island of Sand Key. Sealife Safari is a hit with kids and it is a great way for adults to experience Clearwater Harbor.

 

Perfect Family Outing at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Sea TurtleThe Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a perfect family outing while staying at Clearwater Beach. Aside from the attractions already at the famous Gulf Coast beach, you can spend the better part of the day touring this now-famous facility. It is a favorite for kids who loved the Dolphin Tale movies and has actually spawned an increase in tourism to the area, being named Florida’s number one attraction by a 2013 USA Today readers’ poll. If your vacation destination this year is Clearwater Beach, be sure to put the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on your list.

Dolphin Tale I Trailer

Dolphin Tale II Trailer


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Dolphin Sighting Tours at Clearwater Beach

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Clearwater Beach dolphin sighting tours

Dolphin Sighting Tours at Clearwater Beach

About Clearwater Beach Dolphins

bottlenose dolphinThe dolphins you will see on Clearwater Harbor and Gulf of Mexico tours are bottlenose dolphins. This type is of dolphin is probably the best known dolphin in the U.S., especially with such celebrities as Flipper from the popular 1960’s TV show, and Winter from the modern Dolphin Tale movies. (Winter lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium right here at Clearwater Beach!) The bottlenose dolphins of the Gulf of Mexico reach about nine feet in length and, unlike dolphins in colder regions, may stay in the same area all year long. They live 40 to 50 years and will raise one offspring about every three years. A local dolphin sighting tour guide at Clearwater Beach Marina told us that the baby dolphins will often have hair on them when they are first born. Clearwater Beach dolphinsDolphins will eat pretty much any kind of fish as well as some of the creatures that live on the sea floor. While they do have teeth, dolphins don’t chew, but rather swallow their prey whole. Dolphins can jump as high as 20 feet out of the water, although that is unlikely here in the shallow waters of Clearwater Harbor. Instead, our dolphins like to play in the wakes of boats, something you have an excellent chance of seeing on a Clearwater Beach dolphin sighting tour.

 

Where to Find a Dolphin Sighting Tour at Clearwater Beach

We would love to tell you the name of each and every tour company that offers dolphin sighting tours at Clearwater Beach. However, when we went to Clearwater Beach Marina to tally them up, our heads spun. If you want to catch a ride on a dolphin sighting tour on the waters of Clearwater Harbor or the Gulf of Mexico, you have nothing to fear. You will find hosts of boats ready to take you out for a cruise on the beautiful coastal waters of the Gulf Coast.

dolphin sighting toursIt can be fun to simply stand and watch the goings on down at the marina. Happy sightseers embark and set off quite frequently. You can choose from sleek speed boats, tropical pontoon boats, pirate ships, and more. Many boat crews will describe the landscape for you, making your tour complete. While some will allow you to bring along your own refreshments, most are ready with a complement of drinks or snacks for their passengers. The boat rides are easy to spot with lots of banners and signage. The unique tour boats wait on the water just beyond. The Clearwater Beach Marina is located right next to the roundabout at the center of Clearwater Beach.

 

What to Expect on a Clearwater Beach Dolphin Sighting Tour

Clearwater Beach dolphinYour chances of seeing dolphins on your harbor cruise are pretty good. We have a good population of bottlenose dolphins living along our shores. They frequent the harbor and intra-coastal waterways when not swimming in the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The boat crews usually know where the dolphins are. On some days you will simply get to see dolphins swimming by in small pods, while on others they will treat you to a show by playing in the wake of your boat. A number of boat tours guarantee you will see dolphins, with a second free ride if you don’t. Clearwater Beach dolphinThe dolphins on our shoreline are not that difficult to find, however, and sightseers are rarely disappointed. Quite often, the boat tour will include a short stopover at an additional place of interest, like one of the spoil islands on the harbor. Ask where your tour will go when buying your tickets. Keep in mind that each tour will probably take a different route, since the dolphins move about. The crews of the many Clearwater Beach dolphin sighting tours will always take you to locations where they hope to find dolphins.

 

Perfect Addition to a Clearwater Beach Vacation

Dolphin sightingsA dolphin sighting tour is a perfect addition to a Clearwater Beach Vacation. There are lots of sights to see in the area. Aside from the white sand beaches you will find tons of shops and restaurants, as well as a good number of local attractions. When you are ready to get out onto the water, a dolphin sighting tour is a great way to go. Sit back with a refreshment in your hand and let your captain and crew do all the work for you. A dolphin sighting tour is the perfect way to add some fond memories to your Clearwater Beach vacation.

 

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Clearwater Beach vacation

Spoil Your Vacation at Clearwater Beach

Defining Spoiled

The word spoil has a list of different definitions. While they all follow a common theme, they are not all alike.

The common modern usage of the word spoil means to ruin or degrade, such as

  • 1. A spoiled child, 2. Spoiled fruit, 3. Spoiled plans.

The word spoil comes from an older usage however, originating in the days of attacking and looting cities. It means to loot the valuables from a location, such as a city or town. It is synonymous to despoil, as in

  • 1. Spoils of war, 2. A spoiled city, 3 spoiling enemy villages
great blue heron

Great blue heron on a spoil pile

Another definition comes from the byproducts of construction or mining. Waste materials created from drilling or digging are called spoil. An example would be spoils from a basement excavation being used for landscaping.

  • 1. A large spoil pile

So what does all of that have to do with a Clearwater Beach vacation? Let’s see!

 

Pirate Spoils at Clearwater Beach

Pirate ship

Captain Memo Pirate Cruise

Did you know the Florida Gulf Coast has a pirate history? It’s true. Tampa Bay area is no stranger to pirates. In fact, the modern Gasparilla Invasion celebrates a pirate who sailed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gasparilla treasure, along with some others, is rumored to be hidden along our shores. Many of those pirate spoils, taken from victories over merchant ships, have never been found! Have they sifted down deeper into the sands of the beach? Has the landscape shifted and put the pirate spoils under waters of the Gulf of Mexico? While you walk the sands of the beach on your Florida Gulf Coast vacation, will you inadvertently walk several feet above the long lost treasure of pirate spoils? It’s possible! Rumor has it that, after large storms on the Gulf, coins from pirate conquests might wash up on the shore. None of our guests have discovered pirate treasure yet (that we know of), but it is fun to imagine coming across a coin poking out of the sand.

 

Spoil Islands of Clearwater

Spoil island

View from one island to the next

The harbor that runs between the City of Clearwater and Clearwater Beach is very shallow. Navigating a boat through the waters requires staying within the marked channels or having a sonar to check the depth under your boat. The boating channels that run the length of Clearwater Harbor were created in the 1950’s. The waste material from dredging, called spoil, was dumped in piles at regular intervals. The spoil piles collected vegetation and local wildlife quickly, becoming established islands in a very short time. The islands soon became a playgrounds for local boaters, an attraction the islands maintain to this day. The small islands, wrapped in shallow vegetation or covered with small forests of pines, palms, or oaks, are open to boaters and campers. The spoil islands are property of the State of Florida that has no plans to develop the islands or charge for their use. The islands make great stopovers while cruising the waters of the harbor on a motor boat, kayak, or paddle board. They are great places to relax or walk the shore.  Taking a picnic basket or beach chairs to the islands is a popular past time for those who know this local secret. If you are planning on boating the harbor on your Clearwater Beach vacation, be sure to check them out!

 

Go ahead and spoil your Clearwater Beach vacation

Clearwater BeachWhen we say spoil your Clearwater Beach vacation, we are talking about having fun.

Walking our shores under the Florida sun, you can imagine our pirate history. Is there a pirate chest of gold somewhere beneath your feet? Are the spoils of a pirate raid buried under your vacation rental unit? Will you find pirate gold underneath a seashell on the beach?

While boating our beautiful turquoise harbors, look to one of the tiny spoil islands. The small islands are usually empty, ready for you to land and claim the territory for your own –at least for a little while. Occupying your own island for a few hours of your vacation might give you some fun vacation memories for you to treasure.

So go ahead. It’s okay. Have some fun and spoil your Clearwater Beach vacation.

 

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Florida Gulf Coast beach

Ever Changing Sands of the Florida Gulf Coast

Beaches on the move

Clearwater Beach dunes and beachThe beaches along the Florida Gulf Coast are among the best loved beaches in America. The soft white sand is soothing to the feet and glows brightly in the sunshine. The pleasant nature of the sand makes the beaches famous, and the area has become a favorite vacation destination. What visitors to the area might not realize, however, is how much Mother Nature can move around that soft white sands.

 

Effects of Wind and Sea on the Beach

Kiteboarding Clearwater BeachA visit to the beaches of the Central Gulf Coast of Florida will introduce you to the powdery white sands of which we speak. While pushing  your toes through the sands, your feet will tell you how soft the tiny grains are. Some call it “sugar sand” while others compare it to powder. On a day with higher winds, you might feel the sand gently blowing across your ankles. Over time, this can create a considerable effect. In addition to the wind, the weather patterns create different currents offshore. Over time, the effects of wind and water can significantly change the beach landscape.

 

Mangroves and Sand Dunes on the Florida Gulf Coast

Mangrove shores of the Florida Nature CoastWhile you visit the beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast, you will notice two things; mangrove trees and sand dunes. Mangrove trees are easy to identify from their sturdy root systems that lift the trees up over the sand or water. These trees help to clean the water while protecting the shoreline from erosion. While a shore of mangrove trees may not be as appealing to some as a wide-open, sandy beach, the trees are an essential part of the Florida coastline. Mangroves can even withstand the powerful forces of hurricanes, protecting inland areas from many of the storms’ effects. Clearwater Beach sand dunesSand dunes may sometimes block the view of the open sand and sea, but they form an irreplaceable function for the beaches. They store sand for times of greater erosion and help to block the flood waters during storm surges. A beach without dunes is far more vulnerable to erosion than one with a healthy dune system. On your Florida vacation, be sure to treat the mangrove forests and the grasses on the sand dunes with the respect they deserve.

 

History of Shifting Sands on the Florida Gulf Coast

Johns Pass

Johns PassThe most famous story of our changing shoreline comes from a location known as John’s Pass, currently a fun tourist day trip destination. However, the popular boating route and tourist stop of John’s Pass did not always exist. The barrier islands along the coast of what is now Pinellas County continued uninterrupted past the present day channel. According to local history, a storm in 1848 washed away the sands and left an opening in the barrier islands, connecting the Gulf of Mexico and the intra-coastal waterway. The passage is now an essential route for boaters that includes a large drawbridge. Waterfront dining and shops have capitalized on the location, which is a plus for tourists to the Central Gulf Coast.

Dunedin Pass

Clearwater Beach to Caladesi IslandThe second, well-known change in the shoreline was started in 1921 by a hurricane. The water channel known as Dunedin Pass was altered by the storm, and in combination with other forces, caused the sand bar at the north end of Clearwater Beach to migrate northward until the pass closed. It is now possible to walk from Clearwater Beach to Caladesi Island, although locals have not allowed Caladesi’s status as an independent island to fade.

Three Rooker Bar

sand barAnother unique feature of the local coastal landscape shaped by tidal forces is Three Rooker Bar. This land feature began as a sand bar but now is a tiny island supporting both plant and animal life. Thanks to the quickly changing landscape of Three Rooker Bar, you will find it listed online as both an island and a sand bar, depending on where you look. If the forces that made the sand bar continue, not only will the title of island remain, but the island will continue to grow in size.

 

Florida Gulf Coast has a Tradition of Change

Hurricane Pass Dunedin FloridaThe beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast have a tradition of change. While mankind can and does have an effect on preserving beaches, the landscape will continue to shift. You can experience this process for yourself by visiting the channel that runs between Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island. This passage owes its existence to the hurricane of 1921, thus giving it the name Hurricane Pass. You will find long spits of soft, white sand reaching out toward the passage from both islands. You will also see large, areas of sand just beneath the surface, many of which you can walk on during low tides. If you are lucky enough to return to the beaches year after year, you will notice a marked change at Hurricane Pass. The sands on either side of the boating channel are in constant flux. The shape of the beaches changes visibly, while the sand bars move from one location to another.

 

Gulf Coast Beaches

Palm shadows on the beachYour beach holiday on the shores of Florida’s West Coast will surely be amazing. The beaches are renowned for their soft white sands and wonderful weather. You can choose between a manicured public beach or the wild shores of the less-visited barrier islands. In fact, you can visit both during the same day! Keep in mind that the beaches you walk upon might appear the way they do just for you, right at that moment. The next time you visit, you can then see if you recognize the subtle changes in our beaches. Finding the differences can be entertaining so be sure to bring your camera. It might be fun to add the changing sands of the Central Gulf Coast to the list of beautiful sights you will see on your Florida vacation.

 

 

Caladesi Island

Florida Barrier Island Breakdown

Barrier Islands of the Central Gulf Coast of Florida

Off the Pinellas County shorelines of the Florida Gulf Coast are a series of barrier islands. It is very likely you know the names of some of them, like Clearwater Beach, or Honeymoon Island. We’ll break them all down for you, so that you too can be an expert on the barrier islands of our area. We’ll start in the north off the shores of Tarpon Springs and head south past Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Belleair, Largo, Seminole, Gulfport, St Petersburg, and beyond. Once you are a barrier island expert, you will be able plan your Gulf Coast vacation trek up and down our shoreline with much keener insight.

 

Anclote Key

Anclote Key barrier island lighthouse

Anclote Key lighthouse

Anclote Key Preserve State Park is directly off shore of the mouth of the Anclote River, the waterway that runs past the tourist destination of the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks. You can depart from those docks on a tour boat that will take you to Anclote Key, where you can walk the shores, view the historic light house, or just spend some time on one of Florida’s best natural beaches. You will find lots of driftwood and seashells on this island, since it can only be reached by boat.

 

Three Rooker Island

Gulf Coast ShoresThree Rooker Island is one step up from a very large sand bar. This tiny barrier island is a favorite hangout spot for boaters. You can only get to the bar by boat and anchoring off its shores is a great way to spend the afternoon. The shores of the small key are the soft, powdery white sand for which the Florida Gulf Coast is famous. Swim from your boat or from the shore. On a walk down the beach in ankle deep water you might be able go from one end to the other of the two mile stretch of Three Rooker Island.

 

Honeymoon Island

Honeymoon Island, Florida

Honeymoon Island sunset

Honeymoon Island State Park is one of the most famous of the barrier islands along our coastline. It has long stretches of white sand beaches, a concession stand, lots of parking, a dog beach, nature center, playground, and nature trail. It is also where you catch the ferry to neighboring Caladesi Island to the south. The island is a great place to beachcomb for shells. You can also see nesting ospreys, bald eagles, and great horned owls, or perhaps one of the burrowing gopher tortoises. On a trip to Honeymoon Island you can choose the type of adventure you want to have. In fact, you will have to, because the Honeymoon Island is too large to see all in one day.

 

Caladesi Island

Caladesi Island

Caladesi Island

Caladesi Island is just north of Clearwater Beach. You can even walk to the island from the south, because a storm some decades ago filled in the opening between the two islands. Of course, you can skip the long walk by taking the ferry from Honeymoon Island. Caladesi Island is known for its pristine white sand beaches. You will feel as if you are in the wilds when you walk along its northern shores. You can also view plenty of Florida birds that use the island for nesting. This famous retreat belongs on your must-see list for your Florida Gulf Coast vacation. Caladesi Island is one of our best.

 

Clearwater Beach Island

Clearwater BeachThe most famous of all the barrier islands along our coast is Clearwater Beach Island. It was formerly known as Tate’s Island, named after a family that lived on the island when the area was first settled. Clearwater Beach became the tourist destination we know today after the bridge was built from the city of Clearwater. Clearwater Beach has more tourist attractions than you can shake a stick at, including the famous Pier 60 nightly sunset festival, and the nearby home of Winter the dolphin from the Dolphin Tale movies. With its beautiful white sand beaches and multiple attractions, Clearwater Beach makes a perfect base of operations for a Florida Gulf Coast vacation.

 

Sand Key – Sand Key Beach to Madeira Beach

Madeira Beach, Florida

Madeira Beach, Florida

The long barrier islands of Sand Key starts just south of Clearwater Beach. It extends down through some great beach communities until it ends at John’s Pass, which is one of the best tourist destinations in the region. To the south of Sand Key Beach is Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Redington Shores, North Redington Beach, and Madeira Beach. The beach communities on Sand Key are some of the calmest of our region of the Gulf Coast, perfect for family vacations. You should definitely check into the many diners along the scenic drive down the length of Sand Key.

 

Treasure Island

Treasure Island BeachTreasure Island has one of the widest swaths of sand on the entire chain of barrier islands. This is a good location to look into local festivals. The beach makes a perfect location for large events, which is exactly what they do on Treasure Island. The bridge heading east from Treasure Island leads into Seminole, Gulfport, and St Petersburg, which is why this is a good location to find restaurants, pubs, and gift shops. Treasure Island is one of the barrier islands along our coast you will want to keep your eye on.

 

Long Key – St Pete Beach and Pass A Grille Beach

Long KeyLong Key is the last of the residential barrier islands on the strip. You will find St Pete Beach and Pass A Grille Beach here. St Pete Beach is one of the more developed tourist districts in the area. You will find plenty of dining and entertainment in the area. It is also a great place for family vacations. Pass A Grille Beach has the distinction of being the most southern beach community on our coast, with plenty of Florida charm.

 

Mullet Key and Shell Key Preserve

Fort Desoto ParkMullet Key is home to famous Fort Desoto Park. The interior waters are shallow and calm, thanks to the islands’ horseshoe shape, making a great place for boating. The park is rich with history, and beautiful white beaches. It is a fantastic destination for a family beach day, complete with shaded picnic areas and shallow wading areas. Shell Key Preserve is just north of Fort Desoto. It is a preserve for local wildlife, especially a large number of local birds, who nest and rear their young there. Shell Key is a great place for boaters and birdwatchers.

 

Egmont Key

Snorkeling FloridaEgmont Key State Park sits at the entrance to Tampa Bay. The lighthouse has been used in times of peace and war since 1858. Ruins of Fort Dade, from the same era as Fort Desoto, can be found on the island. Be aware, however, that access to the southern end of the key is limited because of the shore bird refuge there. The island is reachable only by boat. Once there, you can fish, picnic, swim, hike, or tour the ruins. It one of the most difficult to reach islands listed here, but Egmont Key is definitely worth visiting.

 

Other blog posts you might like:

Wildest Islands on the Central Gulf Coast of Florida

Treasure Island Kite Festival 2014

Aerial of Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island

 

Florida waterways

Never Confuse a Bayou with a Backwater Again

Need to Know Info for your Florida Vacation

Florida wildflowerPlanning a Florida vacation? You might want to be able to talk to the natives on their own terms. What terms are we talking about? Florida is known for its greenery and flowers. In fact, the word Florida comes from the Spanish word for flowers or flowery. The way Florida gets its lush plants and flowers is from water. Florida has an abundant level of rainfall as well as a good number of rivers, lakes, and inlets from the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. If you want to chat with the local Floridians about the terrain and waterways, here are few words you might want to know.

 

Bayou

Sutherland Bayou, Palm Harbor, FLA slow moving offshoot of a river, lake or other body of water. Often home to volumes of plant life and animals, and having indistinct banks. Often will flow both directions due to ocean tides. You will want to know this word so you don’t accidentally confuse it with the very similar waterway known as a backwater. Nothing puts egg on your face faster than calling some backwater a bayou. And you don’t want to call someone’s bayou a backwater either. Seriously. A bayou will not have much water flow but should take you easily back out to the river or bay to which it is connected. Plenty of them are undeveloped while others have very upscale communities surrounding them.

 

Backwater

Florida backwaterAn out of the way side channel with little flow of water, or an obstructed flow of water. While you might think you’ve found a bayou, you’ll have to look for obstructions, or a lack of water flow that’s cautiously different from the meandering bayou. A general disregard for the waterway in question will also be apparent in the attitude of the locals. Once you realize you are dealing with a backwater, you no longer need to treat the waterway with respect in conversation. Naturally, you might not want to apply that method to anyone you find living on that particular backwater.

 

Watershed

Florida watershedA place for the natural flow of water to go, especially during heavy rains or during the rainy season. They constitute the natural water system leading to lakes, rivers, the ocean, or to below-ground aquifers. Watersheds are maintained by the state to keep water quality high, and to keep the water flowing where it is wanted, rather than collecting in neighborhoods or other developed areas. You can find watersheds marked on local maps in Florida. Many of them overlap with county parks. You might be able to take long walks in the Florida wilds along park trails while within designated watershed areas. If you do so in the rainy season, you will likely find the low-lying areas have filled with water. This might leave favorite walkways in a muddy condition or actually under water.

 

Swamp

Florida swampsA swamp is low, wet, marshy, woodland area. These can be quite interesting places to visit in Florida. Many Florida parks have raised pathways and boardwalks to keep you dry. A walk in a swamp in Florida will surely take you past the beautiful cypress trees, famous for their wide bases, and the knobs they send up from the ground surrounding the trunk. Florida parksWhile you might think you would never want to visit a swamp, the pathways leading through the cypress groves can be quite beautiful. You might even find yourself strolling along a flowery bayou –or maybe even some backwater somewhere.

 

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Fort Desoto Park Florida

Fort Desoto Beaches, Boating, and History

Visit Fort Desoto for the History

Fort Desoto cannonThe history of Fort Desoto Park in Florida is still present in its large cannons, and rooms buried under sand dunes that you can tour. Visitors can get up close and personal with the fort, touching the cannons and entering the old store rooms. Fort Desoto was built and named at the turn of the century in 1900 during the Spanish-American war. Henry B Plant, a railroad tycoon who brought the railroad to Tampa Bay, helped to urge the government to build the fort. Real history buffs might also want to visit the Henry B Plant museum in Tampa. The large Fort Desoto cannons were set to shoot ships trying to enter Tampa Bay, with help from a lookout on nearby Egmont Key, which also has ruins. The remains of Fort Desoto are fun to tour and are very close to the beach and the visitor center at the park.

 

Visit Fort Desoto for the Boating

Boating and kayaking at Fort Desoto FloridaOne of the best features of Fort Desoto Park is the waterways that surround the barrier islands there. Fort Desoto is a barrier island with several other small islands nearby. A good number of them are mangrove islands but you will also find locations where you can land your boat on a tiny, sandy beach. The type of boat you choose will determine where you can go. With a power boat you will be able to cover more ground but you will also need to be aware of the vast shallows surrounding Fort Desoto. On a kayak you will be able to navigate in even the shallowest waters but you will be limited by how far you can paddle. Plenty of other boat types are possible but power boats and kayaks are the most readily available. Naturally, your finances and personal preferences will have something to do with the boat you choose. One of the perks of boating in the area is finding a private strip of beach which is virtually your own for an hour or two. You also might find beautiful areas of wildlife, or coves with lots of shells to beachcomb. Boating is a great addition to a beach day at Fort Desoto Park.

 

Visit Fort Desoto for the Beaches

Fort Desoto beachThe best beaches in America are found along the Florida Gulf Coast, and Fort Desoto is definitely one of them. The beaches there, as well as several others along our coastline, win awards for the beast beaches in America repeatedly. Once you visit Fort Desoto, you will see why. The coastline is covered in fine, white sand, and the waters are blue, with a bright turquois color where the sun strikes the sand in the shallows. It is a long beach which can support quite a lot of visitors. This is a good thing, because on busy days like holidays or Spring Break, the beach fills up. Fortunately, the parking lot is built to accommodate very large crowds. The park also has a picnic area under shade trees right next to the beach. Last year the beach won an award for Best Family Beach. With wide swaths of sand, picnic areas, and plenty of sights to see, it is easy to see why Fort Desoto won the award.

 

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Low tide on Florida Gulf Coast

How Knowing Tidal Schedules Can Make or Break Your Florida Gulf Coast Vacation

Tides of the Florida Central Gulf Coast

Low tide at Honeymoon Island FloridaUnderstanding Tampa Bay tides might help you to enjoy your vacation more. Knowing the water level can help make activities like boating, fishing, and beach combing more enjoyable. The tides of Tampa Bay are more difficult to predict than you might think. Because Tampa Bay is so large, the tides take quite a while to reach the far reaches of the interior bay areas. You will find the tide on one side of the peninsula might be higher or lower than the other. While the interior coastline of Tampa Bay doesn’t have much in the way of beaches, if you are boating on the bay you will definitely want to check the proper charts. Fortunately, area residents know the different tidal areas and charts are available in which you can find the exact area you intend to visit. However, if you are cruising the beaches along the Gulf Coast, you will not find the tidal variations a problem, and you can check a single chart for all the coastal beaches. But why check the charts at all? Let’s take a look at some good reasons to know the tides.

Florida Central Gulf Coast Tides Might Leave You High and Dry

Sailboat at Honeymoon islandBoaters need to know the tides of the Florida Gulf Coast more than anyone. That seems obvious enough but how can that effect your vacation? Well, if you wind up on a boat, it might have quite a big effect. Because the waters of our harbors are so shallow, it is necessary for any boat with a motor to have sonar to detect depth. Running aground in the shallows is a serious danger. If you wind up renting a boat or Jet Ski, you need to be aware of water depth and keep to the marked channels. However, motorized boats aren’t the only craft that need to know how deep the water is. Even a tiny kayak can bottom out in our harbors, inlets and bayous. It is quite common for kayakers to get out and walk across low tide areas. While walking in the waters of the Gulf Coast can be pleasant, it can also be mucky. Planning your trip with the tides in mind is a good idea.

Plan Your Fishing Trip around the Gulf Coast Tides

Fishing the Florida Gulf CoastIf you plan to fish along our coastlines, you should look up the tides. Wading out into the shallows of the Gulf is much more pleasant at high tide when your buoyancy will keep you from sinking into a muddy bottom. You might also find the fish come in at high tide to feed in areas unavailable at low tide. Dolphins sighted fishing the shallows at high tide are proof of that. You can also use the tides to know when the best time is to catch fish in the tidal currents off the ends of the islands and at the mouths of inlets and bayous.

Low Tide is the Best Time to Walk the Gulf Coast Beaches

Clearwater BeachLow tide on the Florida Gulf Coast is one of the best times to walk the beach. The swath of hard packed sand is larger, and you will see many more shells. On the dry, tumbled sand, it is sometimes hard to find any shells at all. You will also find more unbroken shells near the waterline at low tide. You might even catch a glimpse of the live sea life down by the water. It is common to find living sea snails washed onto the shore, as well as live starfish, sand dollars, and clams. It can be interesting to see them in their natural state.

As far as high tide goes, you might find that it is the best time to swim, as the water is not so shallow.

Drying out Live Starfish and Shells

Seashells for salePlease don’t do that. Because we are a popular tourist resort, it is a good idea for visitors to leave live sea animals alone. If each tourist took live starfish or sea snails from the shore, it could have an impact on the sea life. Leave the live animals in place so that the next tourist can experience the pleasure of seeing them too. Gift shops and even the beach Walgreens have shells and starfish for sale that are in perfect condition. Also, store-bought shells and starfish already have the odors removed, which is more difficult to do on your own than you might think. Trust us when we say that odor free mementos make much better souvenirs of your Florida Gulf Coast vacation.

 

Other posts you might like:

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Clearwater Marina

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Fishing the Gulf of Mexico

Gulf shores fishing

Dunedin Causeway, Florida

Fishing the Gulf of Mexico is lots of fun. While this blog is about charters, be aware that you can also fish from beaches, piers, causeways, and other great locations. Wading into the coastal waterways is popular, especially in Clearwater Harbor or St. Joseph Sound. Our coasts are very shallow, so you can wade out a surprising distance. If you take a drive down the coastal roads of Clearwater and Dunedin, you will spot fishermen wading far out into the harbor. However, the shallow waters are home to certain types of fish, while the deeper waters off the coast are home to completely different varieties. That is why fishing charters on the Central Gulf Coast are so popular.

 

Find Fishing Charters on the Central Gulf Coast of Florida

Fishing Gulf of MexicoFinding a fishing charter near Clearwater Beach is not difficult. In fact, you will find fishing charters on the Central Gulf Coast are plentiful. A walk down the docks of Clearwater Marina will light up the eyes of anyone who likes deep sea fishing. You have the choice of small private charters or very large fishing vessels.

Map of Florida Gulf CoastYou will also find a lineup of fishing charters at the Dunedin docks, just north of Clearwater on the coastal road. If you are closer to the southern beaches of St Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, or the Redington Shores area, you will find fishing charters along the intra-coastal waterway, or at the popular tourist docks of John’s Pass.

Prices will vary, usually related to the size of the boat or the quality of the charter. Some are simple fishing trips. Others include perks like a cooler of beer and snacks. The charters usually run from 4  to 8 hours. The minimum of 4 hours is necessary because of how far out your captain will have to go in order to reach deep waters.

 

Best Fish of the Central Gulf Coast of Florida

Clearwater Marina fishing charter

Clearwater Beach Marina

The Gulf of Mexico has some delicious fish, and the Central Gulf Coast of Florida is no exception. Topping the list of yummy Gulf Coast fish are flounder, grunts, Spanish mackerel, dog fish, and grouper. (If you catch a black grouper, make sure that’s the one you cook up!) The recipe you use is up to you, but if you don’t feel like cooking fish on vacation, that’s ok. Many of the local restaurants will cook your fish for you! That’s right, the local cooks will take your fish and serve it up restaurant style. It’s a great way to go, and it makes for some fond Florida Gulf Coast vacation memories too.

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Clearwater Beach Causeway

What Is a Causeway?

Definition of Causeway

CausewayWhen you visit Clearwater Beach or any other location on the Central Gulf Coast, you will soon hear the locals talking about causeways. More than one visitor has asked the question, “What is a causeway?” According to Dictionary.com and Mirriam-Webster.com, a causeway is a raised road or path such as those that cross wet areas or water. It also refers to Roman style roads, and can refer to paving a road with cobblestones or gravel. Of course, we are not building Roman style roadways here in Florida. Our causeways are used to get you across the water. But why does the Central Gulf Coast of Florida use causeways instead of bridges?

Bridges and Causeways of the Florida Gulf Coast

We do use bridges here in Florida, but we are also very fond of our causeways. Causeways lead us to our beaches! You will also find causeways leading across Tampa Bay itself. The roads across Tampa Bay span a very large stretch of water, three in total, the Gandy, Hwy 275, and the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

  • Gandy: 2 of the 5 miles is causeway; 3 miles of bridge
  • HWY 275 bridge, roughly half of the 7 miles is causeway
  • Courtney Campbell Causeway is 9.5 miles, almost all of which is causeway

The bridge spans over the bay raise up off the water, with pylons holding them up, allowing for boat traffic. The causeways are made from rocks and fill dirt. Of course, fill dirt In Florida is also known as sand. The dirt then has a long road paved over top of it. Tampa Bay and the surrounding waterways of the Florida Gulf Coast are shallow. Tampa bay is reportedly only about 12 feet deep! Such shallow waters lend well building causeways.

Why Are Florida Causeways So Popular?

BridgeThe causeways around the Florida Gulf Coast are popular for a variety of reasons. The foremost reason is an ease in traffic. According to CourtneyCampbell.org, the roadway between Tampa and Clearwater sees over 50,000 motorists a day! With three such bridges crossing Tampa Bay, you can imagine the relief the causeways give to the land routes that encircle the water. The other reason the causeways are popular might not occur to you until you see them for yourself. Causeways provide many extra miles of coastline!  You will see plenty of Florida natives and tourists enjoying the shoreline along the causeways. They make great launch sites for small craft and are also very popular fishing destinations. The Courtney Campbell Causeway is even considered a scenic roadway, which it truly is. The vistas of Tampa Bay are beautiful from all three of these large Florida causeways.

Clearwater Beach Causeway

Clearwater Beach causewayWhen you come to Clearwater Beach for vacation it is likely you will cross the Courtney Campbell Causeway on your way into Clearwater from the Tampa airport. Enjoy the ride! After you pass through downtown Clearwater, you will be treated to our little causeway here at the beach. It is lined with large palm trees and has a wide biking and walking trail along its southern shore. The Clearwater Beach causeway also takes you past the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the dolphin from the Dolphin Tale movie. Keep the causeway in mind on your Clearwater Beach vacation. The beach causeway is a great place for morning walks or afternoon bike rides.

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