Thursday, October 26, 2023

Take a 3-hour Cruise on Lake Dora, Florida



If you visit the town of Mt. Dora, in Florida, there is one activity I highly recommend doing. Take a boat tour of Lake Dora and the Dora Canal. Premier Boat Tours offers and excellent choice of tours.

Lake Dora covers over 4000 acres in central Florida and it is a great boating and fishing site, although the alligators make swimming a bit iffy. Premier Boat tours offers three excursions every day, two full tours of the lake and canal, and one sunset cruise. Their base is on the grounds of The Lakeside Inn, and from there you will head off across Lake Dora. Our guide and captain were very knowledgable about the local history and wildlife. 

The area is home to many kinds of birds, and also sits on the migration path of many more. On our trip, in early September, we encountered three species of heron, ibis, egrets, limpkin, and anhingas. 

Blue Heron

White Egrets

Tri-Color Heron

We also watched as a bald eagle flew from its perch on a lakeside tree, caught and fish, and returned to the tree to enjoy its meal.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle enjoying lunch

Lake Dora is also home to the requisite Florida reptiles and amphibians. We saw several gators and turtles. 

The most interesting part of the tour was traveling along the Dora Canal. The canal connects Lake Dora and Lake Eustis. The Dora Canal is small, usually ranging between 10 and 20 meters wide, and about two miles in length. The cypress trees line the canal, with their Spanish moss laden branches hanging over the water. It is a slow moving part of the trip, as this is a “no wake” zone, and it is quiet. We sailed past the back yards of houses and through areas that felt as wild as the heart of the bayou, even though “civilization” is never far away. 

gnome wedding

After a brief turn-around in Lake Eustice, it is back down the canal to Lake Dora, and across the lake home to the Lakeside Inn. In all it about a 3-hour cruise, and a nice escape on the water. 


Thursday, October 19, 2023

Sanford, Florida.


The town of Sanford, Florida is in the middle of the state, about 21 miles north of Orlando. For many travelers, it is best known as the southern terminal of Amtrak’s AutoTrain, a place where you wait for an hour or two for your car to be unloaded, and then hit the road on your way somewhere else. But there is more to Sanford’s history, and it worth taking the time to visit.

The area where Sanford is today was settled by European-Americans in 1836, at the start of the first war with the Seminole people. It was part of a chain of forts created by General Zackary Taylor across the territory. While the three wars with the Seminoles were mainly over control of land, another large issue was that the Seminole people took in enslaved people who sought their freedom in the Florida Territory. By 1858, when the third war had ended, the area had already been planted with orange groves, and in 1868, the first fruit packing plant in the area was built. 

Sanford was founded in 1869 on the shore of Lake Monroe, which is the head waters of the St. Johns River, the longest navigable river in Florida. While Sanford never became a major metropolis, it served the area as a shipping and transportation hub. Today it is home to around 61,000 people and it serves as the county seat for Orange County.

A visit to the center of Sanford offers a chance to walk through some of its history. In the area south of the historic downtown, you will find many homes that were built in the early to mid 20th century. This neighborhood is centered around Centennial Park. The homes are beautiful, and have been well kept. 

There are also two lovely churches. One is the First United Methodist Church, and red brick structure, with arched windows. On the other side of the block is the Holy Cross Episcopal Church, which is built in the style of Spanish colonial homes.

First United Methodist Church

Holy Cross Episcopal Church

Sanford Avenue, just to the east, was the edge of Sanford’s Georgetown neighborhood. Georgetown was an African-American neighborhood settled in 1885. It was a thriving community up until the 1950’s. As southern segregation decreased, families started to leave for newer homes, in areas with better opportunities. The area became more and more abandoned. Today businesses and restaurants are starting to move back onto the avenue.

While I cannot think of Sanford as a destination, it is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area. Especially if you have taken the AutoTrain, and want a place to eat and explore before heading on your way.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Mt. Dora. Central Florida without the Disney

Lake Dora


One advantage of being married to a writer is that, when she travels for workshops, retreats, or appearances, I get to tag along, enjoy new places, and take photographs. So, in September, when The Amazin’ Ms. D attended a workshop, I joined her in Mt. Dora, Florida.

American settlers moved into the area alongside a beautiful lake in the center of the Florida peninsula in 1874, and by 1880, the first post office was established by Ross C. Tremain, the area’s first real estate developer. The Lake was named Dora, named after Dora Ann Drawdy, one of the first homesteaders in the area. The town was originally named Royellou, after Tremain’s three children - Roy, Ella, and Louis. In 1883, it was renamed Mount Dora, after the lake, and the fact that it is on a plateau 184 feet above sea level, one of Florida’s highest points.

In 1883, The Alexander House was built on the shore of Lake Dora, and it quickly became a tourism magnet. Over the decades it has expanded into a much larger complex, and has been renamed the Lakeside Inn.

The Lakeside Inn

On my first morning, I took a walk along the lake to Grantham Point Park and the Mt. Dora Light House.The walk took me past the Mt. Dora Lawn Bowling Club, which was at full capacity on a Saturday morning. Once I entered the park I was followed by some of the tamest squirrels I have ever seen, all looking for me to give them their breakfast. 

At the Mt. Dora Lawn Bowling Club

The Light House was built in the 1980’s as boat traffic on the lake began to increase. It is 35 feet tall, and it is Florida’s only certified inland navigational aid. This walk is a great place to see wild life, including at least one of the local gators.

The historic center of Mt. Dora is filled with many homes and buildings that date back to the early 20th century. These include the Mt. Dora Community Building and its City Hall. The Community Building includes an 800 seat auditorium, one seat for every town resident the year it was built - 1929.

Mt. Dora Community Building

Mount Dora is home to the Modernism Museum. Its collection ties together David Bowie, and his favorite designers - The Memphis Group, from Milan, Italy. The Memphis Group was founded in 1980 by Ettore Sotsass, and they were active together from 1980 through 1987. The Memphis Group designed postmodernist pieces, using plastic laminates, stone and plastic, in furniture, lighting and ceramics. They are known for their bold primary colors and abstract designs.

When you are in town, make sure to stop in the Mt. Dora Center for the Arts. They showcase local artists in their gallery and offer classes, including oil and water color painting and ceramics.

Through the Eyes of Klimt by Renee Lewis

Girl in a Headdress by Marilyn Leverton

On the Journey by Kathy Omeara

Morning Beach Walk by Jules Silver

Mt. Dora offers a wide choice of shopping, from tourist souvenirs to fine art. There are also some fine restaurants in town. We enjoyed breakfast at Cody’s on 4th in downtown, and also went to the Dora Cafe, about a mile away, for morning meal aimed at locals. For lunch and dinner we enjoyed many restaurants, including WAVE Asian Bistro, Cafe Gianni, One Flight Up, and the Olive Branch. Also 1921 Mt. Dora offers a high end dinner, including a great pre-fixe with an affordable wine pairing.

Mt. Dora is a very nice place to spend a Florida weekend without having anything to do Disney, Universal, or Miami Beach.