St. Johns River Paddle Wheeler Cruises Visitors On Unique Florida Experience

September 3, 2020
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Besides being the theme park capital of the world, Orlando is known as the City Beautiful. But just north of Orlando is the beautiful, historic city of Sanford, which features an iconic symbol of the past when Florida grew beside its river highways.

The hidden gem attraction is the Rivership Barbara-Lee—the only authentic sternwheeler sailing the 310-mile St. Johns River.

Since 2012, the Barbara Lee, a big red-white-and-blue paddle wheeler has been offering lunch and dinner cruises on the river thanks to the St. Johns Rivership Co.—a family-owned and operated business.

The 240-person riverboat, with its big windows overlooking the paddle fits well with the history of the St. Johns, one of the earliest routes used by Europeans to explore Florida—having first been mapped by the Spanish in the early 1500s.

Offering three -hour lunch and dinner tours, the Barbara Lee features very reasonable prices and plenty of food. The folks inside the air-conditioned lower-deck dining rooms receive an interesting historical lesson history from a Jimmy Buffett-influenced cruise director about the St. Johns River, one of the few rivers in the world that flows northward.

Ironically due to the pandemic, it’s likely the best time to climb aboard the Barbara Lee because the usually large crowds from tour buses are absent from the one-of-a-kind experience. This is what my boys and I encountered during a recent Saturday lunch cruise when there were only 35 passengers on the boat, which has a capacity for almost 200 people.

With plenty of room to move around, we enjoyed a delicious prime rib meal plus amazing sticky buns, great table service and beautiful scenery.

Ideal for family outings, group gatherings, corporate events, birthdays, weddings, date nights, Sunday brunch and just relaxing, the Barbara Lee is a big hit with visitors.

With 5 stars on www.tripadvisor.com, currently has 460 reviews and 460 reviewers rate the Barbara Lee as excellent and 69 as very good.

One reviewer called the cruise a “great Covid-19 activity.”

”We were looking for something safe and fun to do during Covid-19,” the reviewer noted. “We decided to do a couple’s lunch on the river. This was a safe (mask and social distances in place) and fun activity. The hosts were very accommodating, and the food was relatively good. “

Masks are required when boarding and walking around the dining area. All tables are a minimum of six feet apart. Only one reservation is allowed per table and safety guidelines are enforced.

Ronald C., another reviewer, added: “Everything couldn’t have been better. The food was great and we left stuffed. And the service was probably the best I’ve seen in a long time. They couldn’t have done more to make things pleasant. To sum this up, sometimes you pay for something and when your done you think, ‘It was OK, but not worth the money.’ This is worth every cent and probably more. If you want to spend a relaxing and rewarding afternoon or evening, this is for you! Oh yes, wait until you try the sticky buns.”

Another reviewer had cruised the Barbara Lee on 10 different occasions, including a first date, birthday and wedding.

”This is by far the most wonderful evenings and afternoons you can spend in Florida,” the reviewer wrote. “The prices are great and in my opinion well spent. Can’t say enough about how great the staff made our experience. Lived it and can’t wait to go again!”

The Barbara Lee even periodically offers a Rockin On The River adult cruise, which features a band and costs $20 per person.

For more information on the Barbara Lee, visit https://www.stjohnsrivershipco.com/ or call 321-441-3030 for reservations.

The Barbara Lee is not the only memorable boat tour in Central Florida.

Scenic Boat Tour of Winter Park Florida offers a unique, informative and relaxing experience for anyone looking for some natural attraction.

Also known as the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour, it is open daily from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. except Christmas and tours depart on the hour.

Located on Lake Osceola in the quiet suburb less than 10 minutes from downtown Orlando, the boat tour offers hour-long, guided cruises through three of the seven lakes and two, narrow manmade canals on the tranquil Winter Park chain.

On any given tour, participants may observe large cranes swooping waterside to snag a large fish or a lazy alligator languishing on a nearby bank. An occasional water skier or racing shell full of crew members from the areas private liberal arts college, Rollins College, are also enjoyable sideshows for tour goers.

Every tour, however, guarantees plenty of swaying palms, towering cypress trees, lush ferns and a variety of flourishing sub-tropical flowers. Breathtaking views of opulent private homes and exquisite estates sprawling along the shores are also a key feature of the scenic cruise.

A Winter Park tradition since 1938, the Scenic Boat Tour offers a fleet of six 18-passenger pontoon boats. Admission is $14. for adults and $7 for children.(ages 2 through 11) under 2 are free, but only cash or check are accepted.
Orlando travelers seeking an off-the-beaten-path vacation experience won’t be disappointed when they discover the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour.

Located on Lake Osceola in the quiet suburb less than 10 minutes from downtown Orlando, the boat tour offers hour-long, guided cruises through three of the seven lakes and two, narrow manmade canals on the tranquil Winter Park chain.

On any given tour, participants may observe large cranes swooping waterside to snag a large fish or a lazy alligator languishing on a nearby bank. An occasional water skier or racing shell full of crew members from the areas private liberal arts college, Rollins, are also enjoyable sideshows for tour goers.

Every tour, however, guarantees plenty of swaying palms, towering cypress trees, lush ferns and a variety of flourishing sub-tropical flowers. Breathtaking views of opulent private homes and exquisite estates sprawling along the shores are also a key feature of the scenic cruise.

The Scenic Boat Tour offers a fleet of six 18 passenger pontoon boats. Admission is $14.00 for adults and $7.00 for children Taxes Incl.(ages 2 through 11) under 2 are free. Cash or Check Only! Operating hours are 10am to 4pm daily except Christmas.

For more information on the Scenic Boat Tour, call 407-644-4056 or visit https://www.scenicboattours.com


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Eric Tiansay is a freelance writer with more than 20 years experience working as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor as well as writing for numerous Christian publications. Originally from Reno, Nev., Eric moved to Florida, where he became a Christian. An avid angler, film aficionado and fitness buff, Eric is an active member of his church along with his wife and five children.

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