Central Florida Lakes Country is an unforgettable experience!

With some 554 lakes, unlimited species of birds, wild life, thousands of flowers, ancient islands that provide habitat for rare animals and beautiful parks are only part of the spectacular opportunities that await those planning a trip to Central Florida including the Lake Wales Ridge.

Apart from discovering the parks, lakes, rivers, swamps, forests and natural areas, there are also opportunities for hiking, cycling, boating, horseback riding or hiking through miles of virgin forest and trails that could bring you face to face with deer, fox and bobcats.

This vast area is the center piece of an ambitious promotion by the Central Florida Visitors & Convention Bureau and Georgia Turner group which mapped out a strategy for nine journalists who were able to see at first hand the most ideal location for those seeking an enjoyable, educational and exciting vacation.

Room at Liars Lodge.

Liar's Lodge

After being welcomed by Georgia, we all check in at Liar’s Lodge, part of the world famous fishing resort of Camp Mack located on the beautiful Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. We were joined by Katy Martin, who is in charge of Communications with the Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau.

The group enjoyed dinner at Cherry Pocket Fish Camp on Lake Pierce. Cherry Pocket Fish Camp and Steak and Seafood Shack features fresh Gulf Coast Grouper, Crab Legs and Gator.

Flower scene and roller
coaster at Cypress Garden

Cypress Gardens

Our first official tour the next morning was at Cypress Gardens Adventure Park best known for historic botanical gardens and world famous ski shows. 

With more than 40 rides, splash Island water Park, all star concerts and special events, the Park was an immediate hit with all of us.

Native plants and exotic species combine in a magnificent display creating a horticultural masterpiece that leaves one captivated. Topiary Trail features a collection of colorful topiaries, including variety of animals such as a rabbit, swan, inch-worm and ladybug.

The crowning glory of this trail of jewels is the waterfall, a sparkling cascade accented by brilliant floral blossoms.

With more than three dozen rides, screams of excitement and joy are often heard for miles around. 

Nine crocodiles and an alligator that once starred alongside Johnny Weissmuller in the old Tarzan movies are featured at Cypress Gardens including a beautiful jaguar.

The group had lunch at Taste of Florida/Lang Sun Country Groves which started business in 1951 and is still family owned.

It was originally a small roadside citrus stand but has expanded to include citrus shipping and packing and now includes a gift shop and restaurant.

Southern Belles

Attractive Southern Belles.

The Southern Belles have served as a park icon for more than 65 years and this photo attests to this point. (photo 3 of two Southern Belles). Visiting this masterpiece is an experience of one of the most peaceful and enriching places in the world.

In the afternoon we experienced the ranch life when we arrived at Westgate River Ranch, an authentic 1,700 acre ponderosa of winding trails, pristine waters and live rodeo.

Every Saturday evening the arena comes alive with the famous River Ranch Rodeo featuring cowpokes and bronco busters.  We enjoyed a one hour hay ride out on the Florida Tails with a famous River Ranch Singing Cowboy.’

Cow Camp at Lake Kissimmee.

Cow Camp

The next day we headed for Lake Kissimmee State Park/Cow Camp. Lake Kissimmee is 45,000 acres and is the third largest in the United States. The land that is now Lake Kissimmee State Park was once used by Native Americans because of the abundance of fish and game in the area.  The third largest lake in the state, the 5,930 acres of the Park are teeming with plant and animal life. It offers outstanding fishing, bird watching, picnicking, camping, boating and hiking on 13 miles of beautiful trails.

The Park’s botanical bounty includes delicate mosses, butterfly orchids, saw grass, cutthroat grass, fetterbush and gall berry with expansive, colorful fields of lotus and pickerelweed that stretches upwards.

Cow hunter Koruschak with whip.

The pine and scrubby flat woods found in the park are host to long leaf pines, scrub oaks, Florida scrub jays, Sherman fox squirrels, gopher tortoises, while tailed deer, turkeys, bobcats and the grey fox

The Park has 60 campsites as well as two primitive campsites for backpackers and a youth camping area that can accommodate up to 50 people.

A roughly made sign, 1870’s Florida’s Cow Camp made us aware that we were heading for a Cow Camp 

(Photo  #4 of entrance to camp)

We came upon Mark Koruschak, a cow hunter, park ranger and full time employee of the ranch. His Tiki Hut was very basic. The roof is made of over 2,000cabbage palm leaves. He explained how he uses the Whip, Drag or cracker to keep the cows together and fend off the wolf pack which follows the cows.

He explained how the ranch operates and his job of ensuring the safety of the cows for which he is responsible.

The Tiki Hut occupied by Koruschak.

The camp fire is lit 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

After a two hour tour, we made our way to Captain Fred Neidlinger’s airboat tours on Lake Rosalie.

These fast powerful boats whisked the group into shallow areas not easily accessible by other means. Sightings included alligators, turtles and other native wildlife.

That evening we made our way to Chalet Suzanne Restaurant and Country Inn. This world renowned Chalet Suzanne Restaurant and Country Inn is made up of 30 rooms nestled on 70 acres in an oasis catering to guests of all ages.

Chalet Suzanne

Located on Lake Wales, Chalet Suzanne was voted one of Florida’s top 10 Most Romantic Places to Stay. In addition to the Inn and Restaurant, Chalet Suzanne has the beautiful Lake Suzanne, a European tiled swimming pool, a ceramic salon where artisans handicraft the dining room dishes, an antique shop, gift shop, library and Swedish bar.

Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales.

Each Chalet guestroom greets you with cordial warmth, delightfully different, with the comforts of private entrance, private bath, air conditioning, telephone and television. The sparkling pool, lake and airstrip are only a few steps away.

The next morning the group departed for Circle B Bar Reserve, a 1,297 acre environmental lands site known for scenic shorelines and abundant wildlife. This preserve offers visitors a view of an oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and like shore.

There is a tremendous bird population at the Reserve, including a variety of wading birds, water fowl, ospreys, and bald eagles. The group had the benefit of local birder Chuck Geanagle.

Live Oaks at Circle B Bar Reserve.

Hollis Garden produces beauty.

Circle B Bar Reserve
& Hollis Garden

As our tour continued excitement was building about Hollis Garden, neoclassical in design and featuring more than 10,000 flowers and ornamental shrubs.

Hollis Garden chronicles Florida history, from the beginnings of the state’s agrarian period to the modern era in which horticulture is driven primarily by aesthetics.

Hollis Garden was gifted to the city of Lakeland by the Hollis family.

We later lunched at Terrace Grill. In addition to being well known for its comforting cuisine, The Terrace Grille is also highly regarded for its historic charm and captivating architecture.

Masterfully restored ceilings, period fixtures and sweeping views of the Hotel’s interior provide a truly enticing backdrop to a delightful menu.

Bok Tower

The highlight of our tour was a visit to Bok Tower Gardens.  The renowned Bob Tower Gardens is one of Florida’s original tourism venues. Located on one of the highest point on the Florida peninsula, Bok Tower Sanctuary is a national landmark, including 128 acres of gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. and a bell tower housing one of the world’s grated carillons. 

Bok Tower is a chiming
Florida landmark.

Traveling through the garden is more than an education as it is one of the most peaceful and enriching places in the world where you can discover a place of such genuine beauty and cultural significance that it serves to enrich one’s appreciation for tranquility.

The gardens which contain over 1,000 plants were designed as a meditative woodland landscape and nature preserve.  Paths meander through open spaces and plantings to create tranquil resting spots with picturesque vistas of the Tower and the Florida countryside.

The 205 ft. carillon tower is a National Historical landmark and is among the finest in the world. Housed in a majestic marble and coquina bell tower, the Carillon consists of 60 bronze bells, ranging in weight from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons. It is one of four carillons in Florida.

Air Boat Adventure

We returned to Camp Mack’s River Resort in Lake Wales and we were taken on the “Billy Bob” a 22 foot passenger airboat for a tour of Lake Kissimmee.  The airboat was swift and we enjoyed the ride, viewing some of the wildlife in the area.

As the group made its way to Orlando Airport, we stopped in at a Vacation Rental Home in Polk County which is home to more than 8,000 vacation rental homes and condos. The arrangements for vacationers are of a high standard and the prices are very competitive, said Jeff Chase  Executive Directgor of Vacation Rental Managers Association.

This visit arranged by the Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau has certainly earned the respect and admiration of the media group and will go a far way in highlighting some of the beauties and cultural significance of Central Florida and allowing visitors to come close to nature, experiencing magnificent and breathtaking scenery and exciting vistas.

— Feature and photos by Edwin Ali, Jetsetters Magazine Florida Editor.