Sure, you can see fireworks at Walt Disney World every night, but Florida is full of natural wonders, including some that put on their own light show. Imagine paddling in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge out on Florida’s Space Coast at dusk as manatees and dolphins linger near your kayak. As you dip your paddle in the water, you’re fascinated by a whitish-greenish glow. You’ve spotted the bioluminescent algae that thrives in the summer time and puts on an amazing show for the kayakers that gets more prominent as it gets darker.
These tours are provided by A Day Away Kayaking (website:http://www.adayawaykayaktours.com), which recently held a media tour to give local outlets a glimpse at this amazing activity option that’s only about 90 minutes from the Disney area. The tours use two person kayaks, and everyone hops in after a brief safety overview. Don’t worry, there aren’t any major dangers. The worst thing you might have to worry about is possibly getting tipped over if you wake a sleeping manatee as you pass over it. Just use the hula doll method of paddling (only move your body above the waist) and you’ll do fine.
You get some time to practice your paddling technique before heading out to see the wildlife and the star attraction: the bioluminescent algae. The media tour was fortunate enough to encounter both dolphins and manatees, as well as a variety of birds, in the water. Wildlife is abundant in the area (we passed a gator on the road to the launch point) so keep your eyes open both before and during your trip.
The media trip set out right around sunset, and the first wildlife encounter happened almost immediately, with a majestic manatee surfacing to take a breath. Shortly thereafter, the dolphins were spotted feeding on fish in an alcove.
At first, the bioluminescence just showed up as a slight white glow around the paddles. As the darkness became more prominent, so did the eerie natural light. You could see it as you paddled, coming up in the little waves created by the motion. It was like a natural glowstick. You could increase the effect by splashing your hand around in the water, but sadly, it’s virtually impossible to capture on film. It’s something that truly must be seen in person.
It was also fascinating to see how the fish swam away from the kayaks, since they go in a zig zag rather than a straight line.
The trip typically lasts around 90 minutes, although the media tour ran close to two hours. In that time, you navigate waters than range from extremely shallow to a short stretch that’s 20 feet deep. Here;s a video overview:
The cost of this experience is very reasonable: $35 adult/$25 child most nights, or $39 adult/$29 child/$20 on Saturdays. Better hurry if you’d like to try it out this year, as the tours only run from June through early October. Otherwise, you can see the glowing jellyfish in the cooler months, from mid-October to May. Day kayaking trips are available, too, for optimal wildlife spotting.
What should you bring on the tour? Here’s the official list:
- Clothes you don’t mind getting a little wet.
- Swim suit/board shorts, shirt; In cool weather… cover-ups (avoid cotton)
- Water Shoes or sandals that can be worn in the water
- An extra change of clothes is recommended
- Hat and sunglasses
- Camera & dry bag (optional)
- Bottled water and snacks
- A towel to leave in your car
And, perhaps most important of all, bug repellent! This is a natural area, and, as such, it has a very high population of bloodthirsty mosquitoes so you need something strong to ward them off.
Also, be sure to use the restroom before you reach the launch site, as there are no facilities in the area.
If you’re intrigued, contact A Day Away Kayak Tours to book your very own adventure. It’s a far cry from the theme parks and an amazing way to experience part of the real Florida. You can hear from the company’s owner in the video below:
If you’re still not convinced, travel expert Jen Burg will change your mind:
Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog In the Shadow of the Mouse.