Today I can't wait to share the River Cruise we took with St. Johns River Eco Tours last week! It was so much more fun than I expected! Not to mention educational, too. A perfect family outing!
First, let me tell you about our accommodations for the trip. We stayed in DeBary, FL, at the Hampton Inn - it was located right off of Interstate 4. We had a great room with two queen size beds, a fridge, microwave and coffee maker. David especially liked the cookies and milk offered each evening at 8 pm, and the huge breakfast (including make your own waffles) offered every morning. Everyone there was so kind and went above and beyond to make sure our stay was perfect. The pool and hot tub were nice, and we spent a nice afternoon enjoying them.
I can't say enough good things about the Hampton Inn in DeBary. Comfy beds, perfect pillows, cold air conditioning, too! As a blogger, I was happy they offered complimentary wifi and lots of workspace for me to upload pics at the end of each day. There is also an IHOP located right in front of the hotel - perfect for a quick meal before our adventures! So that was our home base while we were in West Volusia - it was in a great location and very convenient to everything we had on our itinerary.
Friday morning we were booked for a 10 am cruise at St Johns River Eco Tours. We got there a couple of minutes early and checked in at the hut, then waited at a picnic table til it was time to board the boat. There were two other groups on the cruise with us - everyone was friendly and excited. We all took our seats and met Captain Jeanne Bell and Doug Little, who was our guide that day. We knew immediately that this was going to be a great cruise with them!
The boat left the marina, and it wasn't long before we began seeing wildlife - lots of wildlife! Doug was great at spotting birds, and telling us about them. Within the first few minutes we also saw our first alligator!
We learned a lot about the history of the area from Doug and Captain Jeanne - they are very knowledgeable about the river and the wildlife that live in and on it. They shared some great stories with us throughout the cruise.
Among the many birds we saw during our cruise were the Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis, Limpkin, Turkey Vulture, Osprey and more! We learned that the loud cries of the Limpkin signals that it will rain soon! And we got up close to a family of Barred Owls - that was amazing.
We also learned that the area is full of black bears and you can even see American Bald Eagles here. Sadly, we didn't see any bears, eagles or even manatees on our cruise. Despite that, I still managed to walk away with over 200 pictures!! One of the coolest parts of the cruise was when we got up close and personal with a mama gator - she wasn't too happy about that and hissed at us! I stuck my phone down on the other side of the railing and got this picture:
The Barred Owls we visited were so cute - they were waiting when the boat pulled up to shore, and they quickly flew down for some tasty mice, then took them up in the trees to eat. Really amazing moment!
While cruising down the river, Doug told us about the book Swamp Ghosts, written by local author Marcia Meara. She interviewed Captain Jeanne and took several river cruises in order to gather information for this book - the first in a series. Well, I just had to buy a copy at the hut after our tour (along with one of Doug's gorgeous wildlife calendars!) and it was even autographed by the author! My Aunt Anne read this book in less than two days, and I'm well into it now myself. It's great - very suspenseful, and if you take the tour, you will recognize some people and places in this novel.
You can get a copy for yourself here ~ (affiliate link)
The cruise was two hours long and it's one of the best times I've EVER had in Florida. I learned so much, and saw some really fantastic things. David enjoyed helping Captain Jeanne out, and he really liked counting the alligators we saw!
The boat is covered, so you won't get direct sun - a good thing if it is hot! The day we went it was fairly overcast and a little chilly, so jackets were a good thing to have with us. Doug had blankets for those who needed them, too. Make sure you have plenty of room on your camera card and be ready for an entertaining two hours!
I promise you that this cruise is at the top of our list for next time we visit this part of Florida. I think every cruise will be a little different, and I'd love to take this again and maybe see a manatee or bear next time!! If you are in the area, this really is a must-try, unique attraction that the whole family will love. I am so thrilled that we were able to have this experience on our visit to the West Volusia area.
To find out more about St Johns River Eco Tours, check them out on Facebook and on their website.
They are located at:
St. Johns River Eco Tours
488 W. Highbanks Road, DeBary, Florida, 32713 | (386) 626-9004
Stay tuned later this week to find out about the incredible Springs in the DeBary/DeLand area that we visited!
Disclaimer: My family was hosted on a complimentary river cruise with St Johns River Eco Tours in order to share the experience with my readers. We were also hosted at the Hampton Inn during our stay in Florida, courtesy of the West Volusia Tourism Bureau. You can order a copy of their Visitors Guide too! All opinions shared here about our trip are 100% my own.