By Patrick Connolly
Before Walt Disney was even a twinkle in his father’s eye, Silver Springs was offering Florida natives and visitors one of the first — and now oldest — attractions in the state.
Glass bottom boat tours have been showing visitors a unique view of the spring-fed Silver River since the late 1800s. The watercraft may be newer now, but the experience of gazing through glass at fish and turtles swimming below the boat has remained largely the same for more than 100 years.
During its commercial ownership, Silver Springs became home to jungle boat cruises (with wild rhesus monkeys that still exist around the spring), a Jeep wilderness trail ride and a giraffe exhibit.
In 2013, the nearly 5,000-acre swath of land surrounding Silver River changed from a privately held theme park to a state park.
On the glass bottom boat tours, visitors have the opportunity to peer through the crystal-clear spring water to see eelgrass and remnants of sunken watercraft below. Or they can gaze around at birds resting in trees, turtles passing the time on logs and the occasional alligator basking in the sun.
After the boat tour, visitors wanting more time on the water can explore kayak and canoe rentals in the park. Others can visit the Spring Side Cafe, Paradise Treats, a visitor center, gift shop or education center. Swimming is not allowed at Silver Springs at this time.