Ever wondered if there is a refreshing alternative to sand, saltwater and hot swimming pools when vacationing on the Emerald Coast of Northwest Florida?
(I don’t knock sand or saltwater as a rule, as they are primary reasons I choose to live here. However, I have long deemed that steamy pools are highly overrated.)
Last week I was challenged with the task of finding entertainment for my 9 and 6 year old sons. My wife had been out of town for two weeks, the boys and I had endured all of the G-rated movies we could stand, and it was a rare double-red flag day at the beach – strong currents making it illegal to swim in the Gulf. It was dreadfully hot, and I refused to get the three of us poached in any of the stifling community pools we frequent.
I decided to venture 45 minutes north to a place I had been meaning to check out for years: Vortex Spring. Gads, why did I not venture to this place sooner?!
Here are the Top 5 Reasons you should visit Vortex Spring:
1. It is the largest scuba diving facility in Florida.
I have been scuba certified for over 25 years, but in my 10 years living on the Emerald Coast I never thought to submerge in this fresh water mecca so close to home. Diving is very affordable ($19/day), convenient, and they boast an exceptional scuba diving instruction center. Those with cave diving certification can explore the spring outflow caverns to depths of 100+ feet.
2. The water is clear, cold and refreshing.
The year-round clear water temperature is 68 degrees. Yep, that’s nippy, but when the mercury hits 90° plus on land it is simply outstanding. The boys initially shrieked when they entered the water. My 6 year old’s mantra that day was “it’s cold, it’s cold, it’s cold” – then he would jump in for the 100th time. Most divers wear wetsuits, and some (wimps!) even wear dry suits. I like to swim and dive as close to naked as modesty and the law permit, and the boys and I were just fine in mere bathing suits.
3. The place is a water park extravaganza.
The boys found no shortage of entertainment, and this too is affordable ($8/day for non-divers). Away from the deep water divers’ platforms are familywater park facilities to keep kids (of all ages) active for hours: canoes, water slides, diving boards, rope swings and zip lines. My kids have been swimming basically since birth, and many suspect they have gills. Though I would not recommend this for kids who are novice swimmers, I felt safe letting them play unsupervised while I blew bubbles at the “deep end”.
4. There is plenty of underwater wildlife.
The spring is teeming with bream, bass, freshwater eel and other species, all of which are harmless. My sons snorkeled with me and fed a variety of critters; fish food is available at the office for just 25¢ a bag. Fishing is strictly prohibited, and as a result there are some mighty big specimens in residence.
5. They offer a variety of overnight accommodation options.
The facility offers campgrounds,cabins & dormitory lodges. My wife does not camp – never has, never will. She can, however, enjoy “rustic” lodging, and she has done so over the years on vacations usually booked by, well, uh … me. (Please, please do not ask her about our 1988 Jamaica honeymoon.) That said, the boys and I plan to go pitch a tent up there sometime soon, and we’ll reserve a cabin when Mom opts to join us.
The Emerald Coast of Northwest Florida has long been known as “The Best Kept Secret of the South”, and Vortex Spring may well be “The Best Kept Secret of Northwest Florida”. For barefoot fun, invigoration, refreshment, and a wide variety of wholesome family recreational activities one can do no better than to plan a day or more at Vortex Spring.