A Charlotte Harbor Cruise Celebrates the Best of Florida

    By Janet K. Keeler

    It is often said that to thoroughly enjoy the wonders of Florida, one needs to get out on the water.  That is the best vantage point from which to appreciate why people flock to the Sunshine State from all over the world.

    Some, being fans of death-defying roller coasters and other theme park delights may quibble with that notion. But once you get out on a boat you will be smitten with the views.

    Even folks leaving one of Florida’s five cruise ports know the special feeling that comes with being untethered to the land. Don’t fret if you aren’t the owner of a luxury yacht or feel completely unqualified to paddle in the wild. There are plenty of tour operators that will do the sailing (and tying up) for you.

    King Fisher Fleet is one of them. King Fisher operates fishing, sightseeing and private excursions out of Fishermen’s Village Marina in Punta Gorda. The varied trips appeal to active travelers and those who’d like to sit on the deck with binoculars. King Fisher even transports campers to Cayo Costa Island for overnight stays.

    Launching from Fishermen’s Village allows King Fisher boats to reach the islands of Lee and Charlotte counties quickly. Fabulous shelling at Cayo Costa; noshing a cheeseburger in paradise on Cabbage Key; enjoying eco-tours on the Peace River and catching a whopper redfish in Charlotte’s back bays are some of the memorable experiences to be had.

    We opted for the leisurely 90-minute sightseeing excursion around Charlotte Harbor and the Peace River aboard King Fisher Fleet’s Good Times Too. Where the harbor begins and the river ends is well-known to boaters. For the rest of us, it’s just one big gorgeous body of water. 

    Visitors enjoy the view of the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor during a cruise.

    Visitors enjoy the view of the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor during a cruise.

    - Scott Keeler for VISIT FLORIDA

    The Peace River empties into Charlotte Harbor that in turn meets up with Pine Island and Gasparilla sounds. There are some breaks in the barrier islands that lead to the Gulf of Mexico. This watery paradise draws boaters, paddlers and anglers from throughout the United States because there are many places to explore. The fishing is fine here and the legendary tarpon holes make Charlotte Harbor and environs a top spot for sport fishing. Redfish is also a prized catch for anglers on flats boats plying the waters near the mangroves.

    I see the entire area with new eyes from my perch on the Good Times Too. The ship’s mate offers narration but I mostly tune her out to focus on the sights. It is a blue-as-blue sky day with no clouds interrupting. The sun glints off the water and splits the light into a million pieces. A sailboat tacks back and forth, and I imagine those aboard are heading to parts unknown. At least unknown to me. There’s a sense of freedom, of throwing it all to the wind, as we ply the harbor waters.

    The snack bar downstairs reminds me that we aren’t really roughing it. The Good Times Too is a comfortable boat that’s easily accessible for most travelers. Travelers can sit inside or out; upstairs or down; bow or stern. Like many Florida snowbirds, the boat used to winter in Fort Lauderdale and then summer up north, giving tours of Boothbay Harbor in Maine. In 1998, the boat settled in Florida for good.

    The narration continues and I pay more attention as we get close to waterfront homes. It’s fun to see how the other half lives, spying the mini-mansions and 1960s Florida escapes from the water rather than the road. A few people wave from their back yards. We wave back. Apparently that’s part of the waterway etiquette rules.

    The boat sails between pylons and under the U.S. 41 bridge that connects Punta Gorda and the town of Charlotte Harbor. I make a mental note to stop at the TT’s Tiki Bar just behind the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Punta Gorda. From the water I can see the tiki hut surrounded by Adirondack chairs and lots of folks in shorts and sandals enjoying live music. It’s another fine way to celebrate the Florida lifestyle, and to extend our stay in Punta Gorda.

    The best part of any Florida boat ride is visits by acrobatic dolphin. These water-going mammals love cavorting in boat wakes. I listened when the captain told us that the louder we whoop, the more the dolphins will play with us. For a split second I thought he was joshing and just wanted to see us act silly.

    But the cheers of the passengers did seem to egg them on. The longer we were loud, the longer the dolphins stayed with us. Dolphin sightings remain a thrill even for those of us who live in Florida or vacation here a lot. And for first-time visitors from Tokyo or Terre Haute, well, it’s priceless, especially when you get that super-sharp photo of the super-slick dolphin midair.

    There is something to that old saying. Florida by water is one of life’s treats.