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America's seaplane cityAmerica's seaplane city

Tavares, FloridaTavares, Florida

Several years ago, the central Florida city of Tavares (Tuh-VAIR-ees) re-branded itself as “America’s Seaplane City,” rolling out the red carpet for seaplanes of every stripe. It’s easy to see why—winters are mild and the town is surrounded by lakes. But you don’t need a seaplane to fly to Tavares—Leesburg International Airport is just a few miles away. Fly in for a pontoon boat lake cruise or a train ride and then enjoy live music and a delicious meal along the waterfront. Venture a bit further to play golf or fly a glider. Tavares has two fun seaplane splash-ins each year, in spring and fall. You can even tour the Searey seaplane factory. Who knows, you may catch the seaplane bug if you haven’t already.

  • Tavares, Florida, is enjoying a renaissance as “America’s Seaplane City.” The city hosts popular seaplane splash-ins each spring and fall, but the seaplane base sees plenty of activity year-round. Photo courtesy City of Tavares.
  • Hurricane Irma temporarily wiped out the docks, but plenty of calm-water shoreline parking is available. Photo courtesy City of Tavares.
  • It may be a long way from central Florida to the North Pole, but the magical Polar Express train ride will get you there and back in a little over an hour. Your child will meet Santa and get a silver bell, too, just like the boy in the classic book. Photo by Yvonne Lashmet.
  • Jones Brothers Air and Sea offers seaplane training, scenic rides, and numerous different day trips. Photo courtesy Jones Brothers Air and Sea.
  • The Searey is an amphibious flying boat. Seareys are available as kits or as finished aircraft. The FAA-certified Searey Elite boasts a powerful Rotax 914 turbocharged 115 horsepower engine, takes off and lands on the water in 350 feet, and allows for flying with the canopy open. Photo courtesy Progressive Aerodyne.
  • The Searey is so much fun to fly, famed author Richard Bach bought one and flew it across the country, as chronicled in his book “Travels with Puff.” Photo courtesy Progressive Aerodyne.
  • The Key West Resort on Lake Dora is the newest hotel in Tavares. Photo courtesy Key West Resort.
  • The Spanish colonial architecture of the Mission Inn Resort and Club includes terra cotta roofs, white stucco exteriors, expansive courtyards, and graceful archways. You’ll also find tennis courts, a poker and billiard room, trap and skeet range, walking trails, complimentary bikes, and a lavish spa. Photo courtesy Mission Inn Resort and Club.
  • El Conquistador restaurant at the Mission Inn Resort provides a diverse menu, extensive wine list, and views of the elegant courtyard. Photo courtesy Mission Inn Resort and Club.
  • A sushi bar buffet at Nicker’s Clubhouse at the Mission Inn Resort. Photo courtesy Mission Inn Resort and Club.
  • The Mission Inn Resort and Club offers a popular Sunday champagne brunch at its La Hacienda restaurant. A daily breakfast buffet starts early for golfers anxious to hit the links. Photo courtesy Mission Inn Resort and Club.
  • Cruise 15,000+ acres of calm water in the Harris chain of lakes. Photo courtesy Lake County Florida Tourism.
  • Fish for bass from a boat or the docks. Photo courtesy Lake County Florida Tourism.
  • Gliders rest on the grass at the Seminole-Lake Gliderport. Photo courtesy Seminole-Lake Gliderport.
  • Soar over central Florida on a scenic ride or earn your glider rating at Seminole-Lake Gliderport. Photo courtesy Seminole-Lake Gliderport.

Tavares, and the seaplane base, are on the north shore of Lake Dora. In September, Hurricane Irma scored a direct hit on the seaplane base, taking out the docks. The town postponed its annual October Monster Splash Seaplane Fly-In and then quickly cleaned up Irma’s mess. The result: Tavares is open again and the fly-in will be Nov. 18, and have the traditional pumpkin drops, spot-landing and fastest take-off contests, face painting, and other activities, as well as a gift pack with event T-shirt and $10 dining vouchers for pilots who fly in. Both 100LL and mogas are available, and there is ample shoreline seaplane parking. The amphibious ramp is open, as are the shops, hotels, and restaurants. Next year, the fly-in will take place at the regular October time.

What’s more, for 2017, the Polar Express Train departs from Tavares most nights between Nov. 15 and Dec. 30. You and your kids board in your pajamas, and, just like in the classic book, the conductor punches your golden tickets and dancing chefs serve cocoa and treats. At the North Pole, Santa and his elves will climb aboard and visit your family. Each child receives a silver bell, and everyone sings Christmas carols before returning to Tavares.

The El Campeón golf course at the Mission Inn Resort and Club features island-style greens, rolling fairways, an elevation change of more than 85 feet on the fourth hole, and a signature par five seventeenth hole with a long double dogleg that has more obstacles than some entire courses. Photo courtesy Mission Inn Resort and Club.

Back at the seaplane base you’ll find the Prop Shop FBO, as well as Jones Brothers Air and Sea. The Prop Shop sells all kinds of Tavares and “FA1” seaplane base gear, from baseball caps, mugs, toys, and tees to seaplane jewelry and scale seaplane models. Jones Brothers Air and Sea offers scenic seaplane rides as well as day trips. Day trips can include kayaking, romantic dinners, tours, and even trolley rides, in addition to seaplane flights. Seaplane flight training is also available, from initial rating through advanced seaplane operations.

You can also take a factory tour at Progressive Aerodyne, maker of the Searey amphibious airplane (Richard Bach has one). They currently manufacture finished Searey models as well as Searey kit airplanes. Interested? Take a demo flight!

Rent a pontoon boat at the Mission Inn Resort and Club to access more than 15,000 acres on Lake Harris and Little Lake Harris. The two lakes connect through a canal lined with cypress trees, draped in Spanish moss. In the quiet back bays, look for ibis, bitterns, and great blue herons like this one. Photo courtesy Lake County Florida Tourism.

A walking corridor provides easy access to Tavares. Kids can romp at the Wooton Wonderland Playground. Next door is the seaplane-themed Children’s Splash Park, open April to September. Restaurants near the water provide the perfect places to grab a drink, dine, and hear live music most evenings. The new, contemporary Key West Resort on Lake Dora is a stone’s throw from the marina; guests receive breakfast vouchers for local restaurants.

The Mission Inn Resort and Club is eight miles southwest of Tavares; seaplanes can tie up at their T-dock on the southeastern tip of Lake Harris near the State Road 19 bridge. Use the dock’s phone box for complimentary resort transportation; it’s a few blocks away. Visitors can golf on the resort’s two golf courses. Stay and dine at the inn, built in the Spanish colonial style. Rent a pontoon boat and explore the Harris Chain lakes; look for waterbirds in the quiet back bays. Bass boats are available for fishing. There are also tennis courts, a poker and billiard room, trap and skeet range, walking trails, complimentary bikes, and a lavish spa.

Sailplane rides and training are yours for the taking at Seminole Lake Gliderport, 30 miles south of Tavares. Customers can stay on-site in small clubhouse rooms, studios, or large apartments. So fly in to Tavares to explore a little. Even without a seaplane, you can land at Leesburg or the gliderport. Play a round of golf or take a scenic ride. Who knows, you may just get inspired to add a seaplane or glider rating to your pilot certificate!

Seaplanes gather at the Tavares Seaplane Base. Photo courtesy City of Tavares.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel, Seaplane

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