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, 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.
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!
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!
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