While raising our children, Lana and I worked hard, but always left time for fun.

Spending summers in the Chicago area was great and we enjoyed the world class museums of The Windy City.

While there, a lot of our fun was found in Wisconsin. Milwaukee’s Summerfest is a ten-day music, beer and sausage festival on the shores of Lake Michigan. Each July 4th break, we would go there to spend a few days to enjoy the food and entertainment.

In the Wisconsin north woods, just west of Green Bay, is the clear, rushing waters of the upper Wolf River. There we could camp, rent rafts and ride the class 4 rapids through beautiful white birch trees as we traversed the swift currents and waterfalls. Unforgettable fun in a beautiful setting.

While all that was great, nothing can compare to the fun that can be had in the Sunshine State. Once we became full-time residents in 1992, we began to take on all that Florida has to offer.

Of course, we took our son and daughter to the famous theme parks. Our children were able to watch the growth of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and Busch Gardens first hand. What a privilege and it could all be done as a day trip. Our friends and relatives from the north had to budget thousands of dollars to visit the same parks. We have seen Orlando grow into the number one vacation destination in the world.

The theme parks were a lot of fun when our kids where young, but for the Smith family, it has always been about the nature. Before we had children, Lana and I began camping each winter on an island near Sebastian Inlet just south of Melbourne. That was long before the state park was established at the inlet.

Once our children came along, we continued to spend time on our favorite Indian River island and the kids loved it. We waded to collect clams for dinner to go with the fish we had caught. Cooking over an open fire or on a Coleman stove was great fun.

Visiting Sebastian Inlet is still going strong and this July we will be joined there by our daughter, Shayla, her daughter, Delayna, and our son, Landan, and his wife, Sarah, and their kids, Oliver and Lucy. If you have never been to Sebastian Inlet, take a drive down for a look.

Also, in 1992, we went to the Florida Keys to swim with the dolphins. The Dolphin Research Center is in the middle Keys at Grassy Key. It is all about the education of the public about marine mammals and their care. Before they allow you in the water, you must take a class on how to protect dolphins and the marine environment. The dolphins there are unrestrained and only show up to play with their admirers.

Some years later we began to hear about Hollywood celebrities boasting of swimming with dolphins, but we knew we were there first. A family from Volusia County can drive to the Dolphin Research Center to swim with the dolphins as a day trip.

Over at Crystal River on Florida’s Gulf Coast, you may swim with the manatees. Each summer the big, lumbering sea cows gather there and, once you jump into the water, they will come right over.

As it turns out, manatees are not afraid of people, just boats. If you don’t boat, there are several manatee encounter excursions that will take you out.

Next week we will cover some of the snorkeling options available in the Sunshine State.

Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, “The World’s Greatest Beach” and “I Swear the Snook Drowned.” Email questions and comments to fishwdan@att.net or call (386) 441-7793.

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