Where to chill in the Florida heat

07/05/2014 12:00 AM

07/05/2014 5:00 PM

How does one beat the soggy heat of a Florida summer? Air conditioning and backyard pools are obvious answers, but there are other ways to cool off that you may not have thought of.

You can go swimming, canoeing, kayaking or tubing at some of Florida’s natural springs, whose waters stay at a constant 72 degrees. You can descend into a cave, where the temperature remains at 65 degrees year-round. There are water parks, ice rinks and other venues where you can go solo or throw a party, but where cold is an integral part of the experience.

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Natural springs: More than two dozen of Florida’s 600-plus natural springs are of first magnitude, which means they emit more than 100 cubic feet of water per second or 65 million gallons a day. With spring water at a constant 72 degrees, these are highly popular cooling-off destinations in summer. Swimming and snorkeling are permitted with certain restrictions at most springs, many of which also offer canoeing and/or kayaking.

Springs attractions vary: Silver Springs near Ocala is Florida’s largest, Blue Spring near Orlando is the state’s most popular, Weeki Wachee has a mermaid show, Alexander Springs has a sand beach. For a list of major Florida springs: www.floridasprings.org.

Florida Caverns State Park: This is Florida’s only real cavern, and it stays at a cool 65 degrees the year around. But there are other reasons to visit the park. You’ll see stalagmites and stalactites, pools, flowstones and draperies. “The Wedding Room looks like a wedding cake, the Cathedral Room like a Roman cathedral,” said Kelly Banta, the park service specialist.

A 45-minute guided tour of the cavern costs $8 for adults, $5 for children 3-12, is given Thursdays-Monday. Park admission is $5 for up to eight people in a vehicle. The park, located in Marianna, also offers golfing, camping and canoeing. 850-482-9598, www.floridastateparks.org.

Antarctica, SeaWorld Orlando: On the year-old ride Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, guests follow the life of a penguin through a simulated Antarctic landscape. The temperature gradually drops, and by the end of the ride is down to 30 degrees. Passengers disembark at a penguin habitat, with no glass separating them from the 240 resident penguins, so they experience the same chilly environment as the birds. www.seaworldorlando.com.

Icebar, Orlando: There’s nothing like a cold drink when the weather’s hot, but the Icebar goes a lot further. Everything in this Orlando bar is made of ice — chairs, tables, the bar itself, even drink glasses, and the space is kept at 22 to 23 degrees. There’s even an ice throne for an ice queen. Of the 22 Icebars in the world, this is the largest, says the establishment’s Michelle Cartmill. The bar opens at 7 p.m.; admission is $19.95 ($14.95 online) and includes coat and gloves. Patrons aged 8 to 20 can enter the bar between 7 and 9 p.m.; after that guests must be at least 21. 407-426-7555, www.icebarorlando.com.

Tubing on the Ichetucknee River: Floating down this spring-fed river in Ichetucknee Springs State Park will keep you cool as you sit in large inner tubes. In summer a shuttle is available at the south end to take tubers back to their vehicle after the 2 1/2- to 3-hour float from the north end. Tubers also can enter the 72-degree waters of the river at midpoint, but the shuttle does not serve that site.

Tubing is so popular in summer that the park often reaches its limit of 750 tubers from the north end or 2,250 from midpoint on weekends. “It’s best to go early [on weekends] or Monday to Thursday,” said park biologist Ginger Morgan. The park, in Fort White, does not supply tubes; they can be rented from outfitters just outside the park. 386-497-4690, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, www.floridastateparks.org.

Water parks: Getting wet is a good way to stay cool, and Florida has a dozen water parks where you not only get wet but have fun doing it. Every park is different, of course, but among them you’ll find wave pools, slides, flumes, tunnels and funnels, raft rides, lagoons, river oats, even a beach. Brand new at Wet ’n Wild is Aqua Drag Racer, with six stories of enclosed, twisting tunnels. Aquatica also has a new thrill slide, Ihu’s Breakaway Falls.

Most parks are open only during warmer months of the year; consult web sites for operating days and hours. Parks and their locations, starting with the closest:

• Rapids Water Park, Riviera Beach (West Palm), www.rapidswaterpark.com
• Wet ‘n Wild, Orlando, www.wetnwildorlando.com
• Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, in Walt Disney World, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com
• Aquatica, next to SeaWorld Orlando, www.seaworldorlando.com.
• Adventure Island, by Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, www.seaworldparks.com/buschgardens-tampa
• Legoland Water Park, in Legoland, Winter Haven, www.florida.legoland.com
• Wild Waters, in Silver Springs State Park, Ocala, www.floridastateparks.org
• Buccaneer Bay, in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, www.floridastateparks.org
• Shipwreck Island Water Park, associated with Adventure Landing, Jacksonville Beach, www.adventurelanding.com
• Shipwreck Island Water Park, Panama City Beach, www.shipwreckisland.com
• Big Kahuna’s Water Park, Destin, www.bigkahunas.com

Ice rinks: Surprisingly for a state noted for its warmth, Florida has public ice rinks in 18 cities. You not only can test your skating skills there, but most rinks also offer party facilities for birthdays and other occasions. Ice rinks are located in Clearwater, Daytona Beach, Ellenton, Estero, Deerfield Beach, Pensacola, Tampa, Coral Springs, Jacksonville, Kendall, Lake Worth, Pembroke Pines, Orlando, Fort Myers, Rockledge, Oldsmar and Kissimmee. Information: www.rinktime.com/ice-skating-rinks/state/fl/florida-ice-skating-rinks.

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