Pasco County
Unplugged Family Fun

Unplugged Family Fun

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Water, wildlife and adventure in Pasco, Florida

By Robin Draper

I walked through my front door and saw my family immersed in electronics in the living room. A couple of nonchalant “heys” came my way. My husband, Jeff, was riveted to whatever was on the TV, and our kids, Jenna and Sam, were deep into gaming apps or social media on their phones. I could have been a burglar and they wouldn’t have even noticed.

At that moment, I knew it was time. Time to get out of the house. Time to get away. Time to breathe some fresh air and reconnect with one another.

That evening our family worked on planning a trip. We knew we wanted to get outdoors and, more specifically, on the water. So, where would we go?

Even though social media was one of my grievances that brought us to this pivotal point, I decided to reach out to ask my Facebook friends for recommendations. The irony!

“How about Pasco?” My friend wrote. “It’s beautiful, has so many things to do and it’s just 25 minutes north of Tampa International Airport. My family had a blast there recently, and there’s no shortage of water fun!”

I clicked like, and then my family and I were off exploring Visit Pasco’s website and quickly planned our trip. Jeff and I chose the town of New Port Richey, the county’s western hub, as our base.

In tune with nature

We discovered Windsong Charters and its nearly new—2015 or newer—extensive fleet of rentals during our online search and rented a pontoon boat for our first morning. Captain Jeff—that’s what my husband insisted we called him—took the helm and steered us toward our destination: Anclote Key Preserve State Park. The collection of four of the northern most barrier islands—Anclote Key, North Anclote Bar, South Anclote Bar and Three Rooker Island—were only accessible by private boat or ferry service. A historic lighthouse stood as a welcoming beacon.

We hopped off the boat when we spotted the perfect stretch of smooth, sugary sand. Jenna strolled the beach and picked up brightly colored seashells when they caught her eye. “Amazing what you see when you’re not looking at a phone screen, right?” I teased her. She cracked a smile and asked me to help her find a clamshell that was still connected at the hinge. As we hunted, we caught sight of Jeff and Sam snorkeling—masks and fins were a bright flash of neon in the aquamarine water.

We hopped off the boat when we spotted the perfect stretch of smooth, sugary sand. Jenna strolled the beach and picked up brightly colored seashells when they caught her eye. “Amazing what you see when you’re not looking at a phone screen, right?” I teased her.

When the boys resurfaced we unpacked our picnic lunch and shared stories of what we saw—fish in shades of saturated blue and highlighter yellow, smooth shells in iris, orange and peach.

With sand on our skin and salt in our hair, we took a family picture—Anclote Key’s historic 1887 lighthouse towered triumphantly in the background.

Dolphin in Pasco County, Florida
A dolphin belly flopped on the water in front of us.
Sunset on water in Florida
The gorgeous sunset was the perfect ending to our day.
Family jumping from boat
We had some serious family fun.

We hopped back on the pontoon and Captain Jeff took us past an island the locals called the “Sandbar,” a popular hangout destination just north of Anclote Key. Just then, a pod of dolphins emerged just out of arm’s reach. The dolphins surfed the boat waves and playfully jumped out of the water. The only time I looked away from the water was to look at Jenna and Sam. As a parent, there are few words to describe the joy of watching your children observe an authentic wildlife encounter—their unrestricted enthusiasm, if not clear by loud oohs and ahhs, was clear in their twinkling eyes and wide smiles.

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Cruising the Cotee

The following day, we headed to Gill Dawg Marina to rent kayaks so we could all be our own captains. After just a few minutes of helpful tips and directions for our journey, we grabbed our kayaks and were off for another adventure. Gill Dawg also offered a wide variety of water adventure gear for rent, plus dining and great entertainment.

Tiki bar in Florida
Gill Dawg Tiki Bar & Grill had a great vibe.
Kayak and canoe rentals
Gill Dawgs was a one-stop shop for watersport rentals.
Woman kayaking in Florida
Kayaking was easy and peaceful.

Pasco’s Pithlachascotee River (Cotee for short) is a scenic waterway that winds through New Port Richey, showcasing many old Florida homes—some on stilts! A couple of the homes were winter residences of 1920s-era Hollywood legends such as Gloria Swanson, Babe Ruth, June Carter Cash and Shirley Temple. We leisurely paddled two hours while we daydreamed about what it would be like to live on the river’s edge.

As we progressed, the buildings became fewer and farther between, and the wildlife became more prevalent. The trip turned into an informal treasure hunt to spot animals along the way.

As we progressed, the buildings became fewer and farther between, and the wildlife became more prevalent. The trip turned into an informal treasure hunt to spot animals along the way. We came across turtles, birds, a couple of lounging alligators in the distance and a jumping fish. All of us got so excited seeing the fish jump that we unanimously agreed we had to go on a fishing charter the next time we were in the area. If only we had more time! We heard about the abundance of snook, trophy sea trout, redfish and more along the mangroves, in the lakes and the coastline.

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Wonderful wildlife

The kids spotted stand-up paddleboards during our last visit to Gill Dawg, so we returned to give them a try. (I think the only thing we didn’t rent from Gill Dawg that we could have was the glass-bottom tandem kayaks. Next time!) Miller’s Bayou was recommended as the perfect spot to begin for its calm water. Rimmed by mangroves—Florida’s iconic coastal trees—the area supported a plethora of birds and wildlife. Jenna pointed out a bald eagle and we saw turtles everywhere. Even though we were surrounded by wildlife, nothing prepared us for what came next.

A Florida manatee, with thick leathery gray skin, surprised us with a big snort as it surfaced for air. The kids were overjoyed to watch it gently lumber through the water, munching on the sea grass. That was the kind of surprise you just can’t get from a screen! Truly, there was no competition between Pasco and my family’s electronic gadgets.

Disconnecting from technology was exactly what my family needed to reconnect. I hope that the next time I see them distracted by a glowing screen, it’s because they’re smiling at the photos we took together in Pasco.

Discover more activities ideal for family bonding in Visit Pasco.

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Discover more activities ideal for family bonding in Visit Pasco.