Growing up I spent a lot of time going back and forth between New Smyrna and the Orlando area. In between these two places is a wonderful oasis, and one of my wife's favorite spots to be "buoyant and cool" while she was pregnant with Scale Lily. Sadly, this was Lily's first time back to the park, outside of the womb. We made the drive often when we lived in New Smyrna, but the move to Panasoffkee put us so far away.
It was about a 30 to 40 minute drive by way of I4, coming from the South west side of Orlando. It was Sunday though so the traffic wasn't bad and with no holiday the park was not full to capacity when we arrived. That does happen during Spring break and sometimes during the Summer, so leave early, have a back up or wait till slower times arrive.
The Spring flows into the St. John's river, and boasts the wild life that comes with that great water way. There were a lot of Ospreys, some bass, including spawners, Blue cats and hundreds of gar. I saw schools of mullet and big groups of Tilapia.
The park also rents kayaks and canoes, and today we were able to view a manatee and her calf, but there is a strict rule about remaining 50 away from the manatees. My experience with them in different areas off the state is that the manatees are often unaware of this rule, and will rub the bottom of your kayak, trying to scratch it's back or approach you while swimming.
Forty years old and still in awe of the outdoors.