TAVARES, Fla. — Roger Squire handed off a small paddle from his seat behind the tiki bar at the helm of the boat.
“If the motor breaks, you’re going to paddle,” he tells passenger Paola Marsal. “Fire extinguisher’s right there. Don’t use it because it costs too much to replace it.”
The vessel, a 16-foot-by-16-foot octagon with a faux thatched roof overhead, set sail from downtown Tavares on a recent Saturday evening for a sunset cruise on Lake Dora.
Passengers drank beer and listened to country music. The setting sun eventually broke through clouds, turning the water aglow as an American flag flapped in the wind.
“I don’t get to see the sunset like that often,” said Rodrigo Marsal, 33, of Orlando.
“It takes your breath away,” added Paola Marsal, 34.
The cruise was one of four scheduled trips on Lake Dora for the weekend for Cruisin’ Tikis, a national franchise that made its debut in Lake County at the start of the year.
Cruisin’ Tikis operates up and down the coast, including in Daytona Beach and Merritt Island, but the Tavares boat is the first for inland Central Florida.
The vessel arrived in four pieces, said Tavares franchisee Dee Ann Squire, of Winter Garden.
“There’s 19 barrels underneath there,” she said as the boat went on its cruise on the sometimes choppy waters of Lake Dora.
The Squires learned about Cruisin’ Tikis from their son, who manages the franchise’s fleet of seven boats in Key West. Dee Ann Squire now owns the Tavares business with her daughter and daughter-in-law. Her husband, Roger, drives the boat as a captain, along with three other contract captains.
“We’re used to it because we’ve seen them in Key West, but people who haven’t seen them are like ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen anything like this,’” Dee Ann Squire said.
Her son and daughter-in-law came to Tavares during a camping trip in the Ocala National Forest.
“They really liked the little town,” Dee Ann Squire said. “They think this would be perfect for a tiki boat.”
It’s not hard to see where the Key West appeal was coming from in this Lake County town of 19,000.
Near the dock where Cruisin’ Tikis departs from is Kalua Beach Bar, its patio facing the lake. There’s also the nearby Key West Resort on Lake Dora hotel.
Tavares calls itself America’s Seaplane City, and aircraft are docked a short walk from Cruisin’ Tikis at the city’s seaplane base.
Cruisin’ Tikis offers three tours out of Tavares, including the one-and-a-half hour sunset cruise that costs $59.95 per person or $324 for a private group, before taxes and online booking fees.
Another trip to a sand bar in the lake where people can swim takes three hours and costs $74.95 per person or $400 for a private group.
Each trip comes with a cooler of ice and water, but passengers need to bring their own beverages and snacks.
Be warned: there’s no bathroom, but Roger Squire pointed out “bathroom one” was off the back of the boat, and “bathroom two” was a hole through a removable part of the floor under the tiki bar’s roof.
“We all laugh about it, but almost every trip it gets used,” he said.
Up to six customers can be onboard, and that restriction is one reason Dee Ann Squire would like to add a second boat to accommodate larger gatherings.
She said the Tavares Cruisin’ Tikis has taken at least 30 cruises since January, including birthday, bachelor, and bachelorette parties.
Captain Roger Squire pilots the Cruisin' Tikis boat and Rodrigo Marsal and Paola Marsal enjoy their time on the floating tiki bar boat tour on Lake Dora during a fun evening in Tavares, Fla., Saturday, April 30, 2022. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel) (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)
“I’m definitely booking my next event here, whether they’re clients or family,” said Rodrigo Marsal, a real estate agent.
He was on the boat with his wife, Paola. She used to work with fellow passenger Beth Resciniti, 60, who retired at the end of March.
Resciniti, a friend of the owner, decided to add the tiki cruise into her Florida vacation from North Carolina and get together with Paola on the voyage.
“Being in Central Florida is just such a great opportunity to get out on the water,” she said. “That sunset, even though we had clouds and everything, it turned out to be beautiful.”
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This story was originally published May 9, 2022 4:00 AM.