Your Guide To 8 Great Dates

With the most romantic day of the year quickly approaching, we thought it would be fun to offer up some of our favorite date suggestions, whether you’re a true romantic, a fun-loving adventurer, an extravagant splurger or a happy singleton. Feel free to mix and match, too. You’re on your own with the card and flowers, though!

Option 1 / Dinner & A Ride

You can’t beat Sky Asian Fusion when it comes to restaurants with a view in Ocala. Situated six stories above State Road 200, Sky offers guests a spectacular view of the city’s lights and expansive greenery.

“It’s tough to beat what we have going on as far as ambiance,” says General Manager Kevin Day. “Here at SKY we strive to put together an exceptional experience for all of our guests. From the moment you enter we want to take you out of the daily grind that we are all used to and expose all of the senses to great delight.” 

And if you haven’t yet visited Sky, this month may be the perfect time to give it a try. With couples in mind, Sky will offer a complete Valentine’s Day menu, pairing several surf-and-turf items—each with a combination of classic Asian flavors and contemporary tastes.

“We are planning to do combo plates for couples to share,” says Kevin, “allowing for a more romantic evening. We’ll also have some fun-to-share desserts.”

Either before or after your meal, a visit to Sky’s authentic Japanese bar is a must. The green lighting (literally!) adds to the international flair of this one-of-a-kind restaurant. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling (352) 291-0000.

So now that dinner is taken care of, next on the agenda is a romantic carriage ride through the quaint downtown streets of Ocala.

From 6–9pm, Ocala Carriage and Tours will be offering 15-minute downtown tours and 30-minute historic district tours. Rides will be available the Friday and Saturday before Valentine’s Day and Valentine’s night of course.

“Snuggle up and spend some quality time with your significant other under a moonlit night,” says employee Kim Carp. “We offer as much or as little interaction as our guests choose. We can give some historical references or do what we call our ‘shut up and drive’ special.”

On chilly nights, blankets are available, and for an additional cost, Ocala Carriage and Tours offers a bottle of champagne to enjoy on your ride as well. How’s that for romance? Call (352) 867-8717 for reservations.

Option 2 / Sunsets & Snickerdoodles

Nothing screams passion like the vibrant colors of a setting sun. The orange, red and yellow hues seem to light the dusk sky on fire. And one of the best locales to take it all in is on the dock at Paynes Prairie Preserve just to our north. Bring the binoculars, too. You and your better half just might spot an alligator or two lurking off in the distance. (We are in Florida after all!) Once the sun has set, head off to your final destination for the night—the Herlong Mansion Bed & Breakfast (right), just a five-minute drive south of Paynes Prairie in Micanopy and where lavish overnight accommodations await your arrival.

The 10 rooms and two cottages that make up the Herlong property are filled with antique furnishings and lush linens, enough to make any busy couple breathe a sigh of relief and relaxation.

“The ambiance here is classic and Southern,” says Megan D’Andrea who works the front desk. “The mansion is a real couple’s retreat. Most rooms feature a Jacuzzi or claw-foot tub, and the accommodations are very luxurious.”

“All of our guests are invited for wine and fresh baked cookies in the evenings, and we will also offer in-room massages,” adds owner Caroline Stevens-West.

And in honor of Valentine’s Day weekend, the mansion’s chef will prepare a seven-course candlelit feast fit for a king on both the 13th and 14th. Or at least for those who want to be treated like a king and queen. On the menu is champagne and fresh fruit, a stone crab cocktail, baby greens with kiwi and fresh raspberry topped with a balsamic vinaigrette and feta cheese, Italian tomato basil bisque soup, mango sorbet and your choice of filet of beef with a bearnaise sauce or macadamia encrusted filet of grouper with white wine coconut milk sauce. Also on the menu are roasted fingerling potatoes, sautéed baby vegetables and strawberries in chocolate shells with raspberry mousse and chocolate ganache sauce. Yes, definitely a feast fit for royalty. And well worth the price of just $160 per couple. As an added surprise, each couple will receive a special gift at their table. By the way, breakfast is included the following morning and features sparkling mimosas. To reserve a room, call the mansion at (352) 466-3322 or visit

Option 1 / Goofy For Grownups

Alright all you single ladies and guys out there. Just because it’s Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun yourself. Grab a group of friends, head south and make a day of it. Orlando or Tampa, the choice is yours.

Some major changes are taking place at Disney’s Pleasure Island, including the closing of the attraction’s nightclubs, but the Downtown Disney West Side is still a happening place. If you feel like splurging a bit and are in the mood for an amazing show, check out Cirque Du Soleil’s “La Nouba.” Take our word for it, there isn’t enough space here to tell you all the reasons you should see La Nouba. If, on the other hand, you want to let your inner child loose, Disney Quest may be the way to go. This five-story, 100,000-square-foot indoor attraction isn’t just for kids and features cutting-edge technology and five different play zones, not to mention a ton of arcade-style games. Maybe even some you grew up playing! Our advice? Arrive early and head to the Explore Zone first to avoid lines. Then take your time discovering the rest of the attraction.

If after all that laughing and physical activity you’re looking for more grown-up dinner options, the opportunities are plentiful. Choose from Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, The House of Blues, Bongo’s Cuban Café and Planet Hollywood—all within walking distance of Disney Quest. One last thing: before leaving Downtown Disney, you have to take a ride on Characters in Flight, a tethered gas balloon experience allowing riders to see the Disney complex from a bird’s-eye view, 400 feet up. Check out and click on “Things to do.”

Option 2 / Hitting The Slots

So you chose Tampa instead? Our top pick for an evening with friends in Tampa is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. And you don’t even have to be a gambler to have a good time here! The atmosphere is fast-paced, exciting and fun, and live music is almost always playing. Of course if you do bring a couple bucks to gamble with, it makes the trip all the more enticing. Who knows? You could walk away with thousands. The 90,000 square feet of gaming space includes over 3,600 of the hottest machines on the planet, more than 90 table games and 50 tables of live high-stake poker. If you want to go all out, pool your money and rent a luxurious room at the hotel. On-site restaurants include, of course, the Hard Rock Café, but also the upscale Council Oak Steaks & Seafood, Fresh Harvest featuring seven live-action kitchens and Rock ‘N Raw Sushi Joint. Visit for all the details.

Option 1 / Explore & Enjoy

In the mood for an adventure? Take a trip over to the Silver River State Park with your better half and spend the day enjoying Central Florida’s wildlife. With over 15 miles of cycling and hiking trails to explore, you and your sweetheart can stay active while experiencing different ecosystems and their inhabitants. Keep your eyes open for deer, turkey and armadillo as well as the occasional bobcat or Florida black bear.

If you prefer the water, cool off with a canoe ride down the Silver River. Rentals are available, and the different launching points determine the intensity of your ride. Together you can decide if you want a heart-pounding, action-packed adventure or a romantic coast down the river.

If you and your sweetie are history buffs, be sure to stop by the Silver River Museum and Education Center. Here, you’ll experience what it was like to be an early pioneer. The museum houses a reconstructed cracker village including a house, church and school.

After a full day of activity, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Pack a romantic picnic lunch for two and eat in one of the park’s three open-air pavilions complete with grills, picnic tables, electricity and water.

If you’re looking for a longer adventure, spend the night! The park has over 50 campsites where you two can snuggle by a campfire or stay in one of 10 available cabins. It just might be the perfect way to end a full day of activity and adventure together.

Option 2 / Horseback Happiness

If hiking and biking don’t light your fire, perhaps you and your love would like to experience nature on horseback. Saddle up at Cactus Jack’s this Valentine’s Day for a fun-filled adventure on one of Debbie Zito’s trail horses.

What could be more romantic for two outdoorsy, adventurous souls than riding horses together among Central Florida’s flora and fauna? The rides last one and a half hours and take you through the beautiful scenic trails of the Florida Horse Park and Cross Florida Greenway. Never ridden a horse before? Don’t worry! The trail horses at Cactus Jack’s are experienced professionals.

“We have great, safe and well-trained horses,” says owner Debbie. The two of you can learn to ride together in a safe environment while exploring some of the most beautiful and scenic parts of Central Florida.

If you can bear to take your eyes off each other for long enough, you might catch a glimpse of a few rare species of animals in their natural habitat. Often sighted are the Great Horned Owl, Red Tailed Hawk, Gray Fox and even coyote.

After your ride, plan to spend a romantic night at Shamrock Thistle and Crown Bed and Breakfast. Located only 15 minutes from Cactus Jack’s, this three-story Victorian Home boasts whirlpool suites with fireplaces and a full breakfast. How better to end your romantic adventure?

Option 1 / From Coast To Coast

Valentine’s Day is all about going over the top, so try something incredibly unique this year and charter your own helicopter flight through Ocala Helicopters Inc. Take your date high above our city for a romantic view like no other. It’s the perfect way to splurge and give your date the time of their life on the most romantic night of the year.

Ocala Helicopters will fly you wherever you want to go. Our choice? Cedar Key. Plan a romantic stay at The Island Hotel and Restaurant, one of Florida’s most famous bed-and-breakfasts, and experience a romantic dinner for two in the elegantly appointed dining room there. Or enjoy live entertainment at Cedar Key’s Valentine’s Day Dinner Dance catered by the Island Room. Music will be provided by The Dock Street Band.

If the East Coast is more your style, have your chopper pilot fly you to Ormond Beach for a romantic stroll along the water or a seafood dinner ocean-side.

Of course if you want to be home in time to kiss the kids goodnight, you could always opt for a nighttime aerial tour of Ocala. Don’t forget to pick up some delectable handmade chocolates from Ocala’s Chocolates and Confections for the ride. Finish your over-the-top evening off right by eating at any of our city’s fine dining establishments. But remember to make your reservations early as many restaurants fill up quickly! Call (352) 239-2254 to book your chopper ride.

Option 2 / Sea-Level Serenity

If you’re not completely sold on the idea of soaring high in the sky this Valentine’s Day but still want to wow your date, then make the short trip to Sanford for a romantic dinner cruise on the meandering St. Johns River.

Located at the Monroe Harbour Marina, the family-owned and -operated Rivership Romance company has been treating lovebirds to an incredibly romantic experience for over 25 years. Owners Bob and Evie Hopkins take special care to ensure their passengers enjoy the experience as much as each other.

Surrounded by Florida’s wildlife on the beautiful moonlit waters of the St. Johns River, you and your sweetheart will be treated to a delicious buffet of hors d’oeuvres to start the night off. A decadent dinner complete with cocktails is sure to set the tone for an evening of romance.

Dance cheek to cheek or simply sit back and relax while the Rivership Romance flows through 26 miles of some of the most beautiful scenery Florida has to offer. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as you make your way up the St. Johns, one of only two rivers in the world that flow south to north. (The majestic Nile is the only other to flow backward.)

If you’re looking for a whole day of fun together, start off with a visit to Historic Downtown Sanford. Stroll down the brick streets and shop in any number of the quaint boutiques situated in this romantic town. Yes, there’s plenty to do before you set off on your evening of romance on the Rivership. For reservations, call (407) 321-5091.

Posted in Ocala Style Features

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