The Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour has gained a loyal following since its maiden voyage in 1938. The attraction has earned its own place in the local history that it showcases and has even enamored one loyal fan to the point of employment.
“It was one of the first things my wife and I did when we first moved here,” said David Wittman. “The more we did it, the more I thought, ‘Someday I wouldn’t mind doing this myself.’”
Wittman earned his own following while anchoring WKMG-Channel 6 news from 1992 to 2002. His 44 years in broadcast journalism span several states including Michigan, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Ohio. After his time in Orlando, he went on to anchor at WOIO in his hometown of Cleveland but planned a future return to Winter Park.
The plan became reality two years after his 2016 retirement and led to what he refers to as his “take two” as a boat skipper.
“I joked with Ron (Hightower), the owner, that I’d either like to work for him or buy him out,” he said. “I actually ran the store before I drove a boat, I just loved being part of the operation.”
Here, Wittman talks about the similarities between being an anchor and being a skipper, and the job’s biggest no-no.
Is there any overlap between being a news anchor and being a skipper?
I’m a hopeless ad-libber. I would drive producers crazy by bringing up something that wasn’t in the script, but I used to think I was making it better. Here, if an egret flies in front of us, we go off script and talk about the egret. And it’s all storytelling. Winter Park is the story that the boat tour is telling. I love the history and sharing it with the people that come onboard.
What is the most important part of the job?
I think the most important thing is to interact with guests but, at the same time, be very careful of where you’re going and what you’re doing because safety is preeminent. We want to entertain them, but we also want to keep them safe. And if you live on the lake, we never mentioned your name. That’s a huge no-no, and it’s to protect privacy.
What is your favorite part of the job?
It’s the connection that you have when you get a laugh or a smile, and when somebody getting off the boat says, “I’ve done this a lot of times and I really enjoyed your tour.” We get people who’ve done it multiple times, and the questions are really a lot of fun. But I tend to be chatty. I hope people understand you can interrupt me, but I’ve got a lot of information to share. And sometimes I don’t hit the mark, or I’ll miss something. But if I don’t know an answer, I go find it as soon as I can.
Is it still retirement even though you’re working?
Yes. I’m happy to be one of the drivers. I spend my whole day outside unless I’m on a break and, even then, I’m just here in the shade. We work about three to four days a week. It’s a great job for a retiree. It allows me to go biking, and I’m real active in my church. And it gives me a chance to make some money but still have some fun.
Do you ever miss the news desk?
I don’t often think about the news business. I miss the performing, the writing, the camaraderie. What I don’t miss is the turmoil and the friction that is our country today. People used to get their news and then decide how they felt on a given issue. My heroes were Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. I don’t think people knew their politics. Walter Cronkite cried when Kennedy died, and we knew he was not a fan of the Vietnam War. But other than that, I don’t think so. I think today, what people do is make up their mind and then try to find a source that backs their opinion.