Life's Sweet Journey: FloRida
Showing posts with label FloRida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FloRida. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Guide to Highlands Hammock State Park in Florida

We love exploring Florida's amazing state parks! Highlands Hammock State Park is the perfect state park for adventurous couples, but especially for families. Here is our guide to Highlands Hammock State Park.

Highlands Hammock State Park was a great Florida treasure!! It felt a little Jurassic Parkish and had a lot of little extra perks. We loved it even just the two of us, but I would probably deem it as the most family friendly park we have visited thus far. So if you have little ones, Highlands Hammock is definitely a worthwhile adventure!!

What We Did:
*Hiking- The trails in Highlands Hammock are shorter and a lot of them include boardwalks, which is why I found it so family friendly! You can have strollers for most walks and you can pick and choose how many you do/ how long your hike is! Each trail offered something different to see. Whether it was a 1,000 year old oak tree or a really neat “catwalk” through a swamp, you had a lot of different options to choose from.  We loved the little bonuses each trail offered- climbing the tree, forging our way across stones to keep from falling in the swamp, going inside a giant tree…!!
* Museum- There was a museum that highlighted the Civilian Conservation Corps, that was part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, which helped begin many of the first state parks in Florida. 
* Exploration Station- There was a neat exploration station in the park, across from the museum, that was open on Saturday morning. You could learn about animal tracks, different Florida spiders, even different animal feces in a “hands-on” way. No, you weren’t literally holding poop, but you did get to hold the glass is was sitting in! It was intended for children, but the kid in me loved it! They are only opened seasonally and when they have enough staff, so it may not always be open, but it’s definitely a fun perk when there!
* Tram Tour- We took a 2.5 hour tram tour through a restricted section of the park! It was fun, but got a little long in our opinion. We did get to see all kinds of wildlife (gators, turtles, birds…), but when you are from Florida you get to see a lot of those. It was hard to hear the different things the guide was telling us when the tram was moving as people were talking and the tram was really squeaky, but when we could hear there were some neat facts that our driver was sharing! If you have little ones it is a much cooler way to experience the park as the movement of the tram does offer a nice breeze. The tram is a day only purchase (you can’t book ahead) and you have to be at the ranger station by 8am to ensure yourself a spot! Babe was 5th in line and the people behind him got the last tickets (there were tons of other behind them that didn’t get tickets). The tram doesn’t leave until 1:30pm, so it is definitely in high demand, just FYI!
* Music in the Park- Though this wasn’t going on when we were there, certain weekends include music from live performers. There is a stage setup by the main park playground area (the camping loop has it’s own playground), in front of a large grassy field. You can bring your lawn chairs and picnic blanket and enjoy an outdoor concert. There was a food truck while we were there and he told us that he is typically there on Music in the Park nights, so you can also get a nibble or some ice cream!!

Where We Stayed:
Photo taken from the trail located inside the campground area
The camping was nice (above photo taken on a short trail located in the campground), but VERY crowded! We ended up sandwiched in between a retreat of sorts and people had multiple tents at each spot. It wasn’t terrible, but we do enjoy state parks because they usually have more spread out spaces. The parks at this space seemed a little more on top of each other. Book ahead in order to be able to pick out a good spot, as we did see some that had more space and better views!
*There is also a primitive camping loop that looked REALLY nice, but was only open to tents and pop-ups.

Where We Ate:
In typical Flo-Venture fashion we found a local BBQ spot on the way to the park and dove right in!! Ah-mazing!! Fire-Chief Barbecue Co. is the reason we make trying new BBQ stops a priority! Though a little hard to find if you don't know what your looking for, the bounty of wonderful food you can find is worth a little hunt-and-find! Fire-Chief BBQ Co. sits directly on Highway 27 in Davenport, Fl. We had a hard time finding it at first because we were assuming we were looking for a building. What we found was even neater!! It is an open air BBQ joint, with the smoker set up under a tent. There is also a picnic table should you choose to eat there (which we did!)! The food was the bomb!! I got a BBQ burrito, filled with guac and sour cream and it was like two of the most amazing worlds collided and brought me BBQ-ican happiness of epic proportions!! Seriously a must try if you find yourself heading through the area! The owners were really great too!! 

I don't think we have ever had a Flo trip that we haven't loved and this was no different! Hope to be out exploring again soon and I hope the same for you!! 

Have you been anywhere fun lately? 
Have any plans to adventure somewhere soon? 

Other Florida State Park Adventures 

Join in for this month's #travelTuesday link up and let's adventure together!
~On the 2nd Tuesday of every month I will be sharing a new travel destination and would love to see where you have been exploring! 
~Any linked posts will be pinned under Travel Tuesday on my Pinterest
~No real rules, as I am not a huge fan of those sorts of things! Just add any travel related link and I encourage you to peek around and see where everyone else has been. Leave a little love where you like! 
~Feel free to grab the image from the sidebar and add it to your post so others know where to link up. 
Excited to explore the globe with you all!!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Central Florida Boondocking: Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area

We had our first true Florida boondocking experience at Three Lakes WMA! Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area is part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They offer a few free, dispersed camping options throughout Florida. Here's how it all went down... 

Where we stayed
Boondocking in Florida Three Lakes WMA
Three Lake Wildlife Management Area is located off of N. Canoe Creek Rd. in Kenansville, FL and the hunters loop where we stayed was about two miles before (coming from Orlando) the main entrance to the WMA. Pay close attention as you're driving, because you can get lost in the beauty of unspoiled Florida and miss the turn (like we did!). We had a hard time finding a spot to turn around with Flo attached. There will be a big green sign and other trailers parked, so just look out for those. We originally drove in to the Three Lake WMA entrance looking for a place to camp there. While the spots seemed plenty big enough for an RV, that part is tent only! So if you are RVing it has to be the hunting loop. There is plenty of space to spread out and you just find  your own spot! It wasn't too crowded as there was no active hunting season, but there were still quite a few travelers escaping winter weather who had been there quite a few weeks and we still had plenty of space for our own private spot! The other RVers were all very sweet and invited us to the potlucks and happy hours that they arrange with others who had been staying for the winter. We just had to pass since we were out hiking!

*Note on dumping: There is no dump station at the loop. We heard that you can use the one at the RV park about 10 miles down the road (heading right leaving the loop) for about $10. We weren't heading that way, so we thought we would try the RV park we had seen on our way in. However, the office was closed on Sunday. We ended up going by Moss Park on our way back into Orlando and we were able to use theirs for $5!! 

What we did: 
Hiking! Lots and lots of hiking! 
The trails were very wet this time of year, but in my opinion that only adds to the adventure! 
Boondocking in Florida Three Lakes WMA
The first night we got there we just went out from where we parked Flo. We walked to the back of the loop, where the road continues out into the expansive prairie that I assume is where the hunting takes place. I wouldn't recommend hiking there during active hunting season, just to be safe. For that hike we were pretty much just walking the road, though we did find a couple of beautiful cut through trails! This space would also make a beautiful drive if you wanted to take it easy one day. The roads were still accessible by car for those looking to make the drive to the lake to fish. 

On Saturday, we woke up and spent a gloriously lazy morning drinking coffee made over the fire and then geared up for our day in the main hiking area of Three Lakes WMA/ Prairie Lake Unit. A portion of the Florida Trail runs through this part of the WMA and there are two 6 mile loops to choose from, along with a few short out and back trails that run to the lake. We saw quite a few people fishing along the river that can be reached from the road. There is also a public boat ramp. Our hike was beautiful!! We hiked in so many different landscapes on our loop. We choose the 6 mile loop that included the FIRE TOWER, which is best reached by parking at the information sign when you first enter the WMA. The trail starts right there. We crossed the road and started the loop that way, so that we came out at the side where the car was at. The fire tower is located maybe a quarter of the way in. Climb it!! Seriously amazing views!! And such a rush!! (Unfortunately the tower is not actually climbable. I was alerted by park staff, in a comment, that the tower was not actually meant to be open for climbing and that it poses a safety hazard and will typically be locked. Sorry :/ I am glad we got to climb it, but don't want people to plan to head that way in the future hoping to go up!) You can see some of the fun in the video! The trail also included hiking through pine flats, open prairies, shaded spots along the river, quite a few ankle deep water spots, and a boardwalk through marshland! There is a section where the first 6 mile loop bypasses a connector to the other 6 mile loop. So, if you are early morning hikers preparing for a full day, there is always the ability to do both! 

Boondocking in Florida Three Lakes WMA
Across Canoe Creek Road, as you leave the WMA, the Florida trail continues for through hikers. After finishing our loop we crossed the road and walked a small portion of this trail. The trail was definitely less maintained than the trails in the WMA. Babe loved it because he felt like he was forging the trail! We were definitely bushwhacking through some of it and, in certain spots, it was hard to tell if you were actually still on the trail, but it was still a lot of fun. We went in maybe a mile or so before turning back! Overall, this entire location was a beautiful spot for some Florida hiking! 

Boondocking in Florida Three Lakes WMA
Each night we wrapped up our day by the fire, playing our endless game of Rummy (not to toot my own horn, but it's seldom that I am winning at anything over him, so I just had to share the current score// Me: 10,020 Babe: 9,760)! Though there weren't actual fire pits at the loop, people had made their own and we did the same. The ground was so wet that we didn't really even have to dig. We just made a circle in the dirt with stick and then built a ring in the middle of the ring. The fire burned, but never even reached the perimeter of our circle. Anytime flames would shoot out and heat the ground outside the ring they would immediately burn out! If you go bring plenty of wood and make yourself nice and toasty! 

Where we ate: 
Boondocking in Florida Three Lakes WMA
Though we really just ate while we were hiking (lobster and burgers on the travel grill! Our go to camping happies!), I thought it was noteworthy to share the BBQ joint Babe introduced me to on the way through St. Cloud on our way on Friday. Fat Boy's BBQ is off the chain!! Seriously, Florida friends?! Florida travelers?! You have to try it! Babe use to go all the time apparently back when he was mowing county roads and they had a contract near there. I can't believe he hadn't taken me before! They have been there forever and I don't think the menu has ever changed! The prices are low, the portions are high and the food is YUMazing!! The atmosphere is awesome too! Wood paneled walls lead into a dining room style open room, with a fireplace along the the back wall!! If you love BBQ, you have to give it a try! There's even an old wooden rocking horse at checkout that's perfect for even the biggest of "kids"!

And that was our most recent Florida adventure!! 
You can find another great boon docking favorite in this post from our time in Idaho.
We had an amazing time and I can't wait to go back and give boon-docking another try- though maybe this time with some solar panels or a generator! 
Boondocking in Florida Three Lakes WMA

Where have you been adventuring too recently?! 
Linkup and let's travel together!
~On the 2nd Tuesday of every month I will be sharing a new travel destination and would love to see where you have been exploring! 
~Any linked posts will be pinned under Travel Tuesday on my Pinterest
~No real rules, as I am not a huge fan of those sorts of things! Just add your link and I encourage you to peek around and see where everyone else has been. Leave a little love where you like! 
~Feel free to grab the image from the sidebar and add it to your post so others know where to link up. 
Excited explore the globe with you all!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Our Georgia Adventure Part 2: Fort McAllister State Park

The second leg of our Georgia adventure took us, about 40 minutes south of Savannah, to Fort McAllister State Park! Babe would probably be rolling his eyes at the fact that I am about to use the word LOVE again in response to our trip, but we did, we LOVED it there too!
Camping at Fort McAllister State Park
In all honesty, this is much more our pace! Don't get me wrong, we loved Savannah and the food A LOT! But there's something about the calm of a state park that just sets my heart at ease! I love the sounds of fellow campers; no devices, no kids holed up inside. Instead it's bike rides and noise and laughter and play! It's parent riding by on bikes and stopping to chat to fellow campers, asking "you haven't seen our kids ride by have you? We haven't seen them in over an hour." They aren't worried or frantic, they continue to chat with the people the stopped to ask, because they know their kids are ok and that they are just off exploring somewhere. There are older couples setting up by the fire, birds chirping, bats flying by and an owls hooting in the distance. I seriously can't get enough!

Our Spot! 
Our campsite view was beautiful! While there had been an overbooking problem with the park and we had to find a temporary spot when we pulled in the first night, we got up the next morning and secured a spot that had just been vacated. We had a stunning view of the marsh and even though we were right by the entrance, it was pretty quiet and secluded! All the space is one of the reasons we prefer state park stays over RV campgrounds.

What We Did!
Fort McAllister had all sorts of things to fill an adventurous heart!
Camping at Fort McAllister State Park
We started with a tour of the fort itself. There is a fee, as the park itself is only loosely affiliated with the campground, but it was worth it! The fort is so neat! They took advantage of the natural elements and the fort was actually built into the ground. Going inside made me feel just like a hobbit! There were tunnels to explore, living quarters to give you a glimpse at what life was like when soldiers were there and there was a lookout tower on the grounds that gave a beautiful view of the river! There is also a museum that gives you a more in-depth history of the fort that made Babe very satisfied! We watched the short video before we went out to explore the grounds and it even kept my attention! 
Cost: $9 per person

The hiking trails at the park were great! There was a shorter one (a little under a mile) right by the campsites, with two different legs you could take. One leg included little animal inspired workout activities, while the other (not marked on trail map) ran along side the river. The longer (3.1) miles, was up near the entrance to the park itself and was one of my favorite hikes! I love wet trails, especially when they aren't so wet that your shoes get soaked! This trail had the perfect mix of wet spots with rocks to skip on, or fallen trees to use as bridges, and nice easy, dry walking! 
The pioneer trail loop is not included on the trail map. It is a little ways into the mapped trail and is the fork off to the left. 
More rugged and windy than the mapped trail, but a lot of fun! It meets back up with the other trail towards the end of the mile. 
An example of the animal inspired workouts found along the mapped trail in the campground. 
Bikes!! I definitely recommend bringing bikes! We biked to the fort, to lunch, to the trails, everywhere! While you don't need them it does save a lot of extra walking. The public part of the park and the campground are separated by a long, bumpy road. It took us about 5 minutes to bike from the campground up to the park, but would have at least doubled walking. 

We also kayaked, but unless you have your own or know you are going to spend a full day on the water, I wouldn't recommend it. The least amount of time you can rent them for is 4 hours, which we paid $40 for. We were only out for a little over an hour and it just wasn't worth the cost for the amount of time we were out. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we purchase an inflatable stand-up soon!! 

The park (both public side and campground itself) also has great playgrounds for people traveling with kiddos, as well as wooden bench swings at the public end of the park for people to enjoy. There are also cabins that can be rented that house between 8-14 people depending on the size of your party. Looking at the prices they seemed a little steep in our opinion, but if everyone splits the cost it isn't that bad and a great option for glamping! 

Where we ate! 
We mostly ate at the site; Babe tried out the new grill with some yummy lobster tail and then made burgers over the fire pit our last night. However, there was an awesome restaurant right outside the main entrance to the park and we knew we just had to go for lunch one day, mostly because we saw the sign that said oysters!! So our last full day of the trip we biked up to Fish Tales and enjoyed a lovely meal on the water before heading back to conquer the longer hike! 

Camping at Fort McAllister State Park Camping at Fort McAllister State Park

Fish Tales was delicious! We got some yummy drinks, an oyster appetizer and then a full bucket of steamed oysters! I don't know what it is about Georgia, but they sure know how to properly fill an oyster bucket!! It was brimming with glorious shells of yumminess for only $15! Fish Tails gets their oysters from Florida, so it was a good mix considering the oysters we had in Savannah were from Georgia. We ate to our heart's content, enjoyed the beautiful view of the marina and biked back to the park. 
*We did try to bike up to restaurant the day prior to when we actually went, but they are only open for lunch Friday-Sunday. During the week they don't open until 4. Seating is mostly outside, though they do have a bar inside and an enclosed patio with large glass windows that still offer a great view! 
*There is also a bait and tackle shop that is open during the day for anyone looking to fish. 

Camping at Fort McAllister State Park
We loved everything about Fort McAllister and I definitely wouldn't mind going back!
But it's off to plan our next adventure!!
Where have you been lately?!
Feel free to link up for my new #TravelTueday link up in yesterday's post! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

#TravelTuesday Link Up #1// Our Georgia Adventure Part 1: Savannah!

We loved our first big, out of state trip with Flo!! As I was making the video (it took multiple tries, this whole Vlogging thing is very new to me), Babe said, " You say you LOVE every trip we've done! You can't LOVE every trip!" Au contraire, my dear husband, but I can! I really have loved every Flo trip we have ever taken! Georgia was no exception. 

We started the first leg of our journey in beautiful Savannah! The southern charm, the amazing food, even a few friendly haunts... it was great!! 

Where we Stayed
We arrived mid-afternoon on Monday and the visitors center was crowded!! We got a little worried, because that is where were planning to spend the night and we were hoping to park Flo right away. Thankfully we got lucky and there was an RV leaving just as we were pulling in, so we were able to slide right into the two spots they just left, but it was tight. The lot was mostly crowded with cars there for the day, but it does make it difficult for those with campers to meander through looking for a good place to park. We went inside and paid to get our parking permits for the two nights we were staying. We headed out to explore a little bit, but when we got back that night (after the visitors center had closed for the day) it was just Flo and a handful of other RVs/ camper vans left in the lot, so we moved to a spot along one of the curbs so that we could put the slide out. We didn't move our little home on the road again for the 2 nights/ 3 days that we were in the city. 
Cost: $14 for two nights, per spot= total cost of $28 ($8 per spot, per night if you stay just one night)
*You could totally car camp it for a night or two. We were literally only back to sleep and that was it. Also, if you have an actual motorcoach, there are a handful of longer spots reserved just for that purpose so as long as you fit in one of those spots you are only paying for the one spot, not two the way we had to. 
*The visitors center closes at 5, so you need to get there by then to pay for your spots. It is first come first serve, but there were never more than 5 or 6 other travelers staying overnight. If you do get there after 5 the parking and traffic office is open later (I think until 7:30 and they can issue you a parking permit). Once you have your permit(s) you can actually park at any of the public paid parking spots in the city. 
*The visitors center lot backs up to the Savannah College of Art and Design. There was a security guard routinely patrolling, we slept with the windows open and in no way felt unsafe. 

What we Did 
A LOT of walking...
We walked everywhere. We started on Monday night with a half history, half ghost tour. We ended up being the only ones of the tour, so we got a really up close and personal history of the city from our tour guide. It was neat to hear the history of the squares and buildings! Babe loved the history flare and I loved the spooky stories, so it was a good mix for us. Our guide, Jackie, really knew her stuff and made it interesting and engaging for both of us. She also took us to this great little place (17hundred90) with wonderful margaritas (though the locals know them as Martharitas), which we then enjoyed while we finished our walking tour. 
Cost: $25 if you buy online, but we called and saved $3 a ticket. We did tip $20, but we were also the only ones in the tour. 
On Tuesday we knew we wanted to tour some of the older houses and we ultimately decided to go with the package deal for the Andrew Low house, because it included another house tour (the Davenport House) and a trip to the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. There was another house we had really wanted to tour, but the package of options that came with it didn't appeal as much to us and we didn't want to pay for both. The history and architecture of the homes was amazing! Each home came with a tour guide who knew the house inside and out. It was really cool to hear about the restoration work being done and those that are working to keep the history of Savannah alive. Babe really loved the Maritime Museum; I hung in for as long as I could and then found my way out to the garden to enjoy a quiet minute outside! 
*The package does not have to be enjoyed all at once, you have 30 days to use it and we split ours up between two days. 
Cost: $40 ($20 each); they do offer discounts for military, students and seniors 

I had to work on Wednesday morning before we headed from Savannah to the state park, just in case we couldn't access wifi once we left the city. So while I worked, he toured the train museum that is right there at the visitors center. I am actually a little sad I missed this one! It sounded awesome!! They toured old trains and got a history of the railroad in Savannah. I kind of wish I had done that with him and sent him to the Maritime Museum while I worked instead. The train museum even had an awesome playground area for kids (and adults with kid hearts!) and I am so sad I didn't get to do the maze or the slide. #Willbrakeforcoolplaygrounds! However, I did get to enjoy a reenactment show while I was working that the children's museum (also there at the visitors center) puts on for the kids. Working to the sound of drums and gun fire was definitely an interesting treat. 
Cost: $10 (kids are $6) 

On our way out of town we stopped by Old Fort Jackson; it is definitely close enough to the heart city to make it part of your trip if you aren't going elsewhere afterwards. While he was busy reading and learning the history of the fort, I was busy exploring and wondering what it might have been like to live there when it was an active fort. I imagine, he learns... are you catching a trend here?! I also usually explore for areas that haven't been discovered or are hidden for some reason (some day I will tell you about the time I snuck out of the designated tour line in the Biltmore)! They also put on a great little show about the history of Fort Jackson, its purpose in protecting Savannah and then fire off a cannon! A pretty neat spot for sure!
Cost: $14 ($7 per person)

The churches!! Oh my goodness!! The churches!! We went into both the Lutheran church and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. I actually think these were my favorite things we saw on the whole trip. The Lutheran church isn't as well known as the cathedral, but it was still breathtaking. We had the whole building too ourselves, besides the guy who was there taking in food for the homeless, who told us to go take a peek and then gave us some historical background. It was such a humbling experience to be in the church, with the lights low and sunlight pouring through the stained glass and to stand in the quietness of it all and soak it in. 

The cathedral, was definitely less quiet and much more popular; there were people everywhere, but it took nothing away from the beauty inside that space. It was stunning! I really don't have any other words for it. It has to be seen, not described! Babe compared it to the cathedrals he saw in Italy. I am so glad we were there right after Christmas, because they had the most beautiful nativity scene that I have ever seen! I was so in awe, I probably could have stayed there all afternoon!

But alas, we left, and we made our way to Forsyth Park. The park was nice and open, the fountain was really cool and if you have kids with you there are two awesome playgrounds (an older one and a newer, adaptive playground for kids of all abilities). 

While I am going to include the Savannah Bee Company in free things, you probably will be dropping a dime or two! I couldn't wait to get here and it did not disappoint. In fact, we went back three different times. I honey sampled, I lotion applied, we mead tasted and then I adopted a bee!!! Seriously, when you check out they ask if you want to adopt a bee for $1. $1 for my very own bee?! #takemymoney You get to name it, you get an adoption certificate and then you give them your email address so they can send you updates on your bee! Oh my honey-drenched heart was happy!! 

Ferry rides are also a fun, neat way to put your feet up for a spell and get a different few of the city. It is technically part of Savannah's public transportation and is free to enjoy! 

Where we Ate
The food may as well have been included in what we did, because I think we spent more time eating than anything else. 
The Coffee Fox- YUM! We got coffee and then these stuffed roll things! 
Savannah Coffee Roasters- Coffee was good and I tried Pavlova for the first time, oh MMMMM g!! So good! (however, this place was a little on the expensive side in our opinion)

Lady and Sons- We opted for Paula Deen's buffet, scheduled ahead and made reservations (thank goodness, holy people overload) and we were extremely satisfied with our choice! Yummy!!
Leopold's Ice Cream- Ice Cream is totally a lunch choice! I got the honey and almond (yummy, but too many almond chunks) and Babe got a peanut butter something. A lot of people had recommended Leopold's too us and we tried both nights we were there to get it after dinner. The line was out the door and down the next block!! No way were waiting that long for ice cream! Go during the day! There was still a short line, but only right past the door. Do I think it was really any more special than any other ice cream?! Ehh, probably not! But it was yummy! 

Jazz'd- Tapas style and soooooo yummy, other than oysters (they are a category to themselves) this was the most delicious food on our trip! I didn't care for my drink much though; but it was mostly my fault in ordering poorly. Should have known to stay away from watermelon flavoring (fresh fruit all the way please?!) 
Ampersand- This was our favorite spot for drinks!! We had been planning to try The Grey, but when we got there we realized we really weren't dressy enough and found this on a whim. It was dead (I guess if you go early in the week like we did a lot of spots are either closed or a lot less crowed), typically they have three floors open and she said they get crowded after Wednesday, but we didn't mind it at all! Being one of only 7 people at the bar is just fine by us! Their signature cocktails were unbeatable! Muddled some strawberries in anything for me and you have won my heart! 
Fiddler's Seafood- Our first time trying Georgia Oysters! Yum!! They were smaller, but had a meatier texture than Florida oysters and with the boat load they gave us we were one satisfied set of travelers! 
McDonough's- Irish pub we ate at because of the fact that it was where we were supposed to meet for the ghost tour. It was decent, Babe liked the Philly Cheesesteak, but we probably wouldn't have gone if we hadn't been meeting there for the tour. Pretty much pub food you could get anywhere. 

Overall we loved Savannah!! We loved being there earlier in the week before crazy crowds rolled in and we really enjoyed taking things slow and at our own pace.

Happy Travel Tuesday, y'all!! 
Traveled anywhere lately? 
Link up and let's adventure together! 
Starting today I will be hosting a monthly #TravelTuesday linkup. 

~On the 2nd Tuesday of every month I will be sharing a new travel destination and would love to see where you have been exploring! 
~Any linked posts will be pinned under Travel Tuesday on my Pinterest
~No real rules, as I am not a huge fan of those sorts of things! Just add your link and I encourage you to peek around and see where everyone else has been.
~Feel free to copy the image and add it to your post so others know where to link up. 
Excited explore the globe with you all!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

FloRida Road Adventure to Crystal River

Happy Tuesday! We are back from Flo's third big trip. This time we found ourselves in Crystal River, Florida. We absolutely loved Crystal River! Here's why...
Crystal River is super quaint. It actually reminded me a lot of the sweet little fishing towns you see in a Nicholas Sparks movie. It was quiet and picturesque, but there was also a whole lot to do. This is the perfect destination for anyone who loves to adventure and be on the water!
Where We Stayed:
Crystal Isles RV Resort is so far our favorite of all the Encore/ Thousand Trails spots we have stayed. Crystal Isles is set back in the woods, just the way I like it! Almost every spot is either on the water or has water visibility. The resort sits right on a canal just off the main channel of the river. It was quiet, beautiful and had great amenities. Our favorite? The pontoon boats they had that could be rented, either by the half or full day. We got there later in the afternoon on Friday and spent the evening boating up and down the river right up until the sun set. It was a beautiful way to get a first glimpse of what Crystal River had to offer! It was a really nice feature for the park to have, especially since pretty much everyone staying there had a boat. I would have been quiet envious seeing people motoring out, so having an option for those who don't own a boat was great. We also really liked that this park seemed to consist of a majority of fellow road travelers like us. There were a few seasonal setups or longer stay residents, but most people seemed to be traveling from elsewhere. RVs (and lots of boats) kept rolling on in. Crystal Isles is really a great place for fishers or boaters! It has quiet a number of spots where you can put your boat in and leave it docked right off your campsite for the length of your stay. Great from those who don't want to have to put in and take out everyday.
Other great perks included a pool and hot tub, great clubhouse with games and darts, big outdoor chess board, horse shoes, volleyball and a set of swings. Don't have an RV? We also saw a set of tent campers, plus they have a row of cabins that you can rent. With not a lot of super close state park options if you want to stay in the heart of Crystal River, this spot was the perfect medium. In my opinion it actually had a very state park feel to it, in the fact that it was set back in the woods, while also being conveniently located to restaurants and grocery stores for stocking up on essentials (about 5+ minute drive). Overall, this was a great spot and we plan to be back!

What We Did:
Oh, you guys! Let me tell you! Crystal River is a nature lovers dream!
Our main mission for this trip was to meet some manatees, but we found so much more to love too!
~Befriending Manatees~ This was definitely the highlight of the trip for me! I have dreamed of swimming with sea cows for as long as I can remember. This trip let me check it off the bucket list! Crystal River is the only place (apparently in the world) where it is still legal to be in the water with manatees. We went to Manatee Tour and Dive and they were wonderful. They were so knowledgeable about the manatees and you can tell they really care about what they do. You can not touch the manatees (though they can and may touch you), despite what pictures will show when you google Crystal River and manatee swimming. While I was really hoping to get to touch one when they explained how to passively observe the manatees, and why it is important, you could hear how seriously they take conservation and I really respect that. So, we were given wetsuits, snorkel gear and a noodle, loaded the boat and off we went in search for sea cows! Our guide, Bryan, was great at finding all the best spots and at showing us how to get in and stay alongside the manatees. Though there weren't a lot right now due to the late winter (oh, Florida!), we got to see a handful of grown manatees and one super cute manatee calf, whom I dubbed Carl! And I saw a stingray too! Word of warning: It is cold! But you get used to it pretty quickly. We were in and out of the water for about two hours, sometimes in for over 30 minutes, and while you aren't really swimming, more like floating (you aren't supposed to kick your legs), you can get a little tired, so I would recommend bringing water to stay hydrated and make sure you eat a good sized breakfast if you go. ** If you plan ahead, you can also get some pretty good Manatee Tour Deals on Groupon! 

~Crystal River Archaeological State Park~ We hadn't planned to go here. I had actually stumbled across it while googling hiking in Crystal River and decided not to go because it really wasn't a hike. However, we actually saw it while we were out on the boat (right at the entrance to the canal for Crystal Isles) and it looked pretty neat so we docked in a little slip there on the grounds and got out to explore. I am really glad we did! There was a very interesting history behind the place. It was a ceremonial/ burial site for Native American and there are assumed to be between 3,000 and 5,000 bodies buried on site. There is a museum you can go to and then you take the walk to all of the sites, including a tall mound that you walk up. Though we didn't stay for it, the park ranger was setting up for a night walk they were going to be doing later that evening. They do them once a month and walk you around and tell you the history of the grounds. Definitely a great place to learn about true Florida history.

~Drive Fort Island Trail~ We did this later in the afternoon on Saturday. After going back to rest for a bit after the manatee swim (plus waiting for the rain to stop), we got in the car and drove the length of the road that our RV park sat on. It's a great drive with a lot of great places to get out and explore. There are two great hiking spots that I never found when I was googling places to hike. They are part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and one of them (the second spot as you're heading towards the Gulf) was one of my favorite hikes we have ever done. It is an out and back through beautiful marsh land. The trail as a little wet from the rain, but I love the added adventure of trying to keep my feet dry! We hiked it as the sun was going down, which added to the beauty, but also kept us from making our way all the way to the end so I can't wait to do it again. Fort Island Trail dead ends at Fort Island Gulf Beach. It's a great little spot for getting some sun and also has a public boat ramp and fishing pier, plus a fun little boardwalk hike between the pier and the beach. I would definitely recommend taking the drive, even if you don't plan to hike far. It was a beautiful drive and we saw very few other drivers so you really feel like you are on a back road out in the middle of nowhere.

Where We Ate:
Food, glorious food! A lot of my love for a place can be determined on the eating options, which I think is what sealed the deal on making Crystal River one of my favorite new spots.
~Cracker's~ I love spots on the water! Crystal River has a few options, but we chose Cracker's based on the fact that they had oysters. A lot of times, river dining can be great and others the view is what is bringing people and not the food. This place was great, because I would come for both! I got the grilled oysters and they came shucked and ready and they were delightful. Babe got a grouper sandwich and said that the fish was really well cooked and tasted great! The only downside for me would be the birds and squirrels. They were a little too peoplized and since they both freak me out it was not so comforting. However, it was quite the show to watch one of the waitresses try to scare them off with water guns. I actually think I may have seen one of the squirrels stop and try to catch it in his mouth for a drink. Ok, so that's an exaggeration, but still.

~Copp Winery~ Oh this place was my absolute favorite! It is a cute little wine and beer brewery. It is very deceiving from outside, because it looks so small and quaint (quaint is a big Crystal River word for me apparently) that you wouldn't think they would have room to brew. But brew they do! And it is delightful. Babe really liked his flight options and I (not being a beer girl) loved that they had wine too. And sweet wine!! I had a wine named after a manatee! They also had some really good food options. We opted for the cheese plate and enjoyed it immensely. They even had a homemade mozzeralla that was delicious! Though we didn't stay for dinner, they did have some sandwich options if  you were looking for a bigger meal. There is also a really cool secret feature, but I won't spoil the surprise in case you go! The prices were super reasonable too, which was just icing on the cake!

And though we didn't eat there, we stopped in for a cup of coffee at the Highland House and oooo, yum!! I got a caramel latte that reached right to my soul! Babe got a coffee and together our bill didn't reach what I hit on one drink at Starbucks. Can't beat that!

Overall I loved pretty much every minute of this trip and if you have ever thought about visiting Crystal River I fully believe you should! Like yesterday! We can't wait to go back and try our hands at scalloping when the season rolls around!

Happy Adventuring Y'all!! 
Have a beautiful day!
*We used Groupons and camping discounts for a portion of this trip, but all opinions are completely ours.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

FloRida Road Talk #2: Weeki Wachee

We had our second FloRida road trip this past weekend! Due to my poor planning the weekend ended up being a little more chaotic then it should have been, but hey, it's all about adventure right?! And learning on the go! There has definitely been a lot of that! Here is how things went on our journey to Brooksville, FL and Weeki Wachee Springs... 

What we did

 Friday (free minus gas): We got to Brooksville, FL later in the day than we had planned. So we decided to just explore the area. There had been an old Victorian treehouse I had wanted to find but we searched to no avail! We are thinking it was either torn down or further back from the road with no access. Alas, we did find an old run down factory right off the main road on our way to hike. You can't go inside as there is a 'No Trespassing' sign, but we did peek in a bit and assume it was some kind of produce or grain factory. Definitely really neat!! The address is 10190 N. Broad St. in Brooksville. We found it while on our way to Chinsegut Nature Center, where we hiked. It was a really neat area and a fun hike (moderately buggy) and we even saw deer. There is also a place nearby called the Chinsegut Hill Manor, an old home that is open for the public to explore from 10-4 (not open Sundays). Unfortunately it was after 4, but the grounds were beautiful (there is a retreat center there as well that can be rented out) and we plan to be back. Brooksville has a lot of old Florida charm and I would have loved more time to discover it all!
Saturday (Weeki Wachee-$13 adults, $8 kids + food&drink/ Tubing- $35 per double/triple vessel): We went to Weeki Wachee! To see the mermaids! I had also planned to kayak as well. But you know the whole, "you can't have it all thing"? Well, that might be somewhat true. At least not without running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Maybe if you aren't such an ill prepared planner like myself if might work out better.

Anyways, Weeki Wachee is wonderful! Definitely kitschy, down home Florida, but kind of in the "meet real Florida" way. The mermaid show was really neat (even the boys said so)! We watched the 1:30 show (they had three: 11, 1:30 and 3), which was more of the 'how-to-be-a-mermaid' instructional show, but that was perfect for our men-folk who definitely prefer the technical and historical bits over a storyline. The 11 and 3 o'clock shows were Ariel. We will have to go back to take that one in. You can also swim in the spring and there are awesome water slides that dump out right into the river. If you ever went to River Country at Disney before if shut down the slides are reminscent of that, so that was cool for me. There is also an animal show and a boat ride. Also the drinks and food were really reasonably priced! No need to pack a cooler in my opinion!
*The mermaids, slides, kid splash pad, swimming, animal show (we didn't do this) and boat ride are all included with your park admission. Tube rentals and food are extra.

I was determined that I was going to kayak. What the websites aren't great about telling you is the fact that everything will be booked on summer weekends. I ultimately got us kayaks for later in the day, but it meant we left Weeki Wachee before it closed. It also meant that I spent the first hour on the phone with kayak places, running back and forth from the park to the kayak place that shares the Weeki Wachee parking lot and totally abandoning Babe during our time at the park alone before some of our family got there. Learn from my lesson, DON'T DO THIS! Though I ultimately got us on the river I could have saved a lot of strive 1.) if I had just called ahead originally or 2.) if I had just let it be and tried to call the kayak place later in the day/ be fine to just forgo the kayaking.

**Advice- Call ahead! If you call ahead you can definitely fit everything in, but you have to be scheduled. The best time to be at Weeki Wachee (from our experience) is first thing in the morning. So if that is your main goal and you really want line free slide time, then head to Weeki Wachee first. Spend a few hours doing slides etc and then catch the 11:00 mermaid show. After that you can go kayaking. The kayak place that shares the parking lot with Weeki Wachee does it's last put in at 2pm (12 once summer is over). Then they will pick you up down river and drive you back to the park.

OR you can kayak the river first (would need to get started around 9 at the latest) and then make it back to Weeki Wachee in time for the 3pm mermaid show (maybe even 1:30 depending on how fast you kayak) and then spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the beach and taking things easy after a morning of paddling. This would be our preference since we prefer kayaking over slides. 

OR if you want to be like me, and not plan well, then you can fart around, get to Weeki Wachee later in the morning and then hope that one of the kayak places will have something open up. We used the Kayak Shack and they were really great! They will most likely be the ones I use again in the future- pretty much because being nice to someone on the phone goes a long way in my book. They close at 7 (vs. 5:30 at the Weeki Wachee one) and let us on the river around 4. We did have to paddle against the current, but hey, it made for a good workout. If the rain hadn't come in and washed us out, we would have made it to the big rope swing that's about an hour paddle up river (my intended destination). We would have had plenty of time to get back to the Shack before 7. If you choose this option I would say you could half the time it took you to go against the current and just make sure you leave that amount of time for the return trip. There is also an enticing restaurant (Upper Deck), that overlooks the river, right next to the Kayak Shack. If we hadn't been soaking wet we would have stopped in for a bite. Note- The Kayak Shack will also drive you to the start of the river so that you can just paddle back to them without having to go against the current, you just have to get there earlier in the day (before 2:30 or a little earlier).

*Another great option if able would be to split your days and spend 1 day on the river and another at Weeki Wachee park. Definitely the best of both worlds.
*Also note that the slides and some of the other amenities are only open at Weeki Wachee during the summer. I would call ahead for your intended date to ensure everything is open and to inquire about showtimes before you go. I'm a work in progress so learn from some of my mistakes!

Where we Stayed
We gave our free camping card another try and this one panned out way better than the last! Clover Leaf Forest RV Park was great, I mean you can't beat free, but even with that aside we can't complain. There were still a lot of permanent trailers, but most were empty, we are assuming for the snow birds. You also aren't packed in like sardines and it was nice and woody! There is a creek that runs through the park and we made sure to get a spot along it. It was a great view! However, be careful about doing that or you might wake up to waterfront property, if you catch my drift. Flo enjoyed her first flood though! Another perk we liked about this park is that they had septic hook up right at your spot. So nice not to have to wait in line to empty the tanks before leaving! If it hadn't flooded so much that it made ours unusable (we just drove to another empty space on our way out) it would have been so easy breezy to drive off on Sunday! Though we didn't use them, the park also has great amenities that are shared with the 55+ community that takes up the other side of the property, including both indoor/outdoor pools, hot tub, driving range, shuffle board, etc... We would stay there again!

Where we Ate
We found this great BBQ place right past the Lakeridge Winery on our drive out to Brooksville. Jack's Bar-B-Q had awesome BBQ sandwiches. It's a hole in the wall kind place right off the road, decorated with hats from all over and all kinds of Gator memorabilia. Definitely a stop for any die-hard Gator lovers out there! I am always very skeptical of BBQ because I tend to compare everything to 4Rivers and nothing matches up. This matched up, just in a different way. The meat here is mostly pulled/sliced (I didn't risk brisket, that's a 4Rivers only things for me) and so moist! I got the mixed sandwich (all meats mixed together) with coleslaw (vinegar based), chips and a drink for around $6.50. You really can't beat the price. The sandwich alone would have been enough (so much meat!) and that's only $4.50. Driving on the turnpike or a local Orlandoian? Definitely give this place a try!!

And of course I forgot to rate this FloRida adventure in the video, but this one gets a: We will DEFINITELY do it again! We will be back to explore the length of the river and maybe even catch another mermaid show; the river though is the definite!

And that's it for this trip! If you made it this far, kudos! And as a little parting gift for the day feel free to enjoy some of the funnier moments of our trip; Babe's reaction to his mermaid surprise and doubts on my tree swing spidey sense, plus Flo's first flood! Have a great day!!