December in Florida by Amanda

We drove into Florida during the first week in December and didn’t drive out until the 2nd week of January giving well over 6 weeks in the Sunshine State, which is probably one of the best places to spend the winter months when you are living in a travel trailer. Our original plan was to make it all the around the state of Florida, driving down the Atlantic side, hitting the Florida Keys and then driving back up on the Gulf Side. Due to the hurricane that hit the keys this past fall, and then the government shutdown which made staying in the Everglades impossible, we completely changed our original Florida plans and never made it farther south than Sarasota County.

We entered Florida from Georgia on Route 95 and spent several days in the Jacksonville/St. Augustine area. St. Augustine is one of the oldest cities in the United States, with some buildings in continual use since the 1600s. We enjoyed touring the French and Spanish forts that used to guard the channel into St. Augustine. Our favorite fort was the very impressive Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos, located in the heart of St. Augustine. It had a ton of old cannons and a soldiers barracks, a perfect combination for a young creative mind like Micah’s to go wild! We spent a few hours wandering around the old town square and looking at the historic Spanish architecture. For a few minutes you could pretend you were in Spain! We ended our day in St. Augustine with oysters and cocktails, looking out at the boats in harbor.

We spent the Christmas holiday at my Mom and Stepdad’s home right outside Orlando. Prior to the holidays, we spent a few days just north of Orlando at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Justin and I spent a lovely day kayaking the Wekiwa River and saw several alligators, turtles and birds out on the river. The State Park is a great place to seek refuge from the hectic city vibe of the Orlando area. The week prior to Christmas we spent in Walt Disney World, which is highlighted in another post. We spent a lovely Christmas week with my brother and parents where we ate well, played a lot of games and watched some movies. It was a fun and relaxing holiday week and it felt nice, and a bit strange, to sleep in a house after all these months on the road.

From Orlando we headed southwest to Myakka River State Park, about an hour drive southeast of Tampa, not too far outside Sarasota. Myakka River is a beautiful state park with lots of opportunities to kayak, bike, fish and hike. We spent a lot of time biking and hiking here. We stayed at two different campgrounds in the park and our first campground backed up to the wetland where hundreds of birds were nesting. In the morning the birds were like a symphony outside our window!

Because the kids loved the roller coasters at Disney World, we decided to spend New Year’s Eve at Busch Gardens in Tampa so we could ride more coasters together. Busch Gardens has some of the most impressive, and terrifying, roller coasters I’ve ever seen! When we first arrived we decided to tackle what we thought was a rather timid coaster called Cheetah Hunt. This thing was not timid! It took you from zero to sixty in three seconds and you shot out like a bullet from a gun. I think we went upside down two or three times and the G force was intense. When the kids got off the roller coaster, they literally did not speak for almost an hour. We think they were in shock. They could only nod to answer questions. However, once they regained speech, they couldn’t stop talking about how exciting it was and we quickly found other roller coasters to tackle. Many of the larger coasters at Busch Gardens had a height requirement that Micah couldn’t meet, but there were four or five other fast and intense coasters we were able to do. Our favorite was Cobra, where you twisted and turned like the coils of a snake. I think we got to Busch Gardens at 10am and stayed until the fireworks at midnight ended. It was a long day for all of us but extremely fun and a great way to end 2018, which has been the most fun, exciting and exhilarating year of our lives!! As the kids sat in our laps watching the fireworks go off, I couldn’t help but reflect on how blessed we have been to continue to have fun on this journey and remain happy, healthy and safe. 2018 literally went out with a bang of fireworks, which is how the year felt to us too!

We spent January 2nd at the beach!! It was the perfect beach day, with temperatures in the mid-80s. We took about a half hour drive from Myakka State Park to Turtle Beach in Siesta Key where the beach was pristine and not too crowded. Tabatha and Justin chased waves, Micah and Amanda swam and searched for unique shells. It was perfection. When you are in Florida, you want to try to squeeze in at least one beach day where you can swim and this was a great start to a new year which will be filled with a ton more new adventures!

From Sarasota, we spent the next week and a half in the Florida panhandle at two State Parks, Ochlockonee River, right outside Tallahassee, and Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou, right outside Destin. Both State Parks offered good hiking and kayaking options and there was plenty to keep us busy. We rented a canoe and spent Justin’s forty-first birthday as a family, paddling down the Ochlockonee River where we saw a beaver! That evening we drove into Tallahassee to see the State Capitol building and found a bar to watch the Bears playoff game against the Eagles, which they ended up losing. Sadness! Destin was a fun town too and we enjoyed the beauty of Henderson Beach. It was only in the low 60s that day, but Justin and the kids braved the cold gulf waters and did some swimming. We literally had the beach to ourselves!! We also stumbled upon a great beachfront restaurant named Boshamps where we had an exceptional meal of oysters, gulf snapper and gulf grouper caught right off the nearby dock! That meal was a great way to toast our great time in the state of Florida.

Florida turned out to be a great place to spend six weeks. We experienced wonderful weather and made great memories with our family. We also had adventures a plenty….. we kayaked, we hiked, we coastered, we swam, we ate and drank well and we did this while staying warm, and did not once miss the winter weather of Chicago!! Florida is a vacationeers paradise and I think we embraced all the great things that the state has to offer. Hopefully we can come back and enjoy the southern part of the state that we missed. I’m sure the Everglades and the Keys will prove to be just as fun as the rest of the state.

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