Our First Time in Florida by RV

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For the first time in thirteen years of RV travel, we are in Florida. On Jan 2nd, leaving behind bitter cold weather in southern Ontario, we crossed the border at Detroit, turned the RV south and just kept driving.

Departure

This is the first of a series of blog posts on what we hope to make into another five-month trip. Our intention is to experience some new adventures in Florida, and then retrace old favorite routes through Texas, Arizona, and Utah.

We had allowed four days for the drive to Kissimmee, Florida to meet up with the "kidults" on Jan 6th. The sun was shining, the roads were bare, the tunes were blasting, and the new (to us) Roadtrek provides a smooth comfortable ride so, with little effort, we exceeded our usual miles-per-day. By the time we hit Georgia we were in summer clothes and it was obvious we had time to spare so we slowed things down.

We'd heard about the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta. It's the largest aquarium in the world. We decided to make it our first fun stop and spent almost five hours there. We only left because they told us we had to (at closing time). It was absolutely spectacular to say the least!

Georgia Aquarium

Huge glass walls and glass tunnels through giant aquariums provide unbelievable views.

Touching Fish at Georgia Aquarium

We were encouraged to touch the sea creatures. (This ray's skin is velvety smooth. )

Admission was not cheap ($34.00 each) but included entry to every exhibit as well as a first-class dolphin show.

We had a very pleasant evening and a quiet free night of camping courtesy of OldNavy7, our Boondockers Welcome hosts. The next morning, armed with plenty of good advice, we strolled the streets of nearby St. Augustine, the oldest continuously-occupied European-established city in North America.

We wandered the historic district's quaint streets; saw the nation's oldest house and oldest wooden schoolhouse; and toured Castillo San Marcos. This historic fort is a federal park so we purchased our $80.00 Federal Interagency Pass here. That pass will cover our entry to all the national parks and public lands in the USA for the next year. This purchase never fails to pay off for us on our trips since we tend to hop from one park to another.

Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos

St. Augustine Historic district

Wandering the historic streets of St. Augustine

Oldest wooden school,St. Augustine

Oldest wooden schoolhouse in the country.

Frugal Parking Tip: At first glance and typical of most tourist towns, there seems to be no free parking in St Augustine but we found some and, even better, the lot is reserved only for RVs and buses.

At the parking garage located behind the central town visitor center, the charge is $10.00 per day, however, directly behind the garage just one block west, a gravel lot offers free parking for RVs and buses. Overnight parking (as indicated on the sign) is by permit during special events but does not mean you may sleep in your RV. We were told at the visitor center that parking at a nearby Mission is also free and the street meters are free on Sundays.

Free RV Parking in St. Augustine

Free RV Parking Lot (The $10.00 parking garage can be seen in the background).

We spent the next seven days creating wonderful family memories. This week was a total aberration of our usual frugal RV boondocking lifestyle. In fact we moved out of the RV for the week. With the kidults, we were four couples plus three children and we had rented a luxury six-bedroom Villa just four miles from Disney. Having found it and paid in full on the Internet, we were a little wary - it was almost too good to believe. Happily, we were not disappointed at all - in fact every detail, as well as the service provided was superb!

The villa became our central hang-out where we enjoyed family time with above average January temperatures (sunny and in the 80s every day). We visited the various Disney parks on three days, experienced geocaching for the first time, hung out by the pool, and played with the grandkids. It was SUCH an amazing time - I think one of the best weeks we've ever spent together since the kids moved away from home.

The week didn't add a cent to our trip's budget because it was a gift. Instead of the usual Christmas gifts in our family we gave each other this week together.

The Kidults

The Kidults

The private pool and spa

Enjoying the private pool and spa with the grandkids.

There were many Disney magical moments. One of our group, Christiaan, ran the Disney half marathon, and my daughter, Anna, entered as an American Idol contestent at Hollywood Studios. She put on an amazing performance to become a finalist for a second show where she finished as the runner up.

Anna on American Idol

Anna on American Idol.

We realized that it is indeed a "Small World" when, we were greeted by Terry, a Disney staff member who was not only from Canada but went to my highschool. (He's a year younger than me).

Its a Small World

Indeed it is a small world.

But I think the most precious moment was witnessing Daniel's world. As this photo shows, our 10-month old grandson who is still too young to appreciate most of Disney was totally mesmerized by "It's A Small World". I don't think that ride has changed since my first trips to Disney when my daughters were not much older than the grandkids are now. To witness Daniel experience it (twice) and love it just as much was totally magical.

Daniel's World

Baby Daniel at "It's a Small World"

I hope we never lose the magic or the ability to appreciate our world, no matter where we are.

When this precious week ended, we bid goodbye with a few tears since we won't see our family again until the end of May. Now we're back in the RV and exploring the rest of southern Florida.

Our first destination was Punta Gorda on the Gulf Coast. Here we spent two nights boondocking in the driveway of the most congenial and fun women we could ever meet. These Boondockers Welcome hosts who go by the name GypsyWeaver showed us a great time and pointed out four nearby locations where we could launch our kayak. We paddled through a mangrove maze to the Port Charlotte Beach with a dolphin swimming beside us most of the way (no picture, sorry). Yes indeed, it's a magical world!

I'll save our next Florida destination for a second post but here's a sneak peek of what we're in for:

Florida Alligator Swimming

Uh oh, are there two eyes on that bumpy log in the water?

Days On The Road at Time Of Writing (Excludes the 7 days at Disney): 6
Camping Costs To Date: None




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