This past Sunday night we took stroll around Disney’s Boardwalk at the Beach Club Resort. The end of February offers cool evenings and clear skies.
We had reservations at Beaches and Cream Soda Shop, which also grants us access to the Atlantic City-themed boardwalk as well. The path, mostly constructed from ‘boardwalk’ slats, takes you around a lake past the Epcot resorts and also allows walk up access to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios parks.
Along the route, you also get a view of the Swan and Dolphin resorts along the lake and a distant view of Epcot.
We needed to get some steps in because ice cream was on the menu for the evening. The No Way Jose Sundae is my favorite!
A peanut butter and hot fudge sundae with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, peanut butter and chocolate chips, whipped cream, and a cherry on top! $11 at Beaches and Cream Soda Shop located in Disney’s Beach Club Resort.
Jeff chose the Snicker Sundae that came with marshmallow topping and snickers pieces, also $11.
After attempting to finish these massive sundaes, we decided we needed to take another loop around the lake. It was a beautiful evening.
Everglades National Park is located about an hour west of downtown Miami, Florida. On our recent visit, we looked for a hotel that was the quickest and easiest to get out of town. We booked a room at the Marriott Residence Inn located in Doral. It’s only a few miles away from the airport. If you’re flying in or driving in, this is a great location. The rooms were excellent.
The Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park was almost a straight run west of the hotel, an easy 40-minute drive into the grasslands. There are a few other entrances/visitor centers, so be mindful of which entrance you are looking at when you plan to tour the park. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is the most popular and, in my opinion, the easiest to get to for out-of-town visitors.
On the way out of town, you will pass a Casino and, as you near the park, you will find several airboat tour companies. If we had more time, I would have booked a tour. I love a good airboat ride!
We visited the park in February, as the Everglades are extremely hot in other seasons. That said, there is a consistent breeze across the mostly open expanse of water year-round.
We experienced a very warm February day; it was in the low 80’s but overcast and very comfortable. We are Floridians, so this is great weather for us.
We made a reservation for the tram tour a few days in advance. It is highly recommended to make reservations for the tram tours. The tour costs $30 per person and is narrated by excellent tour guides.
There is also an entrance fee for the park which is paid at the gate upon entry which is also around $30 per person. The day we went, however, their systems were down from a power surge or something. So, they let us in for free! We did pay in advance online for the tram tour to reserve our spot.
The tour follows a paved loop that runs about 15 miles total, which includes a stop halfway to walk up the tower that overlooks the park.
It was a very easy and comfortable ride. We sat in the last seat which afforded a little more legroom.
The tram stops for nature sightings of birds and alligators and to point out areas of interest. There are also many cyclists on the paved path so they will slow to accommodate a congested area of bikes.
We saw many birds and only a few gators in the canal along the ride back. The silence was beautiful along with the persistent gentle breeze that will easily blow your hat off on the tram ride.
The visitor center is a small building with a ticket window for bike rentals and a small gift shop and educational center as well as bathrooms. For all the glory that is the Everglades, there are only a few educational areas to take in, so it is a very quick tour of the Visitor Center.
There is also a short boardwalk trail in front of the visitors center that is a popular spot to go while waiting for the tour. You can see if on google maps as noted above. I’d say it took a leisurely 15 minutes or so to walk it.
The two hour tour gave us the most information and was equal to a National Geographic Documentary, at least on the day that we went. Also note that tipping of the guides is encouraged. They have a dropbox for tips in the front car of the tram.
We plan to come back to ride the trail with our bikes next time. They do rent bikes at the Visitor’s Center (but they don’t look very comfortable 😂).
This public garden, seated on the shores of Lake Maitland, bursts with old Florida charm. Established in 1938 by George and Maud Kraft, the Kraft Azalea Gardens are situated in a small 5-acre park open from 8 a.m. until dark for 365 days a year and is free to the public.
A visit here offers a pleasant shady stroll under enormous cypress trees alongside the famed azalea bushes. You can easily take a seat among one of the many benches overlooking the lake to enjoy the lake breeze and bird song overhead.
This Exedra bench pictured below is a popular photographer’s spot. (FYI an Exedra is a semi-circular Greco-roman bench made for conversational seating).
Out in the distance, you can see the Scenic Boat Tours making their rounds. The boat ride starts on Lake Osceola then rides through the channels that connect the lakes.
On the day of my trip, I could distincly hear two hoot owls calling to each other from somewhere overhead. Suddenly, a rush of wings flew above me – it was an owl! It swooped up to a high branch in an old oak tree and landed next to it’s partner. I zoomed in with my new camera to catch these two up close.
What a magical surprise – a mated pair of Barred owls ! It was abeautiful afternoon well spent in Winter Park.
The City of Sanford’s central downtown is undergoing a healthy re-development. One benefit being the surge of new eateries that are re-claiming many of the forgotten brick-front buildings. The process of creating the new out of the old has opened up creative experiences for visitors to explore. The Old Sanford Jailhouse is one such establishment (website).
The Jailhouse presents as an upscale restaurant, one where you are enclosed by weathered brick walls and iron grates, are gently lit by cut crystal chandeliers, and welcomed by a casual but well-appointed menu (view menu).
Rustic architectural details allow diners to engage with the building’s storied past.
The building’s successful transformation was the determination of The Sirica Family, owners of The Old Jailhouse. Their well-planned design and their dedication to preserving the original architecture kept the initial intent of the building intact, earning them the Historic Preservation Award by the Sanford Historic Trust.
We visited The Old Jailhouse for dinner on a Wednesday evening. Streetside parking and seating were plentiful.
After dinner, we headed out on foot a few blocks down to the marina (website).
We took in the view and were greeted by sailboats, houseboats, and even a steamboat (website).
We closed the day under the swaying palms at Veteran’s Park (website).
Even though the evening started out in jail, this ordinary Wednesday night turned out to be another day well spent in Florida.
We may have found a New Year’s tradition to continue enjoying the season of lights after the holidays: The Asian Lantern Festival! Our local zoo is running this after hours event from November 20th – January 12th 2020 from 6pm to 10pm nightly.
We weren’t sure what to expect, and were surprised to find giant illuminated ‘lanterns’ which are sculpted wire forms covered with a silk material. They are each lit from inside with many standard sized light bulbs attached to the interior of the wire forms. They were both much bigger and brighter than we had anticipated. We were expecting a large christmas light display, but this was something we had never seen before.
We entered the exhibit throuh a walkway flanked by whimsical crescent moons and stars which looked a lot like bananas. They tower over my 6’3″ husband as you can see in the photo below.
As we followed the winding path, we discovered large scale lanterns representing some of the animals that make their home at the zoo. Music also accomapnies visitors and changes upon entering the different event areas.
Some of the lantern animal exhibits included life sized giraffes and an oversized animated alligator whose jaws open and close. We tried to get a peek at the resident animals but they were mostly sheltering down for the night. We glimpsed a few behind or boarding the festival exhibits, such as the donkey behind the giraffes. Overall, the zoo animal enclosures were dark and most animals were unable to be seen.
The chinese dragon was the largest lantern by far, which seemed to be near as long as a football field. It’s hard to tell the scale from the photo but those are some pine trees on the left bottom corner of the screen on the last two humps of the dragon.
There were food vendors and drink stations, and a small arts and crafts tent. The event was very well manned with numerous volunteers guiding you at every turn, including parking attendants. The event was very popular and slightly crowded even on a Wednesday night after Christmas, I would think a weekend would be extremely crowded. The cost was $50 for 4 tickets or around $18.60 each. It was a magical mesmerizing evening and I plan to go again next year; an unexpected opportunity to carry a little luminary magic into the new year.
The entrance to the spring head is via these steps which looks more ominous than it really is. You must duck at the bottom depending on your height to get to the platform which is currently submerged due to rain. When we went, it was waist high. We stood there for a few minutes to acclimate to the 72 degree water which at first is cold, but just takes a minute or two. Other people just went right in.
The spring is crowded on weekends, we went on a holiday weekend, which of course has a few more visitors. They do limit the number of people who are in the den and there is a rotation of people coming in and out. This is about as full as it gets. It’s most crowded on the entry platform pictured below where people are getting in and out.
There was still room to explore once you got off the ramp. Some of us lingered on the ramp a little longer than others ; ) It was cold! But I was fine after about 3 minutes, lol. Here is Jeff patiently waiting for me…It really is magical. Felt a bit like a set for an episode of Star Trek. They give you a 2 hour limit and that really is plenty of time for one day.
The park has a few other diving ponds (see below) however they were closed the day we went.
They have food trucks, picinic tables, and a few games but other than that, the spring is really the only attraction at this campground which is small and basically just dirt, grass, and trees. So when camping here, you will want to venture out for some fun beyond the spring.
We enjoyed this ice cream shop : )
We also recommend a day trip to Rainbow Springs State Park to go tubing which is about a half hour drive from Devil’s Den. Here’s a video to get a glimpse of what tubing is like at Rainbow Springs. You need to rise and shine, because the park limits the number of visitors and often fills up by 10 am and you will see lines of cars waiting for people to leave so you can get in. Rainbow Springs does have a nicer campground than Devil’s Den, but it does not have the full hook ups that our rig needs.
Mike Roess campground has separate tent and RV camping
Gold Head Branch campground is a big park with excellent sites for both tent camping and RVs.
There is also plenty to see and do. We hiked and biked and explored our big backyard all weekend.
Can’t remember the last time I explored a ravine, glad we took the time to walk down by the little brook carving its way out of the Florida pine.Fitbit says I climbed 14 floors! Who knew there were hills in Florida!You never know what you’ll find out there 🤣 Happy trails…
Thankful for the days well spent at Gold Head Branch State Park. We hiked and biked and explored our big backyard all weekend.
Can’t remember the last time I explored a ravine. Beautiful little brook carving its way out of the Florida sand and scrub pine.Fitbit says I climbed 14 floors! Who knew there were hills in Florida!You never know what you’ll find out there 🤣 Happy trails…
We’ve been asked what it’s like to camp at Fort Clinch and were lucky enough to snag a cancellation for the MLK long weekend.
The January temperature was perfect though a bit chilly at times for our beagle.
Fort Clinch State Park has two campgrounds – one on the oceanside and the other on the riverside. Our site was on the beach with a walkway a few sites down that led directly to the ocean and these hammocks.
We were close enough to be lulled to sleep each night by ocean spray and rumbling tides.
Each morning we went for a walk on the private beach (no dogs allowed).
We walked down to the pier that is currently closed from hurricane Matthew.
and on Sunday I even got up early enough to see the sunrise over the ocean. Heavenly!
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Here’s the view coming back from the beach. There are a few sites (#7 – 10 shown here) that have a slight view of the ocean. The rest are closely nestled in the dunes or sand scrub.
Warning, there are sand spurs in the grassy area around the sites. We had to pull a few out of Penny’s paws and chose to keep her on the pavement when out walking.
Each day we rode our bikes around the park.
On the road to the riverside campground, I spotted mushrooms as big as dinner plates. Upon further investigation I learned these are known as Jack O’Lantern mushrooms. Fun fact – they are bioluminescent! They contain the same enzyme as fireflies! Who knew?
Had I known, I would have gone back to see them in the dark. They are also poisonous, so don’t eat them.
The riverside sites are are few steps away from more spectacular views. Though, none of the sites are on the water or have actual water views, they are shaded which the beach sites are not.
And then there’s the fort!
There are also mountain bike trails and gorgeous hiking paths between hidden waterways to explore as well as the towns of Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach.
Reservations for the park can be made at Reserve America, and you will probably see that most days are full. But, if you check back in regularly you will see cancellations, especially the week before you are looking to camp. It’s worth the trip, Fort Clinch is our favorite Florida campground so far!