Thursday, 10 May 2018

The end of the road (trip around Florida) May 2018

So that's it!

The end of the 3 week road trip.

We had a fabulous time - from chatting to the Knight Bus conductor in Diagon Alley, downing pina coladas in Key West, swimming with manatees in Crystal River and watching the racing in Daytona.

I think it's fair to say that Florida is synonymous with Disney and theme parks but it is so much more.

We have seen city life, wildlife, night life and every day life. We have soaked up the history and soaked up the sun - we also got soaked by the rain in Miami. We have walked miles in a day then sat on our backsides and watched the sun go down. It has been a fabulous trip - and that's without a panda in sight!

A visit to Daytona May 2018

We were literally driving past Daytona Speedway Track as we motored on down to Cocoa Beach so decided to call in - if only to visit the gift shop.

We parked up and I wandered over to a little hut labelled "Guest Services" to make sure we were parked in the right place for the shop / museum. Before I knew it we had signed a waiver form and were driving through the tunnel under turn 4 to park up and watch an endurance race! Apparently we'd just happened upon a free to the public event - whoop! There didn't seem to be that many people there but we had a fun time watching the race from the bleachers, wandering around the stands and even walking into the pit lane and through the garages! I chatted to security guards and track marshalls. It was amazing - very loud and very hot! 

There was a small bar area open and plenty of seating and toilets. All very accessible (apart from the steps up to the bleachers and viewing areas). It was brilliant. At the entrance to the track there is a museum and shop - you can sign up for tours there (which you pay for) but we were really pleased with what we got to see for free!

A day in St Augustine (May 2018)

After our visit to Kingsley Plantation we got the ferry back over the St Johns River and drove down the coast to St Augustine - reportedly the oldest permanent settlement in the USA, founded by the Spanish in 1565. We booked into our hotel for 2 nights to give us a full day in the town and felt that was a perfect amount of time to spend pootling around looking at the old buildings. It's all quite compact and easily accessible. There is also plenty of information available telling you about the history of the town and it's buildings.

The town also had a lovely marina where we sat and relaxed after our exploration of the town. It was very hot the day we visited so we were glad of some shady spots.

Change of pace coming up as we head down the coast to Daytona Beach.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Kingsley Plantation visit (May 2018)

Lonely Planet Florida & the South's Best Trips : 28 Amazing Road Trips

We used the book above to plan our road trip. One of the suggestions in it was to visit the Kingsley Plantation - so we did. As you may have seen from my previous post - to get to it you can go on a car ferry or drive round. 

The plantation is part of the Timucuan preserve - the link below tells you all about it. It's part of the National Park Service so you know it's going to be well cared for and presented.

Coming from Liverpool - a city built on the slave trade and home to the International Slavery Museum it was fascinating to see history of the plantation and to put all the pieces together.

We felt the site was well organised and presented the information in a respectful, honest way. This was never going to be a "fun" activity but it was interesting and also surprisingly peaceful and calm. There was plenty to see and I got chatting (of course) to one of the rangers about the gardens and the plants around. 

I took some panoramic photos of the house, grounds and slave quarters.

Getting to Fort George Island via St John's River Ferry

Today we left Sarasota to visit The Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island. We could have got there on the main roads - a route of about 25 miles - but where's the fun in that?

We chose the shorter - 2.7 miles but much slower Car Ferry route via the St John's River Ferry. This is one of those things you find out about by chatting to locals - both google maps  and our sat nav would have sent us the long way round.

$6 to get across on a ferry that goes every half hour and takes only about 10 minutes to cross the 0.9 mile stretch of water. It was all very organised and efficient. Cars lined up at the entrance and were directed on and off the ferry by staff. 

We loved it - especially as we got to see dolphins as we went across the first time. We didn't have to use it for the return journey - we just wanted to. ⛴

BTW -Everywhere we visited along the Florida coast it was evident that boating is a way of life. We found it fascinating the way they stored the boats on a multi storey racking system - hence the photo!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Crystal River Florida - swimming with manatees. April 2018.

Today we were booked on to a snorkelling with the manatees trip.

3 hours for $65 turned out to be the best value ever!

We used the Plantation Adventure Center for our trip as they are based on site in the hotel we stayed in. The cost included towels, hot chocolate (Swiss Miss mmmmm) and all the snorkel gear.

The company say they will take between 11 - 14 people on the boat and there were about 14 of us for the 10.30 trip so I assumed we'd all be on the one boat - wrong - we were split up and hubby and I were lucky enough to be put on a boat with just one other couple so we had pretty much a private trip. Perfect!

The other couple were certified divers like ourselves so were comfortable in the water - very useful when you just have to float face down with a large marine mammal milling around you.

There were 2 Captains out with us, Lance and Steve, and they were extremely skilled in finding the manatees and helping us have the best experience in the water with these gently creatures. Steve supervised us (and the manatees) and took a camera underwater and we were able to buy some film footage / photos. 

You have to watch a video all about how to behave in the water for the safety of the manatees - who are obviously the No. 1 priority : - no touching, feeding, standing on (!) or harming in any way the manatees etc etc. All I can say is that someone needs to make a video for the manatees! We were frantically trying not to touch them / harm them etc while the manatees were trying to kiss Hubby ( or eat his face - we couldn't decide), hitting me with their tail, swimming under us and then surfacing bringing us up on their backs. It was chaos - wonderful, heart warming, super cool, fun chaos and we loved it. We were out for over 2 1/2 hours and saw a mother and baby (who we left in peace), a group of up to 5 adults and then a single female who was feeding. We also relaxed at the end of the trip with a snorkel over the springs. Fabulous. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Homosassa Springs State Park - manatees! April 2018

We had 2 days in Crystal River and I'd noticed this state park as we'd driven along US 19. We'd booked the "snorkelling with manatees" for the next day so decided to check out this park the day before. I knew it had resident manatees so thought at least I'd be guaranteed to see them.

What I wasn't prepared for was how peaceful and serene this park was. It was only $13 admission - which includes parking and allows for readmission - and I felt this was really good value. Here's the link:

This park has a long history, first set up in the early 1900's when the animals were seen as entertainment and performers. It appears to be well loved by locals - as evidenced by the campaign to have the resident hippo - Lu - made a Honorary Citizen of the State of Florida so he didn't have to leave the park. The park appears to be making the transition from "animals as entertainment" to a more conservation and animal welfare focused facility. 

Here's some photos:

We spent a good 3 hours wandering around the park. It's easy to navigate as there is a circular route around the park so you can't get lost. All paths are accessible and there are plenty of seats in shady spots for you to relax. There are also the usual amenities - shop, cafe and loos. The highlight for me was the 3 manatees who you can see floating around the area or more closely in the observation area - a clever underwater viewing area. We were there for the 11.30 feeding when you get a bit of background from one of the staff and see the manatees munching on lettuce - how they get so big eating only lettuce is beyond me. The 3 manatees in the park were born in captivity and can never be released as they wouldn't know how to survive, but they are well cared for and clearly adored by all the volunteers - it was lovely to see them.

I was so glad we chose to visit here - it felt like an oasis of calm after a long drive the day before.