Weather wise, we haven’t had the greatest of luck this winter. We knew that traveling this time of year would throw some unpredictable weather our way, but this year has definitely been worse than expected. We’re not complaining since we haven’t seen the snow or deep freezes of home, but these colder temperatures make van life more complicated. So when we heard the East Coast was about get hit with another really terrible storm in early January, we decided enough was enough and we were going to do whatever it takes to track down warmer weather. We bypassed Georgia and made our way to Jacksonville, but since the weather was still not cooperating we kept going south. This unfortunately meant skipping a few great cities, but we knew it would be hard to appreciate exploring them when it was miserable outside. We made our way to Titusville, specifically for Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. Graeme, a wannabe astronaut in his childhood, had always wanted to go to space camp, so this was another great box checked off on his bucket list. The Space Center is still basically a theme-park, with pricey admission and overpriced concessions, but it’s still a pretty cool attraction. They have a numerous rockets, the space shuttle Atlantis and are now housing some of the work being by SpaceX. They even offer free dog kennels so you don’t have to leave your pets in the vehicle on hot days. We took the bus tour, wandered through the different sites, memorials and explored the rocket garden. We rode the Launch Experience ride and like all good tourists, added to our sticker collection with a stop in the gift shop.
After getting our NASA on, we kept heading southward, hoping the Florida Keys might provide us with some seasonal temperatures. The drive to Key West was beautiful, but we quickly realized how much damage this area suffered from Hurricane Irma. Many of the smaller keys were practically destroyed, with many businesses still shuttered and debris lining the roadways. We stopped in for a quick hike in Big Pine Key to stretch our legs and watch for the Key Deer, before hoping back on the causeway.
Key West, either suffering less damage or taking priority in the clean-up efforts, seemed untouched, bustling with tourists basking in its kitschy, tropical glory. We made our way to the southern-most point at Zachary Taylor Park, finally getting a chance to really enjoy some sunshine and the warm ocean breeze. We made lunch on the beach and walked the dogs before taking our time to drive back to Florida City. RV Traveler Aside: The streets in Key West are a nightmare to drive with anything other than a car. If you want to explore, definitely book a campground. They’re really expensive, but would make exploring the town much more convenient. Also, there are no free campsites or boondocking locations in the Keys. From what we read, overnight parking is prohibited and strictly enforced, so we didn’t risk it.
Working our way northwest, we took a scenic drive through Big Cypress National Park. We chose this park over the Everglades strictly because of cost. The Everglades charges $25 to drive through, Big Cypress is free and we couldn’t have been happier on our choice. Just on the drive towards the park visitor Center we started seeing alligators…so many alligators that we stopped counting after 150! They were everywhere. The ditches bordering the road were teeming with them, along with dozens and dozens of swamp birds – herons, spoonbills and egrets. When we arrived at the visitor’s center, there were another 20 or so alligators in the waters out front. The ranger explained that the unseasonable cold temperatures had drawn them to the warmer waters and she mentioned that this many in such a small area was an anomaly.
After a fantastic scenic drive, we made our way to Fort Myers for a quick brewery stop at Bury Me Brewing. Their logo is a beer-drinking skeleton and they definitely play up that theme, with a Party Hearse for rent parked out front, a grim reaper at the door and trowel-shaped draught tap handles. Their beers were all themed as well, with names like ‘From My Cold Dead Hands IPA’ and the ‘6 Feet Down Under Oatmeal Stout’. We always enjoy stopping at interesting spots that either have a quirky atmosphere or a reputation for great products – this place had both.
With the storm finally clearing, we decided it was time to head back to Georgia, but made a few stops along the way. We hiked the boardwalk trail at the Six Mile Cypress Slough, made an early morning trek to Manatee Park, bird-watched at Fort Meade Park and hit a u-pick grove to stock up on citrus before making our way back to Savannah.
Florida was the perfect escape – it gave us our first real break from the cold and reminded us of how much we missed the ocean. It was just what we needed to feel recharged, because we’re learning that apparently we’re solar powered too.