The Magic of Sunny Florida in Winter

After getting back from Hawaii, winter felt quite cold in the northern mountains of Georgia. Yes, we even saw some snow. We spent the first half of February getting ready for the official start of our RV life. We thought we were all ready to go and alas, as we were trying to leave the driveway, the retractable steps wouldn’t retract. We tried to troubleshoot the issue with no success. After a two-hour delay, we decided to secure the broken part and continue without the steps into our RV. The gap between the ground and the RV is pretty big so when we arrived in Florida, we bought a collapsible step stool to hold us over.

On our way south, we had a quick stopover at a very cool RV park called The Spirit of the Suwanee in the northern part of Florida. Though COVID has lessened the number of events held, this venue can hold music concerts for up to 30,000 people. There were many stages all over the place to hold events of all sizes. The grounds were huge and even had a disc golf course. The most fun was getting to drive all around it in a golf cart.

After that layover, we arrived at our main stop in Florida which was Ft DeSoto Park. According to Exploring America by RV by Shirley Slater & Harry Basch (5th Ed., Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2008) one of the earliest gatherings of motor homes in the US happened in 1919 at this same park. They were called the Tin Can Tourists, a small group of mostly Ford Model T owners.

Believe it or not, it was cold the first few days in Florida at both campgrounds. We had to turn on the heater and wear hats and gloves. I will stop any of that talk though because I know that in many places it was even colder. This beautiful waterfront campground is on the west coast of Florida near St. Petersburg. We saw some amazing sunsets and were lucky enough to stay at sites that offered a water view.

Ft. Desoto was the first and only campground where we made reservations far ahead of time. We made them in June 2021, the first moment we were allowed to do so. It gave us something tangible and helped our minds move toward accepting that this life change was going to happen. DeSoto is a County Park and Pinellas County residents can make reservations once a month before the system is open to the public. Each morning in June for two weeks we woke up and checked the availability of sites.  

The result of this reservation system is that it’s very hard to reserve the same site multiple nights in a row if you are from out of state. The result is something we named “The DeSoto Shuffle.” Each morning, many campers would have to pack up their site and move to another one, that may be only a few sites away. We were lucky to have a few nights in the same site but most mornings during our two-week stay required us to breakdown camp and set up a new site. It became a new routine. 

We wanted to spend more time RVing in Florida, but we missed the boat. As it turns out, we should have made all of our Florida reservations the previous June, but we didn’t know that at the time. By the time we looked for places in other parts of Florida like The Keys, everything was all booked up. Lesson learned. Plan much earlier for Florida RVing in winter next time!  

While we were staying in Florida, we had a great time. Besides seeing clients and getting to catch up with some family and friends, we experienced lots of fun outdoor activities. We purchased an inflatable kayak which was a perfect toy for this park. All of the campsites are along the water and most offer direct entry. So, we were able to drop in the kayak right at our site. So much wildlife exists in the waters surrounding the park, including dolphins. We could see them pass by while sitting at our campsite and we were lucky enough to have them pass by us while kayaking. 

One day we kayaked to Shell Key which was not too far off the shore. It’s an uninhabited little island where people visit for the day. We packed a picnic and made our way across the water. It was a wonderful day of feeling like we were the only people there until a kayak tour of 15 boats pulled up right next to our picnic. As it turns out, a photographer was taking pictures of the area and happened to take one with the Skyway Bridge in the background. He was nice enough to send it to us.

The weekend in between staying at Ft DeSoto, we took a side trip to the west side of the Everglades. This unimpressive private campground was near Everglades City but in the middle of nowhere, off of the road nicknamed Alligator Alley. We were laughed at when we asked about using our inflatable kayak in those waters. Too many gators and broken tree branches to be safe! At the end of the month, we headed to the Okefenokee Swamp. We saw many more gators there, but I’ll save that for the next blog entry.