Freedom – that’s the feeling you get when you pick up your motorhome and head out on the open road.
Most people overlook Florida as a destination and assume that it’s only about the theme parks and whilst it is best known for rollercoasters and dolphin shows there is a lot more worth exploring.
We took the direct Aer Lingus Dublin to Miami flight and spent our first night at an airport hotel. It is compulsory to have one-night hotel stay in the country prior to picking up a motorhome. We took a taxi to the hire depot and went through the necessary paperwork before getting a tour around our new transport. At the depot we got the opportunity to purchase zero excess cover which cost around $15 per day plus tax which was worth the peace of mind to know that we wouldn’t be liable for any damage.
Our first pit stop was Walmart, where we stocked up on groceries and household items before making our way to the Florida Keys and our first stop Key Largo. In the true spirit of freedom we hadn’t researched any places to stay and was hoping to just hit on somewhere on the way. This proved to be difficult as many of the places we stopped were full but we eventually found a lovely RV park for the night at an eye watering $150 for the night!!! The receptionist informed me that November was classed as high season in Florida and that I should book ahead for my next stop the following night – Key West. ‘Snowbirds’ were of course to blame – these are people who escape harsh, cold winters in North America and settle in the warmer climate of sunny Florida.
The drive down the Florida Keys to Key West was picturesque with the ocean on both sides of the road for many miles and lots of people dotted along the roadway fishing from the bridges. We found our RV park in Key West and set up our site and took a taxi into Key West. We stopped at the most Southernly Point to get our picture taken and walked along Duval Street to Mallory Square where everyone congregates to watch the sun go down. Key West has a buzzing atmosphere with lots of bars playing live music, brightly coloured buildings and relaxed residents where anything goes. Again, campsites in Key West were around $150 per night in peak season and advanced bookings are recommended.
The following day we made our way back up Interstate 1 and cut across the Everglades National Park, this journey was quite uneventful with very little by way of towns to stop at. We did pull into one of the Everglades Air Boat Operators and took an airboat tour which was interesting but sadly no alligators were spotted!! We made our way to our next campsite which was KOA Naples/Marco Island (approx. $60 per night), we arrived just before the office shut to get the safety brief from the warden who advised that panthers had been spotted in the grounds of the campsite recently and if we were going for a walk at night to exercise caution – needless to say we decided it was a night to stay in the campervan!
The following day we made our way along the coast passing through Naples, Venice and settled in a campsite outside Sarasota. The campsite had a fabulous indoor swimming pool complex and we spent the afternoon in relaxation mode.
The next morning, we made our way to St Pete’s Beach, where there are a number of car parks that you can pay to use with direct beach access which is handy so you don’t have too far to carry your cool box and chairs! The beaches on this part of the gulf coast are absolutely fabulous, powder white sand and aqua blue seas. We spent a really chilled out morning here and made our way back to our camper van for lunch – that’s the benefit of having your kitchen on wheels parked close by!! My husband had relations who lived a few miles away so we parked on their drive way for the night and had a great night’s craic reminiscing about family relations and the way of life in that part of America.
The following morning, we headed into Clearwater early as we wanted to get the motorhome parked up but it was quite difficult to get a space that suited the length of our motorhome and we ended up parking a bit out of the town. Clearwater is more commercial than St Pete’s with a wonderful promenade dotted with cafes and beach bars, inflatables and play parks for the kids. We only had a few hours here but it is a place that I would recommend coming back to and perhaps staying at a hotel right on the beach front. Clearwater also has a very famous aquarium made famous in the film Dolphin Tale.
From Clearwater we travelled into Orlando – please note traffic around Orlando is crazy if you hit it at the wrong time!! Orlando has some good outlet shopping so we made sure to take a detour here before going to our campsite for the night ($100), which was a short trip from Seaworld which we visited the following day. November is a great time for visiting theme parks if you don’t like the crowds. The Halloween events have finished and Christmas hasn’t started in the parks and there were no waiting times to get onto the rides!
After our day in the park we made our way across to Titusville for the evening which is a great base to stay if you want to explore Cape Canaveral and the Nasa exhibits. Our park for the night ($46) was set in a forest and we sat for ages watching the squirrels foraging and running up and down trees. In the morning we got up early to make our way to the Kennedy Space Centre when the gates opened to give ourselves all day to look around and yes we needed every bit of it! The site is huge with lots of interesting and interactive exhibits. We took the bus tour around the launch pads and had a very knowledgeable driver who pointed out various things along the route including an eagle’s nest. This is certainly something everyone should visit on a trip to Florida as it really puts the enormity of the task and the sacrifice involved in putting people into space.
Having walked for hours around the Kennedy Space Centre we continued down the coast to our next stop at Port St Lucie (£45). We arrived late and in the dark to our campsite, which had very limited facilities but we were glad to be parked up to relax after a long day, what none of the advertising for the site highlighted was that it backed onto a train line which had multiple, very long cargo trains going past at all hours of the night!!
Our motorhome trip was coming to an end, so we spent out last night on a camp site ($33) about 10 minutes’ drive from our motorhome depot on the outskirts of Miami as it had to be dropped off at 10am in the morning. Our last evening was spent cleaning up and clearing out all the brochures we had gathered up along the way and eating up the last of our food stash. On returning your vehicle you need to make sure that the fuel and gas levels are the same as when you picked up and that the water and waste tanks are empty. Once the motorhome had been checked we were ready to go. We had one final night in Miami where we stayed at the Intercontinental Miami, fabulous hotel and a great location for anyone going to or coming off a cruise ship as the cruise terminal is quite close by. We took the hop on hop off bus around Miami $45pp – which I felt was expensive for what it was. The next time I am back in Miami, I’d like to stay in the South Beach area where there is a party style atmosphere and lots of restaurants dotted along the beach front.
All in all we had a fabulous trip and are already planning our next big motorhome adventure!
Here are some of my top tips!
• Have a driving route plan and take a look at the price of campsites along the route before you go BUT don’t book too much in advance because that the beauty of the motorhome, if you like a place you might stay for an extra few nights!
• Don’t plan to drive too far on your first day, we collected our motorhome at 1pm but by the time you familiarise yourself with the motorhome, driving on the other side of the road and stopping in Walmart for groceries you might not have much time left before it gets dark. If your new to motorhomes, you might want the day light to see how all the hook ups work.
• Leave room in your budget for the zero excess cover which is added on locally – it gives you peace of mind.
• Journey times are longer than you think – we googled various driving distances but found that travelling by motorhome took much longer to get there.
• Be prepared for the noise of the air conditioning unit inside the motorhome – if you’re a light sleeper you might want to bring ear plugs. Having the air con on was essential for our first few nights as the temperatures were very warm.
• Toll roads – there are many toll roads in Florida, some of which you pay at the booth and others take a picture of the vehicle registration. We were home about 2 months before the bill charge came through on our credit card for the tolls.
If you’d like to know more about Motorhome Holidays or Florida itself you can contact Mandy directly on Tel. 028 6632 1152 or [email protected]