Jacksonville, FL is the largest city in Florida and by square miles is actually the largest city in the US. Like most big cities, Jacksonville has a great farmer's market. In fact, this is the largest farmers market in Florida, attracting up to 20,000 people per day. It is open daily and makes for a great place to pick up supplies for the trip to Marcos Island.
Of course, while in Florida you have to visit the beach and Jacksonville has their share of good ones. Directly out of town are Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, and Fort Clinch State Park. Just to the north of town is the beautiful Amelia Island. This rustic, historic island makes for a great day trip in and of itself, but the beaches here (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fort Clinch Beach, American Beach, and Peter’s Point Beach) are great too. In addition to the beaches and other great sites to see here, Amelia Island hosts the annual Amelia Island Concours D'Elegance which is an upscale car show featuring some of the finest examples of historical automobiles in the world.
To get a good view and feel of the downtown area you can head for a walk on the downtown riverwalks. There are two on opposite sides of the river. The south side is shorter at about one and a quarter miles but has a healthier smattering of restaurants, shops and things to do. Either will provide a good view of the city and river where you can frequently see dolphins and manatees playing.
For a little history, try hitting the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. This area northeast of the city is operated by the National Park Service and it preserves 6,000 years of human history in the area. It is also one of the most pristine coastal wetland regions in the US. It includes the Fort Caroline National Memorial, the Ribault Club, and the Kingsly Plantation. The wetlands surround these places have numerous hiking trails and there are park associated concessionaires that rent kayaks to explore the area by water.
There are two primary routes from Jacksonville, to Marco Island. The shorter route takes you inland through central Florida to Tampa, then south to Marco Island. The alternate route, which is the one we'll follow here, has more points of interest. This route follows I-95 down the coast to Cape Canaveral, then across the state through Orlando to Tampa via Route 407 to Route 528 and I-4. From Tamps, take I-75 south to Marcos Island.
The Castillo de San Marcos is a national monument located just outside the historic downtown section of St. Augustine. Originally built in the 17th century to protect St Augustine, it remains one of the only fortresses in the US where the walls have never been breached. This is due to the walls being constructed of Coquina. This is a locally sourced material made up of compressed sand and crushed seashells. The unique composition makes the material solid, but compressible. So much so, that it can absorb cannon fire without breaking or allowing the cannonballs to pass through.
The fortress is operated by the national park service. There is an entry fee, but it is free if you have a valid Interagency pass or Every Kid Outdoors Pass with your fourth grader present. There are ranger-guided tours, or you can self-tour. Most afternoons they also have a cannon firing demonstration, which is a pretty neat process to watch.
After you've toured the Castillio De San Marcos, head over to the historic downtown section of St. Augustine. The main entrance to the old part of the city is right across the street and it is a great place to get some food and do some shopping.
Compass RV Park is a great place to stay here. It's located just a few minutes from downtown and is easy to get to from I-95.
The Kennedy Space Center is the NASA facility located on Cape Canaveral on the central Florida Atlantic coast. Historically, this has been the launch site for the majority of the United States space program, including the manned missions to the moon, space shuttle flights and now the SpaceX program. The Space Center is the publicly accessible face of the space program and includes several buildings with exhibits covering the space program from its inception to the current day. This includes an incredible building covering the space shuttle program and the Saturn 5 Tour.
The Saturn 5 tour includes a bus ride around the ground of the space center where you can see the massive vehicle assembly building, the SpaceX building and several of the past and presently operating launch pads. At the end of the driving tour, you arrive at the Saturn 5 building where you can see a fully assembled Saturn 5 rocket (yes, it's huge!), a lunar lander, a moon rock and many other artifacts from the manned missions to the moon. This is a very popular tour so it's a good idea to do this first. The longer you wait into the day, the longer the lines for the bus to depart will be.
The Seasons in the Sun RV Resort in Titusville is a good place to stay here. It is located just off I-96 and Kennedy Space Center is just a short drive from there.
Orlando, FL is the ultimate family playground in the eastern United States. There is more to do here than just about any other location and those activities are generally open year-round thanks to the great weather here in central Florida. The major attractions here include Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Seaworld, Discovery Cove, Volcano Bay, and Typhoon Lagoon. There are also some exceptional indoor intellectual attractions like the Orlando Science Center which covers many of the different science disciplines with a broad variety of excellent exhibits. There is also a large-format movie theater that shows science-related films and laser light shows.
Orlando SE-Lake Whippoorwill KOA is located just off the 417 bypass around the airport on the southeast side of the city. It provides an excellent place to stay convenient to our route to Marcos Island and the activities around downtown Orlando.
Tampa Bay is known as the home of the Buccaneers and each year in late January through March they live that out with the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. This is a two-part event kicked off by the Children’s Gasparilla which consists of a pirate-themed, child-friendly parade along Bayshore Boulevard. In addition to the parade there are a number of great child friendly activities during this event.
A week later, the Gasparilla Pirate Festival takes place. This event is commonly described as “Mardis Gras with pirates” and runs from 9am to 9pm. During this time, a pirate ship lands in the harbor and the pirates onboard the ship invade the city and parade which is held that day. After the invasion, there is live music, food and partying into the evening. This is not considered a child-friendly event so keep that in mind if you'd like to attend.
Lithia Springs Conservation Park is a local park that offers a great camping experience near Tampa. This park is affordable while offering 45 sites with water and 30 amp service. 15 of those sites also have 50 amp service. Site lengths range from 14 up to 100 feet so the can accommodate larger rigs. The drive to downtown Tampa is a short 20 miles.
Marco Island, Florida is a beautiful seaside area on Florida's southern Gulf Coast. There are many great things to do here including incredible beaches, cruises, nature tours, museums, nature centers, and the occasional festival
Since this is Florida, let's start with the beaches. San Marco Island beach is one of the best and easiest to access public beaches. It is located along South Collier Boulevard. At the east end of the point, there is a public parking lot and public beach access across the street.
If you want to get further out to sea, you may want to consider a Marco Island Princess Cruise. They offer a broad range of cruise options including lunch, dinner, sunset, sightseeing and nature cruises. All the cruises depart from the docks in the Rose Marina.
For a more hands-on outdoor experience you can try Breakwater Adventures. They offer several different activities including dolphin tours, tubing, wakeboarding, and waterskiing. Most of their activities are designed to be more private with most having a limit of six people, so you won't have to fight the crowds or miss seeing things because you were not in the right spot on the boat.
The Marco Island Seafood and Music Festival is held each year over a three day weekend on the third weekend in March. This is a family-friendly event celebrating the great food and music that can be found in the area. In addition to the numerous food vendors, there are live music performances, arts and crafts, cooking competitions and a kids zone for the kiddos to have some fun.
Marco Island does not have any RV parks located directly on it. There are however several great parks just a few miles inland. The Naples Marco Island KOA is a good choice here. They have a good number of full hookup and partial hookup RV sites as well as several cabins and tent sites available. The center of Marco Island is just 10 miles south down Collier Boulevard.