If you are looking to explore some of the many and varied holiday options that Florida can provide then you will love the road trip from Tampa to Key West. It may be for just a weekend but there is plenty to do and see - and not just for the kids.
An RV will give you so much more freedom than you would have if you were having to confine yourself to set hotels and destinations. Here we will look at some of the many choices available to you in this RV friendly zone, but you are free to alter them and modify to suit yourselves.
This is outdoor country and one of the best ways to enjoy it is to camp smack in the heart of it. That way, you will get to experience both wildlife and nature from right up close and this area has plenty of these. If you would like a little more culture every now and then, Florida has an abundance of that on offer as well. On this journey, you will get to choose between beaches, swamps, and grasslands, or family-friendly restaurants and unusual art galleries. Here you can be watching snakes and gators one minute and sipping wine on the beach the next, and all in the course of a single day
After a quick two hour drive, you will reach Fort Myers, and this might well be a good place to break your journey and grab a bite to eat. The kids will love Calusanature Nature Center and Planetarium Nature Center and Planetarium and the adults won’t mind it either.
There is much to do here. Start with a walk along the raised boardwalks from which you will get a feel for the wildlife and will probably be able to spot some of the alligators that reside here. To help get the kids more familiar with the world they are entering, the guides will let them have some close-up encounters with smaller gators and snakes as well as some of the other animal residents.
There is a first-class butterfly aviary to walk through and you are also invited to visit the Audubon Aviary. This organization plays an important role in looking after injured birds such as owls, bald eagles, and other birds of prey that might not otherwise survive.
There are plenty of restaurants nearby, so you might want to grab a quick lunch before you hit the road again.
Big Cypress RV Resort is an hour and a half from Fort Myers and there you will be able to get comfortably installed for your first night with no problems. The park has more than enough activities for the younger members of the party and that should allow adults to sit back and enjoy the great outdoors while enjoying a cool glass of wine.
Facilities include a heated swimming pool and clubhouse as well as mini-golf, outdoor pool tables, and a basketball court.
There are also several other RV parks in the area, but choose one that will allow easy access to the park. The park itself consists of 729 000 acres of freshwater swamp that provides an important habitat for both wildlife and flora. Animals you could see include deer, water buffalo, and the now rare Florida panther. Just remember to please not feed the alligators.
There are numerous activities in the area both private and run under the auspices of the park ranger team. You could go canoeing, take a swamp safari by swamp buggy or airboat, or just wander through the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum which will give an insight into the life and history of the native Seminole people.
The name Key Largo is derived from the Spanish ‘cayo largo’ meaning large key, which is what this area looks like on a map. To get here from Big Cyprus Park will take just over two hours, so you have plenty of time to drop off the RV at one of several sites and still explore some of the many activities on offer. Once again, the locals recognize that kids are going to make up a big part of the tourist market and they have catered accordingly.
The area is famed for its white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters and so it would seem a pity not to take advantage of them while you are passing through. One perfect way to do this is to visit the John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park . This underwater wonderland was the country’s first underwater nature reserve and it is easy to see why this area was chosen. It is rife with bright corals and even brighter fish life.
There are a couple of options as to how you approach this venture. You could opt for a guided snorkeling tour and let an experienced guide lead you to some of the best sites. On the other hand, there is nothing to stop you using your own mask and snorkel and exploring by yourselves.
If both of these options sound a little too wet for you then there is another option that will appeal to even the worst landlubber. Three times a day there are sightseeing tours in glass-bottomed boats where you get to see all a snorkeler might but with the added advantage of remaining dry.
Key Largo has many art galleries running the full length of the key so if the adults need a little bit more culture than just swamps and beaches, this might be the ideal time to explore something different. Pop into any one of the galleries where you are likely to be able to meet the artists and ask about some of the regular art walks or outdoor exhibitions that occur.
After all of that, chances are good that you are going to have some hungry kids on your hands. You won’t have difficulty locating a restaurant along such a narrow strip of land but one that you might want to consider is Mrs Mac's Kitchen. This laid back restaurant has been going since 1976 and has won Best Home Town Café and Best in People’s Choice awards several times.
It has a wide menu so fussy eaters won’t be required to step out of their comfort zone. For those who like to be a bit more daring and who want to experience the full breadth of classic Florida cuisine, then seafood will obviously be high on their list. Here you can try dishes such as Conch Chowder, Caribbean Style Crab Cakes or one of their Alligator Tenders Baskets.
Your road trip will have taken you to many different types of destinations so far. It is rare to be able to experience such variety in so short a space of time, but that is one of the drawcards of this region. One minute you are skimming across the everglades on a fan boat, the next you are snorkeling between coral outcrops admiring the fish.
Combine all of that with self-contained travel, great eating and plenty of delightful cultural options and you have all the ingredients of a memorable adventure. Although your journey is drawing to an end, Key West still has much for you to enjoy. If you have the time, Ernest Hemingway’s Home and Museum are almost too famous to miss. You could also wander through the Audubon House with its tropical gardens and then top that off with one of the many sunset yacht trips that are easily available.