Northern & Central Florida - December 23 - January 7, 2015

We wanted to go someplace that was warm at Christmas time. Last year we went to Singapore. Neither of us had been to Florida, so that seemed like a logical choice. And we could use the trailer this time, although it was almost 1000 miles to Central Florida, a long drive. We decided to take the trip and the weather was somewhat cooperative, but we are pretty sure that Florida didn't get their name as the Sunshine State from their January weather.
It was a straight shot on IH-10 east from Houston to Florida. Some storms were close around us as we went from TX to MS, but we escaped the worst. It was relatively nice from then on on the trip. We encountered some fog and drizzle at Kennedy Space Center, but we were able to do everything we planned on our trip, plus a few extras.
We hope you enjoy our brief narratives and photos.

[Tuesday] 12/23/14 We left home at 5AM and went TX-99 to I-10, then through Houston. It was foggy, but we made good time. We stopped near Winnie at a rest stop for breakfast. We continued on I-10 & I-12 to Oaklawn RV Park in Biloxi, MS. It rained on us most of the way through LA, but otherwise it was a good drive of ~440 miles. Storms passed through during the night, but we didn't have any bad weather.

< Our campsite in Biloxi.

Click on the small photos to enlarge them.

[Wednesday] In the morning we continued on I-10 East through the rest of MS, across AL and into FL. We stopped at Falling Waters State Park and camped in site #5. This park contains an unusual and unexpected 73-foot natural waterfall that falls into a 100-foot deep sinkhole. After we arrived, we walked down the Terrace Trail past a lake and the Winegrass Trail on to the boardwalk that overlooks the falls. It is impressive.

< We made it to Florida. < The waterfall at Falling Waters S.P.

< Our campsite.

[Thursday] Christmas Day. In the morning we left Falling Waters after a brief stop to see the waterfall again. We continued east on I-10 through Tallahassee, then south on US-19 to Largo. After a little trouble finding an RV Park, we settled in at Rainbow Village RV Park for the night. It was a long day, but the weather was nice, cool and sunny.

< Our campsite in Largo.

[Friday] In the morning we went to St. Petersburg and toured the Dali Museum. In addition to their normal exhibition, they had a Picasso exhibit on loan. The museum opened at 10AM and we ate lunch in their cafe at about noon. We finished at 2PM, then drove the short distance to The Sunken Gardens. We spent about an hour walking through the scenic garden. Many of the plants were reminiscent of our trip to Singapore last Christmas. After we finished, we drove around St. Petersburg to see some of the expensive waterfront homes nearby.

< < < < The Dali Museum.

< < Dali's Abraham Lincoln painting.

< Tampa Bay across from the Museum.

< < < < Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg.

[Saturday] Today we drove over to Tampa in the morning. Our first stop was the Henry B. Plant Muesum on the University of Tampa campus. The enormous old hotel was built in 1891 by Henry B. Plant, a railroad and steamer tycoon that built it so that rich northerners could come down in the winter to relax. It is amazing. After lunch near the museum, we drove over to the Ybor City area. This is an area similar to the Strand in Galveston and Burbon Street in N.O. Lots of shops making hand-rolled Tampa cigars along with restaurants and bars. We then drove through the Hyde Park area of town, an old section with a lot of Craftsman style homes on narrow streets only 2 cars wide.

< < < < The Tampa Bay Hotel on the U of Tampa campus.

< < < < Ybor City section of Tampa.

[Sunday] In the morning we departed from the West Coast of FL and drove to Winter Garden. We checked into Stage Stop Campground, site #27. After lunch, we drove about 2 miles to the home of friends, Bill & Gayle. We spent the afternoon visiting with them. They took us on a tour of the Winter Garden area and we enjoyed a seafood dinner with them at the Bonefish Grill.

< Our campsite in Winter Garden.

[Monday] In the morning we drove about 20 miles to The Disney Epcot Center Park where we spent the entire day (from 10 AM to 11 PM!). According to Kay's FitBit, we walked 22,700 steps and 9.19 miles throughout the park. We spent most of the day in the World Showcase section. We visited Norway, China, Germany, Italy (we ate lunch at Via Napoli), Japan, Morocco (we ate dinner at a Moroccan restaurant), France, United Kingdom and Canada. The only two countries we did not visit were Mexico and USA. In Future World, rode through Spaceship Earth, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends, Living with the Land, Journey Into Imagination with Figment and maybe a few more. The fireworks show at 10:30 PM was probably the best we have ever seen - very impressive, and we were close.

< < < < < < < < < Various scenes from Epcot.

< We were dead tired as we boarded the trams at 11 PM.

[Tuesday] Today we left Winter Garden and drove to Cocoa and stopped at Sonshine Christian RV Park, where we set up in site #72. After we ate lunch, we drove the 20 miles to The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center and bought tickets for the next few days. Today it was overcast and rainy/misty and not so conducive for outdoor activity so we viewed Hubble in 3D at the IMAX Theater at KSC. It was a good movie with about the best 3D effect that I have seen before. It gave the complete story of how the Hubble was launched and repaired several times by Shuttle Crews. After the movie, we drove back to the trailer for the night.

< Our campsite in Cocoa. < Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center.

[Wednesday] Today we went back to KSC and took the bus tour through the Space Center. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and drizzly so it was hard to get good photos. The bus goes past the launch pads and they show you the crawlers that carry the Shuttles to the launch position on a gravel road. We departed from the bus at the Apollo/Saturn V Center which features the 363-foot moon rocket and the Apollo 14 Command Module as well as many other items from that era. We ate lunch at the Moon Rock Cafe.

< < Crawler track to launch pads. < Saturn upper stages.

< Apollo 14. < Space suit.

We rode the bus back to the Visitor Center and spent the rest of the day in the Shuttle Atlantis building. Included in the tour was a realistic Shuttle Launch Experience. We exited the park about 5 PM as it was beginning to get dark outside. The rain had stopped, but it was still overcast.

< < < < < < Shuttle Atlantis.

[Thursday] New Year's Day began looking like it was going to be a nice sunny day, but by the time we got to KSC again, the occasional rain showers had begun. We dodged them all day, but managed to get in everything we planned. We started at 10:30 AM with the Explore Tour - a special up close bus tour of the facility. We spent 2 hours using the bus to go to view launch sites, the Vehicle Assembly Building, Crawlers and the path they take to get to the launch platforms. We also saw the runway where the Shuttles landed. When we got back to the Visitor Center, we ate lunch at the Orbit Cafe.

< Our bus. < < Crawler Shuttle Transporter.

< Crawler tracks. < Launch site in distance.

< < Vehicle Assembly Building.

After lunch, we went to the Astronaut Encounter, where we heard Astronaut Sam Gemar from STS-62, STS-38 and STS48 speak on his experiences in the space program. Afterwards, we were able to get our picture made with him. We then went through Exploration Space - Explorers Wanted exhibits, and walked through the outside displays.

< < < Shuttle Astronaut Sam Gemar.

On the way home we drove through Cape Canaveral and stopped at a Publix Grocery to pick up a few things.

[Friday] Today we left Cocoa on IH-95 North. We stopped in Ponce Inlet to tour the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station Museum. It was completed in 1887 and is 175 feet, the tallest lighthouse in Florida and one of the tallest in the nation. There are 203 steps up the winding stairway to the gallery deck. We made it to the top - it wasn't as bad as we expected. The light is still in operation, but the light source has been modernized. It is now illuminated by a 1200-watt lamp.

< < < < < Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station Museum.

After eating lunch in the trailer in the parking lot, we drove a few miles further North to the Daytona International Speedway. We took the 3:30 tour of the enormous facility. They are in process of an expansion of the stands that will be complete in 2016. The tour took us onto the famous oval track and into the pit area. At the end of the tour was the car that won the 2014 race.

< < < < < < Datona International Speedway.

After the tour, we continued North on IH-95 to St. Augustine where we stopped at Indian Forest Campground, site #13.

< Our campsite in St. Augustine.

[Saturday] We drove into the edge of St. Augustine and bought tickets on the Old Town Trolley Tours. Before we boarded the tram, we went through The Oldest Store Museum Experience and the Old Jail. We then boarded the tram and rode to central St. Augustine. We rode through all the stops to stop 18, where we got off and walked to the Colombia Restaurant and ate lunch. After lunch we walked around and went inside the Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church. Then we walked over to Flagler College, which is housed in the historic 1887 Ponce de Leon Hotel. The interior is decorated with imported marble, carved oak, and murals painted by Tojetti and George W. Maynard. The stained glass windows were created by Louis Tiffany of New York. In 1968, it was converted to Flagler College. After walking around some more, we boarded the tram again and rode back to the start and came home.

< We ate here. < Flagler Memorial Presbyterian Church.

< < < < The Ponce de Leon Hotel.

[Sunday] Today we went back into St. Augustine and started at the Castillo de San Marcos, built as a Spanish fort. Construction began in 1672 and was finished 23 years later in 1695. Run by the National Park Service, it contains displays covering the life of the fort. It was used by the Spanish, then the British and finally by the United States. We spent a little over an hour there and viewed a demonstration of "Red Coats" firing their muskets and a cannon off the wall of the fort.

< < < < Castillo de San Marcos.

Afterwards, we walked into the city and ate lunch at Cruiser's Grill. We then went to The Oldest House in St. Augustine and took a tour. The house was built shortly after 1702, when the English burned the city of St. Augustine down because they couldn't defeat the Spanish that were hold up in the fort.

Next, we rode the Old Town Trolly to the St. Sebastian Winery where we sampled some Muscadine grape wine. We then walked across the way to the Whetstone Chocolate Factory and took the tour, which explained how cocoa beans are processed into chocolate, and gave us an opportunity to sample many different chocolates. Ending up in the gift shop, we had to buy some chocolate, of course. We then caught the trolly back to our truck and left St. Augustine for our trailer.

< < Oldest house in St. Augustine.

< Inside Whetstone factory.

< We ate here. < Oldest wooden schoolhouse.

< < St. Augustine street scenes.

< Lightner Museum. < < Casa Monica Hotel.

[Monday] Today we left St. Augustine via IH-95 to Jacksonville, then IH-10 west where we spent the night at Pelican Palms RV Park near Milton, FL.

< Our campsite in Milton.

[Tuesday] Today was another travel day. We continued west on IH-10 out of FL, across AL & MS and stopped for the night near Carencro, LA, at Bayou Wilderness RV Resort.

< Our campsite in Carencro.

[Wednesday] Today we left LA and continued on IH-10 west and arrived at our home in Richmond about 3 PM. According to the truck's record keeping, we traveled 2,591 miles and used 253 gallons of fuel, with 10.2 mpg, mostly pulling the trailer at 65 mph. The first real test of our new F250's performance. I think it passed.

< Readouts at end of our trip.

This draws to a close our brief vacation to Florida. We hope you enjoyed the photos and brief descriptions of our activities. God willing, join us again soon for another RV or automobile travel adventure.

Goodbye for now,
Lawson & Kay

February 5, 2015

And in that day you will say: "Praise the LORD, call upon His name; Declare His deeds among the peoples, Make mention that His name is exaulted. Sing to the LORD, For He has done excellent things; This is known in all the earth."(Isa. 12:4-5 NKJV)

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