Since we began camping frequently in 2015, we’ve enjoyed getting a trip in nearly every month each year. We had a monthly streak that reached fifteen months at one point. We camped through winter and summer, near and far, good times and COVID... But this winter got us. Between holidays, rescuing two dogs, and cold weather, we had the Mantis packed up and winterized for quite awhile. But when Spring Break came around, we got back on the road! Read on to join our March trip to Orlando, Key Largo, and two National Parks.
We headed south with a tidy plan and reservations in-hand. We planned to visit three National Parks and have three different boating experiences. But the wind kicked up for most of the week, throwing us a wrench.
Over nine nights, we stayed at the full gambit of Florida private campgrounds: Orlando Orange Blossom NW KOA, a Journey near the highway, airports, and train tracks, Riptide RV Resort and Marina, a Sun Resorts property on the water in Key Largo, and Fort Wilderness, The Fort, perhaps the top bucket list campground, had been on our wish list for quite some time. We also scoped out great campgrounds in Florida’s State Parks and The Everglades.
On our first travel day, we got to Orlando Orange Blossom NW KOA. It was dark when we arrived and dark when we left, so it’s hard to evaluate the campground too much. But the location was handy near the highway, the pool looked nice, and the bathrooms were clean. We were disappointed that the power didn’t work at our site, but the weather was good for open windows. As seems to be common at KOA Journeys, this campground had a lot of air traffic and road noise.
Our first weather-wrench arrived as we were nearly at the Everglades for a planned bike ride. The forecast was deteriorating and if we wanted to do our snorkel tour, we needed to be at the boat in two hours. Over the next two hours, we drove an hour, checked in early at Riptide, set up camp, and got to the boat dock. We booked on Reef Roamer for a half-day excursion.
The wind was already strong as we got out to sea. The large catamaran soaked all of us on the front half of the boat. The waves persisted while we were moored at the reef. Only a handful of our party swam out to the reef at the two stops, several needed a line to be pulled back toward the boat, and a number of people on the boat got sick. But when we were able to follow the captains instructions - “stay in the snorkel swimming position and you will cruise over the waves” - we could get to the reef and the fish were amazing. As we headed back, almost on queue, a pod of 5-6 dolphins swam alongside us. Although the water and wind posed challenges, we would recommend this tour and captain. In fact, when we can get back to the Keys, we will plan to be on their boat.
After disembarking, we got to check out our second campground, Riptide RV Resort and Marina. Our last trip was also at a Sun Resorts property, Carolina Pines. Riptide is considerably smaller, but is also well maintained. Riptide offers 35 sites, six motel rooms, and a number of cabins. Many of the sites are long term. Our site was in the middle of the small property, half way between the bathroom and waterfront. There is one bathroom with a shower, but most of the time that was okay. The waterfront offered a small beach, a grill, boat dock, and a number of seating areas. The waterfront provided a west view, providing a great sunset that attracted a small crowd nightly.
We had a large group coming and going throughout the week while visiting the Keys. On this first night, we had a group of 16. The Pilot House Restaurant and Marina was a great choice for us. They got us in on short notice, we enjoyed live music, the kids were given food to feed fish in the bay, and the food was very good.
One of our favorite ways to get acclimated to a new area, especially a pancake flat island with bike trails, is a nice ride. The next morning that is what we did. We wandered southwest, in the direction of Key West, and came across a local who recommended two stops on our route: Old Settlers Park and a Cuban Coffee at Sunrise Cuban Market and Cafe next door. The park was our first introduction to coral beaches, which having previously only experienced sandy beaches on other islands, made this a nice surprise. The park also had the trees labeled and we saw a Gumbo Limbo tree, which we heard later in the week is sometimes called the tourist tree because it is red and peeling. Next door we tried another new treat in Cuban Coffee. The coffee was tasty, albeit loaded with milk and sugar - two items we try to avoid.
The afternoon called for fun in the sun. We started at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, which offers a couple beaches, trails, and a popular starting point for snorkeling, We didn't book a tour, but did a bit of beach snorkeling and spotted a few fish. We read a boat wreck is swimmable from the beach, but didn't find this. A portion of our party was staying at the Kewana Resort and they invited us over to swim in the pool, lagoon, and hang out by the beach.
Based on a recommendation from the snorkel tour guides, we reserved our ballooning group of 22 a table at Snooks Bayside for sunset. The outdoor dining area was fantastic as was the food. In our research, Snooks is known to be the best place in Key Largo for sunset. I can’t say that we would disagree.
Our Monday plan was a busy one: two hour drive to catch the two hour ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park and back. But the wind had other plans. We learned while in line to get a coffee at Old Town Bakery that on this day the ferry was allowing refunds for cancellations due to weather, which isn’t always offered. We decided to take advantage and spend the day at Key West.
We mapped out our day over breakfast at Harpoon Harry’s. We headed out on a walk to the Southernmost point, hitting a variety of sites along the way. We worked our way back up along the water in the afternoon. Hands down the favorite stop of the day was the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. The beach was picture-perfect. We enjoyed wading in the water and soaking up the great views. As we wandered back, we walked through Truman Waterfront Park and past Little White House. We had a great dinner, perhaps our favorite of the trip, at Off the Hook before catching sunset at Mallory Square and closed with ice cream at Tropical Vibes - prior to our long two hours back to Key Largo. One long day!
The following day was far slower paced. We biked again, but this time toward John PenneKamp State Park. After debating where to find water, we headed to Long Pine Key State Park to play in the ocean and enjoy a beautiful afternoon. Heading back, we stopped at Robbie’s and had great food on the water, along with a bit of everything else - tarpon feeding, crafts, music, charters, and more.
The next morning we headed to Biscayne Bay National Park. We'd scheduled a kayak tour of the bay, however that tour was canceled due to the wind. We made a last minute decision to take a tour on the Heritage Tour. This was a half day boat tour that included a stop at Boca Chita Key, We made a snack stop at Robert Is Here, where we found great mango, before heading into Everglades National Park for a brief visit. After a long day we headed back to Key Largo, finding Alabama Jacks on the way back for a huge dinner, the portions were massive, but very good.
Thursday we headed out early. We were leaving the Keys and heading to The Fort, but we had a detour scheduled first; a park volunteer-led Bike Hike in The Everglades. We rode several miles and were given a really good overview of the park, the history, and efforts being made to restore the river. The volunteer suggested we also visit the Anhinga Trail where we were able to spot wildlife including alligators.
Finally, we checked into Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort. We'd previously toured The Fort on bikes during a December visit to Disney for a conference, so we knew the lay of the resort. We stayed in the 2000 loop, which is designed for pop ups and tents, but also had a lot of van campers. This loop is one of the more remote loops in the resort, however we were easily able to bike to the Meadows, the pool and outdoor amenities area, the Settlement, which is the boat access and dining area, and the outpost, where to check in and catch buses to connect to the parks.
For this visit, we decided not to visit the parks, but to explore the properties and dine at several Disney restaurants. After setting up camp and relaxing with a round of Dutch Blitz, we headed to dinner at The Wave at The Contemporary where we had a great dinner.
On Friday, we started with a morning bike ride before heading to our featured attraction of the day: Legoland Florida! We decided not to purchase fast pass tickets and were concerned that the park was only open 10-5 on the day of our visit. Our day in the park was unbelievably perfect. It turned out to be a quiet day and we rode every ride that we wanted to in the park, including some roller coasters repeatedly. Our longest wait time of the day was for tacos at Tacos Everyday for lunch. We stayed on Flying School and rode it four times in a row, This was a perfect, dream day in a theme park. We chose to only go to the theme park and not the water park and were there the full seven hours the park was open. But in that time we rode many rides, had a great lunch, and the kids got to score great Lego finds at The Big Shop. We wanted to prioritize Legoland this trip over Disney due to fear that the kids were aging out of Legos, but it was great and they would have had fun at any age. We wrapped up a busy day with dinner at Whispering Canyons at Wilderness Lodge, which was previously a fun, interactive experience, It was more muted this time, but we still enjoyed our experience.
On our final day of spring break, we decided to resort hop to experience both the resorts and all of the transportation methods in the park. So we boated to Magic Kingdom, then walked to Grand Floridian, caught the Monorail to Magic Kingdom, walked to The Contemporary, hopped on a bus to Hollywood Studios, rode the Skyliner to Caribbean and back to Hollywood, took the boat to The Swan, energized with coffee at Java in The Swan, walked Boardwalk, Beach and Yacht Club, and then Epcot, back on the Skyliner to Caribbean, then to the bus to Magic Kingdom, and finally the boat back to The Fort. Whew! The Skyliner was by far the favorite mode of Disney transportation.
After our extensive Disney Travel, it was time to relax by the pool at The Fort. The pool complex was great and a nice way to regroup after Disney traveling all day. We wrapped up the day with a great dinner at Kona Cafe, which was our favorite Disney meal of the visit, followed by a great treat: Dole Whips and Moana outside The Polynesian Village Resort.
We had an amazing Florida trip. The trip did test our flexibility and we had some disappointments in missing trips that we'd anticipated. So, maybe we will head back to the Keys, and maybe we will head back soon, maybe even this summer...
Shane and Jessica
Cricket Camping is an Amazon Affiliate. From time to time, we may refer to a product we have purchased and provide a link to purchase the same product directly from Amazon. If you chose to purchase the product using our link, and based on our recommendation, Cricket Camping will earn a commission, which helps us continue sharing our experience through this website.
Thank you for your support.