The Beach at Gasparilla Island State Park
After a wonderful month of falling under Disney’s spell at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, we enjoyed one more week of Florida fun. During that time we crammed in a sweet wedding, checked out the campground connected to the largest RV dealership in the world, and were charmed by the beauty of historic St. Augustine.
Every so often we wake up to the fact that there must be some divine plan to the order of our travels! We got tangible evidence of this when we were thrilled to be able to attend Roy’s second cousin’s wedding on Gasparilla Island. Not only were we in Florida, but our reservations at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground ended the day of the festivities. We left Orlando in the morning and pulled into Harbor Lakes RV Resort in Port Charlotte right at check-in time. We were only at the Harbor Lakes park one night; it seemed like a small city itself. We were glad to see that it had wide streets and the sites were not too tight. It’s large activity center seemed to be a bee hive of activity. Where we were parked, everyone around was speaking French, so I gathered it must be a popular spot for the Canadians.We ate a quick lunch and changed our clothes. It only took us about a half hour to drive to Boca Grande, Florida and onto Gasparilla Island State Park. The weather was perfect! Jennie and Eric got married inside historic Amory Chapel. Afterwards guests enjoyed the beach and the reception. I was so taken with the area that I’m researching places to stay close by for next year.
After leaving Port Charlotte we headed to the Tampa area for one of the best marketing strategies ever conceived.
Lazy Days RV sells one in ten of all new diesel motor homes. I think their success is due to the fact that they are so customer oriented and seem to help people deal with every aspect of buying and owning an RV – from financing to insurance. One brilliant thing aspect of their sales method is a 300 site RV park situated very close to their showrooms.
The park has lots of amenities such as tennis courts, a work out room, and a playground. The pool area was beautiful and the water temperature was perfect!
The restaurant and bar is adorably cute inside. It’s decorated with lots of “on the road” memorabilia. When we checked in we were given vouchers for free breakfasts and lunch – but, in the cafeteria inside the dealership!
Here’s the trolley that takes people back and forth from the dealership to the campground. It’s actually just 5 minutes away by car and includes a store that sells anything you would ever need for RVing including bedding, kitchen items, and trendy shabby chic looking decor accouterments. Their are also classrooms that instruct participants in everything from dumping out sewage to using a convection microwave.
This is the way the actual campground looks. The actual sites aren’t all that spectacular, but they are cement and flat. Some of the vehicles parked here had come for service; a Lazy Days employee would come to the coach to pick it up for the maintenance it was scheduled for while the owners splashed around in the pool or perhaps looked at newer models. I heard one guy say, “People who come here eventually end up buying a new motor home from Lazydays.” What we had actually come for was the driving school…
I drove this motor home! (Yes, me!) Roy and I took the “Driver Confidence Course”. Roy didn’t need it, but he took it anyway to give me moral support. I really have no interest in driving our coach, but it is just common sense that I should have the knowledge of how to drive it just in case an occasion should come up where I would have to. I was probably the worst student in the class; I kept slamming on the breaks as I drove through the narrow streets in the RV park. The instructor was very kind and patient. I’m sure there is a special place in heaven for him!
After I got the dreaded driving school behind me, I was so excited to travel to St. Augustine where we got to visit our dear friends Bill and Judie. After seeing how beautiful it is, I understood why they were led to relocate there. When I told Judie we were planning on driving through the area, she gave me a list of what there was to see and do. I figured that since it is the oldest city in the United States there would be a lot of history involved, but I didn’t realize how absolutely charming it was.
The “Old Town” part of the city is full of shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
At the end of the nineteenth century, industrialist Henry Flagler played a huge part in the development of the Atlantic coast of Florida. Besides developing several hotels in Palm Beach and Miami along with a railroad system to transport people to them, he built a St. Augustine “winter season” playground for the idle rich in 1888. Today his Ponce de Leon hotel is part of Flagler College.
The lobby of the girls’ dorm is open to sight seers and tours are given a couple times a day.
In the lobby, visitors can see examples of the Louis Comfort Tiffany glass art that adorns the building. We were not lucky enough to catch a tour, but participants who do, get to see 79 such windows in the dining hall.
Even the lobby shows off a gorgeous hand painted ceiling and murals.
Across the street is the Lightner Museum which was once the Alcazar Hotel. Flagler built it to house a casino, tennis courts, and a huge indoor swimming pool among other things. Today it is if filled with antiques and art collected by Otto Lightner. During the depression he started buying up Chicago estates and the beautiful things in them. We visited the Museum as part of St. Augustine’s First Friday Art Walk. I could just imagine some of the artifacts once being part of a north-shore Chicago couple’s memorabilia of their African safari trip.
Flagler had Memorial Presbyterian Church built to honor his only daughter. She is buried there along with Flagler and his first wife. It is still an active church today and has a docent on site to the questions of tourists that view the inside.
Within walking distance of the downtown area is Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a fort built by the Spanish after nine wooden ones had burned. It took 23 years to build it and was finally completed in 1695. They used a material made of crushed up shells called coquina which was incredibly strong. Even the cannon balls the English shot at them from ships on the water could not penetrate the walls. At night the Spaniards would sneak out of the fort and pick up the cannon balls that bounced off the walls. This replenished their ammunition supplies and demoralized the enemy.
St. Augustine was actually founded by the Spanish in 1565 as part of their New World Empire. The fort was situated to keep their English rivals at bay.
The fort has been under four governments: Spain, England, United States, and The Confederate States of America.
It went from being owned by Spain, then England, then Spain again before finally being ceded to the United States in 1821. Sadly, the US used it as a prison to hold Native Americans during the period of Indian Wars. It continued as a military facility until 1933 when it was given to the National Park Service.
We really enjoyed taking a trolley tour of the city. It was easy to hop on and off when we saw something we wanted to get a closer look at. It also gave us an opportunity to people watch. I loved how these pirates were checking out some bikes.
There were several attractions we didn’t see such as Anastasia State Park, the Alligator Farm, and the Pirate and Treasure museum. This is a place where it would be hard to run out of things to do.
While we were in St. Augustine, we stayed at Compass RV Park. Apparently, this park was once called Indian Forest Campground and it didn’t have the greatest reputation. The new owners seemed very eager to please and our stay here was enjoyable. There was not a swimming pool; however, it did have the laundry facilities and full hook-ups. We were on a grass site, but it looked like they were gradually converting over to cement pads. It was evident that there were many bikers staying there the few days we were around; they would drive off early in the morning and come back at dusk.
We were so glad we stopped in St. Augustine on our way back north! It is definitely worth taking the time to do. We decided our next a area to explore as we worked our way home would be Savannah and the Carolinas…
Just for fun, here are some links to some other Yates social media sites: