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National Mayhaw Festival Canceled!

We drove 2-1/2 hours to get here and the near-biblical rains caused them to cancel the festival.

Durn!

Ironically, I had new tires put on the van, today, due to the flood warnings— and someone backed into the front of our van and broke the bumper while I was there.

Talk about an unlucky streak!

Oh well. Better luck next year.

-disappointedchelle

We’re Heading To The National Mayhaw Festival

If that didn’t make your pulse quicken then you’ve never tasted the best jelly on Earth.

Mayhaw jelly will put a smile on anyone’s face— this I know!

I’ll have another campground review for you, in a few days. With any kind of luck it’ll make you want to visit next year’s festival.

One side note:

I was getting new tires on the silver minivan, today, and I said to the guy at Discount Tire, “I guess the definition of an optimist is someone who puts new tires on a minivan with 190,000 miles on it.”

He replied, “Ma’am, we get one or two of those in, per month, that have almost 300,000 miles on them. That Chrysler of yours is barely broken in.”

And it made me think about the vans I’ve owned:

1) 1968 VW Bus. That thing was “The Terminator” of vehicles. It needed frequent minor routine maintenance (valve adjustments, etc.,) but you couldn’t kill it and it always got you to where you were going. I drove it for more than 8 years and still miss it.

2) 1984 GMC Safari. It had the Iron Duke 4-banger with 4-on-the-floor. You don’t see too many minivans with manual transmissions but I loved it in that van. It served me well except for the one time I was stranded with a busted timing gear. Overall, I loved that van and drove it almost 9 years.

3) Ford Windstar. Don’t remember the year. Don’t want to. It had a nightmare of a powertrain and was a pile of junk.

4-7) A succession of four Chrysler minivans. I drove every one to almost 200,000 miles without anything other than normal maintenance. No engine or transmission problems. The two we own right now each have 190,000 miles on them and still run great. I will drive Chrysler minivans for the rest of my days on this Earth. (I might have another VW, too.)

How’s that for getting off on a tangent?

National Mayhaw Festival here we come!

-jellylovingchelle

Bill Frederick Park At Turkey Lake, Orlando, Florida

Bill Frederick Park is a huge, busy place that offers something for everyone.

It’s located right in the thick of all that Orlando has to offer and is less than five minutes away from Universal.

It’s extremely affordable and is probably the least expensive way to vacation in this area.

Here is the sign at the entrance:

Curiously the park closes very early.

Campers can use a code to get in but you should certainly plan for your arrival to take place during normal park hours:

This is where check-in takes place:

A view of the registration building from inside the park:

This family-oriented park has more than 125 picnic tables as well as bicycle paths and nature trails that offer a wonderful outdoor experience for kids and adults alike:

The park map shows the layout of this sprawling facility:

Ample signage assures that you won’t get lost in the 300 acre park:

This is the entrance to the Children’s Farm:

Incredibly there are two highly rated 18 hole disc golf courses in the park.

Here is one of the tee boxes:

Signage is very similar to traditional golf courses:

There are cabins available for rent. You can see some of them in the distance in this photo:

The cabins are fairly spartan and don’t include private bathrooms:

The tent sites are the most scenic in the park. Vehicles are not permitted past the parking lot, however, so you have to pack your gear in to the site.

While this arrangement wouldn’t work for minivan campers it’s still a very attractive option for true tent campers:

Perhaps the only negative to the tent camping area is its proximity to the Florida Turnpike.

During the day there’s so much going on that the noise is barely noticeable. At night it would be a consideration, however:

Here’s another beautiful tent site:

This bathroom is for the tent campers and cabin dwellers:

The bathrooms are all built to be as close to vandal-proof as possible and they clearly have a lot of miles on them.

They get the job done, however:

The toilets are in a reasonably good state of repair:

As are the showers:

Turkey Lake is surprisingly scenic, especially considering that it’s located smack dab in the hustle and bustle of Orlando:

Here is the information board:

Posted signage warns of the presence of alligators.

Another stunning view of Turkey Lake:

Even if you’re not a disc golfer you should walk the courses and enjoy their beauty:

Another scenic view from one of the disc golf courses:

Here is the map for the RV camping area:

The sites are situated fairly close together but they’re very reasonably priced, offer full or partial hookups, and are under the canopy of many shade trees:

This is a look at an empty site (there were only two):

A closer view:

This is what the power pedestals look like:

Water station:

This is the laundry building, which has surprisingly short hours (closed at 4:30pm):

The washing machines appeared to be in good repair:

As were the dryers:

The bathroom in the RV area is a bit larger than the one in the tent area:

Park Rules:

FYI:

The dumping station:

This photo doesn’t do justice to the fabulous playground:

There are pavilions of various sizes available for rent which are used by many for weddings, family reunions, company picnics, etc.:

This is the price list that was in effect in February of 2014:

I neglected to get a photo of the pool but it was large, well maintained and attractive.

Bill Frederick Park is an oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle that is Orlando. I recommend it as a relaxing and inexpensive place to stay when you’re visiting Central Florida.

-thoroughlyimpressedchelle

Camping at Savannas Recreation Area, Fort Pierce, FL

I’m shocked, as I write this, because if you’re a van camper you’re not welcome at Savannas Recreation Area in Fort Pierce, FL.

Incredibly, the campground manager informed me that only “bonafide” campers were allowed in the park and that people who had converted their vans for camping were considered to be in the same category as those who slept in the front seat of their car.

I asked about camper vans made by Volkswagen and Winnebago (who convert Volkswagen vans into campers, as well). The campground manager said that she didn’t know if they would meet the requirements or not.

I asked for the definition of a “bonafide” camper and she said that she’d have to look into that. I’ve made two follow-up calls, over the past few months, and she’s assured me that she will send me the information on what constitutes a “bonafide” camper. I will share it with you if it shows up.

I pointed out to her that a van with no rear seats and a full sized bed installed, as well as under-bed storage and other camping accoutrements had been considered to be a “bonafide” camper in countless other campgrounds that we’d stayed at, but she was not swayed.

That said, let me take you on a tour of their campground.

This is the sign that will greet you at the entrance:

As you enter the facility you’ll be greeted by this sign:

It shouldn’t be a surprise that there would be alligators present in Florida marshes.

As you continue down the driveway you’ll notice several day use shelters which can be used for scenic picnics:

The next sign you’ll encounter directs you to the Trading Post, which is where camping registration takes place:

This is the Trading Post:

Canoe and kayak rentals are available and I would highly recommend availing yourself of the scenic marshes:

Here is the boat launch, located next to the Trading Post. There is a 5hp limit for watercraft, here:

The playground seemed to keep several children entertained as I snapped this pic:

As I turned the bend into the RV camping area I was disappointed to see campers lined up, close together, on unkempt sites. I believe that campsites should be rustic and spacious, but if they’re going to be close together they should be somewhat polished.

This is the least scenic part of the campground:

Here are a couple of empty sites in the RV area:

There’s a section of the campground located on “Gator Island” where the site numbers are preceded by the letter “G.” These seemed to be much more attractive sites to camp on. I was surprised that so many of them were empty.

Here is site G5 which, like most sites in this section, backs up to an attractive canal:


Site G7:

Sites G8 and G9:

Site G10:

Here are sites G8, G9 and G10 in one photo. While they’re not terribly private they might be nice for several families camping together:

These two sites are located on the way out to the primitive camping area and did not impress me very much:

The RV sites include hookups for water, electric and sewer:

Here is one of the electric pedestals:

Some sites in the first section, mentioned earlier, have a “V” preceding the site number. These are vendor sites for the big Powwow event put on by the Florida Indian Hobbyist Association each March. During the rest of the year they can be used by campers:

The tent sites are pretty open but are in a more attractive part of this park than the picture shows:

This picture could be attached to the right of the above pic. It shows a nicely situated picnic shelter adjacent to the tent camping area.

The tent camping area has a small bathroom, nearby, to save precious steps in the middle of the night. Showers are only located in the main bathhouse, however:

A look at the facilities in the tent-area bathroom:

The tent-area, including its bathroom, viewed from a distance.

This is a view of the main bathroom facility:

The sinks and commodes were reasonably clean:

Commercial grade toilets:

The showers were done reasonably well:

The primitive camping area is on a little island and is only accessible by foot bridge:

This is the foot bridge:

This scenic canal runs alongside the primitive camping area:

This area is accessible by vehicle and would be great for those who like to camp without hookups but, curiously, there’s no camping allowed there:

Another shot of the same area:

There are many scenic spots around the campground and along the canal:

The basketball court has seen better days but is still capable of providing plenty of entertainment for the kids:

This pavilion is a great place for group activities:

This is the laundry building:

The washing machines were plentiful and in a good state of repair:

There are plenty of dryers, as well:

One very nice touch is the onsite dog park which provides separate areas for small and large dogs:

These are the posted rules:

This area is for small dogs:

Here is the area for large dogs:

This family gave me permission to take their picture for this post. The dogs were having a blast:

Here is the dump station:

If you sleep in a “bonafide” camper or tent you might very well enjoy this campground. If you’re a van camper, however, you’ll need to visit one of the other area campgrounds. like St. Lucie Lock Recreation Area or Phipps Park Campground, which are both far nicer campgrounds.

-astoundedchelle

Boyd’s Campground, Key West, FL

Boyd’s is a more uptown campground with a more uptown price than it’s neighbor, Leo’s Campground, but this resort campground could very well be just the place for you.

When you arrive you’ll be greeted by this sign at the entrance:

Next you’ll be treated to this attractive water feature:

This is the store and is also where you’ll register:

While the bike rentals couldn’t possibly be more convenient I would recommend renting mopeds at one of the nearby rental places, instead. They will give you much more flexibility as you explore Key West:

The retro game room will make you smile as you remember the good old days:

As you might imagine, being a resort area the sites are fairly close together— but they’re situated in such a way that they still afford some privacy:

Here is another look at some of the RV sites:

Minivan campers will want to head straight for one of the beautiful tent sites. Here are two:

And here are two more:

The swimming pool is set up like a beautiful oasis:

This poolside tiki hut offers welcome respite from the sun:

This building is part of the onsite marina:

The fish cleaning stations are a nice touch:

The boat ramp is wide and easy to navigate:

The docks offer a scenic place to tie up your boat— or sip on a cold drink:

The bathrooms are well located:

The restrooms clearly have a few miles on them but have been kept in a good state of repair:

The toilets are standard commercial units:

The showers are utilitarian but get the job done:

The dish washing station is a great idea:

The laundry offers plenty of units— and they all work:

The pavilion offers a convenient meeting place for group activities:

Boyd’s is just over 5 miles from Duval St., which is why you won’t want to make too many trips by bicycle. We rented a two-person moped for about $35/day and were able to tour Key West much more easily, as a result.

Boyd’s Campground is a fair bit more expensive than Leo’s— but the resort facility and atmosphere offer tremendous value for those who like to be pampered when they travel.

If your visit will take place during any of the hot months the pool will all but be a necessity— and Leo’s doesn’t have one.

If you’re not sure which place to stay at you should probably choose Boyd’s and then check out Leo’s while you’re there for possible future visits.

To see our Table of Contents please click here.

-likesleosbutlovesboydschelle

Leo’s Campground, Key West, FL

Leo’s is a decent campground that has far more good than bad and, to the best of my knowledge, they’re the least expensive place to camp in Key West.

When you arrive you’ll be greeted by this cheerful sign at the entrance:

Here is the office where you check in:

It was nice being able to get ice, for $2/bag, at the office. It’s available 24 hrs/day and they use the honor system for payment.

Most of the RV sites are very close together but offer full hookups:

Some, such as these, are situated a little more nicely:

Since we camp in our minivan we opted for a tent site. Some offer electricity, such as Tent Site #4:

This is Tent Site #5:

Tent Sites 4-7 offer shade, are right on the canal, and are the best sites in the campground in our opinion. This photo shows Tent Sites 5-7:

Unfortunately our only choice was Tent Site #8, which was in full sun for most of the day. Thanks to the breeze it didn’t punish us too badly but we sure went through a lot of sunscreen:

We encountered very few bugs, while we were there. We came across the occasional no-see-um but we had no problem sleeping with our sliding doors completely open, each night, so that we could enjoy the tropical breezes.

Here is a photo showing Tent Site #8 (closest) back to Tent Site #5 (farthest):

There was a nice sundeck that a number of campers availed themselves of:

The mangrove trees in the canal are home to many large iguanas.

While they can be frightening to look at they’re actually herbivorous— which is a Latin word that, loosely translated, means “doesn’t eat humans.”

We thought they were adorable and fed them fresh fruit which they thoroughly enjoyed:

This is the bathhouse. The yellow arrow points to a secret door that most people don’t realize is there— but behind it you’ll find the nicest shower in the place:

Here is The Secret Shower:

For reasons I don’t understand the men’s bathrooms (there are two) were much nicer than the women’s bathroom. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that but I’m pretty sure that I saw a verse in the bible that said something like, “The women’s bathroom shalt always be nicer than the men’s bathroom.” I could be wrong, of course, but it still seemed unusual to me.

The men’s showers look like The Secret Shower (which isn’t marked specifically for “men” or “women”).

The women’s showers, however, have an odd little shower head that sticks out of the ceiling and makes it hard to shower without wetting your hair.

They look like this:

There are two sinks in the women’s room. The light works over one of them:

The light over the other sink doesn’t work— and I was told by some longtime campers that they didn’t remember it ever working. As you can imagine, this sink hardly ever gets used and the women queue up for the one with the working light:

The toilets were fine. It would have been nice to be treated to the nice tile found in the men’s rooms and in The Secret Shower but the ladies just get concrete block. Thankfully, the cleaning crew does an excellent job, each day, and the bathrooms were immaculate each time they were serviced:

The laundry was out of service during our stay but this is what it looks like:

The best way to see Key West is on a moped.

We brought bicycles with us but we only made the 9.5 mile roundtrip to Duval St. once before opting for a moped rental.

This two-person moped only cost us $35/day and it made it a cinch to see all of Key West. We also liked that we could always find a free place to park it— which was far better than trying to find a place to park a car and then having to pay for the privilege

The campsites are very small, but you’d expect that in an area where land costs are at such a premium.

The bathrooms get the job done, ice is readily available and inexpensive, and the campsite price— while much higher than you’re probably used to paying— is the lowest around.

I was disappointed with the young woman who checked us in, however. She didn’t seem cut out for a job that requires her to interface with the public and she could clearly benefit from a few charm school classes.

If you choose Leo’s Campground and get one of the shaded sites along the canal I think you’ll be more than satisfied.

There’s another campground, nearby, called “Boyd’s Key West Campground.” It’s a bit more expensive but is a resort campground that has many amenities that campers might enjoy— including a swimming pool. If Boyd’s is the “Hilton Hotel” of Key West campgrounds then Leo’s would be the “Motel 6.”

Like the lodging chains I’ve compared them to they’re both perfectly fine places to stay but are aimed at very different markets.

The choice is, ultimately, up to you.

To see our Table of Contents please click here.

-definitelymoregoodthanbadatleoschelle

Do most campgrounds allow minivans to camp?

I’ve only had one campground even bring it up.

Van camping has been popular since the Volkswagen Bus days.

I had one campground, in Florida (review coming soon) that said “only bonafide camping vans can camp here.”

"What constitutes a bonafide camper van?"

"Ummm… We don’t really know."

My experience has been that van campers are welcome at 99.99% of campgrounds.

Thanks for the question!

Free Camping At Truman Annex Parking Area, Key West, FL

A number of free camping enthusiasts have posted, online, that they’ve camped in the parking lot that separates Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and the Eco-Discovery Center.

I went to investigate, for myself, and found a number of tour buses and RVs, there.

For perspective, here is a pic of how the lot is situated:

I observed no signage that prohibited overnight parking:

Here is a closer look:

If you have trouble finding the lot these are the GPS coordinates for the large shade tree:

The accounts that I have read suggested that there was an unwritten “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for the Truman Annex parking lot.

One poster indicated that things were a little looser, on weekends, but that during the week you might get asked to move.

This could be one of those “ask for forgiveness rather than permission” situations.

Even if you chose to just park there, during the day, you’d find that it’s conveniently located within a few blocks of Duval St.

Disclaimer: always check local laws and ordinances before attempting to park overnight anywhere. Prices don’t include tax, tag, title or destination charges. Check your local listings for participating dealers. Your mileage may vary.

To see our Table of Contents please click here.

-hatethatihavetoincludedisclaimerschelle

Free Camping At Pirate’s Cove, Sugarloaf Key, Florida

There have been a lot of questions and debate among free camping enthusiasts about Pirate’s Cove.

Hopefully this post will put the subject to rest.

From U.S. 1 turn onto State Road 939B:

A short distance down this road you will pass a KOA campground, on the left.

At the end of the road you will be greeted by these signs:

How you interpret those signs is completely up to you. Here is how I interpreted them, although I could be wrong:

1) I saw no signs that said, “No Camping.”

2) I saw no signs that said, “No Overnight Parking.”

3) I saw no signs that said, “No Trespassing.”

4) I saw no signs that said, “No Hiking or Biking.”

My personal interpretation is that if you parked your car near that sign and hiked or rode a bicycle a half mile to the campsite then you would be in compliance with the posted signage.

I repeat— I could be wrong.

The road starts narrowly and looks like this:

After a short distance you will begin to encounter deep ruts such as the following:

Hypothetically speaking, if you drove a silver Chrysler Town and Country Minivan with a bike rack and a hitch-mounted shelf, on the back, and used a little bit of common sense you should be able to navigate across, around and through the various ruts you’d encounter.

You should make no inferences nor draw any conclusions from the fact that we travel in a silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan with a bike rack and a hitch-mounted shelf on the back.

If we were to drive our minivan down that road it would be against the law and that would be wrong.

Disclaimer: I would never advocate that you should do anything illegal.

After the road opens up it begins to look like this:

About a half mile down, on the right, you will find this site:

Here is another picture from further into the site:

I understand that there are more campsites further in, near some large boulders and a burned out bridge, so I drove traveled another half mile down the road.

Unfortunately the road conditions began to deteriorate rapidly and became impassable before I found any more sites.

A pickup truck or other vehicle with high ground clearance— preferably 4-wheel drive— would be required to continue down the road in a motorized vehicle.

Note: I visited Pirate’s Cove, in February, and the number of mosquitos present was mind numbing. It was like touring the Amazon.

Hopefully I’ve provided enough information for you to decide if Pirate’s Cove is the destination for you.

Bear in mind that it is likely that alligators are present in the vicinity.

Given the choice between Pirate’s Cove and stealth camping on the streets of Key West I would take stealth camping— but some of you might be tougher than I am.

To see our Table of Contents please click here.

-toughwhensheneedstobechelle

Josee The Stealth Camper

We met a Canadian woman, in Key West, who was taking a two month holiday with her two tiny Italian greyhounds.

She’s a fellow van-camper but does so in a type of vehicle that’s popular with surfers and commercial delivery companies. (I’m being intentionally vague so that I don’t blow her cover.)

Since her vehicle was set up to sleep just one person it gave her more room for amenities such as a folding table.

When I asked where she was staying she shared that she was stealth camping— and that she’d been here for almost two months.

My curiosity was piqued because, from everything I’d read, Key West is one of the harder places to stealth camp.

She adheres to all the standard stealth camping rules-of-thumb, of course, which include:

1) Park on streets that are more commercial than residential where it’s easier to stay under the radar.

2) Set your van up for sleeping BEFORE you find a parking spot. Once you park you should get into bed and go to sleep. Period.

3) Find about three places to park and rotate between them. Don’t park in the same place every night.

For ventilation she’s installed screens on each front window that are mounted INSIDE so that it’s not obvious that the screens are there.

She cracks each window and that provides some of her ventilation.

She has also installed rain guards over the outside of each window. This not only keeps the rain out but makes it much less obvious that the windows are partially open.

Josee also installed a roof vent that she opens, an inch or two, and uses a small, battery powered fan to circulate the air.

It’s really a wonderful set-up and it convinced me that we need to prepare for a stealth camping adventure of our own.

Since Josee has extra floor space available she can use a porta-potty to take care of necessary bodily functions without ever leaving her vehicle.

During the day she avails herself of various parks and beach parking while she pedals around Key West, on her bike, enjoying all that it has to offer.

She’s done a great job of figuring out where she can bathe, utilizing various public facilities that one might not immediately think of. Once again, I don’t want to blow her cover, so you’ll have to do some creative thinking of your own. When all else fails remember that you can always shower someplace private with a one gallon pump-up garden sprayer.

Perhaps I’ve romanticized the idea of stealth camping beyond what it really is but it’s an adventure that holds a prominent place on my bucket list.

Disclaimer: stealth camping is illegal in many communities. Check local ordinances before embarking on any such trips.

To see our Table of Contents please click here.

-futurestealthychelle