The big event on my family’s recent road trip was Legoland, but there is plenty of non-theme park fun to be had in Florida:
- Since Legoland didn’t open until 10:00, we went out one morning to Ridge Island Groves in Haines City, not too far from Winter Haven / Legoland. We paid for a tour of their operation and as part of that we got to pick a couple of different varieties of oranges. We also got to see some sandhill cranes, which are large, loud birds. And there were a couple of extremely friendly kittens living there as well, which the kids love. Recommended!
- About the name “Ridge Island”: the grove really is located on top of a ridge. It’s weird seeing hills in Florida but central Florida does indeed have a few. I’m glad we got off the beaten bath to see a somewhat different part of Florida.
- En route from Ridge Island to Legoland we stopped at Davidson of Dundee, a small candy company with a nice gift shop. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a stop. Here’s a Food Network segment on it:
- After Legoland, we headed up to St. Augustine. We hit the Alligator Farm, which I liked more than the kids, who did not care for the smell that accompanies several hundred gators. The “alligator farm” moniker makes it sound like a tourist trap, but it’s actually a nice little zoo which houses every single species of crocodilian. If you’re lucky, you might to watch the alligators feeding. Worst case, you’ll see a whole bunch of gators:
- It was an unusually warm day for north Florida in December, almost 80 degrees, so we made a stop at Anastasia State Park, right across the street from the Alligator Farm. It was low tide and there were a bunch of tidal pools for the kids to play in. We just about had the whole place to ourselves and it was difficult to convince the kids to leave:
- We spent a couple of nights at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville, a category 2 hotel. We don’t have high status, just the Discoverist status that comes with the Hyatt credit card, but we got a room on the 12th floor with a partial riverview. Here’s the sunrise from our room:
- Not bad, right? It beats the Hampton Inn, anyway. Here’s the full river view from the heated pool area on the top floor:
- The hotel itself is located in downtown Jacksonville which is both good and bad. Good, because you have views like this and you’re right by the riverwalk, but bad because downtown Jacksonville is kind of a pit. A lot of inner cities have prospered over the past few decades, but downtown Jacksonville is not one of them. It’s not terrible, it’s just… not very good.
- The Hyatt itself was hammered by Hurricane Irma and was shut down for a month and a half on account of the flooding in downtown Jacksonville. They’re still making repairs so the front desk and restaurant are housed in a temporary area in the second floor ballrooms. It was a little weird but I certainly can’t fault them for that. Our room was great: renovated about a year ago, it was spacious, comfortable, clean, well-designed, and relaxing. Everyone on the staff was helpful and friendly. Overall, I’d recommend the hotel.
- One final note: if you’re a book nerd, make sure you stop at Chamblin Bookmine if you’re in the area. They’ve got about two million books in their inventory. Imagine a hundred or so aisles like this:
- If that looks appealing to you, you’ll enjoy it. I’ve been to Powell’s in Portland, which is the only bookstore I’ve been to that compares to this one. I haven’t searched the earth far and wide, however, so I’m sure there are others out there. If anybody knows any similarly great used bookstores on the east coast, please let me know.