Crystal River Recap

We have officially completed our first stop as full-time RVers and we’re ready to move on!  I thought I’d give a rundown of everything we did of Crystal River and what we thought of the area.

Gulf Coast RV Park

We stayed at Gulf Coast RV Park in Inglis, Florida, which is about 10 minutes north of Crystal River.  Now, we’re a bit new at this, so we might not be as adept at assessing parks, but we liked this one.  There may have been a few permanent residents, but all sites were clean and well-kept.  It was mostly older folks with lots of small dogs – I think I only saw one or two kids the entire two weeks we were there.  However, the older folks were perfectly nice and nobody had a problem with my kids riding their bikes or taking the dog to the dog park unsupervised.  There’s no playground, but there is a nice, heated pool and a big fenced-in dog park.  The bathhouse and laundry facilities were new and clean.  The wi-fi was acceptable.. we could stream in the mornings and late at night, but not in the evening (we could still browse websites in the evening, just not stream).  They do accept packages at the office if you need something mailed to you – but budget extra time.  Amazon Prime two-day shipping took more like three or four days.  There were really only two downsides to this park – we rarely had a cell signal (we use MetroPCS, so Verizon might’ve done better), and it was a good 20-25 minutes to Walmart or a decent grocery store.

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Overall, we really enjoyed our time at this campground and would definitely stay here again.

Fort Island Beach

We had one really great trip to Fort Island Beach, and another one that we had to cut short almost immediately after arriving.  The beach is small and quiet, but has nice clean sand, lots of picnic tables, and a bathhouse.  It’s not a far walk from the parking lot, so that’s nice.  Our pleasant trip was on a day that was quite cold – maybe a little over 50*.  We were eager to go back – but when we arrived on a warmer day with a picnic dinner, we were immediately swarmed by bugs.  Also, most of the picnic tables were covered in lots of bird poop.  So.. I’d suggest bringing bug spray and a tablecloth.  Otherwise, it was lovely!

Three Sisters Springs

Our visit to Three Sisters Springs was one of the highlights of our stay in Crystal River.  You access the springs by either walking in, or taking a trolley that departs from the visitor center behind City Hall.  The trolley ride was enjoyable and makes multiple stops, so you could use the trolley as a way to tour Crystal River without having to move your car.

The springs themselves were beautiful.  The tide was out so the manatees were all clustered around Idiots Delight (a name we found hilarious) along the river versus deeper in the springs.  Even so, we had a wonderful time walking around the boardwalk.  There wasn’t a whole lot of the manatees to see from the boardwalk – they basically look like big rocks in the water.  There are a lot of tour companies in the area that will let you swim or kayak near the manatees, and I’m sure you get a much better view that way.  With the weather so cold, though, we didn’t even consider that as an option.

Crystal River Archaeological State Park

The second state park we visited was Crystal River Archaeological State Park.  I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from this, but it was really wonderful.  The rangers in the museum were very helpful and friendly, and the displays were informative and well-done.  There was a video, but we skipped it since Niall was with us and I didn’t want to deal with him getting bored.

The walking trails outside were, again, just lovely.  Lots of huge oak trees with Spanish moss hanging everywhere, with easily identifiable locations with the help of the park map.  Each location had a paragraph or two explaining what we were looking at – midden mounds, burial mounds, and temple mounds.  Lachlann especially seemed to enjoy navigating with the map and telling us all what we were looking at.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Our third state park was Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  There are two entrances to the park – the visitor center and the west entrance.  If you start at the visitor center, you must take either a boat or a tram ride to the west entrance, which is were you can access the park itself.  We were lucky enough to take one of the last boat rides of the day (the boats stop running earlier), and the driver was full of interesting information about the park, the area in general, and the wildlife.  If you park at the west entrance, there’s another mini visitor center with a gift shop, restaurant, and ticket booth.  Once through that gauntlet of kid-temptation, there’s a loop about a mile long.

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All the animals at the park are native Florida species, aside from the hippo, Lu.  We especially enjoyed watching the foxes and red wolves.  Some of the animals were pacing, which is always sad to see.  But the guide told us that all of the animals there are rescues of some sort and unable to be released into the wild.  Given that, the enclosures were pretty decent.  Lach was a little disappointed that the reptile house held only snakes (he would have preferred to see some lizards, too), and the kids were all disappointed that when they went down into the underwater manatee viewing area, the water was too cloudy and they couldn’t see any manatees.  However, we all had a really great time and would gladly go back next time we’re in the area.

Shoppes at Heritage Village

One of the trolley stops is at the Shoppes at Heritage Village, Crystal River’s quaint little ‘downtown’ area.  We went in a few different shops, but our favorites by far were the Heritage House and Karma Cottage.  The Heritage House has all sorts of ocean-y, coastal goodness, from décor to clothing to baby gear and stuffed animals.  They also had a great selection of gourmet and artisan foods.  Karma Cottage reminded me of my favorite shops back in Salem, Massachusetts.  The kids were really enamored with it, too, and were very disappointed that they couldn’t go back again due to the Manatee Festival blocking off the whole area.

Cracker’s Bar and Grill

When our beach picnic got bugged out, we ended up at Cracker’s Bar and Grill.  It’s a popular restaurant on the bank of the Crystal River, complete with outside seating on a deck overlooking the water and lots of boats.  The food was excellent – we all enjoyed sampling the clam strips, gator bites, and conch fritters that Lachlann wanted to get as an appetizer.  Doug’s fried oysters were fantastic, and my scallops were fresh and delicious.  Surprisingly, we both really liked the hush puppies, something we usually find to be “eh.”

Coastal Heritage Museum

This is a cute little free museum in downtown Crystal River.  It’s got the usual assortment of miscellaneous items donated by residents, as well as a few more interesting items, like a jail cell.  The kids particularly enjoyed joking about the fact that the jail cell was in the room that the museum uses as a break room/office:  “Oh, wow, look at this ancient printer!”  “Oh, I didn’t know people had microwaves back then!”

Crystal River Mall

Normally I wouldn’t find a mall worth mentioning, but the Crystal River Mall hardly counts as a mall.  It’s been declining for quite some time, with most of its anchor stores long since closed.  However, it does have an unusual assortment of local businesses inside that might be worth a look.  We were there to see a movie (the Regal Cinema inside is fairly inexpensive), otherwise we probably wouldn’t have bothered.  However, we all found Rural King, the one remaining anchor store, to be pretty interesting.  It’s like a super rural version of Walmart.  There were tons of people there with their dogs, which was a big bonus for us.  They have a bigger RV section than Walmart usually does, but if you’re looking for something for your RV, Buddy and Fred’s Hardware, about 15 minutes north, had a better selection.

 

Crystal River was a great first stop for us, I think.  It had enough to do to keep us occupied, but not so much that we felt rushed or unable to take the time to unpack, get settled, etc.  I’d definitely be happy to go back and spend another week or two there – preferably when it’s a bit warmer!

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Three Sisters Springs

by Colwyn Raum

Three Sisters Springs is an enjoyable way to spend some free time, and I would recommend Three Sisters Springs to people who want to see manatees. Three Sisters Springs is a group of five springs called The Big Sister, The Little Sister, The Pretty Sister, Idiots Delight 1 and Idiots Delight 2. Going to the Three Sisters Springs is an easy way to see manatees in their natural environment. In addition to this activity being fun, it also helps save the manatees through your admission fee.

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At the Three Sisters Springs, you can go on a trolley (departing every 30 minutes from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) to the Springs from a visitor center in Crystal River. Passes are $15 per adult and $7.50 for children (5 and under are free). There are portable toilets and wash stations at the spring. Both the trolley and the boardwalk are handicap accessible. The only way to the Springs is via trolley or walking. The trolley also stops at the Heritage Village Shoppes where you can get things like manatee shirts, stuffed animals, and more. If you want to swim or kayak with the manatees, there are a number of tour companies that will take you.  A good choice is Crystal Lodge Dive Center, based out of the Best Western – tickets are $45 and tours start at both 8am and noon.

Manatees are aquatic mammals, and they have hairs all over them but they’re very small. Manatees have whiskers on their noses. Did you know that the hairs on a manatee each have their own personal connection to the brain? Manatees are also called sea cows. Some sailors (a long time ago) thought that manatees were mermaids. Manatees are herbivores, so naturally manatee feeding grounds are where sea grass beds are. The teeth on a manatee wear out easily, but new teeth come in, like a shark.

Manatees are endangered animals, and are killed by boats, pollution, entanglement, the cold, and more. People can stop manatees dying out by picking up litter where they see it and not to speed when boating near manatees, and by wearing polarized sunglasses when boating to see manatees and grass beds better. In 2010, hundreds of manatees died because of an extremely frigid winter.

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In short, manatees are cool, and you should really go see them. We should also help make manatees and other endangered species no longer endangered. Again, Three Sisters Springs is a good place and I would highly recommend it to people who want to see manatees.

If you want to see more about our trip to see the manatees, check out our YouTube video!

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Crystal River Archaeological State Park

-by Lachlann Raum

Hello! This is an educational blog post about Crystal River Archaeological State Park. I hope you enjoy and decide to come here yourself! It is important to come here because this is a very historical site and there are lots of amazing things to see and do. Did you know that the temple mounds here were important ceremonial sites about 1,600 years ago?

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In addition to learning about the history of the native Americans in this area, the park is near a bird-watching trail as well, so birdwatchers will be able to see cool birds here!  This site is one of the longest continuously occupied sites in FL. There are six mounds here, including 2 trash heaps, 2 temples and 4 burial mounds. This site is 61 acres large and was used for 1,600 years. It was settled about 2,500 years ago, and on average, about 7,200 native Americans came here every year for ceremonies and to bury their dead. There was a stela with a human face carved into it and people used to make sacrifices to it. There was another one that’s purpose is still relatively mysterious.

The museum rangers are very nice and informative. They told us that the park is open from 8:00 A.M. to sundown all year long. Its $3.00 to park one vehicle. The museum is open from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. and is not open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The museum has an educational movie about the site and its history. It has several cases filled with artifacts! The artifacts consist of projectile heads, tools and ornaments. There was a big diorama about how the site used to look. There was a dugout canoe that had been excavated. There were displays about the interactions between cultures and much more! The displays also showed what tools, weapons and other useful items they used in the cultures.

I truly do hope this blog post was informative and I hope I have made you want to come to Crystal River Archaeological State Park!  I personally really liked it and we had a blast! I hope you enjoy the park!

This is a great educational video about Crystal River Archaeological State Park:

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Settling In

Man, moving into an RV is hard.  It’s been a busy week full of trying to find places for things, figuring out how the various systems work, and running to Walmart, Home Depot, little mom and pop hardware stores, and grocery stores.  I knew we’d have to buy a bunch of “RV stuff” when we moved in, but oy.  And we still have an enormous list of accessories we really should get soon.

Most of the true “RV accessories” we ordered before we moved out of the apartment.  But once we got to our campground and attempted to actually live in our RV, it became apparent that we were a bit unprepared.  We needed new curtains for the bunkroom, as the kids were complaining that the ones in there were dusty and making them sneeze (and ugly as hell).  I was just going to use valanced, but Walmart didn’t have enough of the right color.  So I had to get regular panels, cut them in half, and sew them.  Niall needed a ladder and a rail for his upper bunk – but there are no RV supply stores around that carried them.  After several failures, we settled on making our own out of PVC pipes, glue, paracord, L-brackets, and spray paint.

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One failed attempt at a bedrail.

We needed Command hooks, storage bins, dish drying racks, a white board to keep by the front door, and some sort of system to organize all the tablets, laptops, and phones.  I still haven’t sewed privacy curtains for three of the kids, and I can’t imagine when I’ll get that done.  Suffice it to say, I am SO tired of Walmart.  There isn’t a Target around, and won’t be until we’re in Alabama.  Ugh.

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Man, just look at that mess.

It’s not all bad, of course.  It’s exciting being somewhere new, changing our lives completely to follow our dreams.  The kids are getting along pretty well for the most part, finding new ways to play together in a new environment.  They’re learning new chores – Colwyn and Lachlann have been handling the laundromat chores (since we’re right next door to it), while Fiona and Niall have been cleaning out the car, since we can see the car from our windows.  They’ve had more space to play outside, and they’re able to ride their bikes way more easily now.  Overall, our transition has gone a lot more smoothly than I was anticipating.  I’m still worried that some catastrophe is about to befall us, but in the meantime, we’re getting used to our new lifestyle!

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Cuddles with Luna (who thinks she’s a 50 lb lap dog) are still good.

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New Year, New Home!

We launched our new full-time traveling lifestyle today!  It’s pretty appropriate that it’s the start of a new year, isn’t it?

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So despite our excitement for this day, we were also dreading it a fair bit.  A lot of the dread came from the sheer amount of work entailed – we spent most of Saturday moving things from the apartment to either storage or the RV.  Sunday morning, we loaded up the last of our things and cleaned the apartment as best we could.  We’re not expecting to get our security deposit back (we keep things clean, but with four kids, a dog, and three cats, things happen).  But you still gotta clean, you know?  Whew, it was exhausting.  I will say this – I am SO grateful that our children are so helpful!  I did feel really bad for Doug, though, who had to make many trips up and down that awful flight of stairs with the stuff that was too heavy for Colwyn and Lachlann.

We were about two and a half hours late leaving the apartment, which we knew meant we’d get to the campground after dark.  I wasn’t terribly worried about that, since we had a pull-through site booked.  It took us a little while to get the RV hooked up (Doug also had to finish installing the Andersen Ultimate hitch on the RV), but we got there in the end.  I was expecting any manner of catastrophe to befall us on the two hour drive to our campground – pretty much everyone has a launch horror story.  But Doug did an excellent job towing the fifth wheel with his ‘new’ truck (a Dodge Ram 3500 dually) and we got to the campground without any problems!

At the campground was another story.. I went ahead to look for our spot, and half a dozen trucks were blocking the pull-through area.  We could still back in, of course, but I was hoping that when we pulled around with the RV, the truck owners would move their vehicles (they were all having a big party across the street).  Thankfully everyone was nice and moved their trucks as soon as Doug said we were trying to move into one of the pull-through sites.

Another minor hiccup – it took us quite a bit to get unhitched.  There wasn’t actually anything wrong, we were just too over-cautious.  The motors that lift the RV up off the hitch sounded like they were struggling, and we thought that maybe somehow the hitch was stuck.  Nope!  We went and plugged the RV into the power pedestal and the motor sounded much better.  Ooops.

So we had arrived at the campground around 6pm, but we weren’t really inside and ready to figure out dinner until about 8pm.  Doug ran out  to the only Chinese food place that was open so we could have our traditional New Year’s Eve dinner – and it was, hands-down, the most satisfying Chinese food ever!

We’re looking forward to exploring the campground and the Crystal River area once we get settled!  Happy New Year!

For more of a glimpse into our launch, check out our YouTube video:

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Merry Christmas!

There’s usually a bit of disappointment after all the presents are unwrapped, but honestly, I feel nothing but relief this year!  Don’t get me wrong.. we had an awesome Christmas.

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It was quiet, the kids were happy with their presents (bikes from Santa!), and we all had a lovely, relaxing day.  But now I can put the Christmas decorations away (what little we’re keeping, most are getting donated).  We can really get to work packing everything up.  We’re that much closer to launching!

I hope you had a great holiday, too!

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Things Are Getting Real!

We’ve been planning to hit the road for two years now.  It’s been a long, tedious process with lots of setbacks.  Maybe that’s why it feels so surreal to say this, but… we bought a fifth wheel!  As per normal for us, there were some hiccups with the process, but everything is finalized and we’re just waiting for them to deliver it to us – a 2006 Keystone Montana Mountaineer 342 PHT.  It’s a little older than we wanted, but it turns out it’s pretty hard to find quad bunkhouses (ie, four bunkbeds) that have a sufficient amount of cargo capacity.  This fifth wheel has four beds in the bunkhouse and a 3700 lb cargo capacity.

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It’s been such a roller coaster and we have such a mix of feelings – relief, excitement, fear, worry, etc, etc.  It’s been a little overwhelming.  We’re trying to sell furniture, clothes, toys, etc, pack up what we want to put into storage, clean the apartment thoroughly, and still have a good Christmas.  Doug’s trying to split his time between working in the evenings and figuring out what accessories are absolute necessities for us to hit the road, and how all the RV systems work.

But it’s really happening!  I just spent a fair bit of time calling RV parks in Central Florida to find our first spot, and man, was that hard!  I knew everyone would be booked, but yikes.  I did find a spot for us in what seems to be a nice park about an hour and a half northwest of us, so our first two weeks are taken care of.  Now to figure out the third week!

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