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Tips for RVing in Central Florida: 6 Hidden Gems

It's that time of year again when the sky turns gray, snow threatens to fall, and the great migration south begins for birds and RVers. You may have considered making a seasonal stop in sunny Florida! With palm trees, white sandy beaches and enough sunshine to last the whole winter long, it's a great destination for snowbirds and families needing a break from frosty temps!  Since you may be planning your trip, here are a few Florida gems you may not have considered! 

Sure, there's Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and LEGOLAND all within a short drive of central Florida.... but there's so much more to the area than theme parks. I'd love to show you where the locals go to eat, relax, and enjoy nature! 

30594586_Blue_Spring_State_Park_Hidden_Gems_Manate_SV0Ivrh32THV5g_opi24Z5u18q0ABlZBhBlue Springs State Park

  • 1. Blue Springs.  Manatees are a fan favorite, with their comical "sea cow" slow pace and friendly expressions. Because areas in Florida, specifically Blue Springs State Park, have a fairly constant 72* temperature in the water, it is the perfect winter home for hundreds of manatees who do not tolerate water below 68* very well. I love bringing my nieces to this park to stroll along the beautiful boardwalk and see these gorgeous animals through the crystal clear water. There are some picnic pavilions available, and a concession stand on site. Although you can swim, SCUBA, snorkel, and go tubing here....sorry--  you can't swim with the sea cows.  Blue Springs is just outside of Orange City and right off I-4. Put it on your list!   Even if you don't make it to the park during manatee migration season, you can watch their live webcam, which is strangely mesmerizing and frankly.... a little addicting. 


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    Lake Mary Movie in the Park

  • 2. Train to Lake Mary. Florida is sadly very late to the whole "public transportation is awesome" train. Wouldn't it be nice to grab a high-speed train in Jacksonville and make a stop in Daytona Beach, Orlando, then Tampa? Well..... sorry, that does not exist.  But-- we do have a less practical and more local option, SunRail, and there is a gem of a stop in Central Florida. Lake Mary is a delightful district very close to Orlando with shops, restaurants, bars, community activities, and lots you can do on foot after departing the train. Fun fact-- Lake Mary is extremely pet friendly, with most restaurants and shops catering to pups! Do you love finding those trendy Instagram-worthy wall murals when you travel? (Think angel wings, speech bubbles, and giant bouquets of balloons for you to hold...?) Lake Mary's got them in spades. Try your skills at Planet Obstacle in Lake Mary, as the “Largest Indoor Obstacle Park in the World."  (Training for American Ninja Warrior, anyone?) Lots of posh boutique hotels have some great dining and drinks inside, as well as some premier golfing for the area. Feeling a little tipsy after your night on the town? Put those keys away and walk down to the SunRail for your ride back to Orlando. You're welcome.

    reptile-world-florida-300x225Reptile World in Saint Cloud

  • 3. Reptile World Serpentarium.  Do you have a kid in your life obsessed with creepy crawlies? Perhaps you have a soft spot for those poor, misunderstood slithering serpents? Although there are lots of places to check out animals in central Florida, including the Sanford Zoo (which has an awesome zipline, by the way,) the off-the-beaten-path pick I'm going with is Reptile World. This place is a little old-school, but the reviews are in-- it's equal parts educational and fun! Reptile World has been open since 1972 and has 80 different species of critters, including cobras, mambas, rattlesnakes, alligators, iguanas and more. There are venom extraction shows each day, as you may have seen on several TV shows that have filmed here. Conquer your fears and give this family-operated experience in Saint Cloud a try. 

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    Make your own breakfast at the Sugar Mill in De Leon Springs

  • 4. De Leon Springs. There are so many remarkable springs to visit in Central Florida. Depending on your desire to SCUBA, swim to the spring boil, go hiking, watch for wildlife, or go tubing on a river, I could point you to which spring you might like best! This one, however, made it on this list for the restaurant within the State Park that the locals hope you don't find out about. Sugar Mill Restaurant is located in a 100-year-old replica of an 1830s sugar mill and features cook-your-own pancakes at the table and freshly made bread and cookies. My family attempts to eat here for Mother's Day each year.... (expect a very long wait.) It was even featured on an episode of Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives! They're all-you-can-eat, and I'd personally recommend the Nutri-grain pancake batter with fresh banana slices and chocolate chips!
    Here's the thing.... waiting forever for your table is no biggie, because the gorgeous springs are waiting for you to dive in!  When I obtained my SCUBA certification, this is the first place I went to get my fins wet, as the water ranges from 18 inches all the way to 30 feet at the spring boil. You can bring your dog with you to spread out a blanket or play games in the grass, but keep in mind they're leashed at all times here and they can't go near the swimming hole. 

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    Harry P. Leu Gardens stunner

  • 5. Harry P. Leu Gardens. If you're looking for a feast for your eyes and your nose, I'd highly recommend an afternoon at the Leu Gardens. In my former career as a wedding planner, brides would line up and swoon over this location for the perfect wedding reception! You can bring the family to learn about local flora, participate in events for all ages, take 8,000 photos of the formal rose garden, or take a tour that starts every half-hour. It's easy to lose an hour or two wandering around, admiring the architecture, and sniffing those beautiful blooms. Fifty acres of botanical bliss.... yes, please! This gem is located very close to downtown Orlando.

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    Classic Florida Citrus... is there anything more refreshing?

  • 6. Citrus Showcase. Florida is known for its fresh citrus, so it's no surprise Citrus Showcase rounds out this list. However, since I do like to keep things interesting..... do you like monster trucks? Yep... I said monster trucks. At this Clermont treasure, you'll climb up into a ginormous monster truck for a tour of this 2,500-acre working citrus farm.  There are farm animals to visit, a "U-Pick" citrus experience, food trucks, and a store that has a little of everything, including pies, wine, candies, jams, juice, soap, local honey, and more. There is even randomly an area to mine for gems. The whole place is pet-friendly! By the way, if you get warm in that Florida sunshine, my personal favorite is the orange creamsicle ice cream treat. Know what your RV kitchen needs? A bowl of fresh citrus on the counter.

Bottom Line: There are hundreds of ways to spend a day in Central Florida that are a little outside of the mouse-ear-shaped-box. Swimming, fishing, boating, live theater, fine dining, comedy shows, animal exhibits.... Florida has got it all. What's your favorite hidden gem? We would love to hear your favorites in the comments below! Consider hitting that orange 'subscribe' button if you'd like to be notified of fresh-squeezed content!

Happy travels!

-Emily


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