Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Florida, National Park, National Parks, School, Sightseeing

Turtles, Mosquitos and Alligators…OH MY!

Although we have seen plenty of turtles and been bitten by many mosquitoes, this post is mostly about my favorite, alligators. My kids may be getting sick of me pointing out an alligator every time I see one, especially since we see them all over the place in the South (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina). I’m not sure why, but I get a huge kick out of seeing these guys in the wild. We saw some decent sized alligators (as well as some crocodiles) in the Everglades National Park, Florida. We even got to see one with it’s mouth open!

At our campground in South Carolina, we saw several smaller ones on the nearby walking trail in the ponds. One looked very young, only 2-3 feet long. The campground’s alligators were not even close to being the same size as the ones in the Everglades, so I felt pretty safe walking around the walking path as long as we all stayed aware.

The boys certainly enjoyed the first several ones we saw and it was a great teaching opportunity to slide in some alligator facts. I have some of these facts below!

Fun alligator facts:

Alligators have about 80 teeth and as the old ones get worn down, new ones come in.

Alligators can hear underwater.

Alligators vs Crocodiles: We saw both in the Everglades. It was a great teaching moment.

Alligators have a rounded snout and are dark grey/black in color. Alligators also do not normally show bottom teeth with their mouth closed.

Crocodiles have a pointed snout and are a grey/brown/green color. Crocodiles bottom and top teeth are visible with their mouth closed. Crocodiles tend to be more aggressive.

An alligator can live up to 50 years. They continue to grow throughout their life.

The power in an alligator’s jaw comes in closing, they do not have a lot of jaw opening strength.

To estimate an alligators size from a distance, calculate the length from the tip of their nose to the eye ridge. One inch of distance here is equal to one foot of total length.

Alligators dig burrows (holes, tunnels) and once they move out, other animals move in. These holes are very important, as they can be deep and hold water, even when other areas have dried up.

Alligators can climb, short fences and even ladders, although we did not see any on stilts or ladders during our encounters.

To get away from an alligator, just run in a straight line 20-30 ft, no zig-zag required. To be safe, I would keep running.

They can leap out of the water using their tail, up to 5 feet!

They will balance sticks on their snout to attract birds…to eat.

They do not hibernate, but they do have times where they are dormant when the weather is too cold (below 55℉).

Mating season is May to June. Eggs hatch in Mid-August to September.

The babies gender is determined by the temperature in the nest. The mom will stay with her eggs and protect them for a year to two after they hatch.

If you have any great Alligator or Crocodile stories, we would love to hear them. Post them in the comments.


US Fish & Wildlife Service




Posted in: Campground Review, Exploring Florida, Sightseeing, YouTube Video Link

KOA Orlando Southwest: Campground Review

After our stay at Miami and the trip to Key West, we went back to Orlando. We had family staying in the area and wanted to spend as much time as we could with them. We hadn’t seen them since July 2020! We stayed at the Orlando Southwest KOA.

It was an easy drive to grocery stores, Disney (approximately 15-30 minutes, depending on traffic) and Universal (20-30 minutes), Costco (30-45 minutes).

The pool looked nice, but was always a little crowded, so we didn’t go in. The office store had a nice selection of RV items, grocery type items, and even a little library! It had a cool spiral staircase in the middle, which I found out leads just to an office.

Pool, bikes for rent, playground, bathrooms, dog area and wash, camp kitchen

There were trees around the campground, which gave some nice shade. Sites were decently spaced out. It was nice to walk around, although there was not a walking trail. This was one of the first KOA’s that we have been to that did not have a front gate. We also had water problems several times while we were here. The park did send out a text to us when they shut the water off for repairs, but it happened a couple of times times. The water pressure was low for most of our stay.

The boys loved the little library. We didn’t use the laundry room. Staff members were always nice when we interacted with them.

We would probably stay here again, although I would choose the Orlando Thousand Trails over this one. We had better water pressure and internet/cell service at the TT campground.

VIDEO TOUR: KOA Orlando Southwest


Our rating: 2.5/3 out of 5 hitches (it was nice, but had several water problems)

Cell Phone Reception: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, although Verizon got a bit laggy sometimes

Laundry: Yes

Bathrooms/Showers: Yes

RV Sites: Pull Through, Back-in (grass and gravel sites)

Pop Up Tents/Gazebos/Outdoor Rugs On-Site:

Amenities: picnic table, fire pit/grill, cable, pool, playground, 2 dog parks and a dog wash, community camp kitchen, little library in office, pickleball, basketball, horseshoes, bike rental

Cabins: Yes

Tent Camping: Yes

Full Hook-ups: Yes

            Amps: 50/30

Pool: Yes

Food On-Site: No, although some snacks and general supplies in camp store

Camp Store: Yes

WiFi: Yes (basic)

Accepts Mail: Yes, no charge

Fishing: No

Posted in: Exploring Florida, Food, Sightseeing

Disney Springs: Everglazed Donuts

The boys and I headed back to Disney, this time to Disney Springs. There were parking garages, which were free. However, many of the entrances from the garages into the shopping area were closed. We parked in the Orange garage and there was only one entrance available. They had you go through a metal detector and temperature screening in order to go in. Masks were required and they had a disposable mask vending machine there as well ($2).

One of the reasons we went to Disney Springs, was for Everglazed Donuts. They had huge, crazy donuts for sale. They were not cheap. Even the purple glazed donut (which tasted like a regular glazed donut, just dyed purple) was $4.50. We got a Brooklyn Blackout, Cookies and Cream, Peanut Butter Explosion, Purple glazed, and an iced mocha drink. The donuts were delicious and very sweet. The drink was ok, but for the cost I would go to Starbucks next time instead.

We also wanted to check out the crazy cookies at Gideon’s Bakehouse. However, they had a huge line. We had at least a 70 minute wait, so we chose to skip it. Their cookies did look amazing though!

Disney Springs was huge and had lots of shopping and restaurants. It would probably be easy to spend at least half a day there.

Posted in: Exploring Florida, Food, Sightseeing

Disney’s Epcot: Food & Souvenirs

One of the things Epcot is known for is the World Showcase with its different countries and variety of foods. We wanted to try a few things while we were there.

¡Viva México!

Our first snack was in Mexico. Ben and I shared a strawberry margarita ($12.25), and we all shared a plate of guacamole and chips ($10). The margarita was nice, cold and very sweet. It was great for a hot day. They offered a tri-colored Fiesta margarita. However, the one layer was mango, which is not my favorite, and it was also more expensive ($12.75). It didn’t really make sense to charge extra for just layering the flavors. Mexico was only selling water bottles and they did not have cups of water available.

Let it snow, let it snow, long lines in Norway bother me.♪

Next, we walked into Norway and straight into the Kringla to try a Troll Horn. It looked delicious… but, it was just okay. It was filled with a chilled cream that had a slight citrus taste. Ben said he just tasted sugar, so maybe it was just me. ($4.79)

China Did It

Next, we went to China. I ended up getting a parasol ($23.43) to help with the sun. I did have sunscreen and a hat on, but it was 84F when we bought it and very sunny. Ben claims it was a good value to mitigate skin cancer. We stopped at Lotus Blossom to get Will some food. Their sit-down dinner area in the back was open, but empty. Will got chicken fried rice ($13.50), and a Diet Coke for Ben ($3.99). ($18.63 total). We all tried a bite of the fried rice, but Will ate most of it! We also grabbed a custom Epcot Ball with Disney Ears charm for the low low price of $15.


Germany: Mr. Gorbachev, Take Down This Wall.

Onto Germany, where the soft pretzels are as big as your head, literally. For just $10 we indulged in warm, soft and hot bread from the Vaterland. It was a decent value for a Disney treat.

Italy: That’s a Spicy Meat-a-ball

Italy had a few fun items to offer, but we were only there for one, the Cannoli Cupcake. Unfortunately, COVID struck hard here. The shopkeeper informed us that their pastry chef was out because of the pandemic. Oh mio Dio salvateci.

Japan: Everything but Godzilla

We moved onto Japan where we got a rainbow shaved ice, drizzled with sweet milk ($5.79). I had never seen a shaved ice with condensed milk on it before until the we were in the South. It is surprisingly good (tasting, probably not good for you). Japan also had nice outdoor seating areas with shade and a koi pond. Super ambiance to enjoy this treat.

Morocco: ♪How Bazaar, How Bazaar

We walked checked out Morocco and tried some cookies ($5). We got the kataifi (similar to baklava in taste) and marble koulouria (butter chocolate twist cookie). The kataifi was the favorite.

French Toast

France, known for delicious desserts and laminated breads didn’t disappoint. They had a cute ice cream store called L’Artisan Des Glaces. We tried the seasonal macaroon ice cream sandwich (when we went it was raspberry with vanilla ice cream, $5) and the Croque Glace (Brioche Ice Cream sandwich, $7.50). For the brioche sandwich, we chose peanut butter ice cream and raspberry sauce. They cut a brioche bun in half, swirl on sauce (chocolate, caramel, or raspberry) and a scoop of ice cream, place it in a grill that looks like a circular waffle maker, and heat it for a few seconds. The process was so interesting we grabbed a quick video.
The ice cream was delicious, but I don’t know that I would get the brioche sandwich again. Note: Will was delighted with the Macaroon sandwich, but he loves Macaroons, so this wasn’t too surprising. We also stopped at the bakery and picked up a baguette ($3.10), plain croissant ($2.90), and an almond croissant (almond and chocolate filling, $4.75).

Canada: Eh – What you talking aboot?

After we watched the show in Canada, we stopped at a booth to pick up some traditional poutine ($7.50). Poutine is french fries with cheese curds and gravy. I am not normally a gravy person, but poutine is delicious and there are a lot of varieties. Although it was good the curds were a little squeaky.

On our way out of the park, we stopped at one of the shops hoping to find some postcards specific to Epcot. We didn’t have any luck, but Nick did get to get a pressed penny. ($1. Remember when they used to be $0.51?)

~Ben & Sarah

Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Florida, Hiking, Museums & Tours, School, Sightseeing

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (Key West, Florida): Swimming and Cannons

We went to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park to enjoy the beach. The park does charge admission ($6 per car of 2-8 people, plus a $0.50 charge for each person, so it was $8 for the 4 of us).

The beach parking lot was an easy walk to the restrooms and beach area. The water was gorgeous with its various shades of blues. The sun was shining and it was a great morning. There was sand towards the water, but a lot of the beach was rockier than we expected. Key West does have a coral reef which protects the island from having bigger waves, which probably also keeps it from getting a lot of fine sand. The water was also a little cold, even though the temperatures had been in the upper 80’s!

The boys enjoyed swimming, but Ben and I mostly waded. I enjoyed sitting at a picnic table in the shade watching the small lizards climbing the trees and the kids playing in the water. We didn’t have a bucket, but the boys made a double walled sand moat for a cone shaped sand “castle”.

After swimming and getting changed, we headed towards the front of the park and explored the Fort area. The fort was pretty cool. It had cannons, a self-guided tour (pamphlet and audio option), and lots of neat information.

On our way out, we had our only iguana sighting! He/she was on the side of the Fort.

The Fort had such a neat shape to it, but it was hard to capture on camera without having a drone. I would definitely check it out if you are at the park, especially if you have any history buffs in your group!

Note: Get there early in the day. We left around lunch time and the beach parking lot was full. There were still some spots in the lot by the Fort, but it looked like the gate was turning cars away.


  • TICKETS: No tickets, but park admission fees. Single occupancy car/motorcycle $4.50, Car with 2-8 passengers $6 plus $0.50/person, pedestrian or bicycles or extra passengers $2.50.
  • HOURS: 8:00 am to sundown, Fort closes at 5:00pm
  • PARKING: Parking near beach and fort
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: 1-3 hours, depending on how long you like to swim. We spent an hour at the Fort.
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Florida, Food, Museums & Tours, Sightseeing

Key West: Beaches, Food, Conch Train

Once we made it into Key West, we checked into our hotel (the Best Western Hibiscus). We had two queen beds and I swear we had more room than in the RV! We were only a few blocks from the iconic Southernmost Point Buoy, so we headed down there first and got our picture.

We wanted to experience as much as we could in the short time we would be there, so we took a tour on the Conch Train. We got to see all kinds of fun sites (Truman’s Little White House, Hemingway’s House), interesting architecture, and fun bits of history of the island. For example, there used to be a Coca-Cola factory on Key West. There was no fresh water there, so the plant used to collect rainwater in order to make their product. We also drove past a 3 story bar. The top floor was clothing optional! Video: Conch Train Tour

The boys on the train, Hemingway’s house, original Pan Am office, 3 story bar, different gingerbread, Truman’s Little White House

After the tour, we walked around and saw chickens and a few small lizards. We grabbed lunch at Caroline’s Cafe where we tried conch fritters. We also grabbed a huge cookie at Mattheessen’s.

While exploring the town, we found ourselves down near the piers. We saw some cool boats, jellyfish, and a few different types of fish.

Fish we saw along the docks/piers. Jellyfish and I think a puffer fish and tarpons

Key West also had a historic audio tour you could take from your phone. There were markers around the city with a phone number, location number, and some historical information about the site. You could call the number, input the location, and learn about the spot. It was pretty neat. (See the second collage with buoy. There was an audio tour marker regarding the Cable Hut, location #27 on the tour.)

Painted crosswalks, old theater now turned into a Walgreens
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Car Ride Games, Exploring Florida, School, Sightseeing

Key West: The Drive and A New Car Ride Game

Since we were in Miami, we decided to do an overnight in the Keys. We had looked a few months ago for RV parks, but they were completely full. We decided to just drive down and stay in a hotel for night. We were excited to see the Keys; we had heard such good things and the pictures looked amazing.

No one prepared us for the drive.

I-10 is a long two lane highway, which at times gets down to a single lane each way. Maps/Waze claimed the drive should be about 3-3.5 hours. They were wrong.

We were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, often standstill or 5 mph in Key Largo. It was a Tuesday morning in February! The Main Street in Key Largo was lined with dollar stores, sandal outlets, and snorkel shops. You could not see the water at all. Drivers were aggressive and we were in slow moving traffic for an hour and a half. We went 3 miles in that time. We even saw people turning around through the hilly grass median.

We had our bottle of Blue Lizard sunscreen out for Ben to put on his arm (he was driving for the first part). It turned a deep blue right away. (If you are not familiar with the brand, their bottles or caps turn blue in “harmful UV light”). The sun is intense here in Florida!

Once we got out of Key Largo, it seemed to clear up a lot and we were also treated to the gorgeous views of the water. It did rain on us for a little bit of the drive down.

The drive back up was much the same, steady movement until around Key Largo where we ran into more traffic.

The boys were working on school work during the drive, so they were occupied. Once I switched to driving, I kept Ben occupied with a new car game: Find The Coolest Mailbox! Florida had some crazy mailboxes. We saw one in Miami that was a horse rearing up on it’s hind legs while holding a mailbox.

We missed capturing the outboard motor mailbox and the horse in Miami.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Florida, Food

Robert Is Here Roadside Store (Miami, Florida)

Robert Is Here is a roadside store with a mini zoo in Miami. We drove by it on the way to the National Park, and decided to stop on our way back. It was certainly busy, with a full parking lot and people parking on the side of the road.

The front of the store sold a variety of goods and produce. The big draw seemed to be their drinks and smoothies. It cost us $16.01 for two drinks. We got the coffee milkshake, which was delicious. It had just a faint taste of coffee, nothing too strong or overwhelming. I could have had more of those! The kids got a cherry key lime smoothie, with a sugar adder per the cashier’s recommendation. It was not good, very tart, and the flavors didn’t meld well.

Behind the store was the zoo area. There were birds, emu, goats, and so many turtles.

It was an interesting place to stop.

Posted in: Exploring Florida, Hiking, Newbie Mistakes, Sightseeing

Conquering the Universe…Or Not: Universal Studios Orlando (Lockers, Fanny Packs, and COVID Restrictions)

So you probably guessed by the title, but we chose Universal, specifically Universal Studios!

Disney made a strong case for itself. Who doesn’t love Disney? However, we had been there already and the brochure didn’t sell the kids on it. Universal had the most appeal with the Harry Potter rides/decorations. We ended up choosing Universal Studios so that we could see Diagon Alley.

Spoiler Alert: The day started a little rough, as we got lost.


I never thought this would happen. In my mind I had these firmly locked away back in the 80’s, but I bought fanny packs for me and the boys. While Disney and Universal allow you to bring a backpack/purse into the park, Universal only allows fanny packs on most of the rides. They do offer free lockers near the rides for other types of bags. These lockers are only free for a certain amount of time (park calculates time based on ride time and line wait time). There are lockers that you can pay to have longer time periods as well. Universal allowed bottled water and small snacks in the park, which was nice (click for rules). We kept a bottle of water, a poncho (there was a chance of rain), a bag of nuts, and a granola bar in each pack. I kept a tiny 1st aid kit in mine.

Locker locations per app, Locker sizing and pricing
Lockers near Men In Black

We also checked on how they were dealing with COVID, as we have been trying our best to be safe along our journey. I will say that in general they did a good job. Face masks were required, social distancing markers were placed on the ground and floors, limited capacity, temperature check before entering the park, and everyone got a squirt of hand sanitizer before getting on a ride. There were also a few other hand sanitizer stations for rides and in shops. They made announcements at each ride as well, reminding people of correct mask wearing and social distancing were required. If you failed to comply you could be asked to leave the park. We did see a few people get reminded on keeping the appropriate spacing.

Moving sidewalks from parking area into park, staff holding mask covering signs, putt putt course by entrance, CityWalk

We parked, went through the temperature station, and started walking into the park. It was our first time at Universal, so we followed the main street and the crowds. Newbie mistake!


We kept on the main path and walked through CityWalk (shops/restaurants) and accidentally ended up in Islands of Adventure (IOA), which is not where we wanted to be since we wanted to see Diagon Alley. Luckily, Will noticed that the decorations did not match what we expected and we ran quickly to Guest Services and they were able to transfer our tickets to Studios since the park had just opened. NOTE: On our way out of the park, we saw a small directional sign. It was either faded or done in pastels and Universal Studios was the very last sign. Bigger signs would be helpful for first timers, especially when it is crowded and you can’t see the sign through the people.

We hurried over to the Universal Studios entrance and got there by 8:00am. We were a little sweaty, as it was warm already with really high humidity, but we were excited to have an adventure.


  • TICKETS: Starting at $109+plus tax/adults (ages 10+), Starting at $104+plus tax/child (ages 3-9). COVID Restrictions: masks required, limited capacity including on rides, temperature screening.
  • HOURS: 8:00am to 10:00 pm
  • PARKING: Pay parking for day guests (non-hotel), free after 6:00pm
  • TIME RECOMMENDED: At least a day
  • *Details correct at the time of posting, but please double check before you go.
Posted in: Animal Sightings, Exploring Florida, Hiking, Sightseeing

Orlando: Lake Louisa State Park

We hadn’t really explored the area too much, so when the boys were off of school, we went to Lake Louisa State Park. This State Park is off of I-27 and was a neat park. Entrance was $5/car. There were a few primitive campsites, cabins for rent, and a campground.

The main lake, Lake Louisa, was a strange reddish color, which was attributed to high tannins in the water. There was a playground, bathrooms, and a beach at Lake Louisa. The sand was a nice soft sand, although there was an alligator warning sign there as well.

We didn’t do any swimming, but we did take a hike through the park. Although it was beautiful, the trailheads were not well marked. Some of them had names based on the map, but they were not labeled at the trailhead. I am really glad we chose a trail that was in our trail app (AllTrails), because there were several crossovers along the way. I would definitely recommend wearing sunscreen, maybe bug spray, and bringing water.

We didn’t see many animals along our hike, even though we were close to the water many times. We did see one bird, several animal prints, a couple of burrows, and several fire ant mounds. I had to teach the boys about fire ants, as we normally don’t have them in Ohio. Their mounds look like piles of sand, often in open places and without the telltale hole us Northerners are used to seeing in ant mounds.

It was a nice hike and had some pretty scenery. It wasn’t bad for a $5 admission!

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