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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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. https://tinyurl.com/EpcotBriocheIceCreamSandwich 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).
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?)
I know I said we were only going to do one Amusement Park while in Orlando, and we chose Universal Studios. However, someone gifted us with tickets to Epcot (Thank you!!!) and we were able to go to explore Disney’s Epcot.
The boys had a blast. Ben and I had researched the rides and the different attractions/food in World Showcase and had a game plan all laid out. We wanted to get there around 10:00 am (park opened at 11:00) so that we could get a closer parking spot. Parking was $25 for standard parking and $45-50 for premium. However, because we got there so early, we were only a few rows from the entrance even with parking in the standard lot. Parking was also staggered to help maintain social distancing.
Another win of going early, was that even though the park officially opened at 11:00, they let everyone in around 10:15am. We were on Test Track by 10:30 and The Seas at 10:50am.
It was a great experience walking through the park. Due to the limited capacity, ride times were much shorter. Our longest wait was about 1/2 hour. The Frozen line in Norway was longer, but we didn’t go on that one.
Disney allows you bring in snacks and water (no glass, no heating or refrigeration) and backpacks. We brought several bottles of water, as it was going to be really warm (88℉ was the high!). Water fountains were open, so we could refill our water bottles. We were also able to get a cup of ice water in Canada and France. Mexico told us they were only selling bottles of water.
There was a lot of construction walls up for coming new attractions. I know that Ratatouille and Guardians of the Galaxy were being built.
Epcot was gearing up for their International Flower & Garden Festival, so we also got to see lots of really cool flower displays.
There were currently not any of the nightly firework shows at any of the Disney parks, so once we had ridden and seen what was on our list we headed out.
We were all pretty tired at the end of the day. We got to the park at a little after 10:00 am and left around 7:00 pm (closed at 8:00pm). We managed to get in 17,701 steps for the day at Epcot.
To enter the park, you had to go through temperature screening. Masks were required and it was stated that if you did not comply you could be asked to leave. I did see several staff members telling people that the nose had to be covered as well. Disney did a great job of marking social distancing lines/markers on the ground and on large outdoor benches. There were hand sanitizer stations available at ride entrances and exits. However, we noticed a lot of them were out or were too slow to keep up with the stream of people. A pump/manual style type probably would have been better. (Universal Studios gave everyone a squirt of sanitizer before they were allowed on a ride.)
The first ride we went on was Test track, as we read it was one of the more popular lines and often had longer lines. Because we were so early, there wasn’t much of a line and we got on before the park even officially opened! The interactive piece at the beginning of the ride where you can design your own car was shut off, so we missed having the fun of designing your own car and testing it against the track. The line inside was air conditioned and had some neat concept cars to look at while you waited. We were in line for maybe 15 minutes. It was still a fun ride. The outside track got up to about 63 miles per hour, although Ben pointed out that I drove faster than that on the way over to Epcot.
We headed to The Seas because they have a really neat aquarium at the end of the ride. The wait was short, maybe 5 minutes. The queue line was made to look like a beach scene and parts of it looked like you were underwater. Even the handrails were made to look old and rusty! The ride was ok, it was a little boring. Part of it was that we had the ride stop on us for “technical difficulties”. However, at one point in the ride you get to see parts of an actual aquarium and the Nemo characters are projected onto the glass to seem like they are in the aquarium as well, which was really neat. The aquarium at the end was worth the ride though. We got to see different kinds of fish, a dolphin, manatees, sharks, moray eels, and a sea turtle. (Nick was very happy he got to see a sea turtle. He has been asking for a turtle for a pet for a while now.)
We headed back towards the front of the park to the iconic Epcot globe to ride Spaceship Earth. It was a 20 minute wait. It was a little bit of a dated ride (opened in 1982, last renovated in 2007, per WiKi). The beginning of the ride was dark and was hard to see some of the graphics. It was still kind of neat, definitely more of an educational ride. Will liked the animatronics during the middle of the ride. At the end of the ride, you descend through the globe. Instead of lap belts to descend through the ball, the cars turn around backwards on the hilly descent. At one point, we got stuck going down for “technical” issues, so I was very glad we were backwards and not leaning forwards at an angle. There was an interactive screen in the car was fun during the descent. The interactive exhibits and screens at the end of the ride were not available (due to COVID).
Our next ride, which was one of our favorites, was Soarin’ Around The World. This one had a long, boring queue. There was a trivia game on the My Disney Experience app to play while you waited in line. This ride had about a 30 minute wait. Staff members working the ride wore pilot type uniforms. It was worth wait. You entered the room and there was a huge screen in front. There were 2 sections of seating, with 3 rows of seats in each section. Each row of seats lifted off the ground to make you feel like you were flying (paragliding). Ben and Will were in front of us when we sat down, so we could see their feet dangling above us. It did make you feel like you were moving, so they warned it could cause motion sickness. You flew over Egypt, the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, Sydney, Africa, and ended at Disney’s Epcot.
After Soarin’, we headed over to Living With The Land, since they were in the same building. It was about a 5 minute wait and was a boat ride. There were plastic sheets between rows of seats in the boat. It was interesting, more of an educational ride. You got to see a really cool greenhouse and fish farm. Disney paired with the USDA to study ways to grow crops in harsher climates, etc. They use the items grown here in the Land’s restaurants. There was a Behind the Seeds tour, but it was closed currently.
We headed over to World Showcase and stopped in Mexico first. We went to the Grand Fiesta Tours ride. The app stated it was a 10 minute wait, but was really a 20 minute wait (10 minutes of the wait were outside). We also got to see Pluto, Goofy, Mickey and Minnie drive by while we waited. Inside, the building had a few exhibits to see and then you were right in the middle of a market/town. It was a little confusing where the line started at this point. As you moved further in, the lines were very tight width wise. There were row dividers in place, however not a lot of spacing was enforced inside. This one was our least favorite ride. We were on for only a few minutes when the sound went off. Boats were still moving, but very slowly. They claimed the boats went back online at the very end, but we all ran into each other, which was very jarring. They did not let people stay on and go again even though ride didn’t work for 90% of our time on it. I’m not sure if they shut it down completely or not, as there were still people waiting in line outside.
We headed over to China next. We watched the show Reflections of China. You were in a large room with a 360-degree screen. It is a standing show, although there are row dividers to lean on. They had rows closed to keep social distancing, as well as placement markers on the floor. It was some interesting propaganda, but showed some beautiful views. It showed how diverse China’s landscape is and motivated Ben and Will to want to go to China.
We stopped at Canada and watched their show Far and Wide. It also had a 360-degree screen.
Our final ride was Journey into Imagination with Figment. It was ok, not one I would ride again. Younger kids would probably enjoy it.
For our stay in Miami, we stayed at the Miami Everglades Thousand Trails. This was not part of our Thousand Trails membership, so we had to pay extra for the site. We were only there a few days, so we did not get a chance to do a video or take part in many of the campground’s amenities.
The campground did have a propane refill station, an office (they met us outside, so we didn’t get to see it), and a laundry room. The washers were listed at $1.50 and $2/load, dryers $1.50/load. However, they ran on a card which you had to rent for $5 (refunded when you returned the card) and had to place a minimum of $5 on the card.
The park had a nice walking trail along the outside of it and we got to see several different types of lizards.
There were lots of fun things to do around the campground, including putt putt and shuffleboard. Part of the park was a large open field, which was used for group camping, as well as storage, but also would work for running off excess energy.
It was in a decent location, although there was nothing close by, as it was surrounded by plant nurseries. It was about 30 minutes to Everglades National Park (depending on which Visitor Center you wanted to go to) and Biscayne National Park.
The huge negative for me, and the reason why I would not go back, are the interior roads. They are barely single lanes and are not marked as one ways, so when we pulled out, we had to guess which road to go down and hope no one was coming the other way. Because the roads are narrow, it also made pulling out of our site take an hour. Not packing up and pulling out, just pulling out. Our neighbor to the left had pulled really close to the road and the neighbors across parked their cars along the road, so we had to keep backing up and moving the RV so we could clear them all. The neighbors were nice and moved a car and tried to help with making sure I was clearing my blind spots. For smaller rigs, it would probably work out well, but it was incredibly hard to maneuver a large RV. NOTE: Someone told us that going over to the tiki hut side, driving past the tiki hut and by the propane would be easier and give you more room to maneuver (instead of trying to turn left onto the center road). It definitely helped.
If we had a smaller RV, I would stay here again, but it was just too hard to maneuver with ours.
SUMMARY OF CAMPGROUND:
Our rating: 3 out of 5 hitches (The nice walking path and amenities got it to a 3)
Cell Phone Reception: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile
RV Sites: Pull Through, Back-In, grass/dirt sites
Pop Up Tents/Gazebos/Outdoor Rugs On-Site: Tents were listed as a no, but we saw several around the campground. Screen rooms had to be approved.
Amenities: picnic table, concrete patio at site, community fire pit, cable, playground, dog area, pool, large tiki hut area with picnic tables, putt putt, basketball, shuffleboard, pickleball, horseshoes, sand volleyball court, walking trail
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.