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  • Writer's pictureKseniya Yatsenko

8-day road trip in Florida

This December (2021) we decided to drive from Montreal (Canada) to Florida, especially since my car after 3 years was still at 29K km mileage and was in dire need of more driving.

We left Montreal on December 26th, crossed the border to the states near Cornwall (we were the only car on the border, and the drive was nice), and made our way through NY state to Pennsylvania to Washington to Richmond, VA. The first day took ~12 hours because the weather conditions were not the nicest.

Our 2nd day we drove from Richmond, VA to Jacksonville, FL. The I95 road was very packed, so a lot of times we drove on parallel smaller highways to avoid the "parking lot" of the main highway. This did make the trip longer (instead of 8 hours we drove 11 that day), but we were able to see the small towns of North and South Carolina. Surprisingly, all highways were excellent, even when we were driving in the darkness through small villages/towns. This was definitely surprising compared to the roads we see in Canada.

Our day 1 of the actual Florida visit, we visited Jacksonville and its gorgeous San Marco neighborhood, then drove to Saint Augustine town. Saint Augustine is definitely worth seeing, especially its central parts. Please note that parking is very difficult, so once you see a spot in the parking lot, take it, no matter what the price is. We spent over 4 hours there and had our lunch, and that was enough to see the main attractions.

We then spent 2 nights in Daytona Beach. Although we came there for the beach holiday, water in December is quite cold there (~22 degrees). But I highly recommend staying on the waterfront hotel, like Delta Hotel, and at the sunrise go for a walk on the beach.

Day 3 of the trip we left Daytona Beach and drove an hour south to Cape Canaveral, where we visited the Kennedy NASA Space Center. The tickets to visit were quite expensive, over $200. But honestly this stop was worth it. Suggest arriving to the center in the morning, as it tends to get more busy by 2 pm (according to Google). There are a lot of exhibitions that are open for visits, so plan your stay according to the schedule and how many things you would like to see and experience. We only visited the Atlantis Space Shuttle exhibition and experienced the "take off" exhibition, and that was indeed one of the highlights of the trip.

At night we arrived to Naples, where we only had a few hours next day spent on the Marco Island beach. The beach was nice, but the seashells were incredible. Please note that if you come there for the seashells, you will find a lot of competition who take seashell picking seriously.

From Naples we drove to Venice for a quick lunch with a friend of our family. Then we had a quick stop in Saratosa for nice ice cream, and finally arrived to St Petersburg for a 2-night stay.

Day 5 we decided to spend snorkeling with manatees. In winter manatees swim to the Mexican gulf area of Florida, and can be found in various natural parks. We went to the one not far from St Petersburg (1.5 hours away) which is called Crystal River, FL. There you can have various options to see manatees in wildlife: go on the boat cruise, kayaking or snorkeling. We chose to go snorkeling with a small group of tourists. The trip was $160 for two people + $40 for the pictures/video package. And we were lucky to find 5 manatees swimming right next to us. Please note that you are not allowed to actually touch manatees, but they can come as close to you as they want. The water is quite chilly, but you are given the 3-mm wet suit (includes in the price of the tour along with the boat ride, guide, snorkeling gear).

Day 6 we spent in Tampa, which was honestly one of our favorite stops during this trip. The downtown area is beautiful with river walk and parks. Suggest reserving the restaurants for dinner early as they tend to fill up pretty fast. But we ended up eating at the JW Marriott hotel on their rooftop restaurant, and the food was excellent.

Our final day of the trip (day 7) was in Orlando, but we went there to for shopping which was not as good as we expected from the outlets. Frankly, if you are not in Orlando for Disney World and other parks, that city can be skipped.

Day 8 we finally left Florida and drove back to Montreal, with an overnight again in Richmond, VA.

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