Two Days Exploring Central Florida: Avoiding the Mouse

Two Days Exploring Central Florida

Spring beach weeks to Florida are always a welcome trip for me because the weather’s not too hot yet and the winter crowds have gone back home.  But this year the trip was to be a little bit different, so I began my search for beachfront discount hotels with a little more excitement than usual – something value luxury in mind. And I had hoped to completely avoid Mickey Mouse – nothing personal, but just looking for something a bit different.

Headed for Treasure… Island

We flew into Tampa and grabbed our car hire and were quickly off to our destination of Treasure Island, near Clearwater, where we checked in to The Sands, a 1950s style efficiency motel located right on the beach.  Our room cost under $100 and we had a one bedroom unit with two queen beds, an eat-in kitchen and a living room.  It was clean and neat and basic. No complimentary fluffy white robes were to be found, but pretty much everything else was there, including a nice pool, cold air conditioning and wifi.  The motel had a comfortable homey feeling and we later discovered that much of their clientele returns here year after year.  Now we know why.   The best feature was the ability to open our door and walk directly out to the uncrowded beach.  Determined to see more of Florida this year than just the beach, we decided to spend two days of our vacation taking day trip adventures.

Water, Water Everywhere

Weeki Wachee kayak
The first day we drove about an hour north to Weeki Wachee Springs , home of the famous underwater mermaid show.  The show still goes on (about $15pp), but that day our mission was to kayak the spring-fed Weeki Wachee river.  For $30 rental per kayak, we paddled the seven mile journey at our leisure, stopping along the way to dip in the water to cool off.  The water that day was an amazing turquoise color and the scenery presented a very different part of Florida than we were familiar with.  We saw lots of water birds, some turtles and even some manatees since they swim upstream where the water is warm during the winter months.

Back in our car, we were starving so we headed to the nearby Greek fishing village of Tarpon Springs, known for its sponge divers and great food.  We shared a giant Greek Salad and some boiled shrimp at Mykonos restaurant and then grabbed some baklava from a pastry shop up the street, as we spent a little time walking off our lunch while window shopping.  A visit to Spongeorama, billed as the world’s largest sponge shop, found us walking out with a bag full of sponges.

Towers and Hills

bok tower gardens
The next day we were off in another direction to picnic at Bok Singing Tower Gardens located between Tampa and Orlando.  Named after its benefactor, this 205-foot granite tower was commissioned in 1927 by Edward Bok, a wealthy Dutch immigrant, and presented to America as a thank you for opportunities received.  The singing moniker comes from the massive carillon installed in the tower.  There are 60 bells, the largest weighing nearly 12 tons, with free concerts daily by only the third carillonneur ever employed at the tower.  Sounds like good, steady work!  The tower itself sits on a 250-acre preserve and is surrounded by beautiful reflection pools and gardens designed by well-known landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr.  We were there at a perfect time to see the azaleas and dogwoods in full bloom.  An added bit of fun was finding the three geocaching locations in the gardens.

On our way home, we took a one mile detour to stop at Spook Hill, an obscure little spot on a quiet neighborhood road where you drive your car down to the bottom of a hill, put it in neutral, then feel the car rolling backward up the hill.  Of course it’s an optical illusion, but it does look and feel real.  We had some oranges in our pack and had fun playing with them in the road as they rolled back up the hill.  Then it was back to our Treasure Island motel in time for the sunset, a margarita and the hope of catching a glimpse of the infamous green flash in the water at sunset.

We didn’t see the green flash that day nor on any day during our visit.  But we did get to see some unique parts of Florida we hadn’t seen before.  And none of them included a famous mouse or a theme park.

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