A visit to Florida’s Lake Griffen State Park

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As some may know we purchased our new, 2018 Roadtrek Class B this past December but due to some medical issues we were unable to schedule our first trip to check out all of the systems until now. I am happy to report that we did finally get away for a couple of days to test out all systems in our “Sunset Princess” and our shakedown cruise went off even better than expected. All systems operated efficiently with the exception of the on-demand hot water heater which I need to research but with the temps in the 90’s here in Florida the cold water tap was actually warm enough for our needs this time!

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Our Class B is a completely self contained 19′ vehicle for camping, sightseeing or escaping the paths of looming hurricanes. It has a generator on board, full bathroom, sofa that makes into a queen-sized bed, microwave, two burner stove, furnace, refrigerator and a 24″ color TV with surround sound. We purchased it because with two bad knees Niki can no longer negotiate a car seat in a standard Detroit automobile. This has swivel seats making life a whole lot better.

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We set-up at Lake Griffin State Park located between Ocala and Orlando. Not really a destination Park but serene and quiet especially in the middle of the week. The Park has full hook-ups which is our preferred way to travel and makes a Simplicity SRT our perfect choice.

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The lake itself is about a mile from the campground with a canal that connects the two. The campground rents canoes and kayaks and there is also a Ranger guided tour of the waterway probably available on weekends.

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The restrooms, shower section and laundry area were spotless, brightly lit and well maintained.

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This Park has 40 campsites including seven pull-throughs of varying lengths. All sites have electricity and water and seven have sewer hook-ups with ten having 50 Amp service. We chose site 9 but would recommend sites 10 and 11 as being longer and more spacious and also having full hook-ups.

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There’s a beautiful boat ramp, dock and picnic area where canoes and kayaks may be rented. It’s located at the head of a 1,000′ canal that leads to the Dead River which empties into Lake Griffen. There are massive old oaks dripping Spanish moss throughout the Park including a mammoth old oak near the entrance and said to be the second largest in the State.

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I have attached some photos taken in the Park. Their are several Nature Trails and the children’s play area includes a swing for wheelchairs that I had not seen before. They do a lot with and for children including camps in the Summertime. We found the staff to be most courteous, conscientious and smiling. It’s apparent they love their jobs.

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One of our favorite things is to visit the locals favorite restaurants when we visit a new area. Our first was a visit to the “Original Stavros Pizza Restaurant” nearby in Leesburg at the suggestion of the Ranger on duty. It is a beautiful restaurant inside. Though some of their dishes may be excellent the Italiian subs we ordered were not. They were wet with dressing to the point of puddling and the taste was not up to par.

Another evening we tried the La Palma Mexican Grill and the outcome wasn’t much better. Niki and I both had the Chimichanga dinners. The refried beans had a burned taste and the chicken chimi’s were tasteless. The rice was pretty good. All in all we should have patronized the American Legion Post only a short distance from the campground.

Lake Griffen State Park is located at 3089 Hwy 441-27 in Fruitlnd Park, Florida.
Website: https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/lake-griffin-state-park

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Myrtle Beach – a great place for a holiday visit and to dine!

If you have traveled with us for very long you may have noticed we like to dine out – a lot. Our current week long visit to Myrtle Beach was no exception. There are so many great restaurants to choose from. In fact I think the restaurants may outnumber the golf courses – but it would be close!

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We had Thanksgiving Day reservations all set with a suggestion from our Myrtle Beach friends, Patrish and Wally. The restaurant is called Salt Water Cafe and it is located in Murrells Inlet just South of MB. The food was excellent and the prices are very good. They offer daily specials. We recommend you check them out – it would be a perfect lunch spot if you are visiting Brookgreen Gardens or Huntington Beach State Park.

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A favorite of ours when we visit MB is the K & W Cafeteria. It’s a real cafeteria line filled with made-from-scratch (mostly) – down-home, Southern dishes – cornbread, fried chicken, okra & tomatoes, collards, etc. – as well as the normal fare to choose from as you work your way down the line. The prices are reasonable and a two-fer is available for under $20 on Mondays and Saturdays, which I guarantee will fill both your tanks nicely.

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Another favorite of ours was a pizza/pasta buffet called Home Plate. The food was good, economical and plentiful but the main draw for us was a table busser named Isaac. Isaac made a full-blown production out of clearing tables. Life was simply a God given joy he was quick to admit. He was thankful for his family and a job he loved. One year we came and Home Plate had closed its doors!

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We were happy to find out that a new restaurant has opened in the same spot and is called Simply Southern Smokehouse – now a BBQ and soul food buffet. The food is good, the prices reasonable and the best part for us and many others is that Isaac is back and he has full reign to do his thing including leading the diners in some good old Gospel songs. It’s really something to see (and hear) but go early as the crowd also knows where to find Simply Southern and Isaac on Joe White Blvd!

We do treat ourselves to a couple of the more pricey tables when we visit Myrtle Beach. One is the Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse, which I’ve mentioned before. The soup and salad bar is long, varied and unique. Several different kinds of meat are offered at your table and sliced from skewers by the “vaqueros” who constantly circulate the room. You have to bring two things – a very large and hungry appetite and your wallet. It is an experience and worth a one-time spot on your bucket list.

Another place we try to visit is The Original Benjamin’s (170 item) Calabash Seafood Buffet. The food is all prepared well, the seafood is to die for and the desserts are the kind that make you want to start there first!

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Okay, enough about food. It’s making me hungry again! We had a really special Thanksgiving Week vacation in Myrtle Beach. We ate (too) well, saw several spectacular Christmas shows, took a few hundred photographs and spent time with old friends. We couldn’t ask for more.

In past trips we would stay at one of the many, nice RV parks or campgrounds. This time we drove our car and brought our furbabies along. Not every hotel allows pets but the LaQuinta Inn & Suites at 4709 N Kings Hwy, Myrtle Beach does. Their phone # is 843-449-5231. The fact they accept pets will never make it the 5-star Ritz but the staff is friendly and accommodating, the rooms fairly clean and comfortable and it is in the process of a total makeover. There is room in the parking lot if you do bring your RV and just want a hotel night or two in your travels.

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One final thought or tip for anyone planning to visit the Grand Strand. Your visit can be done quite economically, even for a family, with some research and pre-planning. Do not buy coupons from the Internet. Make your first stop at a grocery store when you arrive and collect the assorted free coupon books offered at the entrance. You’ll have a great time and save a lot of money.

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Safe travels and enjoy every journey,

Jack and Niki

p.s. Did we mention Krispy Kreme – “the” doughnut people? No trip South is complete without visiting the “factory” and sampling one or two.
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More about this trip on our FB page at https://www.facebook.com/OurSnowbirdRVTrails.

Exploring Florida’s Suncoast in November

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Jack and Niki bring you the November issue of our Suncoast & Tampa Bay Snowbird Visitor’s Guide. It’s now up on the Internet at http://www.tampabaysnowbirder.com/.
 
This issue explores a 12-mile scenic stretch of the 45-mile Pinellas Trail that runs along a former railroad bed with Parks and other interesting places to visit as you bike, walk or jog. Where to park, what to see and some interesting mile markers.
 
Did you know the Beach Markets are reopening for the Season? When and where are they?
 
How about a list of area restaurants open for a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner?
 
All of the above plus our regular features including what’s playing this month at the Pier 60 Sunset Cinema, a listing of November’s local art & craft fairs and festivals, area attractions by city/town, webcams, shopping, parks, dining and more.

Happy November from Niki & Jack Armstrong!

Easter Dinner on the Cottee River

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Catches Waterfront Grille in Port Richey, Florida
We hope all of our Internet friends and acquaintances had a nice Easter weekend? Niki and I did things a little differently this year. There are some favorite things at a traditional Easter dinner that we can no longer eat due to some medical restrictions so we decided to opt for Chinese on Easter Sunday and then have our Easter Dinner on Monday.
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Surf & Turf at Catches Waterfront Grille

Mondays happen to be when one of our favorites – surf and turf – is the Monday special at a nearby restaurant just a ways up the road and riverside in Port Richey.

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Catches in Port Richey, Florida

Catches Waterfront Grill and its Tiki themed sister establishment – Rum Runner – are located on the Cottee River just off US-19. The restaurant has great ambience and it is very relaxing watching the boats go by – going to and coming from the Gulf.

The food was delicious with the steaks done just the way we like them and the grilled shrimp skewers were very tasty. The only con would be we could not recommend the cole slaw again if you should happen to go there – though fresh there was really very little taste, however, there are many other sides to choose from. The young lady, Jen, tending our table, was a fairly new hire but very cheerful, personable and took good care of us.
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The Rum Runner on the waterfront in Port Richey, Florida
We had visited the Tiki themed neighbor – The Rum Runner – recently with Cheryl and Ray, our two friends from Canada, for fish and chips. The Rum Runner also offers tables riverside as well as a large dining area inside with a nice open feel to it. Both restaurants are served from the same kitchen area between the two.
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Blue skies and warm Gulf breezes make a near perfect day
The day was warm, sky was blue, with a light breeze from the Gulf, making for a most enjoyable Easter Dinner – though a day late.

Can we talk about good eats?

Let’s talk about Restaurants and good food along the major East Coast RV Routes.

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Alligator bites on Clearwater Beach

Niki and I find that the best way to feel – and yes, taste – the local flavor of an area is to seek out the locals’ favorite places to dine. You meet people and you get a better feeling for what it might be like living in an area. Of course, the other benefit is that you find some delicious local tummy fare along the way.

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“Michigans” at the original Clare and Carl’s in Plattsburgh, NY

If you share our interest in RVing, exploring and good food – or I should say good food and good value – or maybe just looking for a good suggestion to grab a bite on your trip, we have broken down our lists three ways.

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Dining along East Coast RV Routes

First we have a BIG list from our Snowbird RV Trails files – Restaurant Reviews by State – from Maine to Florida and from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Arkansas and the Mississippi River.

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Afternoon tea at Upper Canada Village

Secondly – Florida has been the home base in our travels and consequently we have visited more eateries here than any other State. Enough so that the Sunshine State Restaurants deserved a page or two of their own.

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Desserts to die for on the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs, FL

Now as Florida residents, the Tampa Bay Area is the epicenter of our lives which includes Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach along with all of the surrounding picturesque smaller Towns. We, of course, continue our “hobby” of finding good places to eat in this area.

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Things to do and places to go in Tampa Bay

We publish online our local Tampa Bay Visitors Guide which we update constantly. It’s always a work in progress. On the website we have a section devoted to dining in this area with special emphasis on where to Find Cheap Eats in Tampa Bay for our out-of-town visitors – Snowbirds, Spring Breakers, family vacationers and all other beach goers and sun worshipers who want to see and do all there is in the area but still stay within their budget.

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Waterfront dining in Hooters of New Port Richey

We hope you enjoy our “lists” and find them useful to you. If you would like to comment or maybe add a favorite of your own for us to visit, we’d like to hear from you. Send us an email to snowbirdrvtrails@gmail.com or tbsnowbirders@gmail.com.

Until we cross paths, we wish you safe travels and to always enjoy every journey.
Jack and Niki

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Lunch in Skene Manor – Whitehall’s “Castle on the Hill”

 

Things to do in the Tampa Bay, St. Pete and Clearwater Beach Areas

As our friends know – Niki and I like to see, to do and to explore wherever we go. The Tampa Bay Area has been our Winter Snowbird destination for the past several years. While here we continue to explore and have developed our own version of a Visitor’s Guide to this area. If you are planning a trip to the Tampa vicinity then we hope that it might be of some help to you. We’ve a map to some popular tourist destinations, dozens of suggestions for places to visit all around the area, dining reviews (we love to eat out!) including where to dine on a budget (Cheap Eats for Spring Breakers!). We’ve also listed tons of places to shop and many of the Parks in the two County (Hillsborough and Pinellas) area. There are photos, a list of area webcams and much more. Visit Niki and Jack’s Visitor Guide to Tampa Bay728x146welcometotampabay

A Visit to Tarpon Springs and the Sponge Docks

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Niki and I traveled a short way up Florida’s Sun Coast this afternoon to have lunch with three charming ladies from the Hoosier State.
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Former RVing neighbors and friends who were just in the area for a few days. We met for a really nice lunch at one of the better reviewed Greek restaurants on the famed Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs – Dimitri’s “On the Water” Restaurant.
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We were blessed with a beautiful warm and sunny day, the boats – large and small – were moving up and down the waterway. We had a fun and relaxed two hours getting reacquainted over good food, service and great scenery.
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After lunch we all walked the couple of blocks down to the Greek and European Bakery for dessert. The selection of decadent desserts in their display cases are straight out of a chocoholic’s dream. I had to try the baklava tiramisu – now that is a combination to write home about!
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Tarpon Springs is a fun place to visit if you find yourself in the Tampa Bay area. Settled largely by Greeks and a thriving source for the sponge industry for many years, they are proud of their history and food and happy to share both with visitors from all over the World.
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More photos on our Pinterest pages at https://www.pinterest.com/snowbirdrvtrail/tarpon-springs-florida/

What does it cost to be an RVing Snowbird?

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A Snowbird RV Route North from Florida

Niki and I are RVing Snowbirds. Each Spring we feel the urge to be on the road again and heading North for cooler Summer temperatures. Then along about September we begin to feel those Northern nights cooling down and the leaves beginning their Autumn change. That’s our signal to start packing up for our journey South to spend the Winter months in the land of palm trees and warm Gulf breezes.

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Our Snowbird RV Route South to the Sunshine State

We have spent the last eight years as Snowbirds and moving our Fifth Wheel with the Seasons. We’ve taken different routes on most trips and have pretty much covered the best North and South RVing routes from the Northeast to the Gulf Coast and Florida, and from the Atlantic seacoast to the Mississippi River.

You probably had many of the same questions we had starting out, like will we be able to afford this kind of lifestyle? Well, we have kept a trip diary from those early days and have been sharing what we have learned both here on our blog and on our website at snowbirdrvtrails.com.

We have a great deal of information on the website including photos, videos, dining & campground reviews, RV route maps, and sections on Workamping, Fraternal (Clubs & Organizations) and Off-Season Camping in the Northeast and how we plan the trips as well as tips on repairs and additions we have found useful for our rig.

We’ve just added a chart that breaks down the actual costs on two recent Snowbird trips. For comparison we show the stats on a quick seven day trip North to spend the Summer Season in the Adirondacks and compare it with a long and leisurely 17 day trip to spend the six Winter months Season at a nice RV Park on the “Sun Coast” section of the Gulf in Florida. You’ll find the mileages and the costs for gas, camping and dining as well as the Seasonal rates at both destinations and our costs for propane and electric.

You’ll also find links to the photos, reviews and trip reports for each trip. As always, if you have any questions send us (Niki and Jack) an email to snowbirdrvtrails@gmail.com and we will do our best to answer you.

Safe travels and enjoy the journey,

Jack and Niki
Snowbird RV Trails

Clearwater Dining – Bascom’s Chop House

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On the occasion of my 72nd birthday this past Sunday evening my Niki treated me, son Jay, his wife Kathy and granddaughter Maggie to a wonderful dinner at Bascom’s Chop House. The service was first rate and the menu selections were totally mouth watering. It is the perfect place for outings for any special occasions with special people.

The wine list is long and exceptional with selections for every taste. After ordering drinks, our server Michael brought a plate to the table to present the large and varied cuts of meat available. Known for their meat that’s seasoned and cooked to perfection, there were also choices of fish like Pistachio Crusted Grouper that Niki and Kathy ordered and raved about with Kathy even saying that perhaps it was the best meal she had ever had. Maggie ordered the 8oz Filet that was so good that the teenager finished every bite. Jay ordered a prime cut steak that was so large and perfectly done that he had to take half of it home. I enjoyed the queen cut of Prime Rib which practically melted in my mouth.

We enjoyed lobster bisque soup and lettuce salads before the  main course and garlic mashed potatoes with our meals.

For dessert Michael appeared with a new plate of choices that looked too delicious to be denied and included a chocolate tort, cheesecake with a pecan crust, key lime pie, crème brulee and a couple of others.

It was a beautiful evening that we all enjoyed with plans to definitely visit again in the future.
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BASCOM’S CHOP HOUSE is located at
3665 Ulmerton Road in Clearwater, FL
Phone: 727-573-3363
Reservations are advised.
Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 – 2:30 pm
Dinner Mon-Sat  5 – 10 pm
Sun  4 – 9 pm
Two great weekend specials are advertised for Friday, Saturday and Sundays.
The Petite Filet or Hand Carved Prime Rib with salad & sides for only 27.95.