Saturday, May 11, 2013

Camping in the Keys – Three Sites to Save Money

How can you not love the Florida Keys?  Unlimited sunshine, strong drinks, and beautiful sunsets.

Oh, I know… the prices.  Especially the cost to stay the night in a hotel.  A few months ago, I reviewed the cheapest places to stay in Key West.  But you know what’s even cheaper than $105 a night for a hotel room?  As low as $36 for a campsite.  So, without further adieu, three campgrounds with unlimited sunshine and beautiful sunsets (you’ll have to bring your own drinks!).

Bahia Honda State Park, Mile Marker 37 (between Marathon and Key West)

Many of the campsites here are on the water, providing either a view of the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, or the bay.

For $36 a night, we snagged a site on the bay.

Across the way, cabins that will set you back about $122 a night

Bahia Honda State Park is beautiful and provides activities like snorkeling, swimming, and wildlife viewing.

My first warning?  A lot of the sites are gravel so beware. 

If you have an air mattress, now is the time to bust it out.
This gravel is no bueno for a good night's sleep.

My second warning?  Even with 80 campsites, this park still sells out quickly.  A quick check of
Reserve America (how you book a night of camping in all of the state parks) shows nothing is available, not even in the month of May, which is traditionally “off season” in the Florida Keys.  Book as far out as possible.

Total Cost: $36/night + $8 vehicle entrance to the park = $44

John Pennekamp State Park, Mile Marker 102.5 (Key Largo)

This park is considered “America’s First Undersea Park.”  John Pennekamp has only 47 campsites and they sell out very fast.  Since it, too, is a state park like Bahia Honda, a night of tent camping will run you $36. 

The main allure of John Pennecamp is the snorkeling and diving – the boat trips from Pennecamp almost always take you to Christ of the Abyss.

(Courtesy of You Tube: CyclingWorks)

This underwater statue was the third sculpture cast from the same mold that created the original Christ of the Abyss in the Italian Riviera.  The second sculpture is located in Grenada (thank you Wikipedia).

Total Cost: $36/night + $8 vehicle entrance to the park = $44

Kings Kamp, Mile Marker 103.5 (Key Largo)

Frank and I stumbled upon this campground a few weekends ago when we went hang gliding and couldn’t find a single place to stay all the way from Islamorada to Key Largo.  Even the nearby campgrounds were booked.  So, we had no choice but to stay at Kings Kamp, and boy, were we glad!

Frank's setting up shop at our campground -
with the Florida Bay in the background

Not only was this private campground cleaner than most state parks, it offered spectacular views of the sunset.

To make matters even better, it was just a short walk to Key Largo “nightlife” like Senor Frijoles, Sundowners and Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill.  Though the price is more expensive than camping at state parks, the convenience factor of being able to walk places.

Total Cost: $50/night

Other campgrounds where I haven’t stayed (but want to) include:

As long as you are a prepared camper (like a wrote about a few weeks ago here), you’ll have a blast in the Keys and save a bundle.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Magic Carpet Ride – Hang Gliding at 2,500 Feet

I'm not really one for adventures where I have the possibility of dying. Heck, I don't even like flying. But my excursion last weekend blew my mind.

I went hang gliding.

I have to say: this was one of the best experiences of my life. 

After I stopped shaking, I was soaring at 2,500 feet in the Cotton Key Basin near Islamorada. Above me, clear skies. Below, nothing but miles of blue waters.

Alex, from Paradise Hang Gliding, took me on this radical ride.  I was a little frightened at first, especially because the takeoff happens so quickly.

I actually felt very stable as we rocketed into the sky. Once in the air, it was just Alex and I, looking out over the glassy water, on patrol for turtles, sharks, and maybe even a pod of dolphins.

Unfortunately, I saw none of the above mentioned wildlife, but it didn't matter because I was so consumed with the view.

I even got to steer the glider a bit, which probably made Alex nervous because I wasn't very focused on driving, just soaring.

After about 15 minutes airborne, it was time to come down.

And with that landing, I left my heart in the sky, even though my feet were back on the ground.

How did this fantastic flight take place? Frank found a deal on Living Social! The economical explorer is wearing off on him apparently! 

We paid $100 for a 15+ minute flight at 2,500 feet. The regular price was $200. We also had to pay $20 in fees per person, and $45 for a video, making the grand total $165 each (still a $100 savings).

It may not be the most economical thing on earth, but it was worth it to pay so much green and see so much blue.

Plus, that $45 for the video helped create this awesome footage.

Frank got his hang gliding experience on camera as well.

Total cost: $165 each (with Living Social), $265 without (plus a $5 credit card fee)

Best Deal: Saving $100 with the Living Social deal - it's an experience definitely worth full-price!