Calle Ocho, Spanish for Eighth Street, which is where the festival takes place, was founded in 1977 by a group of Cuban-Americans, and it closes the Miami Carnival festivities. It is nowadays organized and sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana and although it is a far cry from its heyday in the 80’s and 90’s it is still one of the largest street festivals in the world, with over one million people attending each year. The festival has broken many records, the most notable in 1988 when it made it to the Guinness Book of World Records by forming the world’s longest conga line with almost 120,000 people. Originally 24 blocks of SW 8th Street became a sea of people dancing, with food and drinks stalls, and 30 stages with live entertainment. In 2017 they only closed down 15 blocks of 8th street and there were only about 10 stages. It is still definitely something to see if you are visiting south Florida in early March. One thing to note if you are a visitor is to leave before sundown. Things can get a little rowdy and occasionally violent as some people get drunk and tend to misbehave. Otherwise enjoy this Pan-American apotheosis of flavors and sounds.
Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. Living the RV Dream with Traveling Robert podcast. Episode 1
I’ve been living in Miami for almost 30 years, and it is now that I’m beginning to discover the great State of Florida. Before RVing, most vacations consisted of going to some faraway place. Having a trailer, and the fact that we are “trapped” in the state being to far south, has forced us to explore places that are closer, and until we start fulltiming that will be the case. One of those places is pretty much in our very own our backyard: the Everglades National Park.
In my experience there are three main areas to explore.
Florida City Entrance
The first entrance is by Florida City, where there is a road that goes all the way to Flamingo, at the southern tip of mainland Florida. There are two main campgrounds in this area. The first one near the entrance is Long pine Key, which is primitive. The other one is Flamingo, at the end of the road, which has water and electric. There are plenty of nature trails, and even a missile site from the Cold War era. Right outside the national park, there is this place called Alligator Farm, where you can see all kinds of reptiles and birds. They also have very enjoyable airboat rides.
The second entrance I’m going to talk about is Shark Valley. The entrance is located on US-41, the Tamiami Trail in the Miccosukee Indian reservation. There is a 15-mile loop road that you can see by riding your bicycle or by taking a tram tour. At the southernmost point of the loop road there is an observation tower where you get unobstructed commanding views of the Everglades. On the loop road you will see plenty of wildlife, particularly alligators, much more plentiful during the winter months.
Big Cypress National Preserve
As we continue West on US-41, we enter a more wooded area called Big Cypress National Preserve. Do stop by the Oasis Visitors Center to get some information and see the alligators on the side of the road. This is also the southern terminus of the Florida Trail. There are several campgrounds on the area. Midway has water and electric, Monument Lake and Burns Lake are primitive. The best kept secret is the loop road that begins at the Monroe Station. It is an unpaved road that goes deep into the preserve. In my opinion the best experience because you can stop by the side of the road whenever you spot some wildlife, which is everywhere. The road ends on the east by the aforementioned Miccosukee village. There’s another primitive campground near that end of the road called Mitchell’s Landing.
All along US-41 in this area there are plenty of touristy places to do airboat rides, eat frog legs and alligator bites, although my favorite place for that is Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe, which is located further west by the site of the Ochopee Post Office, smallest one in the United States, and the road that goes to Everglades City, which is my third (fourth) and final recommendation.
From Everglades City at the National Park Service the is a great boat tour. From the tour you can see all kinds of birds but the main attraction are usually the dolphins. If you go in the winter they will sail by Indian Key, where there is a massive flock of white pelicans. You can only see them in the winter as they are a snow bird. There are a couple of campgrounds in this area. There’s the Outdoors Resort of Chokoloskee, at Chokoloskee Island, and Trail Lakes on US-41, and further west there of course Collier Seminole State Park and Naples/Marco Island KOA.
Hope you enjoy this first episode of the Living the RV Dream reboot. Don’t forget to send your feedback to email@example.com or a voicemail by following the link on the top right corner. Also watch my videos on YouTube.
See you next week, when we will have our first interview.
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In this unofficial first episode I introduce myself and make sure everything works. Stay tuned next week for episode 1, in which I will talk about the Everglades National Park, and Big Cypress National Preserve. Click image for the YouTube video
Video gear I use
Sony 4K HD Video Recording FDRAX33 Handycam Camcorder
Sony Action Cam FDR-X3000 Wi-Fi GPS 4K HD Video Camera Camcorder with Flat Surface & Helmet Mounts + 64GB Card + Battery + Case + Flex Tripod + Kit
In this weeks video and blog post we are going back to the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve to do a couple of things we haven’t done before.
We are staying at Monument Lake which is one of the few places this time of the year with any site available. We’re visiting in February at the peak of snowbird season.
In the video and blog post I use Everglades and Big Cypress interchangeably because they are very similar ecosystems. Big Cypress my favorite of the two areas is, as the name suggests a lot more wooded. The first activity we attempt is to walk a short section of the Florida trail. In South Florida, besides alligators, pythons, panthers, great blue herons, and anhingas, the most abundant member of the animal kingdom is the mosquito. The mosquitos are relentless on the Florida trail. I was under the impression that the winter was the non mosquito season. I was obviously greatly misinformed. It has also been an unusually hot and humid winter.
After our epic fail at the Florida Trail, we decide to the next best thing, which is a loop road that goes pretty deep into the Big Cypress National Preserve. This is truly the highlight of the trip, and the highlight of the loop road is the Sweetwater Strand. In the strand, which is like a river crossing the swamp, we can see all kinds of different birds and the heavy vegetation provided by the taller Cypress tress, makes it feel a lot cooler than the rest of the area. We see all kinds of different birds, and plenty of gators, some of them perhaps too close for comfort.
On the next day we visit Shark Valley, which is one of the most popular and famous places on the Everglades National Park. The is a loop trail where you can ride a bicycle and if you are lazy like us, there is also a tram. The tram is noisy and uncomfortable, and very much overdue for an upgrade. There is an observation tower at the far end of the road. The views are fine, but I guess my expectations were so high that I end up a little underwhelmed. We plenty of wildlife as well. The tour is presented by an elderly couple, and it is full of anecdotes and valuable information.
The culinary highlight of the trip is Joanie’s Café, in which the swamp platter which includes gator bites and frog legs is a winner.
Stay tuned for another compilation video coming soon about the 3 or 4 mail things to do in The Everglades National Park, and the Big acupressure National Preserve.
In this final installment of the Tampa Bay series we are going to visit Tampa proper over the course of three afternoons. We are attending the Florida Rv Supershow in the morning.
On the first day we stay in the car most of the time, just getting a little bit of the lay of the land. We drive on the street that claims to have the longest sidewalk in the world, Bayshore Boulevard. We also drive through Hyde Park, a historic district, home to the famous Bern’s Steakhouse. The southernmost point of our exploratory trip is Ballast Point Park, from where we get extraordinary views of downtown across the bay.
On our second day we have lunch at the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Florida. Also the oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, and one of the largest in the wold. Its name is The Columbia. While we are in Ybor City we explore some of the historic sites and take a round trip on the TECO line street car to downtown.
On our third day, we eat at a trendy restaurant called Ulele, on the riverfront. We also explore downtown a little bit and the University of Tampa on the other side of the Hillsborough River. The Henry B. Plant Hall, is a historic building, formerly the legendary Tampa Bay Hotel. Nowadays it hosts the Henry B. Plant Museum as well as some of the University services.
Overall it was a great time. On our way out we bid farewell to one of Americas iconic roadside attractions, the Airstream ranch, which was demolished just a few days after our visit.
This week we are visiting Tarpon Springs, a historic Greek community built by the sponge industry, Dunedin and its popular causeway, pleasant downtown and historic microbrewery, and Clearwater, one of the best beaches of the Sun Coast of Florida.
We begin our trip by driving to the northernmost point of Pinellas County, and the Sun Coast for that matter: Tarpon Springs. A great number of Greek immigrants arrived to the area during the 1890’s to work on the emerging sponge industry, thus today it has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. It is known as the sponge capital of the world because of its beginnings.
In the historic downtown we encounter one of the main landmarks here: the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Completed in 1943, the cathedral replaced a church from 1907. It was built with marble from Greece, Czechoslovakian chandeliers and it has 23 stained glass windows.
Next we go to the historic sponge docks, to find something to eat.
The Sponge Docks is the area where the sponge industry originally began and helped build this Greek community. It is nowadays very commercialized and touristy with places like the Spongeorama. We eat at the famous Hellas Restaurant and Bakery, family owned since 1970.
Out next point of interest is Wall Springs Park. In the 1920 the park and the natural spring used to be a health spa known as Health Springs. There’s an observation tower and the park is overall a nice relaxing place with Spanish moss draped trees and a boardwalk, but there’s nothing really unique about it.
Next we continue towards the City of Dunedin. First we stop by the Dunedin Causeway, which takes you to Honeymoon Island State Park. It seems to be a nice place, where what seems to be mostly locals, come to relax, fish, paddleboard, or just chill by the beach.
In Dunedin propper we encounter the Pinellas Trail which goes through downtown, and goes all the way from Tarpon Springs to Saint Petersburg. The city stands out for its unobstructed views of the Intercoastal Waterway, which we’ll see soon enough, and for the absence of any chain stores or franchise restaurants. Everything seems to be local, which is a good thing. There’s also Florida’s oldest craft microbrewery, established in 1995. Yeah, way before craft beer was popular. It is called, appropriately enough, Dunedin Brewery.
Our final stop is Clearwater, which is supposed to be one of the finest beaches in Florida, so we’re dying to check it out. Too bad we forgot to bring our bathing suits. We are going to get there just in time for the sunset, and apparently they have some kind of sunset celebration like they do in Ft. Myers, and Key West. It is called Sunsets at Pier 60 Daily Festival. They do have street performers and friendly pelicans.
I hope you enjoy this week’s video and see you on the road!
This weeks travel video is the second installment of the Tampa Bay series, which takes us to Saint Petersburg, Florida.
After exploring a short section of the Pinellas Trail, we drive to Downtown St. Pete, as it is locally known. We take a leisurely stroll on Demens Park, eyeing the numerous sailboats, and small aircraft flying from nearby Albert Whitted Airport, the birthplace of scheduled commercial flight. We can see downtown Tampa in the distance with the now demolished St. Pete Pier in the foreground.
The next stop is at the city nutmber one tourist attraction: The Salvador Dalí Museum. It holds the largest collection of Dalí works outside of Europe and outside of Spain, and also the second largest collection of Dalí’s master works, the very large canvas that took over a yes each to complete. There’s also a somewhat gimmicky but way cool virtual reality presentation in which you get to go inside some of Dalí’s more famous paintings.
The Museum left us hungry so we eat at the lively Central Avenue, where the is a plethora of choices. We end the day by cruising along the avenue, and driving by the Historic Roser Park district of the city.
Ever since we acquired our Winnebago Micro Minnie 1706, christened Minitini, we’ve had two main sources of dissatisfaction. The first one you probably know about if you follow my videos at rvvlog.com, which forwards to my YouTube channel TravelingRobert. Our Atwood OD50 on demand water heater has been less than stellar to put is mildly. Our other source of grief has been the uncomfortable dinette, which kind of barely converts into a twin bed, but is far from an optimal solution. I finally decided to try my hand at woodworking and come up with a more comfortable and flexible solution.
The first part of this metamorphosis involved a lot of unscrewing, but a couple of hours later the old dinette was completely removed.
The next part of the project involved making some kind of cabinet or enclosure to hide the unsightly wheel well, which besides being unattractive looking is made of the flimsiest metal, just a step up from aluminum foil. So I measured twice, went to Home Depot, and bought some wood to tackle the project.
My original idea involved a large folding two-pane table, which could be used in the folded position and then expanded if needed. Luckily we stumbled upon this table from IKEA which takes us 80% of the way there. It is a smaller folding wall table which is practically unusable un the folded position, but we came up with the idea of having two of them for even more flexibility.
One major challenge was fastening the tables to the wall. Our trailer, like many other RVs, has what they call laminate walls. They consist of two thin sheets of some hard material and no studs to be found. The thin ¼ inch material was unlikely to hold the weight of the tables plus whatever we put on them. After much research, I figured the best solution was to fasten a larger piece of wood to the wall first, In order to distribute the weight among more wall anchors.
To this nice setup we added two office chairs, also from IKEA and we are still on the fence about installing the armrests for fear that they might become too bulky. As you know inside a small travel trailer every inch counts.
Check out the following video in which I go into more detail.
If you like driving videos, this week’s installment will be the one for you. We are going to go back in time to the beginning of our recent trip to Saint Petersburg and Tampa, in which we eventually visited the Florida RV Supershow.
In this video we day view what I’m calling the tri-camera setup, which is still very much in beta. I have place another two cameras on the trailer to give you different views of the road. One is on the side and one looking backwards. Eventually I want to have cameras looking in every direction, maybe even a 360° setup.
We get to see the Alligator Alley from a whole different perspective as well as the famous Sunshine Skyway bridge.
After the long drive, we leave the trailer at our campsite at the St. Pete/Madeira Beach KOA, and decide to go to John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk for a couple of beers and dinner.
Over the next few days we explore the area quite a bit, but that will be the subject of the next few videos. Until next time, thank you for watching and see you on the road!
The Florida RV Supershow, which happens yearly in mid-January, is arguably the largest RV show in the United States of America, a title it disputes with the Hershey Show in Pennsylvania. If you are in the market for a new RV, this show will have the largest selection available anywhere. You are almost guaranteed to find the model and floor plan you are looking for. If you are not in the market it is also a good place to see what’s new, innovative, or just plain curious or ridiculous. There are also two large pavilions with vendors from cookware manufacturers to RV resorts.
This year I was lucky enough to attend on Industry Day, which is a day not open to the public, so you can explore all the units at leisure without the large crowds of the public days. That being said it was not what I expected. I expected it would be a day where you could speak to manufacturers and dealers, get interviews, and more in depth information, but that was not it at all. Industry Day is nothing more than a dress rehearsal, a soft opening, where everybody is still setting up, nobody really want to talk to you, and they don’t even have prices or information yet. Some of the rigs were even being used as storage for beverages and promotional materials for the next day.
That being said we were able to see a lot of RVs, and cover quite a lot in a relatively short time. We began in the pavilion by the entrance where all the Pleasure Ways, Roadtreks, and other class B’s were. On the other side of the floor They had the Prevost luxury motorhomes, and the Airstreams that we decided to leave for another day.
I have really tried to like these two particular brands of Class B, Roadtrek and Pleasure Way for a while now, particularly Roadtreks, which was recently purchased by German manufacturer Hymer. Even though some of them feature the latest in technology, lithium batteries, under the hood generators, heated floors and massive solar arrays, there is something about the floor plans that we just can’t get over. They feel cramped and uncomfortable, and they all have the same cookie cutter floor plan with a sofa bed in the back, galley and refrigerator on one side, bathroom and closet on the other, and the narrowest possible hallway. Want a table to eat? Most of the time you will have to assemble it, usually hidden in some closet out of the way. We are lazy when it comes to that. We want a permanent table and a permanent bed, because sometimes RV dwellers have different schedules.
There was also a B+ Pleasure Way with a murphy bed and a dry bath that was adequate. The problem with the murphy bed, again, is that everybody in the rig has to go to sleep at the same time. Why those are so popular lately is beyond my comprehension.
Moving right along there was a very nice 4X4 custom sprinter van by Spotsmobile which unfortunately didn’t have a bathroom. I wish more companies would come up with innovative floor plans on 4X4 chassis, so you can boondock in even more remote places.
Our next point of interest was the Hymer booth. Hymer is the largest manufacturer of RV in Europe, and their recent acquisition of Roadtrek, means we might be seeing a lot more of their products trickle to this side of the Atlantic. They were featuring two motorhomes based on the Ram Promaster/Fiat Ducato chassis and two travel trailers. One of the motorhomes we had seen before, the Hymer Aktiv, formerly the Grand Canyon. Measuring a mere 19.5 feet long it is one of the shortest class B motorhomes available. It features a pretty innovative collapsible bed in the back, a wet bath with cassette toilet and fold up sink. It is one of my favorite class B floor plans of late. Of course new for this year there is a slightly longer model with a convertible sofa bed in the back that looks like a direct transplant from a Roadtrek and really felt out of place in an otherwise innovative floorplan. Then there was the Sonne, not available yet in the USA, only 17 feet long with a pop-up shower which also doubled as counter space when in the down position. Both travel trailers had a pop up roof, no holding tanks, and apparently were light enough to be towed with a light SUV or even a car. We love to see innovation from a new comer to the marker who really thinks outside the box.
Our next stop was at the Winnebago booth to pay a visit to our old friend the Winnebago Travato, based on a 21-foot-long Promaster van. That was our favorite RV of 2016, but this time, after spending some time inside, and speaking to other owners, it has fallen a little out of grace in our humble opinion. We have realized we may need something slightly bigger, with more storage, in order to be comfortable.
We also paid a visit to the newer version of our Micro Minnie and then discovered what may be our new favorite motorhome: the Winnebago Trend 23L. At only 24 feet in length the Winnebago Trend may be one of the more complete Class C in the market. Even though it is marketed as a class C it features the more streamlined design and swiveling captain chairs of their B+ cousins.
I could write a short book about all the Class C, travel trailers, fifth wheels, truck campers and big rigs that we saw, but instead I’ll follow up with links to the rest of the videos I published during the week we spent at the Florida RV Supershow.
See you on the road!