Early Mardi Gras – The Villages FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

You get a little bit of everything in the Villages. This week we got Mardi Gras a week early. The festivities were held at the Spanish Springs village square, and it was the most crowded event we’ve ever been to in the Villages.

When we got there we almost gave up because we had a hard time finding a parking spot. But we eventually found one on a side street about half a mile away. Glad we didn’t give up. We had a great time.

We were greeted by the Perseverance Brass Band, who were first rate. Further in toward the square was a Cajun band that was also quite good. Between sets, we were entertained by the Village Twirlers, a larger group of women cheerleaders and majorettes who were closer to age 80 than 18.

You gotta love it. 

Coquina Beach Market – Bradenton Beach FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦+

We had some extra time in Bradenton after Jennifer went home, so we decided to explore the area a bit. Glad we did. We stumbled upon a wonderful  farmers market on Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. This is by far the most scenic farmers market we’ve ever been to.

The booths are lined up on both sides of an asphalt boardwalk that runs between the parking lot and the beach. The walkway is lined with trees providing shade to the vendors and shoppers. The market was larger than we expected, no doubt because of its spectacular beach front location.

We enjoyed the market so much that we returned the next day and spent the  afternoon lazing about on the beach.  Coquina Beach is truly a hidden gem, and stands in dramatic contrast to our last beach experience at Fort Lauderdale.  To be fair, the weather was much nicer this time. But it’s not just the weather. The Fort Lauderdale Beach was loud and busy, but Coquina Beach is laid back and relaxing, in other words exactly what a beach should be. 

Lake Manatee State Park – Bradenton FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦
  • Length of stay: 4 days
  • Cost of per night: $13.75 per night
  • Discount: Florida Senior
  • Hook ups: 50 amp electric and water. No sewer. 
  • Site number/quality: #38 in second section. Large site, level and mostly sandy, some shade, backs up to swamp to the north.
  • Park Quality: Nice park but nothing especially unique about it.
  • Access: Off FL-64, about 5 miles east of I-75.
  • Connectivity: Verizon strong, AT&T strong with antenna, T-Mobile strong with antenna. OTA TV reception is very good.
  • Return yes/no?: Yes, if in the area.
  • Notes: Jennifer, who moved from Florida to Indiana last spring, came south for a visit to defrost with some of her Florida friends in Fort Myers. We arranged to meet her in Venice for a day. We had a nice time together.  After a fine lunch at Sharky’s at the Pier, we spread out the blanket and chairs on the beach and spent the afternoon catching up. The next day we went to Cortez and had lunch at the Seafood Shack.
  • Website: Lake Manatee State Park
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Chillin’ at the Beach – Fort Lauderdale FL

RATING: ♦♦♦

This winter is the first time that we are staying for an extended period in one park, i.e. three months at Three Flags RV Park in Wildwood FL. As much as we like it here, we also wanted to see some other areas in the state. We had an old timeshare week and decided to use it at the Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort.

Our hotel was across the street from the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, which was the site of the South Florida Folk Festival the weekend we were in town. The Festival has been around since 1990, and bills itself as a combination music fest, family reunion, community gathering, and weekend musical retreat. It was a relatively small festival, and it was clear that most of the attendees knew each other. The quality of the music was mediocre, but the venue was unique. There were two stages, with one under a huge banyan tree. The weather was perfect, so we had a nice time all things considered.

Unfortunately, the rest of the week the weather was not on our side. Way too cool and windy to spend on the beach. We did have a couple of hours at the pool, which was sheltered from the wind, but it was still cool. Becky went to the 53rd Annual Broward Shell Show.

We cut our week short by two days, but not before a visit to Los Olas Blvd, which is an upscale shopping area and near the Riverwalk. Had a nice lunch there at the Cheesecake Factory on our way out of town.

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Christmas in the Villages – The Villages FL

RATING: ♦♦♦♦♦

One of the main reasons we decided to spend the entire winter at Three Flags RV Resort is because of its close proximity to the Villages, which has plenty of shopping and restaurants as well as free live music at the outdoor stages in each of the three village squares. The closest square to our campground is Brownwood Station.  Being from the frigid north, there’s something especially magical about listening to music outdoors in our shirtsleeves during the Christmas holidays.  

Plus we found a church that we like a lot, Live Oaks Community Church. It’s a fairly new congregation, about five years old, but it’s growing fast. Last year they were meeting at the Wildwood Community Center, but over the summer they moved into their new building a few miles north in Oxford. They have two services on Sunday morning in the auditorium, plus an outdoor drive-in service Sunday afternoon that is especially designed to attract folks in golf carts. It’s been quite successful.

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