We spent December 19, 2015 to January 6, 2016 in the Florida Keys – nearly 20 days of hopping between state parks and playing in the sun, sand and surf. We even celebrated Christmas here – and it was unlike any Christmas holiday we’ve ever had before. Balmy temperatures, endless sunshine, a tiny Christmas tree, minimal decorations – it was honestly one of the most magical Christmas celebrations we’ve ever had. Let me tell you about it. . .
Because we waited until the last minute to book our Florida Key State Park reservations, we didn’t have any reservation longer than 6 days. This meant we did a lot of hopping from park to park . Our first stop was Curry Hammock State Park (read our blog post about it here) and we were there only a few days before heading to Bahia Honda State Park.
Bahia Honda State Park is one of the most popular of the Florida Key state parks and has some of the most amazing views and an incredible beach for swimming. We had three nights in spot 15 – and I declared it the best camping spot in the park and probably one of my favorite campsites since we hit the road.
Located right on a corner of the campground it’s a large spot with breathtaking sunsets nearly every night. It’s crazy to me that this is a state park campsite for under $40/night. If you stay in a private campground in the Florida Keys you’re going to be crammed in with a bazillion other RVs and fork over $100 – $160/night. The state parks are the way to do the Florida Keys. . .
On the morning of December 23, Jeremy took the kids to a Bahia Honda Nature Center program (making seashell necklaces!) while I wrapped Christmas presents. Hiding, wrapping and storing presents is a lot trickier in 180 square feet than it was in our house. There is no big garage or closet to store gifts – so this was a delicate dance we did. And I have to admit, I’ve never wrapped presents with a more beautiful view (usually it’s on the cold concrete garage floor!).
The kids each wrapped the present they got for each other. . . .and we made seashell ornaments using a glitter thread and a hot glue gun. It was a really wonderful day of Christmas preparation.
The night of December 23 we had three other full-time travel families over for a big taco feast at our campsite. Our friends from Currently Wandering, the Bareneckers and @UpInTheAirstream came over and we chowed down while swapping travel stories and tips. The kids all adore each other and had lots of fun playing while the parents visited until after the sun had gone down.
The next morning (December 24, Christmas Eve) we packed up and headed to our next reservation at Long Key State Park. The great thing about Long Key State Park is ALL the spots back-up to the water. It’s a small park and a lot of the spots aren’t very deep – but you really can’t beat the backdrop if you can find a spot large enough to fit your rig. The shrubs and bushes on either side make for a private setting.
We had two back-to-back reservations at Long Key State Park – a 3-day and a 2-day reservation. Our first spot was in spot 23, it was a bit more slanted than we would have liked – but we made it work by pulling forward (I wanted to be angled in the back for maximum water view but the angle was too much). After getting leveled and settled in our new spot we set up for Christmas!
Our tiny Ikea Christmas tree with battery-powered Christmas lights, homemade seashell ornaments, a $3 Merry Christmas sign from Target and our Elf on the Shelf – we were ready for Christmas! It looks like a lot of gifts – but part of that is our tiny tree dwarfed by the pile. It also includes gifts for the kids from extended family.
We had heard rumors that Long Key State Park has Santa come by on a fire truck and I was hoping this would happen this year. It wasn’t long after we got settled that we heard the horns of the fire truck, a loud, bellowing “HO, HO, HO. . .” and Christmas carols blaring from the sound system. I *might* have teared up a bit as my kids jumped for joy and waved to Santa as he drove right past our campsite. . . circling back and passing by again. . . tossing candy canes out as he passed. I loved it. . . my kids loved it. It was awesome.
We generally open family Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. . . so we moved all the kids gifts out to the picnic table and they opened gifts as the sun started to set. My settings were off on my camera and all my photos turned out pixelated – I was crushed when I discovered it. But the memory of opening the gifts on the beach is forever imprinted on my heart – and that really is all that matters.
The next morning Santa found our trailer and the kids were just giddy as they opened up their gifts. I think they were a little worried he wouldn’t find us on the road . . .and worried he wouldn’t be able to find a way in, without a chimney. But Santa is resourceful and he figured it out. . .the kids were relieved and so very excited for the gifts he left them.
Liam had been asking for a fishing pole for months and Santa brought him one. . . with all the gear he’d need to get started.
I’ve never seen him so excited on Christmas Day. (Santa doesn’t know much about fishing but we heard he went to a local fishing shop in Marathon, Florida and got the pole and gear from a local small business owner who knows all about fishing in Florida.) Gifts from both Santa and the parents were mostly experience gifts. Hadley got a camera (she her blog post here) and they got a lot of things to play outside with – like sports balls and swim gear.
For Christmas dinner we grilled up a tri-tip from Costco and served it up with some simple sides. It was delicious, easy and stress-free.
After Christmas dinner we decided to take the new fishing pole for a ride. After buying a Florida fishing license online and getting some help (and fresh bait) from our camper neighbor who was out fishing, we tossed the line out to see what we could catch. . .
And within 10 minutes Liam got his Christmas miracle – he caught a fish! You have never heard so much excitement as when we pulled this fish into shore as a family. We thought it might be a shark because of it’s rough, grey skin. . .but after further research it turned out to be a salt-water catfish. We let the fish back into the water . . . Liam ran inside to call his Grandpa in Alaska (his fishing hero) and tell him about his catch.
Then we added some bait and caught ANOTHER one – also a salt-water catfish – a few minutes later. That was enough excitement for one night. It was getting dark and these fish are a pain to take off the hook (they have sharp barbs), so we decided to wait until daylight before we went fishing again.
I couldn’t have planned a better Christmas if I tried. Quality time together. Amazing views. Perfect weather. Catching fish under the moon and stars on Christmas night. The kids falling into bed EXHAUSTED after a fun-filled 24 hours. It really was something spectacular and my heart is so full when I think about it. Better than I could have ever expected. . .
We would spend the next few days at Long Key State Park fishing and playing in the water, enjoying the weather and each other.
We moved to spot 23 for a couple nights. . . which was a bit more narrow but had more privacy.
We took in more beautiful sunsets. . .
And sunrises. . .
and then we headed back to Bahia Honda State Park where we would spend the next six nights. We played at the Bahia Honda public beach with our friends from Currently Wandering. Bahia Honda had the BEST beach of any of the state park that we visited in the Florida Keys.
We did a lot of other things while in the area – visiting the Turtle Hospital, taking a glass-bottom boat tour out of John Pennekamp State Park, feeding the tarpons at Robbie’s and swimming with dolphins. It was all unique and special – we made many wonderful memories in the Florida Keys in those short 20 days.
Part of our homeschooling includes journaling about our adventures. . . .and looking back at the kid’s journal entries for this time shows just how much they loved this place. . .
They both have detailed photos of the campgrounds and the places that we visited. The beaches, the water, the animals and creatures they saw in the water, the fishing, the dolphins . . . it was a wonderland for us all and one of the most magical Christmas times we’ve ever had. . . .
Have you ever spent Christmas in the Florida Keys? Do you have favorite places in the Florida Keys you’d like to share?
We spent Christmas in Kauai a few years ago. Christmas day on the beach. We planned to have Chinese food for dinner. Like the Christmas story. But everything was closed. We had mac and cheese with hot dogs at our rental house.
Best Christmas ever!
Our kids now, do not long for items. They long for whole family experience.
Debby – I think the holidays that are the most simple really are the best. It’s not about the fancy menus or the big expensive gifts – it’s the heartfelt moments together as a family that matter! Sounds like your Kauai experience was magical!
Debra Flick says
Your kids are SO lucky!And I am amazed you could get in last minute . I am trying for January 2017 and nothing is available ! Looks like best Christmas EVER !
Hi Debra – I think we are all lucky. 🙂 I checked often for openings – we found they pop up about a week or so before. That’s when people seem to cancel after deciding not to go. Of course we had to piece together a bunch of short reservations, but it was worth it to us!
I love this! This was our first Christmas as Full-timers, and I think it was by far our favorite ever! Love your photos! Beautiful!
Thank you, Candy!
Sounds like a fantastic Christmas!!! I am wondering where you got that adorable swimsuit that Hadley has on? I’ve been looking for a swimsuit with good coverage for my 4 year old and haven’t had much luck. 🙂
Becky – The struggle is real for swimsuits with adequate coverage for young girls – I totally get that. This was a swimsuit from Costco – even came with a sunhat and I think it was under $20 for the whole get-up.