Tag Archives: weekend getaway

Weekend Getaway to Mount Dora, Part 2

We pulled into Mount Dora about 7:30 pm on Friday. The sun had already set and although it’s central Florida, there was a chill in the air. I’ve visited Mount Dora a couple of times in the past, but never in the winter. My sister-in-law described it best.

“It’s like living in a hallmark card!”

She was right. When you pull into town, you are greeted by thousands of twinkling lights in every color. I know most towns decorate for the holidays but this is much more than a few strings of lights wrapped around a welcome sign.

Every street, every park, every shop and restaurant has a display of lights and music. To give you a sense of the level of detail, the city starts decorating in October. My favorite was the downtown park with tiny white lights that seemed to drip from the giant oak trees.

However, the crowd favorite was clearly the Santa Claus Village created by a private citizen down by the boat docks on Lake Dora.

There were 3D angels with light blue wings and flowing white dresses hovering overhead. Tiny elves with packages covered the ground, while candy canes lined the streets of the Christmas village. And of course, Santa with his 8 tiny reindeer soared above it all.

Mount Dora is great any time of year, but it definitely is extra special over the holidays.

Where to stay in Mount Dora:

We stayed at the Grandview Bed and Breakfast, located on East 3rd Avenue for two reasons. First, it’s walking distance to downtown, so once you’re there, you’re there. You don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, feeding a meter or wonder if you’re illegally parked (more on that later).

Second, the hospitality is insane. I honestly think that Gwendolyn (the proprietor) might be a witch. Not a bad witch. More like Hermione from Harry Potter, or Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. I don’t know how else she could provide the guest experience she does without spells.

You can see more details about the stay on my Google Review, which could all be proof points of her magical powers, but all you really have to do is get a taste of her 5-course, made from scratch breakfast and I’m sure you’d agree with me that clearly the woman has skills that are beyond this world.

What to do in Mount Dora:

After Gwendolyn’s breakfast, we walked downtown to do some shopping. Mount Dora has all the usual, quaint, locally owned stores that you’d find in most historic downtowns – gift shops, soap stores, kitchen gadgets and the like. But my favorite store was the Mount Dora Olive Oil company (because I am Italian, after all).

There’s a lady with short, curly white hair who works there (or maybe she is the owner, I didn’t ask, she didn’t say) but it is clear she loves her job. She knows everything about every type of oil and vinegar in the store and diligently explained the difference in flavors, cooking methods and offered recipe advice for pretty much every serious customer who walked through the door.

ALSO, they bottle any olive oil you buy right there and they have this cool torch they use to seal the containers shut. It reminds me of when you throw plastic into a campfire, but this doesn’t smell. So, even if you aren’t buying, I would go check it out.

That afternoon, we went on a boat tour, which left from Lake Dora. Once again, you can walk from town to the boat ramp, which is ideal since parking by the boat ramp looked like a nightmare. There’s actually two bout tour companies in town, and we went with the Rusty Anchor. They’ve been in business for 30 years, which doesn’t always equate to excellent service, but in this case, it did.

The biggest difference between the Rusty Anchor and their competitors are the boats themselves. Our boat had seating all around the sides of the boat, so every passenger had a view of the water, whereas the other boats had rows of seats like a bus, so if it’s a crowded boat ride, you could be stuck in the middle seat with nothing to stare at but the back of some old guy’s bald head (I mean, it is Florida).

You can bring libations on the boat as well, which makes the alligators seem bigger and the ride seem much more dangerous and exciting overall.

Although we didn’t make it this time around, two other must do activities are going to Blue Springs State Park to see the manatees (especially if you go in the spring) and walking the Palm Island boardwalk. It’s great in the summer because there’s a ton of foliage, which keeps you from passing out due to heat stroke…and that is super important since there’s a zillion alligators lurking along the banks, ready and waiting for someone to pass out from heat stroke.

Where to eat in Mount Dora:

On Friday night we went to Pisces Rising, which is a seafood restaurant, but all their food is good. In fact, I ordered the duck and it wasn’t a mistake. Our waitress said it was the most under-ordered item on the menu…probably because it is a seafood place, but I’ve seen more ducks in the water than flying around in the air, so I felt it was a more than appropriate order.

On Saturday night, the City put on a Children’s Christmas in the Park. There was a snow maker and sledding down this hill. Needless to say, the downtown area was PACKED. People were parking illegally down all these narrow little side roads, so it was no surprise when this woman rounded a corner and ran into one of the parked cars. Just another reason to stay at the Grandview and walk everywhere…

Anyways, on Saturday night, we headed to the Copacabana Cuban Restaurant for dinner. It’s got a huge patio outside and is a great place to people watch, especially on a busy weekend. If you go for drinks, get the mojito. If you go for dinner, get the yellow rice as your side instead of the white rice. It’s not extra, it’s just extra good.

So, that’s Mount Dora in 48 hours. If you haven’t been. Go. If you have been, go again. It’s that good.

Wow?! DID YOU JUST READ ALL OF THIS? If you did, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought!

Thanks for reading!

Lucille

Weekend Getaway to Mount Dora, Part 1

Packed and ready for our trip to Mount Dora

I pretty much spent my entire life plotting ways to get out of the middle of nowhere (aka Alaska) only to marry a man and move to the middle of nowhere (aka Tallahassee, Florida).

You don’t believe me? My mom doesn’t. Tallahassee has a Walgreens therefore it must be a real city. Low bar, mom…

But it’s true. I used to work in tourism. I LOST COUNT of how many times journalists would come up to me at conferences and say “I thought Miami was the capital!” People haven’t heard of it, haven’t been to it and only about 180,000 even want to live in it.

The problem isn’t so much with Tallahassee (people LOVE the trees…until hurricane season), rather, it’s the inability to quickly or cheaply get in or out of Tallahassee. Flights are hella expensive and the nearest city is a 4 hour drive.

If I get a bunch of comments saying “Destin is only 2.5 hours away” I will just assume you haven’t ever been anywhere in your life because Destin isn’t a city. It’s a beach town. Is there a Nordstrom? Didn’t think so. Thank you, next.

At this point you’re probably wondering, is this a rant from a lunatic about some tiny little capital “city” or a post about Mount Dora? I’ll get on with it…

My point is, I get VERY excited when we take trips away from Tallahassee that don’t require a $500+ airline ticket or a 5 hour car ride. It’s as rare as a unicorn so the excitement level is completely appropriate.

As a wedding present, my amazing aunt and uncle booked us a weekend getaway in Mount Dora, Florida. And they also got the same gift for my cousin and his wife who got married in 2018 as well. So THIS WEEKEND we are heading down for a couples vacation. Which, by the way, may be the last couples vacation we go on since we will likely have kids in tow in 21 days (but who’s counting?).

According to google maps, Mount Dora is 199 miles or 3 hours and 41 minutes from Tallahassee by car. No flight required. Under 5 hours. I AM VERY EXCITED!!!

We have a whole itinerary of activities planned that I’ll share in my next post, but since I’ve been to Mount Dora before, I can say with certainty to all my Tallahassee friends that if you are looking for a relatively close and affordable getaway, you should put this gem on your list.

Until next time!

– Lucille

Almost Paradise: A Trip to Dog Island, Florida

If there was a zombie apocalypse and citizens had to choose members of my family to teach them survival methods, I would be chosen, but I’d probably be picked last. 

Growing up in Alaska, you learn how to rough it – how to hunt, how to fish, how to build a house, plant a garden, live without running water. All of these things I begrudgingly learned. Then, I turned 18 and I moved south to civilization. I will take glamping over camping any day of the week. I have grown accustomed to the easy life, predictable as the Walgreens you’ll find on every corner in the southeast.

Living the easy life

So when Thomas said he wanted to go to Dog Island for his birthday weekend, I had to stifle a moan. 

A weekend getaway with a hint of danger 

Dog Island is a 6-mile tract of land smack in the middle of nowhere. I can say this as a matter-of-fact and not opinion because it is located 50 miles south of Tallahassee, Florida, which is the least developed capital city in the entire United States. This too is a matter of fact, as it costs more money to buy a plane ticket out of here than it does to buy a ticket out of Fairbanks, Alaska. 

Besides the remote location, there are other factors that make the Island less-than-appealing to this Alaskan-turned-Floridian. 

Getting to Dog Island, Florida

After you make it out of the Friday 5 o’clock rush hour traffic in Tallahassee, you’ll spend the next hour stuck behind an F-150 pulling a boat bigger than two F-150s going 35 miles per hour through the following cities, I mean towns, I mean villages: Crawfordville, Sopchoppy (home of the worm gruntin’ festival), Lanark Village and finally, Carrabelle  (home of the world’s smallest police station).   

Carrabelle, Florida: home of the world’s smallest police station

The Island is accessible by only plane or boat. We take the latter. After unloading 2 carloads of food, clothes and activities (remember: REMOTE island = you bring your own everything or you die) we play a 20 minute game of “will she or won’t she” with the motors on the boat. There are two.

I’ve learned from past experience you can get across with just one motor, but the 20 minute ride becomes a 40 minute prayer where you start questioning the last time you swam 2 miles in open water (7 years, if you’re wondering). 

Will she or won’t she

Then you dock and unload everything for the 3rd time. And play the same game of “will she or won’t she” but this time with the engine of a 2005 Isuzu trooper. If she starts, you hydroplane across waves of sand to a battered blue house on the beach. 

The battered, blue and well loved house

If she doesn’t, you pop the hood, hopefully have a can of coke to pour over the battery that continually gets corroded by the salty air that finds its way into every metal surface on the island (and this is why you can’t have nice things) and start the engine.

“This is why we can’t have nice things” – Mafia! AKA when metal turns to rust

When you get to the beach, you unload everything for a 4th time and then head up 15 creaky steps to assess the damage that has likely incurred between now and the last time you were on the island. 

Homes on Dog Island

Does the electricity work? Is the water running? Is there enough salt in the tank to kill the sulfur taste? Have any windows been cracked? Do all the doors close? 

Then you move on to the inside. Has the freezer stopped running, causing a gallon of bait fish to melt all over the floor? Are there ants crawling up the walls (hope you remembered to pack the bug spray). 

Slowly you begin unpacking and remembering all the things you forgot – garlic, ketchup. You brought 3 types of entrees but no one brought a green vegetable…

By this time it’s dark. You’re tired but there are no restaurants on the island so you cook, then you clean up. You walk to the bedroom, shake out the sheets (because, bugs) and pass out…

Dog Island: A Hidden Gem in Florida

But every third time you go to the island, you get lucky. And you get out of town early enough to miss the traffic. The boat starts and the car starts and the house is in tact and mostly bug free and you remember the important stuff (wine and sunscreen). 

View from the porch
Paradise

In the morning you wake up, the sun is shining, the blue water sparkles across the sand dunes and the breeze blows just enough to keep the gnats away. You walk out to the beach and look to your left and to your right and all you see is wide natural openness. There are dolphins just outside the surf, jumping in the waves and you think to yourself “yes, this really is paradise”. 

Drifting away
Searching for the perfect shell

Locals island residents (of which there are about 20), will complain every time you mention Dog Island in public. They like their hidden treasure, their undisturbed gem off the coast, and want to keep it a secret. 

Dunes for days
Our treasure
Room for any adventurer brave enough to make the trek

But he reason it’s so untouched, so heaven-like, is because of it’s remote nature. It takes a certain type of person to want to put forth the kind of effort required for a 48-hour getaway. You have to be an electrician, a boat captain, a plumber, a carpenter and sometimes a medic. 

In the end, most people will decide it’s not worth it. That Pensacola, St. George, Destin or even The Keys are far more attainable. But there will be a few rugged adventurers up to the challenge. Who like an element of danger to their weekend getaways. And if that’s the case, then then Dog Island is the perfect escape. 

Sunset on Dog Island