Covid 19 quarantines are much more tolerable when you are living on beautiful property. We took our amazing new DJI Mavic 2 Zoom on a hike to one of our favorite land adjacent beauty spots. Come along with us as we show some amazing vistas from our corner of Southeast Tennessee, nestled at the feet of the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains.
Just to let everyone know we are safe and everyone in the family is doing well. With much deliberation we felt led to pause our travels. We are back home now just north of Chattanooga, while we wait for this pandemic to blow over. It is our intention to self isolate from friends and family for a couple weeks while we make sure our travels haven’t given us the wrong kinds of souvenirs to bring home. Thanks for all the love, prayers, and support. We are excited to hit the road again soon but caution in these virus matters seems prudent. Be safe everyone.
-The Serenity Bus Crew
OUR DAYS IN THE vero BEACH AREA- 4.5 STARS
Before I review Vero Beach, it would be prudent to set the foundation for our future Florida reviews. Our intent is to show how a family can beach hop in Florida for an extended period on a shoestring budget. Additionally, it's important to understand the reviewer... I am a 41 year old husband and father of four who hates heat, sand, crowds, and sweating. So needless to say, the beach is not my favorite place. I know this puts me outside of the norm, but I am who I am. In order to negate some of these irritants, we are beach hopping in the off season, the last week of December through January. The temperatures are typically in the 70's, the crowds are at a minimum, parking and traffic is much improved, and things are proving to be cheaper. That said, this non beach bum dad is a much happier camper. In our reviews, we will give an star rating out of 5 stars. We will average the opinions of the 6 of us and base it on things like cleanliness, parking, beach quality, amenities, beauty, cost, x-factor, and conveniences like beachside showers. With that ground work laid, let's get on with our review.
Disclaimer: Some of our best experiences while Florida beach hopping, thus far, occurred in the Vero Beach area. As a family, we unanimously agree this location has been a trip highlight. Our big positives for Vero came from the locals and unique discoveries. With that said.... we can say with relative certainty you would like Vero as well, however, personal experiences have factored into our high opinions of this location. With that said.. on with the review.
We first pulled into the area and immediately looked for a friendly place to day park. Burnt out from frequenting Florida Walmarts along the state's eastern coastline, we were anxious to find a friendlier parking respite. We happened upon the Vero Beach Outlets, luckily I might add, as our experience in the Vero Beach Outlets was wonderful. We wanted to do a little shopping in the outlet mall, but when your skoolie is 40 feet long and a blinding silver testimate to good old fashioned American ingenuity "Merica!!", well, let's just say that we aren't always so warmly received (see our Cocoa Beach review for an example). Contrary to my typical mantra, "it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission", I trudged into the outlet's management office to humbly ask if we might park our monstrosity for the day and to my pleasant surprise they were genuinely excited to have us there. Jackie and Beth were complete joys. After explaining our family travel story, they immediately friend requested us on social media and shared our website to their Vero Beach Outlet Facebook page. Talk about above and beyond. We were told we could stay as long as we wanted and come back the next day if needed as well. When we finally let the ladies get back to their productivity, feeling bad for talking their ears off... we left with a couple very nice gifted tumblers and a slew of outlet mall coupons (which we promptly went to utilize... see the pictures below). Our faith in humanity and spirits restored, we pursued the beautiful mall and fantastic variety of stores. Thank you so much Jackie and Beth, for your incredibly warm welcome to Vero. If you are in the area, you absolutely must check out the Vero Beach Outlet Mall. Stop in and see the ladies in the office! Tell them Serenity Bus Project sent you, and they will load you up with fantastic coupons and brighten your day. As a side note, while we were there, we had another great visit with the street side kettle corn vender. He spends the winter months in Florida and the Vero Beach Outlets. His conversation was as enjoyable as his delicious kettle corn's unique flavors. Tell him hello from us as well and enjoy a chat and a tasty sample of his product.
On our first day exploring Vero we drove to the Vero beachfront and went to the McLarty Treasure Museum. The museum is small, but very enjoyable. The staff was wonderful and a wealth of knowledge. We were met at the door with a warm smile and fun museum activity worksheets for the little ones. After touring the facilities on our own and watching the movie about the "Treasure Coast" and the "1715 Fleet", we were joined again by one of the museum volunteers. They took a ton of personal time to educate our children, pull exhibits from their cases, and let our kids learn hands-on, as well as insisting our kids get their pictures taken holding real treasure (see the pictures below). Outside the back doors of the museum are a series of boardwalks leading above the mangrove trees canopy to an elevated deck made to look like a pirate ship. The deck is a panoramic observation point for the "Treasure Coast" beach front, and is lined with informative placards for the children to discover and learn from. There are a few different treasure museums in Vero which we didn't visit... we can whole heartedly recommend McLarty's as one you should.
Side note: Google 1715 fleet, if you are interested in why this area is called the Treasure Coast. Spoiler alert.... They pull millions of dollars in riches from this part of the coastline every single year.
!!!WE RESCUED A CRITICALLY ENDANGERED SEA TURTLE!!! The next day, to appease our children, we went to Humiston Beach Park at the recommendation from the ladies at the Vero Beach Outlets. The beach park was beautiful! It had a nice playground, fantastic restroom facilities, beachside outdoor showers, and was surrounded by really nice boutique shops. We walked up and down the ocean front street seeing the beautiful local shops (pictures below) and restaurants, before wandering down to the beach. Inspired by our new found Treasure Coast education, we decided to take an extra long beach walk at near dusk, all secretly hoping to find our fortune. WE FOUND TREASURE! Ok, that's misleading... we didn't find treasure in the traditional sense of the word, but what we did stumble across ... for my family... was as good as. About a mile beach walk north of Humiston Beach Park, there it was. The cutest little sea turtle hatchling struggling with the intense waves, birds, and exhaustion. An amazing discovery to be sure, but a few things made this turtle find extraordinary. 1) It was January... several months early for sea turtle hatching season. 2) It was the early evening and sea turtles are programmed to come out at night for their own safety. 3) This particular sea turtle was a Hawkbill sea turtle... the rarest of the rare. Critically endangered and not known to be in this area of Florida, we had so many questions. What do we do? We knew we shouldn't mess with him, normally? Do we leave him to the circling scavenger birds? He was exhausted and hardly moving and the tide kept throwing him back onto the drier sand... did he have any chance of saving himself? We didn't know the answer to any of these questions so we made several phone calls. Long, frantic story later we found ourselves speaking with the marine biologist on-call who instructed us to bring the little hatchling to the rehabilitation center a few miles away. With some very specific instructions on transporting and care, we nervously and excitedly began our mission to save our new amphibian friend, which our children lovingly named Franklin. We managed to find and safely deliver this little trooper to the sea turtle experts who said that most likely "Franklin, had been trying to self rescue since nightfall the night before and most assuredly would have lost his battle for life to the circling sea birds had we not stumbled across him. We felt like heroes! On the drive home, our kids were beaming with pride in our accomplishment the whole way to our bus. As I sit her and type this review, several days later, I can tell you with all honesty that not even finding ship's treasure on the beach could have outshined rescuing little Franklin, and giving him a second chance at life. Knowing that sea turtles can outlive humans by many years.. there is something particularly awesome in knowing that we helped save a treasure for our children's children.
It's worth noting that this beach had amazing surf and tons of large shells. Uniquely, we discovered vast amounts of coral chunks littering the shoreline. (see pictures below)
Still excited from our sea turtle adventure the night before, we drove back to the beach area.. this time to visit the Pelican Island National Wildlife refuge. It's stunning! We highly recommend a visit to the park and a short hike to any one of the many gorgeous panoramic vistas. In the pictures below, you can see the exceptional boardwalks above the tree line to picture perfect postcard-esque views of the park and lake. Undisrupted by human development, the natural beauty here is truly staggering. Interesting tidbit, Pelican Island was created into the country's first National wildlife refuge by Teddy Roosevelt. This formation spearheaded a cascade of National wildlife refuge formations, continuing until the present, and spanning this wonderful country from coast to coast.
Our time in Vero began and ended on high notes.... and rescuing a hatchling sea turtle in the middle wasn't bad either. It's easy to say that we all enjoyed our experiences in Vero immensely, but as I said above, our experiences here were unique to our visit and causing us to rate Vero with warm fuzzies. The constants here still make for a great visit for anyone. I can say with all certainty that if you visit Vero Beach Outlets and meet Jackie and Beth you'll be charmed and get some great shopping in a beautiful facility accomplished at the same time. We can say with confidence, that if you drive to McLarty's Treasure Museum, Humiston Beach, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, or anyone one of the other local highlights... that you will enjoy it as well. If passing by the area, don't skip Vero... plan to spend a couple days and discover Vero's beauty for yourself. All totaled, we give Vero 4.5 stars. For us... a stronger beach culture/vibe and local music could have easily bumped our rating to a perfect 5... but maybe we are knit-picking... so decide for yourself.
$5 in diesel moving our bus from day parking to overnight parking
$20 in gas for our car. We did more driving here than in other locations mostly due to our bad logistical plans
$30 per day avg in food per day for a family of six
Accommodations- FREE. Thanks to our skoolie home on wheels.
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Our days in the Melbourne beach area- 3.5 stars
Before I review Melbourne Beach, it would be prudent to set the foundation for our future Florida reviews. Our intent is to show how a family can beach hop in Florida for an extended period on a shoestring budget. Additionally, it's important to understand the reviewer... I am a 41 year old husband and father of four who hates heat, sand, crowds, and sweating. So needless to say, the beach is not my favorite place. I know this puts me outside of the norm, but I am who I am. In order to negate some of these irritants, we are beach hopping in the off season, the last week of December through January. The temperatures are typically in the 70's, the crowds are at a minimum, parking and traffic is much improved, and things are proving to be cheaper. That said, this non beach bum dad is a much happier camper. In our reviews, we will give an star rating out of 5 stars. We will average the opinions of the 6 of us and base it on things like cleanliness, parking, beach quality, amenities, beauty, cost, x-factor, and conveniences like beachside showers. With that ground work laid, let's get on with our review.
There were things we liked pretty well about Melbourne Beach. The area was clean and safe and had all the chain stores you could want. Ultimately, Melbourne left us "whelmed"... not underwhelmed, not overwhelmed... just "whelmed". I am creating a word here, but you get the idea. Nothing was missing or blatantly lacking other than the wow factor. Melbourne's fatal flaw for us was its lack of uniqueness. We have seen other areas we didn't like, but were trying to be polite in our review.... Melbourne is just the vanilla of beaches. A solid flavor, but none the less the standard barer for run-of-the-mill.
Our first stop in Melbourne was the Sea Turtle Preservation Society. Although, admittedly, we were disappointed to discover that there weren't any sea turtles on site to ogle, for what they lacked in living specimens, they made up for in hospitaltity and knowledge. The volunteers were as sweet as they could be and a wealth of information. We left their small storefront/museum educated and amphibian "Woke".
As per usual, our children were aching to play in the ocean, so we headed to Spessard Holland South Beach Park. It's a mouthful to say, but worth typing the tongue twister into Google Maps to visit. Holy waves Batman.... I have never seen waves so big on the East Coast in my 41 years. It was fantastic! The beach was beautiful, the parking was free, and all the amenities were present: cabanas, outside showers, eateries, a playground, and a boardwalk. Some things it did not have were many people, which is a big plus (it was the off season January, after all). Also, there was a serious lack of shells. To be fair, the locals say at times there are plenty of shells, but alas.
The next day we decided to do something educational for our four little information sponges. We had seen online that the Melbourne area had a Liberty Bell museum. It was listed as open and free so we went to check it out. I was skeptical and mocking to be honest. I know where the real Liberty Bell resides and it's not in Florida, but now I was curious. Sadly, my curiosity was not satisfied because despite the online listed hours, the museum was closed and a sign on the door said, "by appointment". It's just as well... if the outside of the museum is any indication of what's inside the museum... let's just say I was fine to move on with our day.
After a bust at the Liberty Bell Museum, we sought out a suitable location for a picnic lunch. A covered pavilion, picnic table, and a vista, were all happily found at the Riverview Park. As an added bonus, the park offered a wonderful breeze, a really cool playground for the kids, and the Melbourne Farmer's Market just happened to be set up in the park during our visit as well. In addition to our packed lunch, we enjoyed free samples of maple flavored cotton candy from one of the vendors. "When in Rome"? Actually these unique venders were snow birds down from the North for the winter and were a joy to visit with. For the record, maple flavored cotton candy is actually really good.
*Note that the video at the very bottom of the review of the prism playground is from this park.
We left the park with our bellies full and headed back to our/bus home, which we left parked at the local Bass Pro Shop (with permission). We have seen many BPS around the country, but this one was definitely unique and worth a pit stop. Outside the Big Bass Outpost was a lagoon full of live alligators. It's worth noting that these are the only alligators we have seen on our entire trek through Florida. We also noticed in a separate exhibit a pen of boars. My two youngest liked the boars so much that I didn't have the heart to explain that the boars were likely only there to feed the gators... so we moved on before they put it together for themselves. Below are a few pictures of this unique Big Bass.
Our last stop on our Melbourne tour was to the Barrier Island Sanctuary. This museum was small but well done. The exhibits on display were very kid friendly and we enjoyed learning from the exhibits, the video, and the very pleasant and informative volunteers. Outside the back doors of the museum was an observation platform facing the ocean and a long series of nature trails (which we didn't hike) and a beautiful series of boardwalks through overhung mangrove trees (which we did explore). The walk was lovely and eventually led to a public beach access. There was almost no one on this entire beach. Being aware that we were at the tip of the Treasure Coast.. a part of the coastline in which millions of dollars in Spanish treasure is found every year (Google the wreck of the 1715 fleet for more info), we decided to take an extra long beach stroll in hopes of getting lucky. We may not have walked away from the beach wealthy, but we did very much enjoy our private stroll along the beach with the sounds of large crashing waves and a panoramic sunset as our backdrop. By chance, we met a local walking his old dog, and had quite a pleasant visit. He explained that his father a few years back had discovered 800 silver coins on that beach and a visiter to the area had just recently found an $85,000 gold coin sitting a few feet offshore. The conversation was very enjoyable, and his 18 year old sea dog was such a joy to meet. Bruno, a Lab Shepherd mix, had belonged to a Brazilian surfer before he came to belong to this kind local. He had always lived on the beach and despite his late life difficulties with walking, Bruno still got excited for his daily trip to the beach to sit on the shore and watch the tide roll away.... Cue the Ottis Redding.
In summary, Melbourne was an enjoyable part of our journey. Early, I stated that it was very "Vanilla" and maybe that was a bit harsh. Yes, Melbourne lacked a wow factor, but we did very much enjoy the peacefulness and the beauty of the area. Being an introvert and the father/husband of other introverts... there is something very pleasant about enjoying nature unspoiled by populace. One gets the rare opportunity to soak in the beauty of one's surroundings without having to focus, also, on blocking out strangers who even at their best are still a distraction to what our beautiful planet has to show us. I am going to stick to my 3.5 stars, considering the formula listed above, but understand that this scale is skewed towards options and amenities that in turn drive more human traffic. If your 10 involves a distinct lack of people and unspoiled natural beauty, you should definitely visit Melbourne.
Groceries- Avg per day of $29 for three days.
Lodging- Free thanks to our skoolie
CURIOUS ABOUT LIVING YOUR OWN SKOOLIE (SCHOOL BUS CONVERSION) DREAM? WE HAVE WRITTEN AN EBOOK ON HOW TO CHOOSE AND PURCHASE A SCHOOL BUS OF YOUR VERY OWN AND SAVE THOUSANDS. CHECK IT OUT.