Our day at New smyrna beach (NSB)- 5 stars
Before I review New Smyrna 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.
New Smyrna Beach was a big WOW moment for the whole family. We pulled into the Riverside Park area seeing water, many sail boats in a marina, and a town square and thought we had arrived. We parked our car and began to explore. We saw River Park, the ruins of an old Spanish fort and thought how neat, but quaint. We then walked the pretty lined street to a beautiful shop lined road and we were charmed. In the simple, but interesting museum on Live Oak Street we learned all about NSB's rich history of pirates, wealth, strategic military location, and its renown surfing heritage. We were grateful to the very kind and helpful museum curators who in addition to a wealth of knowledge about the area, gave a town map. After studying the map over our packed lunch, we sheepishly discovered we were not even on the ocean. We were on the inlet side of the town and needed to drive another 5 minutes or so to see what NSB really had to offer. Once we crossed the causeway bridge we popped out on the main ocean front road which if followed to its end takes you the back way to Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach. The strip was nicer than Daytona's, but much more low key and reserved. Lined mostly with hotels and resorts, there wasn't nearly as much in the way of amenities... restaurants, attractions, and such. After a short jaunt along the ocean front road, we were left wondering about this rich surfing history we had heard of. They, after all, hold the annual East Coast Surfing Championships here annually, according to the museum curator. Being a bit of a hippie myself, I knew this posh, sculpted, cookie cutter hotel district would not be very conducive to a beach bum demographic. After re-consulting with our map we saw Flagler Avenue marked and it appeared to be lined with "mom and pop" style shops and decided to check it out. We are SO glad we did.... amazingly perfect! 40 plus shops line Flagler Ave all the way down to a main public beach entrance. The shops were right out of a tropical paradise. Many were converted beach houses and restored to immaculate detail. The rest of the shops blended perfectly, adopting the tropical island motif. The willow, live oak, and palm tree lined roads were all draped with Spanish moss very reminiscent of Savannah's historic district. Even high res pictures don't quite do it justice... you need to see it for yourself. While we were there, there was live music everywhere we looked and also a "Wine Walk" was in progress. We noticed in our exploration, flyers for numerous other fun community activities... (most combining shopping with alcohol in some way, 😆). The beach was very nice. Un-crowded. We didn't see any city public restrooms or beachside showers, but there are public restrooms in the stores right down by the beach.. happy for the extra foot traffic. The beach had shells everywhere you look which was a big plus for our kids. It was very clean and uncrowded (at the end of December at least). All four of my children (ages 7-16) and both my wife and myself, got back into the car at the end of the day saying, "That was amazing!"
New Smyrna Beach is getting a big 5 stars from us. As we discover other amazing Florida beaches, our scale may adjust in kind. However, I can't imagine any adjusted perspective dropping this location under a 4.5. The negatives are few, but there are a couple. Other beaches we've seen have fantastic public facilities such as splash pads, clean restrooms, and beachside showers. NSB didn't have any of these from what we saw.. but to be honest.. those things wouldn't have fit the vibe from this surfer Mecca anyway. Instead, they would have likely ruined the feel of this place for me should they ever be added. The positives are plentiful. NSB has a beautiful beach with a ton of shells, amazing local culture, a fantastic surfur/tropical vibe, great shops, perfect decor/scenery, great community activities, and tons of live music which all come together to make this a place we would all love to revisit for an extended amount of time.
A final note: Smyrna Dunes Park, located close to Flagler Ave on the northern tip of the beach, is said to be fantastic. The beach there is only about 100 yards away from the Beautiful Ponce Inlet Beach (we will review later) and is said to be a great and beautiful beach for children to explore. All day parking at the SDP was $10 and I wish we had carved out some time to see it in person. We will definitely include it on a future trip to NSB.
$5 in diesel for the bus
$10 in Gas for the car
$33 in groceries for a family of six
Accommodations... we stayed in our skoolie (school bus conversion) for free
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Our Day at Daytona Beach- 3 Stars
Before I review Daytona 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.
The beach front strip of Daytona is on the historic A1A which is a road we will be exploring much of on our future beach explorations. The "strip" to us really wasn't anything special. This was surprising to us considering how famous this beach is. There are the typical beach side amusements like a small water park, a sling shot (bungee launching ride), and something that resembles a tilt-a-whirl. As you drive the main drag, the expected generic souvenir shops and eateries (some local specific and some chains) line the road tucked up under the hundreds of gaudy and typical beachfront resort hotels. The beach was decently clean and in places there were beachside showers with clean restrooms. It was obvious that the facilities have seen many high traffic seasons and I have no doubt that in a busy July they may not be as well maintained. We noticed in places along the beach there were many shells deposited in large groups and there was a mixture of typical beige sand mixed with some pink sand as well. In December, the water is pretty cold and the sky has been overcast or misty most of the days we have been here, but it hasn't stopped the kids from having a blast playing on the shoreline, digging in the sand, finding shells, and running from the influx of the cold tide. We did very much enjoy exploring the beachside "Daytona Beach Ocean Walk" shops and amphitheater. The pier leading out to the beautiful Joes Crab Shack, as pictured above, would have been much more enjoyable had it not been overrun by homeless people. For the record, we do not have an issue with most homeless people, but in this case a couple of them were quite obnoxious. We ended the day with a trek down Main Street to see the shops and locals that host the annual Daytona Beach Bike Week in March.
At the end of the day, we enjoyed our time in Daytona albeit a little disappointing. All in all, we are giving Daytona Beach 3 stars. The positives are amenities, showers on the beach, and decently clean restrooms. The negatives are the totally generic feel of the main strip. Nothing about the strip was a wow for us. The boardwalk area around the Ocean Walk was the best part of the entire Daytona area for us. Our recommendation for Daytona: Go to one of the neighboring beaches. For example, be low key like the locals and chill in Ponce Inlet (review on Ponce Inlet coming soon).
Our shoestring budget:
$5 in bus diesel (approximately)
$5 in gas for our car
$32 in groceries for the day (Aldi's is amazing) for six.
Accommodations $0. We stayed in our Skoolie and parked it for free.
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.
We are excited to announce that Serenity Bus will be featured on display at the KNOW H.O.W EXPO February 1-2. If you are in the area please come by and say hi and get a tour of our full time home on wheels! Can’t wait to see some of you there!
Know H.O.W Expo Facebook link
Know H.O.W Expo website link
So much has happened since we last updated. We are blessed and God is good!! As I sit here and write this I hardly know where to begin. I suppose I need to just give a massive info dump and let everyone navigate to the social media tab on this website to see all the corresponding pictures and posts. Going forward we can give much more thorough explanations (we will begin blogging weekly now that our travels are in full swing), but for the sake of getting caught up... forgive me for just downloading in this blog entry.
We did leave Cleveland in mid November as planned. We headed straight to Kentucky about 45 minutes south of Cincinnati, Ohio. The trip up through the mountains was unfortunately marred by high winds, intense rain, and heavy fog... all of which made our maiden voyage a white knuckle driving experience to say the least. We arrived safely in a small town 10 minutes from the Ark Encounter, where we camped for the week. We had a blast! During our time in KY we saw the Ark Encounter, the Kentucky Horse Park, and spent some time sightseeing in Cincinnati. It was a great trip to kick off our journey! Check out our social media tab above for some pictures and more details.
After Kentucky, we quickly drove back home to Cleveland, TN for Thanksgiving with our extended families. I know we had only been gone a week, but it was still nice to be back home however brief a stay it may have been. Sherry, the kids, and I enjoyed two Thanksgiving dinners and additionally some much needed time with dear friends, as well.
The goodbyes were as hard as always as we pulled out of town heading for south GA the first week of December. We were on our way to Metter, GA just west of Savannah for a few weeks stay with some other dear friends. Our goals for our time in Metter were not all met, but we spent lots of quality time with some of the greatest people on earth and made many new friends which seems to us to be way more important. While we were in GA, the whole family volunteered for several days with Buy A Tree Change A Life. We had also intended to touch up paint the outside of the bus and paint a few items inside of the bus as well (we left a few painting items to do on the road so we could begin our journey sooner). We are excited to announce that the outside of the bus is now beautiful, but the inside.... well we had lots of fun with our friends instead. We will get it finished at some point.
On the 22nd of December we left our friends (old and new) in Metter to meet up with my family for a Disney adventure in Orlando. If you have never been to Orlando or Disney at Christmas .. nothing can adequately describe the crowds or the traffic. We had a great wonderful time with my family, despite the sea of humanity, in our large vacation home with a private pool. Although Christmas seemed a little out of sync with the norm we still managed to replicate much of the essential Hamons family traditions despite being away from home. Great memories were made by all.
This morning we said goodbye to my family and headed back to retrieve our bus (we had left it north of Orlando at an extended family member's house for the week). Weirdly, as nice and cozy as the vacation home was... I told Sherry on a few occasions that I really missed our bus. It was great to see her safe and sound, when we pulled up. As we were leaving the bus's parking location, we had a bit of a scare. The host family lived nearly a mile down a sandy road and as we were backing down the drive and attempting a 3-point turn we hit a patch of quick sand (yes quick sand!) and the bus began to sink fast. 36,000 lbs in sinking sand is enough to make anyone panic. I am still not sure how we got the bus out of the pit we had created.. the ruts were over 2 foot deep. Thankfully the neighbor, whose yard we had destroyed, was very sympathetic and understanding. We made it 40 miles down the road to Ormond Beach without further incident. Ormond Beach is where I am currently writing this blog entry. It's beautiful! It was misty at the beach today, but the kids had a blast collecting shells and playing in the water and sand in the near 70 degree temps.
Our future plans are uncertain. We have committed ourselves to be a leaf in the wind and go with the flow. No real plan or agenda. We want to spend January hitting all the major beaches along the full perimeter of Florida ending in the western end of the panhandle. The goal is to write blog entries and reviews about each location and then turn it into a new Ebook to sell. We have an expo that Serenity (our bus) will be on display at in central FL in the beginning of Febuary and right after that there is a Skoolie rally "Skoolie Swarm" that we will be attending in central Florida as well.
Well, thats all for now. Thanks so much for all of the support and prayers. We love and appreciate you all. As always you can help us fund our journey by clicking the donate link on this website.
All our love,
-The Serenity Bus Crew