Christmas had been on our minds since we started on our trip and we were asked frequently where we would be spending it. By the second week in December, with campgrounds in Florida already booked up, I started to panic that we were going to end up in a Walmart carpark. We’d rejected the idea of flying somewhere due to cost and just plain hassle. We decided we’d rather save our luxury budget for other times of year, when things wouldn’t be so hectic. John also felt that the idea of Christmas in a random hotel would be somewhat soulless. Had there been a spa on offer, I could have coped, but we both needed to be happy with our choice.
While camping at one of the most featureless places we’ve been to date (Palatka in north Florida), we decided to spend the time researching options for Christmas. Unfortunately, not only did our campground have zero phone reception, the surrounding area was devoid of any coffee shops with free internet, so the next day we headed for lunch at what Google described as ‘the only good thing about Palatka’ – the Magnolia Cafe.
Here, we found some great food – a Greek salad for me, with home made dressing, and a Ruben sandwich for John, as well as wifi. When the owner found out that we were trying to find camping for Christmas, she told us to stick around for another hour while she packed away and that, if we got stuck, she had a big driveway and would rope us in for some washing up after Christmas dinner! Fortunately, John struck lucky when one of his phone calls to private campgrounds confirmed that they’d had a cancellation and could offer us 3 nights over Christmas. We snapped it up, and decided to look at where it was later.
On 23rd December we trundled up from our crazy visit to the Florida Keys (more on that another time) towards Sanibel Island on our favourite, the Gulf Coast. We filled up on luxury food at my number one grocery store (Whole Foods), including champagne, steak, cheese and lots of deli nibbles, stopped at Walmart to buy last minute Christmas decorations and pick up a bike for John, and arrived at our campground at 8pm. It’s the first time we’ve got to a site after dark, but this one was a third generation family site (what our friend Deb would call ‘a real Mom and Pop’) and the lovely lady who was closing up the office personally guided us round to our site in her golf buggy.
In the morning, we awoke to Christmas Eve in Florida and saw that we had a big corner spot, with lots of grass and shrubbery around us, and a patio for John to build his bike. Once that was done, we headed to the beach, just out the back of the campsite. It was great to be back on the Gulf Coast and amazing to spend Christmas Eve swimming and sunbathing, rather than running around worrying about last minute cooking or present wrapping. It also stays light until gone 6pm; the vitamin D I’m soaking up this year is making winter a pleasure.
Our Christmas spot
Christmas Day dawned with brilliant sunshine and blue skies and we woke up to lots of nice messages from home. We FaceTimed my folks and had a lovely chat with them from home in Cornwall, then we loaded up our picnic bag with nibbles, filled our thermos coffee mugs with ice and very rummy mojitos, and spent the rest of the day on the beach, in and out of the water. The beach at Sanibel is white sand and is known for its shelling, so it’s very pretty, with lots of interesting and beautiful shells all along the shore. During the day we saw dolphins swimming off the coast, a man who’d caught a small hammerhead shark and a gopher tortoise on his way home for Christmas dinner.
John relaxing after Christmas day mojitos
FaceTime is a brilliant thing, and over the course of the day so many of our close friends and family took time to call us and message us; it really stopped any worries I had that we might feel homesick. We felt that they’d all been part of our day and that, while we may have been far away, we’d had the best Christmas together, on the beach and in our little home on wheels.
When the sun set, John opened the champagne and let the steaks see the barbecue for just long enough to sear the outside. We enjoyed our steaks al fresco, served with stuffed baked potatoes and bean and almond salad (thank you Whole Foods!) while listening to jazz and chatting about our lovely day and all the friends and family we’d caught up with. Other than people, the only thing I really missed was mince pies and Christmas cake (and anything else with dried fruit that you can serve with Brandy butter!).
Florida has been very kind to us, with her beaches and wildlife and beautiful weather, and this will definitely be a Christmas to remember. We didn’t exchange gifts this year and I amazed myself at being totally happy with this – we both agreed that we didn’t want to waste time and money on buying presents, when we could be enjoying relaxing together in the wonderful sunshine. The only exception to this was the Die Hard Christmas jumper that John had secretly ordered me weeks before; entirely appropriate for an 80 degree Christmas Day. I did in fact wear it when we indulged our mutual love of John McClane, with a Die Hard marathon, Ferrero Rocher and the air con cranked up. Now that’s Christmas!