Traveling Around - A Florida Winter In The Planning
The Initial Reasoning And Plan
Planning has turned out to be the major factor in our enjoyment of Florida winters. Our home is in Michigan. We have lived both in southern Florida and northern Nevada previously. After moving to Michigan in 2006, we spent our winters in an apartment hotel in southern Nevada, But, after spending several winters in the southwestern United States, we decided to spend the wintry months closer to home.
We felt like a 700-800 miles drive could be accomplished in a one night stay on the road. To see our possibilities, we cut a 5 inch piece of string (our map is 1 inch equals 140 miles) and used it like a compass to draw an arc with our home as the center. The arc cut through Arkansas into Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, then across the southern states to the East Coast.
Two other criteria entered our planning. One, we must be able to rent for about $1,000 a month. Hopefully, we could find a furnished one bedroom for that amount. Secondly, there had to be shopping, and movies, and restaurants, and activities which would probably include casinos or horse race tracks that were of interest.
We then planned an August trip that would take us to Valdosta, GA, Panama City, FL, Vicksburg, MS, and Shreveport, LA. We planned on spending three nights in each town and spending the two full days exploring the surrounding areas.
The Recon Trip
We visited each of our planned destinations. Unhappily, none of the specific locations that we planned to visit was a location where we thought we would like to spend the winter. Valdosta and Vicksburg quickly fell by the side. Shreveport got more attention but in the end was eliminated. Some of the towns were too large. Some didn't have much of a restaurant selection. Other areas were too small and didn't offer diversity or they were too congested. The lodging possibilities were either too expensive or too spartan.
On one of the days while in Panama City, we drove west to investigate a complex that I’d read about while researching on the internet. Gulf Terrace Apartments is reasonably located in Destin, FL, a couple blocks inland from the Gulf of Mexico and has one and two bedroom apartments. We stopped by and looked. We were impressed by the location and the price. A two bedroom furnished apartment was available for the winter months at $800 a month. It appeared there were lots of restaurants, much shopping and movies, and the casinos of Biloxi, Mississippi, were not too far away.
The Shreveport, Louisiana, area had also been very attractive but we couldn't locate affordable housing on a seasonal basis.
After completing our tour of the cities we planned, we headed home. There was much discussion but in the end no disagreement. We contacted the Gulf Terrace complex in Destin, Florida, and reserved the apartment for 3 months in the winter of 2009/2010.
Planning During The First Winter
We drove to Destin a couple days after Christmas of 2009. We got settled in the apartment. The apartment that we rented was on the ground floor of a two story building that housed 4 apartments. There were two bedrooms and two baths. The kitchen was rather tiny. A living room/dining area was in front of a sliding door that opened onto a grassy area that led to the parking lot. We had a view of that parking lot and the back of a large retail outlet.
It was just okay and not special enough that we wanted to spend future years there. We began looking at other housing possibilities in the area.
There are several large apartment managing companies and lots of ads to go through. We did find that we were at about the least expensive level possible. Other locations were priced slightly above what we were paying to a level of several thousand dollars a month. Many of the apartments that were more expensive didn’t offer us additional benefits. Several of the more expensive apartments were to the east in smaller towns that were more removed from shopping and dining.
We did find apartments that were actually on the beach and in our price range. They were in both Destin and in Ft. Walton Beach (which is just down the road some 8 or 10 miles). These apartments were priced from $200 to $400 more than what we were paying.
We finally decided on The Terrace At Pelican Beach. We located a two bedroom furnished apartment on the 8th floor that offered a view to the west. Each night, it gives us a beautiful view of sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico. The complex is located on the Gulf of Mexico and a walk of a hundred yards or so would land you in the water. It’d allow us to see the colorful sunsets (the attached photo was out our living room door) and give us a view of the Gulf of Mexico.
The apartment we decided to rent is managed by a firm in Georgia. They have a local representative that manages their holdings in the area and is on call at all times. Since we've been there, we've had to call a couple times and the results have been quick and satisfactory.
Subsequent Years In Florida
This will be our fifth season in Destin. We've begun to limit our stays to January and February and spend part of March travelling. Each year we make new friends and see what are now old ones. Social activities at our complex keep us busy and there are many restaurants and several movie theaters. We try to go to the casinos in Biloxi once a month while there. At the end of our stay in Destin, we attempt to travel to new places for a week so that we delay returning to Michigan while there is still ice and snow.
Last year we travelled to Dallas/Ft. Worth and stayed at an inexpensive Quality Inn that furnished us a big breakfast every day. In the afternoon we ate soup at a Denny's that gave us a discount because we were seniors. We tried to get by on the cheap and we explored the area, seeing the zoo and museums. In previous years we went to Fort Lauderdale one year and to Tampa/St. Petersburg one year. We did go a little north one year and stopped in Branson, Missouri, for the country music.
The agent that we use for rental is Sunset Resorts and they try to keep the apartment up to date (they recently installed flat screen televisions in all the rooms) and each renewing year, they've offered us a discount on the rates being charged even though those rates haven't risen over the five years we've stayed there.
Planning was the key to enjoying these times. The first trip was simply exploratory and then the second one was for a longer period of time to feel comfortable with the adjustment in being away from home and in the humid climate. Since then we've had a strong base there in Destin and have expanded from there to enjoy ourselves.