Another State of Mellow

  20161011_204623              Most people have this hard to get out of their head idea, that when traveling, you need to go to the exciting big cities. Big cities are where all the new and interesting things to see and do is. There is somewhat of a belief that when traveling that the small towns and hamlets should get overlooked because nothing exciting goes on there. I had a friend that once told me she stayed away from the small town because, in her opinion, everything they have to offer can be found in where she lives.

    I have learned in my journeys that there are hidden gems around this country and world that only exist in the small towns.  The locals know it, but they want to keep it a secret, because let’s face it, why share a good thing.

    Well, I found one! And no longer will it be a secret. In the town of Fruitland Park, Florida, in an everyday strip mall, is probably one of the best ice cream shops I have ever been. And this is a person who has been to Jacksons and Serendipity.

  20161011_205928  Mystic Ice Cream Shop claim to fame is adult ice cream. Ice cream with alcohol in it. My mother was the one that found this place, and when we were up visiting her, she insisted that we go there. Didn’t take much to twist our arms, I mean, who doesn’t want to eat ice cream with liquor in it.

    On a Tuesday night, after diving Devil Dens, we got in the car and drove into one of the small towns that littered Florida.

    The shop itself reminded you of someone’s basement back in the 60s and 70s, with a vast collection of lava lamps, black lighted posters and bongs (yes, bongs). Inside you are usually greeted by the owner and creator of the ice cream, or one of the town locals who loves the place. There are two menus; one is for the kids, and the other is for the adults. Make sure you bring your ID because she does carded. And even though you can order regular food, the ice cream is what they are known for.

 20161011_204525   Around the room are various couches, chairs, and tables. Once we got our ice cream, we claimed one of the couches and sat there and talk, enjoying our amazing ice cream. I got up and wandered around the room, looking at all the different knickknacks and other stuff that was all over the room shop. One could spend hours looking at everything. There were bookcases, end tables, and coffee tables stacked with books, movie figurines, and other such cool things, the brings back memories of my youth (and my parents). The place was more museum of American Icon and less restaurant feel to it.

    Each day of the week they have entertainment, we made the mistake of coming in during Karaoke Night. A bunch of older people singing off-turn to a bunch of songs I have never heard about isn’t what I would call entertainment.

  20161011_204548  The ice cream was fantastic. I had gone with a traditional Mudslide, and all I can say is wow. It wasn’t much to look at, being stuff inside a Styrofoam cup with a pretzel stick, but the taste was out the world. Between the alcohol and the ice cream, I was in a different state of mellow than I had ever been (now the room decorations were starting to make sense).

    They give you a lot, so if you aren’t looking to get drunk off of ice cream, then sharing isn’t going to be in issue.    

    I don’t remember much that night after the ice cream, but I was in such a mellow state that I could care less either.

    20161011_205946The next time, you are in Central Florida and looking for something new and exciting, skip Orlando or Tampa and head towards, Fruitland Park. 

And if I got anything wrong, again I was in mellow state when I wrote the notes for this blog.

Mystic, the Adult Frozen Dessert
Live to Eat


Into the Den of the Devil

We pulled up a little after nine. After losing our GPS signal about three times, drive out to the middle of nowhere, then driving for another half hour on a dirt road, Cortana (nickname for the GPS because OJ is a Halo Fan) happily chirped that we had arrived at our destination. A little sign pointed towards a trailer and another building. There was a field, a couple of benches. We were definitely in BFE.

“You need to stop reading stuff on Pinterest,” OJ said, looking around at the field.

“Come on, this is an adventure,” I said, climbing out of the car.

dscn4006“It was an adventure getting here,” he said, grabbing our scuba diving bags. “Let me get this straight; we are going cave diving in the middle of nowhere in Florida.

“Probably snorkeling, my ears have been popping all morning long.”

A couple of months, my best friend tagged me on something on Facebook “Hey Heath, our next adventure.”  A little research later, and I found out that this video was shot only an hour away from my parents’ place in central Florida. Most of the reviews were positive talking about how easily of a dive was (all you need is a basic Open Water Certification) or if you weren’t certified, you can just put on a mask and snorkel around.

I was a little leery since it’s been a couple of years since my last dive. But all the dive sites said it was an easy dive. I told OJ about it, but after the drive out there, he wasn’t convinced.

Devil Den, located in Williston, is one of the many water caverns that littered the underground of Florida. There is a big reason why you never hear of basements in Florida. Dig 6 feet, and you hit the water.

dscn3995The Den got its name because on cold mornings the early settlers could see steam rising from the hole. The air must have been cold because the water is about 72 Celsius. 

After a couple of owners later it was rebranded as being a scuba diving school and a place to go swim in a cave without having to have all the training.

In the registration office, after asked a ton of questions, and my ears still popping, we decided to try snorkeling. The lady behind the counter was nice enough to transfer the fees over if we decided to change our minds.

She told us that the deepest the cave is about 55 feet (most of my dives have been over 60 feet) and good luck find that area. I did manage to find it, but to tell you the truth; it wasn’t that exciting. The cave is about 120 feet in diameter and mushroom shaped. There are a couple of tunnels out of the cave through the underwater cavern system that makes up Florida core, but either they are too small for a human or have been barred off. Completely safe for those who never dive a cave and wanted to try.

“It’s about the size of a large swimming pool and other being a little dark down there; most people find it an easy dive or snorkel.  But don’t worry they have the camera all around the cave so that you wouldn’t get lost.

After paying the fee (I believe it was $15 per person plus extra for whatever you need to rent) and filling out a ton of paperwork, we struggled into our rental wetsuits and went into the cave.

You take a boardwalk and a flight of stair down into the cavern. At the bottom of the stairs is an underwater platform. One person down the stairs at a time, because they are very narrow and slippery.  

DCIM100GOPROShe wasn’t kidding about being like a pool. The cave was maybe a couple of hundred feet wide with blue cold water.

When we first got down there, there was a school group of about 15 young boys that were learning about rocks. Two teachers were down there instructing them on what they needed to find. Once they had their list, the kids paired up and started to snorkel around. Once in a while, I would hear them call out to the teacher that they found whatever they were looking for. Other than that, it was quiet. OJ and I headed into the water to explore.

Crystal clear and very refreshing. The water was alive with the life. In my exploring I found a couple of frogs that were enjoying one of the rocks, cave fish swim around, darting behind rocks and the stairs. I brought the GoPro, but there wasn’t much light.

One of the teachers loaned us a light so we could explore the darker areas of the caves. About 15 minutes into our exploring, the school children left (he told us to keep the light since he will be back with the next group in a half an hour) and we had the place to ourselves.

At one point, I floated under the hole, and all you could see was the greenery and the sky. The cave was silent except for the sound of trickling water.

OJ floated up next to me. “Got to admit this was a good find, even if we couldn’t dive it.” He said.

“See sometimes being addicted to Pinterest pays off.”

“I can’t get over how refreshing the water feels.”

We continue to explore in silent just enjoy the cave, the rocks, the water and the fish. As we started to get out, a group of guys was making their way into the cave. One shouted down in broken English, “How is it?”

“Amazing,” I said.

dscn4002We climbed out and stripped out of our wetsuits. OJ sat on the porch of the building eating a Snickers, and I walked the trail that leads you to the whole. Covered by green and plants, it was hard to see. A little platform allows you to peer into the hole. Some of the people down there waved back at me, before diving into the water.

We climbed back into the car, hoping that Cortana could find our way back to my parents’ place. Not bad for something that Aimee posted on Facebook.

“The next time we are scuba diving it, you are just going to have to be drugged up for it,” OJ said pulling out onto the dirt road.

Yes, we are going to return, and bring the best friend along. Worse case, if I have another ear infection, she is certified too.

More pictures from the trip

Information about Devil Den

About Willison, Florida



Southern Hospitality with a Northern Beach Party

20161009_173115Florida has always teetered between being a northern beach resort and an old southern town. It is true when they say, that in Florida the more south you go, the more northern it gets. Maybe because Florida doesn’t follow any southern standards or northern rules, but seems to make them up as they go. But whatever it is, it works because Florida has a one of a kind tourist destination that can even satisfy even the most seasonal travel curiosity.

It was bound to happen, someone would think to take what everyone loves about the beach in Florida and bring it inland. And in 1924, it did happen when Jay Eaton, a New Jersey resident, traveled to Florida looking for a place of land to buy. His hope was to build the next Coney Island. After years of many owners, more memories made, and a unique history involving a swim marathon, a pool table and a love affair between the lake and the residents, Eaton Beach Sandbar and Grill came to be.

Sitting on Lake Weir, in Weirsdale, Eaton Beach, puts the southern small town and northern beach living into a three-story fun in the sun shindig.

My parents were the first to discover it, through friends. My dad couldn’t stop talking about it. So we had to check it out. The first time wasn’t with my parents, but on an overcast day People were there, and the place was still partying.  The food is delicious; there always seems to be a party, and not many places in Florida can you have Shrimp n’ Grits and then go jet skiing.

20161009_173053On the top level is the restaurant where it serves Southern Low Country food mixed in with a hint of Florida Spanish Community. Think gumbo, jambalaya, fried catfish, anything served with grits and add the seasoning that makes Latin food amazing and you get what head chief David Del Rio has christened “Florisiana.”   Del Rio explains it as a mixed of Louisiana French food (the Southern Low Country Food) and Florida Latin comfort food. The food is tasty, but does have a little bit of a kick to it.  If you are wondering about the drink selection, this restaurant’s goal is to make you feel like you are sitting on a beach, so needless to say, they have a vast array of sugar boat drinks with umbrellas

On a trip, last year, both OJ and I splurged on drinks served in coconuts. Nothing feels like watching the sunset and sipping rum and coconut flavored alcohol from a coconut cup carved to look like a pirate.

The second level is another restaurant, known as the Steam Shack. Serving steam and boiled seafood, sandwiches and snacks, this part of Eaton Beach turned itself into a northern seafood shack. You order the food at the counter, find a seat, and they bring it to you. And you watch the sea plane aviators and boaters out on the lake.

There is usually either live music or Jimmy Buffet song playing in the background, telling you how he lost his flip flop and now is enjoying life with a margarita.

The last level, you are on the beach. Eaton sandy beaches offer the vacation sun and sand without the fear of sharks or sea lice. Here you can rent kayaks, Paddleboards, pontoons, and other watercrafts, or just sit on the beach and watch the seaplanes come in.

Eaton Beach Sandbar and Grill offers a unique mixture of Southern hospitality with a Northern Beach party. In some ways, it is what Florida is.

All It’s Cracked Up to Be 20161009_173129.jpg