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Retirement in Florida, Possible Adventure?

 My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Florida where the goal was to determine whether a retirement to Florida would be a possibility or not for us in the future.  What we determined is that we still have a lot of questions to get answered!  Here's what we experienced on this post-Covid trip to Florida.

We decided to make this a driving trip since Bob is still a few days out from complete vaccination. We hopped into my car to make this approximately 2500-mile trip.  That's a lot of time in the car and Bob drove it all!

Our first stop was in Alabama.  We used our points at the Holiday Inn to pay for our hotel stays.  That was a great way to cut back on expenses on the trip.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Athens, Alabama, and had dinner at Ro's Grill.  I posted our restaurant reviews on Yelp if you are interested in those thoughts.  

Our drive through Alabama to Panama City Beach was L O N G.  There were few gas and food stops in southern Alabama and learned that the hard way when we had to skip lunch.  The good ole days of relying on AAA to tell us where upcoming restaurants were sadly missing.  Spotty cell service really disrupted our current way of traveling!

For the nights we were in Panama City Beach, our hotel was the Holiday Inn Express right on the beach.  The rooms were nice and the room had an incredible view of the Gulf. We often headed out to the beach and even sat around a bonfire one night on the beach, which was a delightful experience. While in PCB we ate at these establishments.  Again, reviews can be found on Yelp.

Food Scene in Panama City Beach

Delicious cocktails were everywhere!

St. Andrews State Park

View from our room

Beach bonfire

We made our first 55+ community visit here.  We visited the newly opened Latitude Margaritaville Watersound. The sales center and a few model homes were available for tours.  We made an appointment to visit months ago as we have been interested in the Latitude Margaritaville in Daytona Beach for years and have been on the mailing list since we first heard about the Watersound project. We were impressed with the setup and the gorgeous displays.  Most of the time we were on our own, touring the homes but we had a chance to talk to an interior designer at a group design meeting. We got a few handouts and I bought a tee shirt!

Scenes from Latitude Margaritaville Panama City Beach

We spent some of our time in PCB exploring St. Andrews State Park there.  We have been there before and got a family photo taken with our married daughter and her husband.  We love the natural beaches and typically make the trip to Shell Island, but it was closed due to Covid.  Still, we enjoyed our time exploring this beach.

We completed our time in PCB and left for Clearwater Beach.  This is a 400+ mile trip and along the way, we were to visit three more 55+ communities:  Glen Lakes, Wellington at Seven Hills, and Heritage Pines.   Due to Covid, we were not allowed to enter Wellington and Heritage Pines which was wildly disappointing.  However, the gatekeeper at Glen Lakes allowed us to drive around the neighborhood.  It was so fun to see the houses we have been seeing on the internet and the clubhouse was much nicer than what we first thought.  It's still on our list, but we had to cross off the others for now.  I would definitely consider this as a future home while discovering exciting Clearwater activities.

Glen Lakes Country Club

View from our Clearwater Hotel

We checked into the Holiday Inn Harbourside at Clearwater.  Not nearly as nice as our hotel in PCB, as it was very dated.  However, the bed was extremely comfortable in our room and the view of the harbor and the boats were so fun.  We'd recommend this hotel with full disclosure that it is older.  We loved the location and walkability to one of our favorite restaurants, Crabby Bill's.

Another disappointment as we couldn't see the one community we planned to see here, Tampa Bay Country Club and Golf.  No visitors were allowed due to Covid restrictions.  We could come if we had a realtor, but with the ongoing Florida real estate boom, there wasn't an agent available for weeks.  We were able to see Sun City Center.

Sun City Center is a huge 55+ community was complicated at first, but with the help of a 55+ community real estate agent, was able to see and understand how the area was laid out.  We learned that we liked the Caloosa area on one side of the major road and the Rennaisance section on the other side of the road. Our agent sent us information that helped us understand what amenities were available.  We were a bit saddened to learn that the beach was an approximate 45-minute drive. One of the top reasons for looking at Tampa Bay was access to the beach. 

While in Tampa we visited Ybor City, one of Bob's favorite places.  He is a cigar smoker and loves to walk through the area and visit the tobacco shops there.  We have a favorite bakery, La Segunda,  and we stopped and got a few treats to share.

Since we were unable to see a lot of the communities we had hoped for, we contacted our agent at Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach to see if she would be able to see us if we made the drive across the state.  She had one available appointment for us so we changed our plans and headed to Daytona Beach!  I have family in Palm Coast, who offered their cabana to us for the night, so we canceled our last night at Clearwater and headed to Daytona Beach.  It seemed like a short drive after the trip from PCB to Tampa Bay.  

We arrived early to Daytona Beach, so we had some lunch at Macker Seafood and stopped by the famous BucEEs and explored this "gas station on steroids" (as our friend Ali describes it!)  We had a great time and did a bit of shopping.  We met up with our agent and she gave us a thorough tour.  Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach is much further along than PCB.  We were able to visit the pool, sales center, fitness center, and restaurant.  It is a vibrant community already.  We were able to see some more model homes.  The prices here were a few thousand dollars less.  Overall, we were glad we made the trip.

The highlight of the spontaneous decision to go to the Atlantic side of the state was seeing my cousins.  Bob had a nice long visit (I had to teach that night and spent a few hours holed up in the cabana) with Mike and Christy in their new home.  Bob shared a drink and a few cigars and they all walked to the beach, which was just a few steps from their home.  When I finished with my class, I was able to visit for a short time before it was time for bed.

We ended our Florida visit early on Friday morning when Bob took me to the beach to watch the sunrise.  We collected a bunch of shells, too!  We got to say goodbye to my cousins before we headed on our way to Chattanooga, TN where we spent the night before heading the rest of the way home.

Sunrise at Mike and Christie's house

Here are our ratings on the communities we visited or tried to visit:

Latitude Margaritaville Watersound  A

Glen Lakes Country Club                  A

Wellington at Seven Hills                  C

Heritage Pines                                    C

Tampa Bay Country Club                  C

Sun City Center                                 A-

Latitude Margaritaville Daytona Beach A

The Cs were for not having a way for visitors to drive through the neighborhood.  I totally get the idea of privacy but during daylight hours, even if limited to say, 10-4:00, would be beneficial. Since our time in Florida was limited, we had to cross any community we didn't visit off our list.

We will make a few more trips to Florida, to spend more time in southern Florida and on the Atlantic side.  We are looking forward to learning more about retirement in Florida.

Would you like to comment?

  1. I lived in South Carolina five years and visited almost yearly before. Have visited Atlantic every state from Maine to Miami Florida...moved to palm Harbor Clearwater area one month ago..I lived in 55 plus in Indiana the last three years..I just don’t enjoy the older communities even though I am old...I have a small condo bought by my son for me a mile from beach and a mile from them...I like the minimalism and this area is fantastic.they moved here several years ago so I was here often before COVID...also love the Pacific as he lived West Coast also..the Gulf is fantastic...u will love it..good luck


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