The Reality of a $20 Vacation
This past weekend, as my partner-in-crime Bridget mentioned, we went up to Crystal River, Florida for some snorkeling, manatee hugging, and camping. We considered this an "alternative vacation" from our original plans of going to Universal Studios. There were six of us altogether (Chrissy, Julian, Jenny, Brandon, Bridget & me) and only two of us had any real camping experience. The camp site (Encore Crystal Isles) turned out to be more of an RV park than what I was expecting, but we had our own little plot of land at the edge of some wilderness reserved for about $25 a night, and with amenities such as an on-site bathroom & shower and a convenience store I wasn't going to complain too much (after all, I wanted my camping experience to be authentic, but not that authentic...). Despite the sudden late-chill that brought the temperature down to around 50degrees - a contingency I did not plan for with my wardrobe - it was a relatively comfortable night. Though just as a future reminder to myself: next time go for a slightly more expensive sleeping bag than the Wal-Mart $9.99 brand...it may be cheap, but it certainly wasn't insulated.
The location for the snorkeling and manatee-viewing was a mere five to ten minutes from our campgrounds, at the Crystal Lodge Dive Center. Due to the cool weather we all decided to rent wetsuits for $10, and we all chipped in to get a pontoon boat ($25 per hour, with a 2-hr minimum). We spent about 2 1/2 hours making our rounds through the various sites along the waterways, such as a couple of beautiful springs that pumped out these pockets of crystal clear water amid the river's normal green hue. Unfortunately it seems as if the manatee herd had moved on from the area by the time we arrived, but I can't say my enjoyment of the experience was diminished very much from the lack of some manatee bonding-time. In fact, we all had so much fun from the trip that we're already making plans to do a similar adventure in the Florida Keys! For myself I paid only $20 for the entire experience - $15 at the dive shop for my wetsuit as well as my portion of the pontoon boat rental, and $5 for my portion of the campgrounds rental. Sure, I had to buy a sleeping bag and a snorkel/mask set ($9.49 at Wal-Mart) in preparation, but as far as pricing goes for just the actual experience...my mind boggles at the price differences between camping and going to a theme park. For tickets & a hotel stay we had been going up to and beyond the $200-mark for a weekend trip to Universal, so (while I don't claim to be a math major) we could go camping ten times over before we reached the cost of one vacation at a theme park.