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April 22, 2014

St. Augustine: A Refreshing Break from Theme Parks

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

We’re about mid-way through our week in Orlando, and today I took my oldest daughters (ages 8 and 6) on a side trip to St. Augustine while the others explored Animal Kingdom. Just two hours north of Orlando, I was excited to take Clare, in particular, since she recently completed a unit on “explorers” in her third grade class. Of course, Ponce de Leon, the man who discovered St. Augustine, was among those explorers.

St. Augustine is a beautiful, historical city with so much to see and do. I knew I wanted to visit the Castillo de San Marcos (the famous old fort), but then I was so overwhelmed by how much else there is to see and do in St. Augustine. I really had no idea.

We ended up taking a narrated trolley tour (we hopped on the Old Town Trolley), which I highly recommend. We always like to sit up front to ask the conductor questions in between stops. You can save money by buying your tickets online, but if you’re going to be in St. Augustine for just a day, purchase the basic trolley tour ticket and add on just one or two museum tickets. The trolley packages are way too ambitious.

Our first stop was the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park (Ponce de Leon was known for his legendary quest to find the Fountain of Youth on behalf of King Ferdinand of Spain). It’s kind of hokey and a toss-up as to whether it was worth the price of admission, but it was fun to drink from the “fountain” and learn more about Spanish exploration and the Native Timucua Indians. Clare also got to pose next to a statue of Ponce de Leon for us to send to her third grade teacher.

Next, we walked up the street to take a tour of the Old Jail. It was a 35-minute guided tour by a “deputy” and given its interactive nature, my girls probably enjoyed this stop the most. We learned all about how the prisoners lived, what they ate and even how often they got baths. They bathed once a month, all using the same bathwater. Ick.

Right next to the Old Jail, you can visit the St. Augustine History Museum. Admission is free with the price of a trolley ticket. We didn’t get a chance to go in (it was getting late, and we still hadn’t yet gone to the fort), but my mother-in-law and husband’s uncle spent about 20 minutes inside and found it worthwhile.

Finally, we took the trolley back to the Castillo de San Marcos. If you take your kids, don’t forget to pick up a Junior Ranger Activity Book (for kids ages 6 to 12) from a park ranger. Inside you’ll find 16 pages of activities for your kids to complete to get a Junior Ranger badge. My kids loved working on the pages and we’ll be mailing it in soon to get their badges (kids can also complete the booklet on-site to get their badge from a park ranger at the fort).

If we had another day or two to spend in St. Augustine, we probably would have checked out the Oldest House, the Pirate & Treasure Museum and the St. Augustine Lighthouse. However, even one day was a great break from the rides and crowds of Walt Disney World, and an educational one at that.

Have you ever been to St. Augustine? I’d love to hear about some of your favorite sites and attractions.


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