It was my last official day off of work for my Christmas holiday break, and we wanted to spend it hanging out as a family. Hunter had mentioned a few days prior that he really wanted to go back to the Old Spanish Sugar Mill for their all-you-can-cook-and-eat pancake breakfast. It had been about two years since our last visit to this Central Florida treasure, so we thought it would be a fun family adventure to get us out of the house.
The forecast for the day was set to be a good one as we planned our attire accordingly, unfortunately not accounting for the fact that we were traveling 90 minutes north to our destination. We set the Waze app to De Leon Springs and hit the open road… destination: The Old Spanish Sugar Mill. You are quickly reminded on the drive to this place why we only go there once a year at the most. We hit the road around 9 and ended up pulling through the De Leon Springs park gate at around 10:30. When you arrive at the gate there is a sign telling you how long the wait at the restaurant is. It said the wait was 2 hours when we pulled in. At this point of course, we weren’t turning back.
We parked the car and I hustled to the restaurant to put our names in, at which point the stated wait time was 2.5 hours. Although the waits are always long, there are plenty of things to do around the grounds to occupy your time. We decided since we had so much time that we would take the boat tour that departs every hour, providing a tour of the waterways north of the park. We were slightly ill prepared for the weather as it was an overcast day and about 10 degrees colder than what we had planned for. What better place to be on a cold day with inappropriate clothing… than on the water! Lucky for us they had blankets for those onboard to share so it kept us a bit warmer. There was a lot of wildlife out on the water as we spotted lots of different birds as well as some jumping mullet fish and a few chilly alligators. The boat tour took about an hour and returned us to grounds near the restaurant.
We still had about 90 minutes until our reservations so we headed to the walking trails to explore Monkey Island and the other short trails. The trails provide the perfect, short walk through the woods to help pass your wait time as well as get some fresh air and nature. The boys enjoyed their adventure but we all agreed that we were ready to eat some pancakes. We returned to the restaurant and checked in at the register only to find that they had already called our name, but we didn’t hear it over the outdoor speakers. They were gracious enough to seat us at the next available table.
We were ready to eat as we got our table griddle fired up. Along with the all-you-can-eat pancakes, we ordered numerous orders of bacon, as well as a few eggs to fry up as well. We also ordered some fixin’s for our pancakes, which included pecans and chocolate chips. It was well worth the wait as the cozy location and comfort food absolutely hit the spot. We wrapped up breakfast/lunch at around 2 pm but wanted to continue to enjoy our last day off as a family. Emily suggested our next stop be Blue Springs to see the manatees that come during the winter months. We actually saw a few manatees in De Leon Springs this morning, but you can get a better view of them in Blue Springs, or so I was told.
We set the Waze app to Blue Springs and were on our way. We had never visited the park before but always seem to remember it as an option on our way to the Old Spanish Sugar Mill because it is located on our route. We weaved our way through the town pulling down this country road where the park entrance was. As we pulled up we saw a line of cars appearing to be parked on the road only to discover the “park closed” sign as we approached. It turns out there was such high demand for the park that day that you actually had to wait just to park. Our desire to see manatees that day did not warrant a 60 minute wait in our car to park so we decided to save that adventure for another day.
The adults of the car weren’t ready to call it a day quite yet. We had been exchanging texts with Erik and Jamie, who were down from Wisconsin with their boys and staying at Disney. We wanted to get together with them for dinner, so we thought we could kill some time and more gas by exploring the other half of Central Florida. We navigated south on I4 which took us right past one of my new favorite places on the planet, Petty’s Meat Market. Since I had just run out of my rib spices during my parents’ visit in November, this was the perfect opportunity to stock up on a couple items. Hunter hadn’t been to the the store yet so he came in with me. He agreed that it was as amazing as I had described it.
We picked up a few quick items and were back on the road. We made another random stop at Aggressive Appliances to pick out the last remaining items for the outdoor kitchen we are building. If you have not been to this place you have to check it out. Great staff and amazing choices for both indoor and outdoor kitchens.
During the drive we had connected with the Hietpas’ and settled on meeting them at The Boathouse restaurant at Disney Springs at 6 pm. The boys were troopers as we had been in the car for about three hours at that point. We arrived at the restaurant just as Erik, Jamie, and their boys were walking up. It was a great dinner and a really fun time catching up with them. We wrapped up dinner around 8, and we were absolutely spent. We grabbed Sawyer a churro on our way to the car and headed back to casa Hayes. When it was all said and done we had done an almost four hour loop around Central Florida, basically just to eat. Time for bed!