You Slept Here! Unforgettable Places to Sleep in Florida
By Jodi Mailander Farrell
If getting there is half the fun then finding a one-of-a-kind place to rest your head is the other half.
Florida is home to many memorable sleeping spots, including treehouses, lighthouses, Seminole chickee huts and museums.
Adventure-seekers will want to catch zzzs in one of these.
Up in the Trees
Climb 45 feet above the ground to sleep in the live oak trees at Spirit Suwannee Music Park and Campground, 3076 95th Dr., in Live Oak, between Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Built in 1998 by the pioneering treehouse builder Michael Garnier of DIY Network’s “The Treehouse Guys,” the Spirit Treehouse is perched in five red oaks and sleeps two to four people. It’s on the shady banks of the historic Suwannee River in a park known for its live bluegrass music and outdoor music festivals.
On weekends, you can tour the second treehouse Garnier built there in 2015, the three-story, 450-square-foot “Mother Tree” built from Southern yellow pine and perched in a 175-year-old oak tree.
On the other side of the Osceola National Forest, the nine Treehouse Point treehouses at Camp Chowenwaw, 1517 Ball Road, in Green Cove Springs, sleep four people in built-in bunks. The collection of treehouses shares a bathhouse and kitchen. Parade Magazine ranked Camp Chowenwaw’s treehouses among the best in the United States.
Disney’s Saratoga Springs has its own version of treehouse villas, elevated 10 feet off the ground, with three bedrooms, equipped kitchens, TVs and private decks with grills.
The Seminoles developed palmetto thatched roof dwellings on elevated cypress log frames in the early 1800s as disposable shelters. Authentic re-creations of chickee huts can be booked for overnight stays at Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, 30000 Gator Tail Trail, in Clewiston, a one-hour drive west of West Palm Beach. Choose from two single beds, a double bed or waterfront chickee. Dorm chickees sleep up to 14 people. The huts are rustic, with no electricity or running water, but there is a full-service restroom with showers on the grounds. Amp up the adventure with a twilight expedition package that includes campfire storytelling and a twilight swamp buggy eco-tour through the night marsh.
Night at the Museum
Sleep with the fish at downtown Miami’s Frost Museum of Science, 1101 Biscayne Blvd., where overnight visitors can snuggle beneath the 500,000-gallon Gulf Stream Aquarium, home to devil rays and hammerhead sharks. The museum’s Overnight Adventures are open to families with children ages 5 to 17, as well as youth groups. Participants explore the interactive exhibitions, conduct experiments, star gaze through telescopes and enjoy an after-hours show in the planetarium.
Wild Nights with Animals
Zoo Miami, 12400 SW 152nd St., offers an annual Roars, S’mores and Snores campout, with behind-the-scenes tours, a campfire with s’mores and the chance to sleep in your own tent in the middle of the zoo.
Kids Only Sleepovers are offered at ZooTampa, 1101 W. Sligh Ave.
Animal lovers of all ages can feel like they’re on safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, 2901 Osceola Pkwy., where you can view giraffes and gazelles from you balcony as you sip your morning coffee.
You’ll awaken to the roar of lions at the Lion Country Safari KOA Campground, 2003 Lion Country Safari Road in Loxahatchee, which has tent sites and cabins for rent. The campground is adjacent to the 320-acre, drive-through animal preserve and theme park.
On the Water
Famous for its boating culture, Florida has opportunities to sleep on the water from the Everglades to St. John’s River. Houseboats can be reserved up to six months in advance at Flamingo Marina, 1 Flamingo Lodge Hwy., inside Everglades National Park, where a 40-foot pontoon houseboat can sleep up to eight people.
Just west of DeLand, the north-flowing St. Johns River is Florida’s longest river and an ideal waterway to test your house-boating skills, no previous experience required. The river runs through Hontoon Island State Park, where equipped houseboats for four to 12 passengers can be rented at the Holly Bluff Marina, 2280 Hontoon Road, DeLand.
Landlubbers can still experience the thrill of sleeping on the water at the Bora Bora Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, 600 Seven Seas Dr., in Orlando. Modeled after over-water bungalows in the South Pacific, each of the 20 bungalows sits atop the Seven Seas Lagoon, with a private deck, plunge pool and nightly view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks show.
The Lady of the Lantern is fabled to swing her lantern from the roof at night at The Casablanca Inn, 24 Avenida Menendez, in downtown St. Augustine. Overlooking Matanzas Bay and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the restored 1914 Mediterranean Revival inn is featured on ghost tours led by Historic Tours of America, based in St. Augustine.
As many as 13 different “spirits” are said to haunt the Island Hotel, which has been at 373 2nd St., on Cedar Key in the Gulf of Mexico since 1859. They include a little boy who drowned in a basement water cistern during the Civil War, a Southern Army private solider who guards the second floor and a prostitute murdered there during prohibition. The Fox Network TV series “Haunted Inns & Mansions” filmed a segment at the hotel in 1999.
Built about 20 years ago as a replica of a historic Louisiana lighthouse, the New Canal Lighthouse in Santa Rosa Beach is a sprawling, two-story building that sleeps up to 14 people. At 512 Old Beach Road near Grayton Beach State Park, it has five bedrooms and 5½ bathrooms, with high ceilings, a spacious modern kitchen and a spiral stairway that leads to a lantern room. It can be booked through Dune Allen Realty in Santa Rosa Beach.
Katie's Light is a replica of a Chesapeake Bay lighthouse at 614 Fletcher St. in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. The beachside retreat with a wrap-around deck sleeps up to eight people, with three bedrooms and 2 ½ baths. It’s bookable through VRBO.
For the ultimate “glamping” experience, try one of the 651-square-foot Luxe Teepees at Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo, 3200 River Ranch Blvd., in River Ranch, one hour south of Orlando. The teepees, which sleep up to four guests, claim such comforts as stone fireplaces, claw-foot bathtubs, king beds, screened-in private patios and leather chairs, plus air conditioning and heating. The 10 teepees are clustered under a canopy of 100-year-old oak trees at the family-friendly dude ranch, where horseback riding, a weekend rodeo, bungee jumping and skeet shooting are among the pastimes. The resort also offers “glamping tents” on platforms, with morning coffee service delivered.
Groovy Camping in Vintage VW Vans
Florida Oldscool Campers in St. Petersburg – with an additional pick-up and drop-off site now in Key West – offers restored Volkswagen campervans to tour the state and spend the night in a Florida State Park or other campground. The 1970s vans come with full hookups, two-burner gas stoves, water tanks, sinks, ice boxes, beds and external propane tanks. Renters must fill out an online availability form in advance.
And now, it’s time for bed.