Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Campers pack Fort De Soto Park for Christmas

FORT DE SOTO PARK

Christmas for Mary Madden last year was that only-in-America mix of Chinese food and the movies. But Atlanta was cold and not a little dreary, a tradition not worth repeating. So this year she drew up plans, packed her car and set off to Florida.

Christmas Day found Madden in Fort De Soto Park, where she and dozens of refugees from the North, along with a handful of locals, were roughing it. Instead of Douglas and Fraser firs, they had cabbage palms and sea grapes. Instead of the latest seizure-inducing LED display, they adorned their tents and RVs with twinkle lights. It was all more manger than Macy's.

Spending Christmas at the park isn't the last resort of people who can't find a hotel room or are avoiding relatives. Travelers from all over the country and beyond book campsites months in advance, and the walk-up line is long. This year, by Christmas Eve almost all of the park's 241 campsites had been claimed, 48 of them by Pinellas residents, according to park manager Jim Wilson.

He pulled up a list of other campers' origins: Sarasota; Sarasota — "Must know each other," he mused — Connecticut; Englewood, Fla.; Quebec.

The campground came to life on Christmas Eve.

Over at campsite No. 47, Madden hooked up speakers to her phone and played music from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. A neighbor had blasted Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas collection, and the two campers dueled throughout the evening, alternately turning down their music to listen to the other's.

Elsewhere, a roving band of teenagers sang carols, and raccoons made off with a family's entire bag of marshmallows. Then Madden brought out the real show: a "mondo box" of fireworks.

"I was lucky because a lot of them were green and red," she said. "I thought they'd be more red, white and blue." A dozen people came out of their tents to watch, forming a little ring behind her.

Come Christmas Day, campers stirred early, unzipping their tent flaps to a view of the ocean. At campsite No. 11, Xuandai Hoang of Tampa and her two sons ate barbecued pork and chicken, cooked over a charcoal grill by her uncle, the veteran camper of the family.

"Christmas at home is always nice, but we wanted a change," Hoang said. "We wanted to be in nature more."

Her boys had gifts waiting for them under the tree at home; Santa apparently has some difficulty with campground deliveries.

That wasn't the case at another campsite, where the Bérubé family was tearing into their gifts. Their drive from Quebec had taken them 25 hours and led them through freezing rain, but they were bent on reaching the campsite they had reserved six months ago.

For her boyfriend, Justin Bérubé, Emilie Provost, 20, produced a stack of wrapped boxes that revealed themselves to be lip balm (an "inside joke"), a stuffed animal and a hypoallergenic mattress covering, which she pronounced "boring but useful." Bérubé, looking bemused, reached into a Kleenex box and pulled out a bag of Belgian chocolates hidden there.

His father, Mike Bérubé, surveyed the growing collection of shiny wrapping paper at his feet. The day's agenda included a few more hours on the beach and then a Christmas dinner of steak, for which they would need a respectable fire.

"Well, we'll have plenty of paper to burn," he said.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

Campers pack Fort De Soto Park for Christmas 12/25/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 25, 2013 10:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena

    Blogs

    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack

    World

    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath

    K12

    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.