There's no shortage of lodging options in the Gulf coast town of Crystal River, catering to visitors looking to enjoy the incredible outdoor fun this area of Florida has to offer. But when I saw the sign for Kings Bay Lodge with its retro neon sign aglow, it reminded me of the old Holiday Inn signs that were so much a part of my family's 1970's summer vacations to The Sunshine State - and I knew we'd found a fun place. If you're looking for a family-friendly vacay with an authentic Old Florida feel, you just might love all that Crystal River has to offer, including this little gem with a 1978 price tag to match. Then all you need is that cool wood-paneled station wagon with the pop-up waaay back seats for the kids!
Crystal River's biggest tourism draw are the West Indian manatees, its famous residents which inhabit the crystal clear waters around this part of Florida year round, and squeeze into the natural warm springs during winter months to escape the cold Gulf of Mexico. Swimming with manatees here is completely unique to Citrus County - an attraction for kids of all ages.
Citrus County is a nature lovers' paradise - water lovers especially - and scalloping season is another busy time of year for families who wish to dive for their own. Combine this treasure trove of natural resources just a stone's throw away from the Gulf of Mexico with loads of fun activities like miles of bicycle trails, historic downtowns, a distinct flavor of Old Florida, and plenty of excellent shops and restaurants, and you have a top-notch family vacation destination.
When we checked in to Kings Bay Lodge, the manager greeted us like we were old friends. She was friendly and engaging with all the guests coming and going, and made sure to give us lots of good info about the area. She also suggested several restaurants which later turned out to be very good recommendations.
Even the flat plastic room key was retro and cool!
The unassuming single-story motel has several buildings all facing a common covered outdoor pavilion with grills and picnic tables, perfect for families and friends - old and new - to gather for a cold drink and a chat.
Our room was spacious, and appeared to have been two rooms at one time. The bed linens were fresh, clean, and bright, and looked brand new.
The main room was a combined living/dining/sleeping area with a sleeper couch and two comfy recliners, an extremely comfortable king size bed on the other side of the room, and a dining table with four chairs.
A separate, well-stocked kitchenette was just off the dining area, and the glass table made the dining space almost disappear. A separate dressing area featured a tall dresser and large closet with ample room for clothes and other belongings. Finally, the bathroom was spic-and-span clean and bright, featuring a walk-in tiled shower with excellent water pressure and plenty of hot water.
One of the coolest parts about Kings Bay Lodge is the natural pool - a truly unique Old Florida-style spring fed, freshwater pool that sits at the edge of Kings Bay. Taking a dip in this pool is like swimming in the Bay itself - with the water and bottom vegetation that come with it.
The sliding board at the edge of the pool looked so inviting, even to this big kid, but unfortunately it needs some attention and resurfacing.
The Lodge sits directly on Kings Bay and offers free boat docking for guests. Easy walking distance away is the historic Crystal River downtown, and a well-lit back alley leads from the motel, across a parking lot to the main street in town, with plenty of dining choices. Several popular restaurants on Suncoast Boulevard (Route 41) are also just a few blocks away.
Our three night stay at Kings Bay Lodge was comfortable and very enjoyable. This motel is perfect for couples or families looking for a laid-back, non-luxury, casual stay. It's the kind of place where kids can run around outside and parents can socialize but still keep an eye on them.
Kings Bay Lodge is not at all your retro-inspired motel, trying hard but falling short of re-creating a mid-century look. No, it is authentically retro, which pairs nicely with the Old Florida feel of Crystal River and nearby Homosassa. Kings Bay Lodge is simple and clean, comfortable, and homey, with a budget-friendly price tag, making it an excellent family-friendly lodging value.
Could it use some updates? Sure. But not too many.
Staying here reminded me of what I love most about Florida, and what I've loved since I was a kid - when the best of Florida is right outside your door. Like the Zac Brown Band song goes:
"I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand
Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand
Life is good today, life is good today"
If this is your idea of a great time in Florida, I think you're gonna like the Kings Bay Lodge.
(I was a guest of King's Bay Lodge and all opinions are my own through this experience. Thanks to Visit Citrus County for allowing me to share this Old Florida stay with all of you!)
If You Go:
Kings Bay Lodge - 506 NW 1st Avenue, Crystal River, FL 34428; 352-795-2850
Retro, comfortable, non-smoking waterfront efficiencies. Free Wi-Fi and boat docking for guests. Nightly, Weekly, & Monthly rates. Sorry, they don't accommodate pets.
2016 Nightly rates: < $100 - $129 during scallop season
For More Information: