There are plenty of stops along the way if your draft
is 5 or less.
In addition to Cedar Key, it is possible to hide from weather at Crystal River if you are careful of the tides.
Steinhatchee can be done with 5' if you make sure you don't come in on a negative tide, which are not uncommon. If you ground there, it won't be mud or sand.
There are floating slips available there, but that is about all.
It is possible to daysail from Tarpons Springs to Cedar Key (anchor), to Steinhatchee (slip), to Carabelle (either), then go inside all the way to your destination
The NE Gulf of Mexico
is not a place to be caught by a strong front. If you chance weather there, have a very stout boat.
No matter what size the seas are there, they will remain on a 5-7 second period, and be shaped like a giant chop, not round like waves.
Look at the history
from the buoy at Middle Ground, and you'll see what I mean.
The only of the above I have not personally visited is Crystal River, but I know plenty who have. None of the above are "cruising destinations" with lots to do, but they all beat 12-18 hours in a giant confused chop washing
machine. Been there done that, and won't do it again. I have made that run many times, both the "rim route" and straight across, and have learned to be patient and wait for the right window, or shorten the runs to the available window.
If you are BoatUS or SeaTow, call their operators in the area and avail yourself of their local knowledge. Beware of shrimpers steering
crazy courses, they are following a depth
contour, and often the autopilot
waypoints while everyone is on deck
fishing. You have to watch for them, as they will never know you are there.
Wait until April, and consider making hops as weather allows.