Thursday, April 5, 2018

Driving Through The Florida Keys

You know how you have those days in life that you wish you could re-live over and over again? That's how we, as a family, feel about these two days. The days were actually far from perfect, unexpected things happened, yet these are the two most talked about days of our entire trip. The drive from Miami down to Key West took longer than we expected due to stops, traffic, an accident, and more traffic. Yet, the drive was amazing, the stops were perfect, and Key West was ah-maz-ing. 

We awoke early the morning we left Miami so we could pack up, clean out the minivan, and say goodbye to our Miami home. The minis were sad to leave Miami and got into some trouble in the backyard (therefore earning themselves a time out).

I loved the screened in porch on the front and the backyard for the minis. The porch was perfect for a late night beer and the backyard was our lizard catching destination.

We made a stop at a Walmart on our way to the Keys. We stocked up on deli meats, hummus, pesto (I love to eat it with cucumbers or apples), fruits, and veggies. Our little cooler came in quite handy and provided a lot of quick, on the go, healthy meals for us. We will definitely be doing this again on future road trips. I can't believe how much money we saved on meals and snacks when we had healthy options right at our fingertips. The cooler was left in the back with easy access so the minis could get what they needed out of it.

This Walmart had a parking garage. For some reason I found this funny and amazing, but I'm sure it had to do with lack of sleep more than anything.

Well, we had already gone to Everglades and Biscayne, which meant it was straight ahead to Key West!

We broke up the drive a bit by stopping at Robbie's to feed the tarpon, stopping for Cuban coffee, and grabbing some fruit from a little roadside market. Time kind of got away from us and instead of stopping at Sunset Grille for lunch, we ate food from the cooler, and went straight into Key West so we could get in some good beach time.

I had expected the drive from Miami to Key West to be the ocean right along the roadway, and it was. Kinda. Quite a bit of the upper and middle keys have trees and bushes along the roadway, blocking a lot of the ocean views. I loved the 7 mile long bridge because of the amazing ocean views.

The pelicans freaked the kids out, especially when they reached out and tried to grab the fish away from them.

These giant tarpons were both cool and bizarre to see. The story behind Robbie's and the tarpon is pretty neat. We loved Robbie's so much that we returned the next morning for parasailing. Fun place to visit and a must if traveling through the Keys!

The tarpon will jump out of the water to get the fish from your hands, but my kids kept the fish up so the tarpon wouldn't eat their arms. It was a real concern of their's.

We saw the remnants of Hurricane Irma in the middle Keys. There was also a good amount of rebuilding. The best thing for this area is tourism to boost the local economy. We made sure to spend our time and money on the harder hit middle Keys (Marathon and Isla Morada to be exact). To be honest, I was fascinated by the trees that were hit. They clearly were leaning because of the directionality of the wind as it blew during the hurricane.

We enjoyed reading the varying names of the keys as we drove: Little Torch Key, Sugarloaf Key, Cudjoe Key, Boca Chica Key, Big Torch Key, just to name a few.

The highly anticipated Seven Mile Bridge. We didn't walk out on the old seven mile bridge, but the drive across was amazing.

I loved Old Town Key West. One of the first streets we encountered was Elizabeth St. How fitting. I loved the feel of Old Town/Duval Street area, the houses and buildings, the friendliness of locals and other tourists, the little shops. I'd go back in a heartbeat if time allowed. We made the most of our few hours in Key West doing the touristy things: Hemingway's house, the Southern Most Point, walking Duval Street, Margaritaville, eating pieces of key lime pie, and snorkeling at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

I was not a huge fan of this beach, although the minis and Hubs enjoyed it. I like soft, sandy white beaches and the beaches in the Keys tend to be rocky thanks to the coral reef. Although it made for some great snorkeling attempts (apparently I suck at snorkeling and couldn't get the breathing down) and pretty scenes. The water was also very calm which made swimming for the minis more enjoyable than the large waves wiping them out at Cocoa Beach.

The water was absolutely freezing! Elizabeth stuck to the beach and rock scrambling.

The middle mini was sooo excited for snorkeling. Mostly just so he could wear the "flippery flippers."

You'll remember my rant about the 5 p.m. beach closings in Miami (if not, read about the Miami portion of our trip here). The beaches in the Keys close at sunset (8:30 p.m. at this time of year).

Crystal clear water. We HAD to wear shoes (our Keens and Chaco's were perfect for this) because of the rocky ocean bottom.

Then we explored the outside of the Fort a bit and walked on a trail. This was really neat to see and I'm glad we got to explore it a bit since we didn't get to see Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park.

The boys could not stop talking about the "canyons" that shot out of the side of the fort. I think that might have been their most favorite thing from the day.

When the bathrooms are closed you pee behind trees. Let's remember that last summer's vacation had an emergency poop in the forest, this year's was an emergency pee in the park.

Of course, as we were driving out of the Park, the bag of pretzels was turned upside down and spilled everywhere. We had to pull over on the side of the road for a quick clean up.

The free roaming roosters threw us for a loop at first.

We parked several blocks away from the Southern Most Point. We loved the walk through the neighborhoods.

Giving each other pig noses....because what else do you do while waiting to cross the street??

Things got special at mile marker 0.

A night at Margaritaville eating, drinking, and listening to Jimmy's classics and a live band. Blissful.

Leaving Margaritaville at 9 p.m. and much to our surprise it was dark out. We lost all track of time and it was evident the night life was in full swing as there was not another child in sight as we walked several blocks back to our car. That didn't deter the bars and various establishments from inviting/waving us in and offering to make things more kid friendly. We declined (obviously, but we appreciated the kind gesture from everyone) and instead got key lime pie to go as we had to drive back to Key Largo (to our lodge).

I need this van for future road trips.

We stayed at Ed and Ellen's Lodge in Key Largo. We did our best to support local mom and pop businesses (especially in the Keys) and this place was absolutely our style. We got in late that night (11:26 p.m. to be exact) and found the office locked....but a small Post-It Note on the door that said, "Welcome Ashton! Your room is upstairs, the North room. Everything is unlocked and ready for you." I love it....and the misspelling of my name had me laughing harder than was necessary! The room was perfect too: a bit larger than a regular hotel room, but with a small kitchenette (that we didn't wind up using because, well, great restaurants all around).

We all crashed into bed after much needed showers, but found ourselves wide awake earlier than I would have liked. It worked out well because we got to Robbie's and were the first parasailing trip of the day. What a perfect experience for us to start the day!

Parasailing was perfect! Parasail The Keys was wonderful with the kids. While we were (still) bummed about missing out on Dry Tortugas, parasailing was a great adventurous replacement.

*I'll have a separate post all about parasailing to come soon.

Parasailing took a good portion of our morning. We weren't completely ready for lunch  when we were done since it was still early, but we arrived to a full parking lot at Sunset Grille on Marathon. We spent a few hours here while the minis swam in the heated pool (much warmed than the ocean!), I had a drink or two, and we took in the ocean view. This was the most relaxing few hours of our entire trip. I actually dozed in the lounge chair by the side of the pool for a few minutes. 

We had wanted to walk under the 7 Mile Long Bridge to go out onto the old 7 Mile Long Bridge, but the pathway was closed for construction. We're not sure if that was a result of Hurricane Irma or not. We decided that walking out onto the old bridge for an interesting view of the new bridge was not high on our Want To Do List, so we didn't attempt to go anywhere else to do this. Instead we took our time eating lunch, stopped for coffee at a Starbucks (truth be told, I'm obsessed with their cinnamon almond milk macchiato, or whatever it's called), and spent the late afternoon and evening at John Pennekamp State Park right near our lodge in Key Largo.

Because of this restaurant, my minis are now asking if whatever restaurant we go to has a pool to play in too. This was by far the most relaxing meal we've ever had with the minis in tow.

In between lunch and coffee we stopped at a gift shop where we snagged t-shirts, a jar to collect water from the ocean in, magnets, and a few other mementos to take home with us. Of course my daughter picks out "the bikini boobs" shot glass....and drinks water out of it daily.

We honestly weren't sure which beach to head to. Most of the beaches along the highway were closed (thanks to Irma), so we quickly figured out the State Park beaches were the way to go. I remembered seeing a post about John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on a blog I follow (Crazy Family Adventure) and we decided to give it a try. This wound up being the minis favorite beach. This evening at the beach has been talked about daily since then.

The one part I didn't like about the beach?? Crocodiles. 

This evening is what dreams are made of.  We flew kites across the beach, snorkeled, played tag, had a picnic (and our food didn't get full of sand), and watched the sunset. Whenever I need a moment of peace, these scene instantly come to my mind to bring a smile to my face.

The pelicans were not scared of us at all.

A moment of panic when the oldest got his kite stuck in a nearby tree. Luckily we had extra kites on hand because this one was more than torn up by the time we freed it from the tree!

Beach hair all day every day.

There's a reason it was called cannon beach.

The outside of our lodge had a fun picnic area and cute benches. 

This little guy (or girl) was hanging out on the ceiling right outside our lodge door. I was scared he was going to fall on me.

The minis had trouble going to sleep because no one wanted to leave Florida (which happened the next morning). Tears were shed and they begged to stay another day. Usually at the end of our vacations, while we've always fully enjoyed the vacations, we were always ready to come home. This time however, we all agreed we could have stayed longer. Finally, they crashed (with tears still rolling down their cheeks) and crashed hard.

The only thing that would have made these two days better would have been warmer weather. Florida had unseasonably colder temperatures while we were there, which made the water chilly too. Despite missing out on Dry Tortugas, everything worked out brilliantly. Day 2 in the Keys (the day we were supposed to go to Tortugas) was a much needed, relaxing day. Had we gone to the National Park we wouldn't have had that day and I can almost guarantee our drive home would have been filled with grouchiness. Everything has it's way of working out.