Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Florida Vacation

A Frugal note: We didn't have much time to plan this vacation, we were attending a wedding that was announced only 6 weeks before and the location changed to Florida just 4 weeks before. We were really lucky to be able to get so many great deals so late in the game. We hunted for good prices and got plane tickets from SEA to MCO for $98 each way on Southwest (for Dave and I, the kids stayed home with gramma Peg). We reserved a full-size car rental (to share with my parents) through Priceline for $20 a day with unlimited miles, of course. Our first night hotel was also booked through Priceline. We got a very, very nice hotel room (the nicest I've ever been in, I felt a bit out of place) for just $75 a night. The other 3 nights we stayed with friends (of course we took them out to dinner and have sent them a nice thank you gift, they are new friends and we really like them.) A few of our meals were taken care of with the wedding party, we were invited to dinner at our friends house one night, purchased food at the grocery store, went out to eat a few times and did splurge at least twice on nice meals (though we still spent less than $150, 2 people/5 days). We were also careful with gas money and searched for the best gas prices online using Dave's cell phone. Thank goodness the rental car got good gas mileage, we averaged 25 MPG. As you will soon find out we drove all over the state and spent under $100 (one tank was paid for by family members sharing the car with us).
Day 1--Left Home at 9:40 am for the 1 hour drive to the airport. Ate lunch in the airport. Departed SEATAC airport at 12:20pm. Stopover in Kansas City. Arrived at Orlando (MCO) airport at 9:30pm. Retrieved rental car. Drove to hotel. Met family and Allison, they brought us burgers. Fitted Allison's dress. Took a shower and went to bed early --1AM eastern time/10pm Pacific.

Day 2--Got up, dressed and ready, with all our stuff packed into the car and ready to go by 9am. Gathered the groom and his parents and all their stuff into the car and set out on the 30 minute drive down the Greenway to the Orlando LDS Temple. FYI: the Greenway is expensive! It is one of many toll roads that we encountered. In the thirty minute drive to the temple we made stops at 4 toll booths and paid nearly $5 in tolls! (I thought $3 to cross the Narrows bridge was bad). In exchange for our tolls, traffic was minimal and we sped right along without delay. Dave's favorite thing about Florida was the speed limit---FAST!

The temple ceremony was short and beautiful. Lots of pictures before and after. While we were waiting for the pictures to be finished up we ate a snack on the lawn and had fun chasing lizards. I knew my boys would appreciate a good close up. I tried and tried and this was the best picture I could get of these tiny quick creatures. They were everywhere and nowhere--FAST! The temple grounds were beautiful and the sun was shining but not too hot. It was an excellent first day in Florida.

After the wedding we all hopped into our cars and drove down the street to Panera bread for lunch before heading out on the long trip to Fort Myers. The drive was about 2 1/2 hours and I honestly can't tell you much about it other than I sat in the back seat in between my parents and I fell asleep.

Allison's family lives in Bonita Springs, just south of Fort Myers. The reception was at their house, a small but beautiful home on a canal leading out to a bay and through to the Gulf of Mexico. The landscaping was beautiful and a perfect setting for a reception.

Day 3--My parents were departing from the Fort Lauderdale airport and so Dave and I got to drive them there, another 2 hour drive. We drove across the state on "Alligator Alley", another toll road, through the everglades. A very straight drive and though pretty, it was all the same and quickly got boring. I fell asleep again.

After dropping of the folks at the airport Dave and I headed over to the Fort Lauderdale beaches. I didn't know this but the Fort Lauderdale beaches are on an island, pretty cool, we had to go over a drawbridge to get there. The beaches were beautiful and though there were a lot of people there it wasn't at all overwhelming. We walked the beach until we found a fairly empty spot, dipped ourselves in the Atlantic and settled in for a bit of sunbathing. The water was warmer than what we're used to but still a little cold--kinda like San Diego water. The color was beautiful and so clear. The sand was warm and soft and the sun was hot. It felt so very, very good to lay in it.

We ate "lunch" (it was 3 eastern) at Bubba Gumps on the beach and hopped back in the car to head back across the state. This time on a different road that would take us on a more scenic route through the Everglades. We drove through Mangrove and Cypress forests and through grasslands. We passed small communities, Indian reservations and small businesses. We saw lots of these Panther Crossing signs but never saw a panther. I had no idea there were panther in the Everglades. Also found out that there are more bear attacks than gator attacks--had no idea there were bears in the Everglades.

We stopped at one of the small businesses, Skunk Ape. Yes, it was called Skunk Ape, named after the Everglades Bigfoot, a big stinky ape that roams the Everglades and is rarely spotted. Our hosts in Bonita Springs suggested we stop at the shop and $3 animal show, it is their favorite Everglades stop. The place was quaint and the workers were comical. We were too late to see the animal show that we had intended to see so they let us roam the small grounds for free to peek at the animals on our own. Dave snuggled up with this gator. We also spotted baby gators, crocs, lots of interesting birds and snakes and a lion and giant panther (both statues).
Above all this in the trees outside was a huge collection of buzzards. The idea of buzzards circling around my property kinda creeps me out but the owners didn't seem to mind em. At least they made for a cool picture. There are 10 buzzards in this picture can you find 'em all?
The sun was starting to go down so we got back in the car to finish off our drive back to Bonita Springs. It was a pleasant trip and the Everglades are very pretty at dusk. There are lots of beautiful and interesting birds swooping and diving and playing above the grasses and marsh. It was very relaxing and Dave thoroughly enjoyed trying to keep up with the locals zooming past us.
When we got back into town we grabbed some sushi at the Publix (AWESOME GROCERY STORE: light, bright, wide aisles, great prices, friendly help) and drove down to the beach to eat. It was a beautiful, dark night, no moon yet. There were a few fishermen out on the beach but no lights. The sand was so white it glowed, as did the edge of the surf. We stuck our toes in the water--it was warmer than the Atlantic Coast.

Day 4--Fishing Day! Dave was invited to go fishing with our hosts. He was so, so, so excited. They caught a bunch on fish. This picture is one of his first but not the best fish he caught. This is called a Snook, a fish I had never heard of before this weekend. Look at how beautiful the water is there! He was out with the boys for about 4 hours.
While he was gone I found my way back to the beach. I took a dip in the Gulf, did some beachcombing for beautiful seashells and lay in the sun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy being alone. It was a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

The beach was covered in seashells and really, really soft, fine sand, all of it white. It was so beautiful and relaxing to walk across with bare feet (I'm kinda a masochist I guess). There was only one bird on the beach and it was a lovely white Egret. This Egret kept strutting back and forth between fishermen trying to steal their bait, and making me laugh.

When I returned to our hosts home the boys had just returned from the fishing trip and we all sat down for barbeque. Chris, one of our hosts, grilled up some delicious steaks that were incredible! We had a great time hearing about the fishing trip and visiting with everyone. Then the boys decided I needed to go out on a boat ride too.

The Browne's took Dave and I out on a boat ride through the mangrove canal through the bay and out toward the gulf. The water was so incredibly clear and blue and there were more birds than we'd seen the day before in the Everglades. We pulled out into a pass between two of the barrier Islands and spotted a family of dophins 10 feet off the bow of the boat. We just stayed right there and watched them for a while. They were eating the fish coming through the narrow waterway. They didn't mind us hanging out by them but when another boat, full of loud college students spotted them and pulled up the dolphins disappeared. As we pulled away back towards the canals a giant Sea Ray lept out of the water just inches from the boat and splashed back into the water--incredible!

When we got back to their place, their grandson showed me all the coconut and banana trees in their yard so I could take some pictures for my kids. Wouldn't that be cool to have bananas and coconut growing in your own yard! Chris gave us a coconut to take home to the kids. That night we took our new friends, Chris and Lisa out to dinner and had a great time with them.

Day 5-- was a very sad day. The day we had to pack up and leave Florida. We left Bonita about 10 am, drove 2 1/2 hours back to Orlando. Stopped at a Waffle House for breakfast on the way up, excellent blueberry waffles!!!! Played Backgammon in the airport. Flew out of Orlando, stopped over in Kansas City. Arrived in Seattle at 9:35 or 10:35, I'm not sure, I'm still all screwed up on the time change. Got home to find a warm, clean house full of sleeping children and a relieved Gramma Peg.

Thank you Peg (and Lou), Jacob and Allison, Mom and Dad, Chris and Lisa, the Browne family for making this trip possible. Thank you Dave, my hard-working hubby, for paying for it all. I had a fabulous time and can't wait to take the kids back and enjoy some more of that Florida fun and sunshine soon! I've finally been somewhere exciting!


  1. Wow, Dani! That sounds so awesome! I really want to go to Florida now!! I'm glad you had a good time. I haven't gotten away without the kids for over 8 years....I'm jealous!

  2. Sounds like a much needed vacation. I'm happy that you guys had so much fun. Someday we'll go somewhere exciting:)

  3. what a wonderful trip!!! and the dress and tie were gorgeous!

    I love finding good deals--I'm glad you were able to find great one!

  4. Dani, Your pictures remind me a lot of my trip to Brazil last summer. I loved the Atlantic Ocean too. It is warm and inviting. I too love to be by myself and treasure the alone time, as long as I am not alone for long. I am glad that you had a fabulous vacation.

  5. glad you had so much fun

  6. hey dani! we are so glad you guys enjoyed your visit- don't forget, you are always welcome to visit again!!! i've added you to our blog list, hope you dont mind! alli is so so so lucky to have you as her new sister!


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