So, over winter break, my family went to Florida. We left the day after Christmas and were down there for a little over a week, and it was basically both the best and worst decision my parents have ever made, considering how lousy the weather in Michigan was at the time (the last day of the trip, we drove home for 19 hours straight in order to beat one of the many Polar Vortex snow storms–not fun).
The trip consisted of two parts (not including all the days spent driving, because, you know, Florida and Michigan aren’t exactly neighbors). The first part we spent in the Everglades–the second in the Florida Keys.
The Everglades are not AT ALL like I was expecting–they’re almost all water, with most of the plants growing directly out of it. Interspersed with all the water are “islands,” which are actually just a couple feet higher in elevation, but it’s just enough to allow them to rise above the water, giving way to mini forests full of all sorts of trees and plants. Birds abound. While we were there, we saw more alligators in a single day than I’ve seen probably in my entire life (including television). (Note: all pictures courtesy my mom, dad, and sister.)
While in the Everglades, my parents made the mistake of taking me to a gift shop.
Amongst all the Everglades-ing, we also spent quite a bit of time searching for manatees during this part of the trip. Unfortunately, we only got a decent picture of one.
(Okay, make that two.)
(Also, this happened.)
Post-Everglades, we drove down into the Florida Keys.
The weather for most of the trip wasn’t as good as we were hoping (cool weather, plus lots of rain and wind), but honestly, it was still better than what people were dealing with back in Michigan, so considering that, we didn’t mind.
In the Keys, my parents kept us busy with visits to both the Dolphin Research Center (where they shot the original Flipper) and The Turtle Hospital (turns out sea turtles get injured/sick a lot, thanks to boats and cold weather and other nasty stuff).
I’d never touched or interacted with a dolphin before, so it was super cool getting to pet one.
At the Turtle Hospital, we toured the facilities and got to feed some of the patients.
Sea turtles are adorable, but also MASSIVE–like way bigger than me. This one’s just a baby, and it’s already almost the size of my dog (and despite Sammy’s miniature tank status, the turtle surely weighs a lot more).
Outside of those visits, we spent some time at a variety of beautiful beaches and parks.
Those last few shots are at the Old Seven Mile Bridge. When you think of the super long bridges out in the water that kind of define the Florida Keys, chances are you’re thinking of the current Seven Mile Bridge–but before that was Old Seven, which now serves as a pedestrian bridge for fishing, hanging out, and reaching a smaller key that lands right in the middle of the seven mile stretch over the ocean.
As you can see below, Old Seven is positively COATED in locks people have left behind. Some are pretty new; others look like they’re old as the bridge itself. It’s a cool tradition.
New Year’s Day, we ventured all the way out to Key West. Key West is the southernmost point of the continental United States, and at the southernmost point of it, you’re only about ninety miles from Cuba.
My sister and I found what claims to be the southernmost beach in the continental US. Which means that we were closer to Cuba than we were to another state. (I say “claims,” because we saw several different hotels claiming to be the southernmost hotel, so who knows what’s true.)
On Key West, we explored an old military base, toured downtown (yes, chickens do roam free all over the island), stopped by the Hemingway House (yes, all the cats truly do have extra toes), and–finally–ate dinner at Sunset Pier (yes, when I picture paradise, this is what comes to mind).
They have these “coconut disposal” bins all over the island, because rather than throwing hotdogs in your face like most places, the street vendors there sell fresh coconuts with straws in them. Everywhere you look is someone else drinking out of a coconut.
We started for home on Friday, after spending our last evening in the Keys on a glass-bottom boat observing a coral reef.
We stopped at another old fort Saturday morning: the Castillo de San Marcos. This place was really cool, because it’s the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States and although it regularly changed hands during its time as an active military fort, no one ever took it by force. And they built it out of a naturally occurring stone made from compressed sea shells. Which rocks (no pun intended).
I also really enjoyed the Castillo de San Marcos because a lot of its signs were in Spanish along with English, and as much as that year and a half of Spanish classes kicked my butt, it was secretly kind of super awesome being able to read the Spanish sides of the signs almost as easily as the English. (On the other hand, it was not kind of super awesome when my mom tried to get me to order at a Spanish-only restaurant in Miami because hola, no sé nada vocabulario–I could just as easily order you a side of eggs as a side of dishwater).
On the way home, before the Castillo de San Marcos, we also stopped by a couple more beaches, including Fort Lauderdale. Mom thought she was funny taking a picture of me while I was vlogging, but I think we can see who the real winner is, here.
She never saw that hideous expression coming.
We ate dinner at a Disney resort that night (Friday), then hit the Castillo de San Marcos Saturday morning, and then it was a long, nineteen hour drive straight home to beat the storm.
The good side of doing that drive? Getting to see Sammy sooner than we’d planned. (And who can resist this face?)
… And there you have it. My family’s winter break Florida trip.
Now will someone take me back, seeing as Hell (Michigan) has frozen over?