Florida Keys in style

A couple of Painted Buntings
A couple of Painted Buntings

It had been so long since DD and Dami went to Florida together. The last time was 2007 and was a totally different experience. For this trip, we made our reservations early, more than six months in advance. It was summer, the weather was hot and beautiful and we didn’t want it to end. We knew fall would come soon enough, then winter would follow and we would all be buried in snow. We made the hotel and flight reservations in the morning and by afternoon we were sitting at the beach in Cap Pelé with our Florida travel guide book.

We had planned to hire a cat sitter from Moncton but then Mama D agreed to come and stay here for a little less than three weeks. She arrived a few days before we left and returned a few days after we go back. It was much better to have her here full time to keep the fire going in the stove for the cats; they spent their days sleeping on the rocking chair next to the warm fire.

We had a direct flight with Westjet which was much better than having to transfer in Toronto or in Montreal. The Custom agents were way nicer in Orlando. The one we got even asked if we put pine nuts in our pesto! He was just curious. Well, we put pumpkin seeds. They’re healthy and much cheaper.

Dami at Island Bay Resort on the First Morning
Dami at Island Bay Resort on the First Morning

We had reserved a compact car with Avis but upgraded to an intermediary and chose a Ford Fusion Hybrid. It was supposed to be a boring silver color but to our surprise it was black. It took a while for Dami to understand how to start it but soon enough he was driving it like a pro. It was so quiet! And the gas consumption was very low.

We stayed at the Homewood Suites hotel near the Orlando Airport and the next morning we drove all the way down to Tavernier in the Keys. It was not the best time to drive south. We left at noon on Friday of President Day long weekend. We got stuck in the Miami traffic which added at least 2 hours to our 4 and a half hour drive. We stopped for lunch along the way at the Okeeheelee Nature Center and saw some very colorful birds we had never seen before. We got to Island Bay Resort at around 9pm. Our welcome was fantastic. It was the best Valentine’s Day ever!

Tavernier Bird Sanctuary
Tavernier Bird Sanctuary

Saturday morning we left at around 11 for the Everglades, on Flamingo side. We did the many hiking trails along the way and stopped at the Flamingo Visitor Center. We got there a little late for a boat trip so we had an ice cream sandwich sitting in the sun, watching the cormorants in the distance. We stopped at Walgreens and Publix on the way back to Tavernier and planned our meals for the rest of the stay.

Sunday morning we communicated with Mama D and there was a big storm at home with big wind gusts. We were happy to be in the Keys away from it all but poor Mama D had to deal with the snow removal. We went for a nice walk at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park. We had a snack at our resort and visited the Bird Sanctuary where we saw a lot of pelicans. We had a very quick tour of the Key Fossil Reef Geological Park. We only had 45 minutes and had to walk the trails very quickly. We got two lime stones as a souvenir. Back at the resort we took a kayak out for a little sunset ride around the dock and it was nice and quiet. We had the famous Bolognese sauce for supper on pasta with grated cheese under the gas stove broil: it was delicious!

Key Fossil Reef Geological Park Bench
Key Fossil Reef Geological Park Bench

Monday we went kayaking in the mangroves at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. We took the intermediary route. We had been wanting to return for so long! We wanted to rent a canoe but it was too windy. When we crossed Largo Sound that was supposedly hard to paddle, it reminded us our canoe camping trip at Kouchibouguac. We separated our paddles to turn it into a small canoe paddle and paddled until we were on the other side. It did require some strength but it wasn’t too hard. We saw manta rays and spiders. Our route wasn’t as crowded as the beginners’ one and we had our snack past the Cathedral, in the bay, sitting sideways in the kayak.

Dami Snorkeling at Pennenkamp
Dami Snorkeling at Pennekamp

At the resort we got our snorkeling gear out and went for a swim around the dock in our wetsuits. The plants growing around the dock were very interesting and colorful. We were hoping to see a manatee but didn’t have any luck. At least we saw lots of fishes and even small barracudas.

We had a reservation for the four and a half hour snorkeling trip at John Pennekamp and had an early rise Tuesday morning. Winds were 15 mile per hour and waves between one and two feet. DD hadn’t taken any motion sickness pills and she would soon regret it. Our first stop was at North Grecian Rocks and she was fine until she went back into the rocking boat. she started to feel a little uneasy and then when a group of kids from Germany decided they wanted to go see the statue, her situation worsened. She went into the water but the motion was too much. She told Dami she wanted to go back and as she was trying to hang on to the ladder she started getting sick. She spent the rest of the trip on the boat in the back, staring at the horizon, waiting for our return. The 3rd stop was South Grecian Rocks and again she stayed in the boat. She had no more energy to snorkel and any movement made her nauseous.

Congo River Mini Golf
Congo River Mini Golf

That night we had a homemade pizza with chicken and pesto which gave us leftovers for the next day which was already time to go back to Orlando. DD cried as we drove out of the Keys; she didn’t want to leave. The ride back to Orlando was shorter than on the way in. Dami bought a mini Sunpass so we wouldn’t have to stop at all the tolls and we only stopped for restrooms, for gas and drove all the way up to Kissimmee for a game of mini golf at Congo River!

We stayed once more at the Homewood Suites Hotel near the airport and had a much better room this time. Our first one was an accessible room and open concept. This one had a separate bedroom. We loved the included supper and breakfast. We had so much food; we kept our leftover pizza for the flight the next day.

We should have known better than filling up the car near the Orlando airport: they charge twice the price! We got ripped off but on the bright side of it we didn’t have an empty pickup truck to fill-up! Our Ford Fusion Hybrid was so awesome to drive. It was quiet and we were able to park in the reserved spaces for low emission cars. We liked it so much but the C-Max would suit our style better. In the meantime, our Vibe is still alive and we’ll drive it as long as it survives. It’s amazing to think it brought us in Florida back in 2007! What we might do on a next trip is rent a car in Maine and drive it to Florida. There are so many options.

This trip was one to remember. It went so fast! We had never been so relaxed while traveling. Even though we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do, we didn’t plan too much in advance besides our hotel, car and snorkeling reservations.  We never wanted it to end and thanks to Tripsister, it is now immortalized.

 More pictures of our trips to Florida here.