My parents lived in New Jersey up until I was 2 years old. Before I was born, my mom loved working for Eastern Airlines, especially the perk of being able to travel! My dad had a passion for scuba diving, and they religiously made a trip to the Florida Keys twice a year. They loved making the drive from Miami down the Overseas Highway with the windows down, breathing in that ocean air.
Fast forward a couple decades and life is drastically different. My dad is no longer with us, and unfortunately we never got to experience the Keys with him as adults. It had been over 20 years since our last family vacation, so we decided this was our year. So last week my mom, my sister and my husband and I flew from Texas to explore Southern Florida and soak up as many experiences as we could! And boy was it an adventure.
Why are flights only delayed when I’m flying out for vacation? I never have this issue when travelling for business. Our flight was only delayed for a couple hours, my poor mother ended up in the airport from 3:00 am until we picked her up at 8:00 pm. Needless to say, we started the vacation at the airport with a Bloody Mary or two. After the first stressful day of travel, we started our trip at the Bellasera Resort in Naples and explored the beaches and the beautiful homes. We had lunch at Brooks’ Gourmet Burgers and Dogs, the #6 burger joint in the US. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to grab a quick bite, and the prices couldn’t be beat in this town! The following day took us to Sanibel Island. We toured the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and Travis made friends with a Gopher Tortoise. Our next stop was to collect seashells on the beach. That’s the main thing this island is known for, so I couldn’t resist. We found some pretty big ones too! Afterwards we headed back to the hotel for drinks (you’ll begin to notice a theme here…). Their bar makes a non-traditional cosmo that is out of this world.
Our next stop was Key Largo, so the following morning we made the drive through the Everglades. About halfway there we made a stop at Captain Jack’s Air-boat Tours and took my mom on the ride of her life through the Mangroves. Now, my mother is not a fan of boats, and that’s putting it mildly. I had never been on an air-boat before, and didn’t really know what to expect. I grossly underestimated how fast those things can go. Captain Jacob whipped through the trees and searched for wildlife. Mom was not the happiest of campers during the tour. But as soon as she was back on dry land she was smiling from ear to ear, beaming with pride that she had actually done it! I’m pretty proud of her too.
After the air-boat ride and subsequent tour of Wooten’s Animal Sanctuary, it was back on the road until Key Largo. My parents always started their Keys’ trips at the Caribbean Club, so you can guess where we had our first drink. It’s a small bar featured in the movie Key Largo, and it was right down the street from the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort, where we were staying. The Marriott treated us to an upgraded room with a view. It’s a beautiful hotel, with iguanas roaming freely and plenty of space to lay in the sun. Mom had her ceremonial Sea Breeze to celebrate finally being settled in the Keys, and we enjoyed the rest of the day.
The next morning we had Key Lime Pie Pancakes at the Key Largo Conch House, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this sign:
Katy must be a pretty special place if it made it onto this sign! Turns out the owner’s daughter was born here- how cool!
That day was spent on the water. We were going to try to snorkel, but the waves were a little too choppy, so we decided on jet-skis. This was my first time, and Travis thought it would be fun to go as fast as possible. I hated it at first, but by the end I was having a blast. We even saw a manatee! After getting cleaned up, we headed over to Snook’s Bayside Bar and Grille for dinner and watched the sunset while enjoying live music and a great view.
We were supposed to go fishing for Tarpon the following day, but the weather had other plans. Our charter got rained out so we spent the morning exploring Islamorada. We made sure to stop in at Robbie’s and feed the Tarpon though! Only $3 for a bucket of bait, and we got to see these 200 pound fish fight out the pelicans for a bite. Our drive then continued on to Key West, and we even had a couple of hours of sunshine to explore before the storms picked back up. We visited the Hemingway House and got to meet the 53 poly-dactyl cats that live there. Before heading back to our rental house we stopped in at Sloppy Joe’s for a drink and to try the Original Sloppy Joe- yum!
The sun was out the whole next day! We stopped at the Southernmost Point of the US first before we spent the day bar-hopping down Duval. Our first stop was Captain Tony’s- another tradition that my parents had. Dad used to love to play pool and talk up the strangers sitting around the bar. We toasted Dad with a beer and then continued exploring. Travis got to try a Grouper Sandwich at Bo’s Fish House and it was delicious!
Dinner was spent at Duval One overlooking the water. We watched the sunset, shared wine and a delicious meal. We also had a banded carrier pigeon visiting us from Cuba that was hoping we would drop a few crumbs. Of course we had to finish up our Keys trip with a piece of Key Lime Pie from the Key Lime Pie Factory- definitely the best I can remember having.
The next day we made the drive to Miami. We stopped at the Midway Cafe for a quick bite before we arrived at the Miami Zoo. Once again, Mother Nature had other plans for us. We were determined to see the animals though, so we spent the next several hours wandering around the near-deserted zoo during intermittent downpours. It was probably the most fun we had on the entire trip. We were splashing in puddles, drinking beer and making the best memories. It wasn’t until the zoo was about to close that we finally made our way to the Miami Airport Marriott. We got situated, returned our rental car, and then enjoyed our last meal together at the hotel bar.
As quickly as it came, our trip was over. We flew out early the next morning, but made time for one more Bloody Mary before departure. As much fun as we had, I think everyone was ready to get back home and sleep in our own beds. The experience was incredible, I can’t wait to go back. Next time we are definitely going to make it out on that Tarpon Charter!