Escaping to Florida for Spring Break
When you work hard, it is also important to play hard. For the Williams Family, we made an escape to the "Sunshine State" and landed in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for Spring Break. Beautiful beaches, clear water, plenty of sun, and several activities filled our week. Check out some of my travel tips if you've considered heading to the east coast of Florida.
The trip started with a flight out of IAH Bush Intercontinental Airport which for us is a short drive from our home. We flew United as I've been part of the United Club for several years now. When we arrived to the airport and whisked through security, it was surprisingly quiet, we headed to the United Club to wait on our plane.
Upon arrival to the entrance, there was a line waiting to get in. The attendant notified us that it was a 15 - 20 minute wait because they only allowed for 60% occupancy because of the pandemic. The logic was questionable since we were about to get on a completely full flight with over two hundred of our not so closest friends. Once inside the United Club, there was not the typical food and drinks and very few works. Having planned to eat before boarding we had to go to Plan B which was grabbing a Potbelly sandwich from the food court. (Side Note: The United Club was closed in Ft. Lauderdale.)
We boarded our plane. Seated from back to front because of COVID-19 practices, and they were very specific about how you had to wear your mask. The flight there and back was the most challenging part of travel during this trip.
Our home base for the week once we arrived to Ft. Lauderdale was the Marriott Beach Club. We purchased points on the secondary market for a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, living room, kitchen, and laundry room. Each room had a balcony that overlooked the Stranahan River that winds through Ft. Lauderdale and dumps into the Atlantic. The rooms on the other side of the hallway overlooked the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. The condominiums were separated from the beach by US A1A. Within 5 minutes, you could reach your chairs and umbrella on the beach (these you must rent).
Our first full day, we spent a majority of the day at the beach. You could rent chairs and umbrellas. It was around $65 for two chairs and an umbrella. The makeup on the beach was primarily families and children while the college kids were further down the beach. While the beaches were full, it never felt crazy full. The water was chilly, yet once you were in the water for a few minutes it wasn't too bad especially with that Florida sun beating down.
Following a day at the beach, we had dinner at Cafe Del Mar. Our table was along A1A making the people watching exceptional. This fried snapper was amazing!
The second day we walked a short 5 minute walk to Fishing Headquarters for a 4 hour drift fishing trip in the Atlantic. It took approximately 30 minutes to navigate the canals and river to reach our first stop in the Atlantic. Most of the fishing was done in 30 - 40 ft. of water, and the deepest we fished was around 65 ft. The boat made 4-5 stops before returning. Logan, Emma, and Laurie all caught a fish, and I came up empty. It was a great time, and next time I would spend the money to do a private sport fishing tour.
After several hours of fishing, we built up a hunger and had dinner at Casablanca down the street from our condo. The food and service was top notch. I highly recommend this spot if you're staying in the area.
Tuesday and Wednesday we would leave our home base for vacation to make an overnight trip down to Key West. The drive each way was about 6 and 1/2 hours counting stops. You want to make sure you build in time for spots because there is a lot to see. Reflecting back, I would have liked to have one more day in The Keys.
From Ft. Lauderdale, it is approximately an hour and a half to reach Key Largo. Before entering The Keys, it was suggested to stop at Robert is Here Fruit Stand in Homestead, Florida. The stand had an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, and they even had fresh boiled peanuts. Almost everyone there were in line from a fresh fruit smoothie.
Our next stop was to take a picture with Big Betsy the giant lobster on the island of Islamorada.
The next stop was Robbie's on Islamorada. This is a must do stop. You have the opportunity to feed the Tarpon. These large fish will launch out of the water to snag fish right out of your hand. Beware of the pelicans that also love fish. This place was packed, and we made the decision to drive down the road and have lunch at Fiesta Key RV Resort and Marina.
Following lunch we made a push for Key West to make sure we would make the world famous sunset at Mallory Square. For our room overnight, we reserved a room at Almond Tree Inn which had a great location at the corner of US 1 and Duval Street. The best way to describe the Almond Tree Inn was a cross between a motel and a bed and breakfast. Upon arrival they gave us drink tickets, and for breakfast the next morning they had a great spread. The walk to Mallory Square was approximately a mile, and the walk to the Southern Most Point was approximately a half mile. Across the street was Hemmingway's home.
The best place to watch the sunset is from Mallory Square. There were hundreds of people that lined the pier waiting for the sun to torch the water. Logan and I saw a Goliath Grouper surface right at the pier and nearly swallow a pelican. If you plan this for your trip to Key West, you will want to secure a spot 45 minutes to an hour in advance. It does get crowded.
After watching the sunset, we quickly made are way back to Duval street to seek out dinner before our ghost tour with Ghost City Tours. We found a trailer that had Mahi Mahi sandwiches, chicken fingers for the kids, and I got my favorite, friend conch with Key Lime aioli. We ate our dinner on the ground in an alley between Duval and the famous Hog's Breath Saloon listening to great live music.
We finished the evening in Key West going on a ghost tour that started at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. While it was a ghost tour, it was mostly a sharing of the history of Key West. On the tour was the Robert the Doll house (known as the Artist House), and across the street from this house was Books and Books; a book store owned by Judy Blume. Our guide said that she works in the store 2 - 3 days a week.
The next morning we made the trip to the Southern Most Point in the United States, and then hiked across the island for Key Lime Pie on a Stick at the famous Kermit's Key Lime Shoppe.
On the way back, we made one more stop for some local food at the famous Conch House in Key Largo. Laurie's lobster bisque was amazing, and I, of course, had conch tacos. From Key Largo, we made the journey back to our home base for the week in Ft. Lauderdale.
The next day, we headed inland to Everglades Holiday Park for an airboat tour and alligator show. The airboat tour was about 45 minutes long, and it seemed like a tour left out every 15 minutes. We saw a few alligators on the tour, and we even saw a mama with her babies.
Once the 15 - 20 minute show was complete, you were led to an exhibit featuring animals including alligators, a giant python, and raccoons (the raccoon was featured in some movie). They allowed you to take a free picture with a baby alligator, or for $20 you could take a picture with the albino alligator. I was proud that my entire family did this without any fear. The lady clearly told me to keep my face away from the head of the alligator. That was reassuring...
After cooling off from the hot Florida sun, we made our way over to Riverfront Gondola Tours in Ft. Lauderdale. Before boarding the private gondola, we picked up a pizza and salad from Luigi's Coal Oven Pizza and paired it with a wine for the sunset cruise. Captain William took us through the canals and up and down the Stranahan River. Captain William's knowledge was extensive, and he shared with us the stories of the homeowners, new homes being built, and much more. If you take this cruise, insist you get Captain William. You will not regret it.
Friday was a beach day, and we had a family member drive in to spend the day with us. He recommended dinner at Taverna Opa located at Hollywood Beach south of Ft. Lauderdale on Ocean Avenue. The Greek restaurant served authentic food, and the atmosphere was the experience. Dancing on the tables along with a bridal party gone wild made for an exciting evening. We laughed and laughed the evening away.
Saturday, we boarded the plane back to Houston. We created many memories, and that is what our family loves about travel. While I encourage my people to work hard, I also encourage my people to play hard. Life should be experienced, and time passes quickly. If you're looking for a place to get away, check out Ft. Lauderdale.
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