We were lucky enough to get to leave the boys with family in MO for a week and be in Florida all by ourselves. It was lovely. Many, many thanks to all the people that took them in and shuttled them around.
We had some kind of cheap/free/reduced hotel* package, as long as we spent one morning listening to a timeshare sales pitch. And we got a (very) short cruise to the island of Grand Bahama out of it, too.
* "Hotel" might be overstating the conditions somewhat. Musty, old hotel smell. We stayed both before and after our cruise. When we got back, they gave us a handicapped room at the back door. The shower was zero entry, which really only meant that the floor got totally flooded, and had no drain. The battery in the key card reader died, so we couldn't get into our room after swimming (the pool was lovely, by the way) and the head maintenance guy had to hike to the front desk to get the hard key out of a safe, the sink was about to fall out of the wall, and the WiFi didn't work. That turned out to be the final straw. We got a different room at that point. The next one wasn't perfect, but also wasn't nearly as bad.
The first day we spent at the Shark Valley entrance of Everglades National Park. It was pretty hot, so we opted for the narrated tram ride around the loop, rather than renting bikes. Our tram guide Thelma was very knowledgeable about Everglades creatures. Apparently she had previously worked at a wildlife rescue center, so she even had intimate knowledge of turkey vultures. However, she was not very impressed with the National Park Service. Because she works for a concessioner that has an arrangement with NPS to provide tram tours, she felt at liberty to bash the NPS and some of the decisions and policies of the past. What she failed to recognize, however, was that some of us really appreciate the NPS and what they have managed to do. They're not perfect, and some really bad decisions have been made. However, without the NPS, there would be no job for Thelma, since there would be no contract for the concessioner to make, and most of the Everglades would have been developed. More even that what has already been developed.
Anyway, we saw a lot of neat stuff, and got pictures of most of it. Some we didn't get pictures of included a soft-shelled turtle, a baby gator, and some of the other things down in the water. Here are a few pictures of the good stuff.
First up, a beautiful Great Blue Heron just after taking off.
This is a Wood Stork, that should have migrated already, but continues to sit at this same spot every day.
The loop led to a tower, which overlooks vast areas of the Everglades. This is from the top.
This funny little guy is a Double-Crested Cormorant. He hung out under the kiosk with all the maps.
The Everglades were amazing, and I definitely want to see more in the future. We'll take the boys sometime.
After our torturous time-share tour, in which the sales people clearly didn't understand the basic principles of mathematics, we boarded our cruise ship to head to the island of Grand Bahama. The boat was fine, but nothing spectacular. We didn't take any pictures. Apparently, you have to drink heavily and gamble a lot to really "enjoy" your cruise experience. Whatever. We read our books on the quiet back deck, watched the lightning shows, and loved it.
On our day on the island, we had booked a snorkeling expedition (but not through the ship, thankfully. The ship's snorkel tour got canceled. Ours didn't.) While everyone else on our boat boarded tour buses to head east, we got on a little shuttle bus and headed west. The 8 of us (there was another cruise ship also docked at port that day, and some of their passengers had booked with the same company) got a personal tour of some of the more interesting parts of the island. Little known facts such as Freeport is literally a free port. Companies that operate within certain boundaries, and their employees, pay no income tax. This was a result of a bargaining agreement with a developer and Great Britain, the governing body at that time. The Bahamian people are still required to abide by this agreement, until the 99-year time period expires. We saw a lot of damage done by Hurricane Wilma, some of which has been repaired.
The snorkel tour is run by a family and a few additional employees. They have a great little stand, with all the gear you need, and even a little restaurant/grill. $41 for all day snorkeling, including lunch was a pretty good bargain. The tour through the boat, that didn't happen anyway, would have been $69. I think we got a steal. This tour was a little different. Most of them are snorkel from the boat, but this was so close to shore that you just swam out to the reef and got to see several different habitats. We snorkeled over seagrass beds, sandy bottoms, and rocky outcrops. We don't have a waterproof camera, so we don't have any photos of the sea life, but we saw some great stuff. Aaron saw a turtle, while I saw a sting ray. It was a great day.
The reef. Off to the right of the picture is an opening in the reef where you can swim through to the back side. All the dark areas in front of the reef are the seagrass beds.
Us after our long day of snorkeling. We got burned, even though we used sunscreen and applied more than once. Ouch. It hurt to lay down, I stuck to the sheet, and the back of my legs were on fire, too. That was far and away the least fun part. Especially since we tried so hard to be careful. Oh, well. We managed.
After Grand Bahama, we headed back to Palm Beach, where we did our laundry (at the cleanest laundromat I've ever seen. Aaron said it was even nicer than the one at the MTC!) and then sat on the beach for a while. We had run into a frequent traveler at the Atlanta airport that suggested a restaurant to us, the Aruba Beach cafe. It wasn't spectacular, but it was fun, and I'm glad we went.
We did some more in Florida, but that's going to have to wait. It's time for bed.