Hello and Happy Tuesday! Hope you all are doing well!
We've had several posts about our Sharm el-Sheikh trip recently, and there's some more to that story to come; however, I wanted to fill you in on our most recent adventure! We had a really fun, spontaneous getaway over Fourth of July weekend!
For the week or so leading up to the Fourth, we had talked about going somewhere, done some research, and looked into different places to stay within driving distance, but we hadn't finalized any plans. We went down to our neighbors' for some sparklers and fireworks on Thursday night and were there pretty late! So we slept in on Friday, not really thinking that we were going to be doing anything too elaborate for the weekend.
A realtor had scheduled a showing for Friday afternoon, so we spent the morning prepping the house and skedaddled out of there with the dog shortly before her scheduled appointment. Unfortunately, the realtor ended up canceling . . . an HOUR after her scheduled appointment time . . . so needless to say, we were frustrated about having to unnecessarily waste so much of the first day of our long weekend.
Since it was our first Independence Day in Florida, we didn't really know where we wanted to go for a fireworks celebration. After a little Internet research, we decided to take advantage of our Sea World season passes and go down there for their Fourth of July festivities!
We got down to Sea World around 6pm and enjoyed a couple of rides that we hadn't yet experienced. The big event that we were excited for was the last Shamu show of the night: Shamu's Celebration: Light Up The Night! So we made our way over to Shamu Stadium at around 6:45 (the show didn't start until 8:15). It was good that we went so early because the line was already rather substantial.
They started letting us in around 7:30, and we were able to score some pretty sweet seats dead center in the splash zone!
The show was very good, I always really enjoy seeing the animals and trainers interact! The grand finale was incredible with all five humongous whales moving in beautiful synchronicity along with fireworks exploding behind them! I was fortunate enough to get some fun video:
After the final Shamu Show, they put on a big concert after which they had their huge fireworks, but we decided to beat the crowd out of the park and left while the fireworks were going on. We made it home rather late and slept in again on Saturday!
Saturday morning we were just bumming around the house when Austin said, "Let's go to the Keys!"
So we quickly packed for a potential overnight (including everything we would need to "car camp" just in case we couldn't find a hotel), got Hallie and her stuff loaded, and headed out! From the time Austin had the idea to the time we were on the road was about an hour!
Since we had never been down to the Keys before, we decided to go for broke and go all the way down to Key West, which is about six hours from home for us. We weren't in a hurry, and it was a beautiful day! We had packed snacks so we ate those for our lunch, and we stopped a little bit before Miami at a Chick-fil-A to take advantage of our July calendar-card freebie: a free hand-spun shake! (We bought four calendars in December, so we each have two cards, which means we each enjoy the freebie twice a month.)
We thoroughly enjoyed the scenic drive south, and arrived at the southernmost point of the United States around 5pm. The point is marked with a large monument, and it is apparently a very popular spot! So popular, in fact, that there was a very long line to get your picture taken in front of the monument. Rather than wait in that line, we sat on a little bench a little bit to the side of the monument and got a selfie that way, so please pay no attention to the Indian family that is photobombing our southernmost point photo! :P
After seeing the southernmost point of the US, we made our way to the Higgs Beach Dog Park for Hallie to run off some steam and use the bathroom. There were a few other dogs there playing, so she had a great time! The park is a great size and has a water station and shaded tables for humans. There's a small dogs only section, and an area for the larger dogs to rough house! The only frustrating thing about this park is that the beach that is adjacent to the dog park is not open to dogs!
Hallie is a great little traveler, and she always does great in the car! This trip was no exception! She's also crazy popular everywhere we go! I find that few people have ever seen a dog that looks exactly like her - she's a Basenji/Golden Retriever mix, and she's this gorgeous copper color with a fluffy tail that curls over her back when she's excited, and her face often looks like she's smiling!
After the dog park it was about sunset hour, so we made our way over to Mallory Square Dock to take it in! Mallory Square Dock is in the heart of old Key West. It's surrounded by old shops and museums and restaurants, and it hosts Sunset Celebration, "Key West's premier nightly arts festival!". Sunset is the key time of day for this attraction, and the square is very busy! Street food vendors, fortune tellers, and souvenir sellers set up all along the edge of the sidewalk, and the whole place takes on a celebratory air! Even though it was pretty crowded, Austin was able to get this gorgeous shot of the sunset!
The last stop of the night was a late dinner at Outback Steakhouse! Austin had received a gift card, and he had also figured out how to leave the Prius on but lock it at the same time so that Hallie would be in a comfortable, climate-controlled environment while we enjoyed our dinner! (He's so smart!)
After dinner, we decided to make our way back north. We wanted to get back to the mainland so as not to get caught in the wave of holiday travelers that would be making their way back in the morning, so as Austin drove, I looked for a hotel that would welcome the three of us (including the dog) -- which is harder than you would initially imagine! Thankfully we found a nice La Quinta Inn & Suites just outside of Miami! Not only do La Quintas welcome pets, they also do not charge a fee to have one in the room! (Some of the hotels we called were charging up to $75 fees to "accommodate" a dog in the room! That's stinking highway robbery! The dog should get their own room for that price! Sorry, rant ended.)
We made it to the hotel a little bit after 2am, checked in, and settled in for the short night. We enjoyed the complimentary breakfast in the morning, and set off for our next adventure!
Side note: Hallie loved staying in the hotel! It was her first time - and we didn't bring the kennel, so we were a little nervous, but she did great! She did hide between the chair and the mirror while we were at breakfast, but she ate and drank and didn't get into anything or make any messes! She is such a good dog!
Our plan for Sunday morning was to drive through the Everglades -- another quintessential Florida adventure that we hadn't yet experienced! (Which was a big part of why we decided to stay just south of Miami, near Homestead where the entrance to the main road through the park is.)
There is a fee of $10 to enter the park, and from the moment you arrive they start warning you about the mosquitos. Seriously. There's a blinky sign on the front of the pay-station point that says, "Mosquito Risk: High." The first stop inside the park was the visitor's center to have a quick look around and grab a map. In the parking lot we saw a mother and son applying bug repellent, and they asked if we had been attacked yet. This did not bode well. Once inside we picked up our map and asked the helpful guide for some basic highlights and information. She gave us some pointers on the map and she too was quick to advise bug repellent!
We got back in the car and started down the road that leads through the park. Unlike some of the other national parks that we have been to, the road doesn't go all the way through the park and come out on the other side; it ends at the ocean, and to leave the park you have to turn around and drive all the way back the way you came. (It's approximately 45 miles one way.)
We did drive the whole road from Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to Flamingo where the other visitor center/museum is located. We got out of the car a total of three times for a combined time of no more than fifteen minutes. The first stop was Royal Palm where the guide had told us we would be most likely to see alligators. We were not disappointed as there was one chilling in the water just feet from the boardwalk! The second place we stopped was Long Pine Key. They had a little picnic area, and Hallie was allowed to get out there, so we leashed her and sat and looked at the lake for a minute. Literally, about a minute was all it took for the mosquitos to swarm, so we hightailed it back into the car. Our third and final stop was at the Flamingo Visitors' Center. This spot was reportedly the best for seeing crocodiles and manatees, though we didn't see either. There was a small, rather bizarre museum that looked like it hadn't been updated since the seventies. There also used to be a restaurant at Flamingo, but it apparently sustained some damage during a hurricane in 2010 and has yet to be repaired and reopened. The whole visitors' center had a deserted feel to it that was a little bit creepy. When we got back to the car we had to go on a killing spree and smash the nearly twenty mosquitos that had weaseled their way into the vehicle when we opened the doors.
Needless to say, we probably won't be returning to the Everglades any time soon. We love national and state parks (in fact, our third anniversary trip was an incredible road trip through Yosemite, Grand Tetons, Mount Rushmore, etc.), but this one seemed somewhat repetitive as far as terrain was concerned, and the facilities were all rather run down and outdated. But it's one thing that can be checked off of our "Florida Bucket List!"
In summary, we LOVED the Keys and will definitely be making a return trip, but next time we'll skip the Everglades! ;)
The rest of the drive home was rather uneventful. We listened to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre version), I read out loud from one of our sailing books, and we enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Chipotle at about the halfway point!
All in all, it was a great weekend filled with spontaneous and unexpected adventure! That's one of my favorite things about sharing life with Austin -- he's always up for anything, and he often has some pretty incredible ideas and the determination to make them happen!
How did you celebrate Independence Day this year?