“She said, I love places where it’s summer in winter” ~ Nick Miller
This is so true for Florida and that’s the reason we chose it as our destination for the winter break.
Day 1 – Off to Key Largo
We took an early morning flight from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach. From West Palm beach we drove straight to Key Largo, the first of the Florida Keys. Reaching in the evening after a tiring drive, we thought of just relaxing in our rooms. But it was hard to miss the sunset. Sitting down by the beach, the mangroves and the coconut trees giving the perfect backdrop, the kids playing in the water, the sun playing its magic. It was a perfect beginning to the vacation and to refresh ourselves for the days ahead.
What a perfect evening.. beautiful sunset… kids loving the water.. absolutely amazing and rejuvenating. What’s your perfect #evening like? #perfectevening #sunsetphotography #kidsonbeach #travelmelodies #igers #wanderlust #traveler #travelblogger #passionpassport #travelwithkids #familytravel #travelgram #aroundtheworld #dametraveler #theglobewanderer #floridaigers #floridakeys #keylargosunset #sunset
Day 2 – Adventures in Key Largo
With us, all refreshed it was time to indulge in some adventure. The boys chose to fly like birds over the calm blue waters. You guessed it right- parasailing. My 7-year-old son tried it for the first time and his smiles and excitement was inevitable after he came. My 3-year-old daughter was envious and was hard to convince her for next time. With adrenaline levels high, it was time for next one.
Apart from Hawaii in the USA, Florida has the living coral reef spread across the coast of the state. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is America’s first underwater park. After soaring the skies was time for some underwater fun. Snorkeling and scuba diving are the best options per se. Since we had a toddler and an infant with us, we chose the dry version, the glass bottom boat tour. The 2 ½ hour boat tours run from the state park and take deep into the ocean for a glimpse into the underwater world. The ride traverses through vast mangrove plantations into the deep wide ocean. We all huddled around the glass and were charmed to see the beautiful fishes and diverse aquatic ecosystem. To be very honest, it’s not the same as being up close and experiencing the coral while snorkeling or scuba diving. Nonetheless, it’s the best for kids and non-divers to espy this new world.
With so much to cherish, we head off to the Overseas Highway towards Key West. Often called the ‘magic carpet’, this is the only road connecting the Florida Keys to the rest of the state. It is the window to the exotic tropical paradise. Driving in the evening, watching the magic of sun setting over the bridge, pink hues over the sky, vast expanse of water on both sides, palm trees, is breathtaking. We couldn’t stop ourselves to halt multiple times to capture some amazing vistas till we reached the southernmost city of US – Key West.
But this beauty was obliterated by Hurricane Irma that had slashed its wings in September 2017. We could still see debris along the highway, broken homes and beaches that were damaged. It was sad to see, but we realized that we are minuscule in front of mother nature and should preserve it with full zeal.
“Hurricane season brings a humbling reminder that despite our technologies, most of nature remains unpredictable.” ~ Diane Ackerman
We were all so tired but couldn’t miss the spirit of the city at Duval street especially during Christmas time. The colors, lights, a lot of restaurants and local souvenir shops, the best place to enjoy the festive spirit.
Day 3 – Breathing Key West
With plans all set for the day, we head out to the southernmost point of US which is represented by a red and black buoy. We were a little disappointed to see this buoy at the corner of the street and waiting in line to get a pic taken.
There are roosters and chickens all over the place, you may even spot them crossing the roads. Another creature to look out for is Iguana, on the trees. We did spot 2 of them.
Our next stop had to be Fort Zachary Taylor state park, for some beach fun and visiting the historic site. But sometimes, things don’t work the way you plan. The kids seem to be tired and grumpy, so we decided to go with the flow. Downhearted by not getting to explore the Conch Republic, we headed out of Key West for Miami hoping the kids would nap on the way. Refreshing ourselves with picturesque views along the Overseas Highway, we halted after an hour at Bahia Honda State Park. Bahia Honda (pronounced Bah-ee-ah own-da), a Spanish word means deep bay.
The small state park had a sandy beach which is hard to find in the Keys. Although the ocean side beach was still closed due to aftereffects of the hurricane, we got to enjoy the warm and calm waters on the bay side. Kids had a great time at the sandy beach that we had missed in Keys. To get some spectacular views, climb the old broken bridge passing through the park.
It was finally time to bid adieu to these magical islands with some special memories. We hit off the road again to our destination- Miami, the Magic City. The first view was of a sparkling city off the coast in the night. It was magical to see the skyline and we were excited to explore but after a good night sleep.
Day 4 – Everglades National Park
The refreshing start to the day and a half day trip to Everglades National park was the plan. We had told the kids that we are going to see alligators. Starting early to reach the park at the Homestead entrance at 9 a.m. We headed to the Anhinga Trail, an easy 1-mile trail to see some alligators basking in the sun. Kids were amazed to see these cold-blooded creatures lying without moving a bit.
With a great start, we head up to drive along to Flamingo visitor center, making halts at various observation points. Unfortunately, we could see the impacts of Hurricane Irma here as well with many observation points and parts of the state park closed. We drove all the way to the end of the park road to Flamingo, which is by the bay with the desire to spot manatees, alligators along with other wildlife. But to our dismay, we couldn’t spot anything and disheartened, we decide to go back to Miami.
But on our way, we made a small halt at the famous ‘Robert is here’, a fruit stand in Homestead, with a vast variety of tropical fruits and milkshakes. Some of the shakes we tried were Coconut and mango, which were delicious, but Coconut stood out with small pieces of the fruit in it. Another refreshing drink on a sunny day was fresh sugarcane juice with a hint of lemon and ginger. In India, we have grown by drinking the sugarcane juice during summer, so it reminded us of our childhood.
Back in Miami, we were staying in the South Beach area. Our hotel, a block away from the beach was the perfect way to enjoy the waters hassle-free. So we hit out to the beach to sink ourselves into the water and sandy beaches. Oh! how much we have been missing this since the start of winter back in Philly. Florida is so perfect to run away from winter and enjoy the summer fun. The kids built sand castles, splashed water, watched numerous cruise liners go by. And we settled to watch the sun create the magic on the blue canvas, so alluring and relaxing. How can you not stop dreaming of such a magnificent sight?
Day 5 – Sun and Sand at South Beach, Miami
As said, “A day at the beach begins with the sunrise and ends with a smile.” So, we head out to start our day with smiles and soothe our soul. Walking on the beach was simply rejuvenating. Spending half a day at the beach, writing names on the sand to see it getting washed away, making sand castles, just getting the most of it.
Sadly, it was time to pack our bags to leave for West Palm Beach, our final destination to catch our flight home the next morning. We bid adieu to Florida with these thoughts in our heads.
“Palm trees, ocean breeze, salty air, sun kissed hair
That endless summer, take me there.”
- If you have seasickness, then take medicine prior to the glass bottom boat tour.
- If more than 1 person is doing parasailing, better to do a tandem or triple ride to save money and having fun together.
- Most of the beaches in Florida keys are not sandy, rather hard and rocky due to coral bed.
- Most hotels in the Key West have free shuttles to Duval street and some major points.
- Sunset at Mallory square is beautiful and to find a good spot arrive early.
- If short of time, opt for train tours that let you explore Key West, but this city is wonderfully explored by foot.
- Everglades national park has an admission fee of $25 per car which is valid for next 7 days.
- Keys are famous for its Key lime pie which is a must try. We tried from Mrs. Mac’s kitchen. It was flavorful but not very extraordinary as we had read at many places.
- Robert is Here at Homestead is a must visit for some amazing shakes. Loved the coconut shake and the best was fresh sugarcane juice (do add lemon and ginger). A large variety of fresh tropical fruits is available, but it is a little expensive.
Our recommendations perfect for kids:
- Bahia Honda state park for sandy beaches and warm water.
- Glass bottom boat tour of the coral reef at John Pennekamp State Park.
- Parasailing or snorkeling if interested in some adventure in Florida.
Other places of interest:
- Alligator farm – Near the Everglades National park, it’s a place to come up close with these cold-blooded creatures which you can even hold in hand.