Posts Tagged With: Key West

Family Cruisin’ – the Sequel

Christmas onboard Enchantment of the Seas

Christmas onboard Enchantment of the Seas

The family cruise last spring was such fun that Dad (Pop Pop) declared we should do it again … in celebration of his 90th birthday.  That birthday doesn’t happen until New Year’s Day, but that is also a tough day to schedule anything, so we booked the week before Christmas for a family cruise to the Bahamas, sailing out of Miami.  Perfect.  Should be a breeze and a lot of fun, right?  But one night at sea one of our party went missing:

The note had been slipped under the door and was written hastily on a scrap of paper promoting the next cruise.  “Happy Birthday, Pop Pop.  I am 19 and I am sorry that my friend who was drunk took him last night and I want to return him to you.  But he is in good hands and has a good home.  I hope you make 100!”   Just the note, not the missing party.  What was afoot?

Let me back up a few days and fill you in.  Family members were arriving pre-cruise to Miami on planes and in cars in an undeclared competitive rush to get on board first.  I thought we (Jackie, Alex, Linda, Norm, Chris and I) had the edge, since we flew in to downtown  the day before and were within sight of the cruise ship terminal.

Bayside Marketplace in Miami enjoying music the day before cruising.

Bayside Marketplace in Miami enjoying music the day before cruising.

But it seems my brother Jeff made better time driving down from South Carolina than we expected (with Adam, Vicki and Dad on board).  As we were making our way through the embarkation desk, we got a picture sent to our phones of the Perfect Patron Margarita.  Drats! They played the old-guy-with-a-walker card and were already onboard with drinks in hand!  We of course responded that we were still waiting for our taxi and tried to play off our pending arrival at their side, but they appeared to see through the ruse.  Soon we were all on the pool deck with drinks aplenty, sharing hugs and stories.  Well, you can see where this adventure is going …

I think the best day of a cruise is arrival day.  Everyone is excited, the drinks (if you buy the package) are flowing, and everyone is in a great mood to have fun.  We sought out our favorite bartenders from the last cruise (Yay! Livingston, Al and Dr. G were aboard!), booked our dinner table for 10 (near the front, no pole to obstruct, please) and just plain relaxed until the sail-away out of Miami. “Did you bring the drink list?  What should we have? Wanna find something to eat?  Let’s go up front on Deck 10!  Which is starboard?”  We were traveling aboard the Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas, by the way – best pool deck ever.

Soon after we were checking in to our rooms and unpacking.  Just before dinner we marked the cabin doors with signs “Pop Pop’s Crew” and added crocheted Christmas ornaments that Jackie made.  Dad’s door now had a cute snowman with top hat and dangly arms.  While everyone went off to dinner, I decorated his room with colorful banners and such declaring “90” and “Vintage Dude” and posted a picture of Dad on the door with “Jack is 90.  Wish him Happy Birthday.”  Back at the dinner table we scattered the same “90” napkins and gave Dad a cap “Old Guys Rule – Aged to Perfection.”  Our servers Aries and Joan picked up on it and we soon had a cake with candle and singing.  What fun.

Vintage Dude indeed

Vintage Dude indeed

Celebrate 90!

Celebrate 90!

Next day was snorkeling, swimming and frozen drinks at Coco Cay, RCI’s private island.  Took way too long to get off the ship, onto a tender and set foot on the island, but the weather and water were perfect.

Back on board it was formal night and we managed to cajole the guys into wearing Christmas ties to dinner.  Wasn’t too hard to find 7 crazy ties in my collection from teaching and Jackie brought along blinking light-up necklaces for the ladies – so I think we might have been the most festive group that night.  Another cake with candle and singing for Dad (with much protesting on his part).

Oh, and did I mention the casino?  Blackjack and craps, with a little bit of roulette, were the games of choice and most of us had chips left in our pockets after a night or two.  On the way to the evening’s show Vicki and I escorted Dad (which took us through the casino of course) and he reaches over to the roulette table and plops down a chip.  Bam! His number hits, he scoops up the winnings and keeps on moving.  Just that lucky.

So our adventures took us to Nassau and a snorkeling excursion (not as good as we expected: too many paddle boarders and kayakers along with us), then to Key West for some bar hopping and conch fritters.

 ... a three hour tour ...

… a three hour tour …

Back on board we kept our bartenders busy and always had great fun at dinner in the main dining room (yes, a birthday cake with candle each night!).

But, back to the mystery of our missing party:

We noticed it on our fourth cruise day.  The snowman was missing from Dad’s door!  Some evidence was left behind, a broken piece of the clip, a snip of tape … who took him and why?  Should we alert security? Check nearby trash bins?  Who took snowman?

The following morning before breakfast, Dad found the note slipped under his door.  It seems that some late night revelers must have snatched him up, with one of their group later realizing the error of their ways and tried to make amends.  But the note did say he was in good hands and had a good home, so we hope he brings joy to his new family.  Jackie is going to have to whip up a few more, now, since everyone in our group wants one for their tree.

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One happy crowd at dinner

So did we have a great cruise and did Dad enjoy having most of his family with him for his 90th birthday?  You bet.  Speaking of bets, did we all come out winners at the casino?  Uhhh, not so much.  Better luck next time I guess.

Back home for Christmas with family.  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our friends, family and followers.  Thanks for coming along on our adventures!

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Next Adventure?  Mostly local travels for the winter and fun with family and friends.  Look for updates on the “Happenings,” “Foodie” and “Mews” pages.

Planning a cruise?  You can get a great deal and we get some credit if you book through Cynthia Long at CruisesOnly.  Their loyalty program will give you extras like shipboard and resort credit on top of the cruise line’s best deals.  Give her a call at 617-587-6000 x 38584 and mention that Doug and Jackie sent you.

 

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Reefs, Writers and Conch Fritters

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Adoption Day for our granddaughter!

It’s about 85 degrees early this morning, with bright sun, blue skies and a warm breeze as I sit outside facing the water and get caught up on our wanderings.  We are camping beachside at Curry Hammock State Park and it is indeed a quiet start to another hot Florida day.  It has been a week since we left John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, counting down the mile markers to the end of the road.  A highlight of the trip as we left Marathon was 7-mile bridge, which somehow has this magical attraction.  Parallel to the new bridge is the old one, a remnant of the East Coast Railway and later the original Overseas Highway.  But you may know it best, as we do, from the movies.  In particular, True Lies, where Arnold Schwarzenegger pulls Jaime Lee Curtis out of a speeding limo at just the right moment.  Is that the limo I see underwater just there?

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7 mile bridge

I should probably pause to say that I consider our adventures to be well planned – mostly because if you want to be in state or national parks, you have to reserve well in advance.  But sometimes you miss a few things, such as September is still really hot in Florida (90’s) and Bike Week in the Keys happens right now (about 10,000 or more motorcyclists).  We knew about the hurricane season and kept our fingers crossed, but somehow missed the Poker Run.

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Bike Week in Key West!

But it’s fun when the unexpected happens.  For instance, our next few nights were in Bahia Honda State Park and we discovered it was a really nice island with views of the overland highway and old Flagler-built East Coast Railway bridge. It is one of the few keys that has sand beaches that are nice to relax on or in (we sat the chairs in the ankle deep water for most of the day). We signed up for our second reef snorkeling adventure, only to learn that the boat was in need of a part for repairs and the trip was canceled.  Next day as we were awaiting the part – oh the part is in, but the mechanic is out – canceled again, there was a lot of buzz about “the movie.”

Set of "The Leisure Seekers"

Campground set of “The Leisure Seekers”

On the set for "The Leisure Seekers"

On the set of “The Leisure Seekers”

Down by the nature center there was a crew setting up for a shoot, complete with some vintage campers, tables, grills and such and lots of cameras and equipment.  Actually, this wasn’t even part of the campground.  Someone said it was a film with Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren.  We watched and wandered about, got waved out of the shot and tried to figure the smoky scene, which looked like some grilling gone bad.  It is “The Leisure Seekers,” a story about a retired couple who set out in their vintage Winnebago RV on an adventure of a lifetime.  Hmm, sounds kinda familiar.  We probably saw both actors, but who could tell?  Shorter in real life and all…

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Reef snorkeling

As we learned that our snorkeling trip was canceled yet again, we quickly checked with the nearest dive boat and got ourselves on for a run to Looe Key – a marine sanctuary reef that was supposed to have reef sharks and goliath groupers and spotted rays.  Very clear water that was a different reef than Pennecamp, deeper and lots of fish and coral: parrot fish, French angelfish, barracuda, yellowtail snapper, sergeant major, blue tang, some grouper, fan coral, elkhorn coral and some low-flying frigate birds circling.  But we didn’t see the reef sharks (some folks did), goliath grouper or spotted rays.  We did see lots more moon jellies and just as we were headed back to the boat, Jackie got nailed along the neck by one.  Ouch!

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Reef fish

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Reef fish

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Reef fish

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Barracuda

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Christ of the Abyss

The boat moved to a spot where we got to see several large green sea turtles from the boat, one might have been a Loggerhead.  Overall great afternoon, despite the jellyfish sting.

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The beach at Bahia Honda

We really do like the Florida State Parks – they are clean and very dependable for hookups and campsite conditions.  Bahia Honda had some beautiful sunsets and we got to ride bikes along the shore, paddleboard and bird watch (no spoonbills or swallow-tailed kites yet, but a nice osprey).  The Keys are not really beach scenes. To appreciate them you need to get out on the water and fish, snorkel the reefs or paddle around.  They are rocky coral and pretty darn shallow and there is lots of weed at the water’s edge. And no waves – no sounds of the roaring surf, hardly even a ripple.  We got to chat with others about where they had been, and “you’ll love Key West, it was so quiet in town yesterday – even with 2 cruise ships in port.  Empty.”  Right.

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Sandbar off Curry Hammock

So off we went to check in at Leo’s Campground on Stock Island (the island used to be the stockyard for Key West), which is maybe a half-mile from new town Key West. Umm, not so easy to navigate back to the site.  We unhooked the car and pulled forward, but needed to do a K-turn, which just wasn’t happening without the tow-dolly getting tangled up with an old Dodge van (oops, sorry, did that leave a scratch?), so I turned around, started over and backed all the way in, with Jackie’s help. Usually the private campgrounds are more like wide-open parking lots, but Leo’s not so much. Well, the dino-sized iguanas were amused at least (and it seems our site was next to the official feeding spot for these 4 and 5 foot guys). Remember, always the unexpected!

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Key West awaits, let’s see what it’s all about.  We drove in and parked ($$) near Mallory Square and Duval Street, which was blocked off for the bike event, and tried to get a flavor for Old Town Key West.  Stayed for the sunset celebration on the waterfront along with a zillion selfie-takers and wedding photos.  We returned on Saturday, but this time we parked at Higgs Beach in free public parking and then bought a trolley ticket to get around.  So what did we find in two days in Key West?

  • Bike Week is a big event – best to avoid it if it isn’t your scene.
  • September is their off month, several restaurants post “Gone Fishing, back in October”
  • Upper Duval Street is much like Bourbon Street’s bar scene, but it was great for drinks and seafood.  Lower Duval has the art galleries and more expensive shops and is quieter.
  • Conch fritters were delicious – the Conch Shack had the best ones in my opinion.

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  • Sloppy Joe’s was Hemmingway’s watering hole, and this weekend just about everyone else’s.  Plentiful bar, though.
  • Everyone sells Key Lime Pie, but get the pie on a stick, dipped in dark chocolate!
  • Lazy Gecko had best craft beers, Key West Crazy Lady and Funky Buddah Floridian, and a delicious grouper mango taco

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  • Flying Monkey bar at Fogerty’s had a “uuuge” fish sandwich with some brain-freeze drinks that were very welcome on a hot day
  • Hemingway House is inside a wall of vegetation, a pricey tour so we didn’t go in to see the six-toed cats
  • Some beautiful homes, but for the prices (millions) you would expect a little better maintenance on some.  Fixer-uppers are still around a million bucks.
  • I would hate to see a cross-hybrid between kudzu and banyan trees.  Whole cities would disappear.

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The trolley tour told a little more of the local history of a town that has been one of the richest per capita more than once:

  • Salt ponds were used to gather salt for the North Carolina fish-packing industry (hurricane wiped it out)
  • Reef shipwrecks became a profitable salvage industry until better navigation and charts came along.
  • Flagler’s East Coast Railroad was to be the entry port for cargo from the Panama Canal, plus luxury hotels (hurricanes wiped out several bridges after a few years, then he sold it to the state)
  • Cigar industry using local Cuban talent thrived until the great fire (which then spawned the requirement that roofs be made of tin)
  • Finally tourism became an industry
  • Declaration of secession when the feds blocked US1 to stop the flow of illegal drugs and immigrants in the 70’s – the Conch Republic was born
  • The bars and latitude seem to inspire writers:  Hemingway and Sloppy Joe’s bar and the lighthouse that led him back home each night; Tennesee Williams and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (was it 6-toed?), and “Streetcar Named Desire.”

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So we did as many of the usual tourist things as we could all the while dodging the motorcycles.  Parked all down Duval Street, the lineup of bikes was crazy and the crackling motors and impressive sound systems let you know they were there. Since we forgot our tattoos and leather vests, and I have been shaving regularly, we probably stood out, but the crowd was really very friendly (but black leather in mid 90’s heat meant the watering holes were pretty busy). Our picture of the Southernmost Point in the US was a drive-by and it was crazy that there was a line of 50 or so folks waiting to take selfies with the cone.

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Sunset at Mallory Square

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Sunset at the end of the road…

 

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French angelfish

 

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Starfish on the sandbar

Still no spoonbills, although I did see a kite soaring over the waterfront while driving (darn!), and even though Big Pine Key had all sorts of warning signs about key deer (and as you know, we have quite the reputation with deer) we were for once disappointed not to see deer. But you never know.  We still have a few days left before we head out of the Keys and back home.

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It is just so tough paddling around the keys!

Oh wait! We heard about manatee being in the area today so we quickly grabbed the boards and got in the water.  After paddling around a bit, we were over and around five really big manatee in the water.  They would surface, snort and then go back under and swim along.  Big, big, big!  So much fun to paddle over and around them, ever watchful that they might just toss those back flippers and send us swimming!  How cool.  I got some video before the battery went dead (of course), so will post that soon.

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We found Dory!

Ok, as I finish up this post, the “little” iguana is advancing on me … followed by three more of his buddies.  I think they replace the pesky squirrels or pigeons who beg for food – except these guys are fast… and long.

Next Adventure?  Not sure. Need to spend some time at our “other” home.  When I get home I will post some of the great pics and videos from our trip!

PS. This is our first trip without Benji, our beloved adventure dog.  It seems empty without him sometimes, but we know he is traveling with us in spirit. Merlin and we miss him and send him a heartfelt shout out.

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