If you follow my blog, you may know that I don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to traveling with my kids. That’s why this last vacation was such a miracle – we flew on an airplane and nobody got sick, and you guys, I didn’t even cry!
So what led to that marvelous and unusual outcome? Well, first I perused various travel websites such as milesofdeals.com to rack up thousands and thousands of American Airline miles and other travel points to fly my family of 5, as well as to cover hotel rooms. And then, and this is key, I racked up some more points to also fly my parents to Florida with us, because we love them. And also because having a couple more sets of eyes when it comes to things like rip tides and alligators is priceless in the stress management department.
My husband also made some brilliant contributions, such as buying large amounts of candy with which to bribe the children, and rigging up a portable DVD player so they could all squish together and stare at a screen for the entire flight, and we actually had multiple parents high five us for their good behavior.
Once arrived, we got right to adventuring between Tampa and Naples, exploring the beaches and other natural treasures in the area.
My personal favorite was the beach at Anna Maria Island, near Sarasota. It checked all the boxes – clear turquoise water, soft white sand, no crowds (granted, we went fairly early in the morning), free and available parking, easily accessible food and facilities. Hardly any surf so even the baby could play in the ocean without getting knocked over.
My 7 year old’s favorite beach was Clam Pass in Naples, because it included a free tram ride down the long trail leading to the beach. My boy is a fan of trams.
And I can’t fail to mention Barefoot Beach in Naples, which can only be accessed by driving through a fancy neighborhood. And when I say “fancy,” I mean legitimate mansions. We drove through marveling at the idea that someone could own such modern day palaces, and upon arrival gathered up our McDonalds dinner and happily devoured it while watching the sunset. Because there are some pleasures that are priceless.
We made a brief attempt to visit the beach on Siesta Key, since we happened to be passing it around lunch time, but it was super developed and crowded, so it didn’t work out. However, we did find a tiki bar in which to eat lunch, and also discovered numerous pirate statues throughout the area, which my youngest mistook for Jesus. “Bye bye, Jesus! Jesus loves me!” Yes, angel, even more than Captain Jack Sparrow does.
I really wanted to go to the Everglades. But, our first “nature walk” was at the Corkscrew Swamp in Naples, and my 5 year old in particular, was hot and bored. We were seeing a lot of beautiful cypress trees, but no living creatures. Just as she started losing it, and I prayed for some distraction, we discovered this little guy, who walked along side her on that railing for probably a good quarter mile, close enough that she could have reached out and touched him. But she didn’t. Thank you, Safety Town.
Then when we got farther into the swampier part we started seeing lots of other birds, and the kids started identifying them with the little guide the park gave us, and then at the end we saw a mama alligator with about 20 little babies floating right below the raised boardwalk we were walking on. So that was pretty awesome.
Nonetheless, my children protested any more nature walks when I tried to get everyone hyped for the Everglades. And because I don’t want them to hate nature, I didn’t force the issue. Guess we’ll just have to go back and see it next time!
We did, however, do some other nature-related things that were perhaps more age appropriate and fun. We went to the Conservancy of Southwest FL, where we took a beautiful boat ride through the estuaries shrouded by mangroves. There were matinees in the water, and back on shore, there was a little baby bird nursery and a nice natural science museum.
We went on a tram tour (you know how my boy loves the trams) at Mixon Fruit Farm where we got to see where orange juice comes from, and then got to hold a young alligator and see a number of other creatures (mostly abandoned exotic pets not native to FL) that were housed on the farm by a nonprofit conservation group.
Also, we got to see tons of pelicans dive bombing their prey off the Naples pier, while my son described each dive in his sports announcer voice. So while we missed the Everglades, we did get to see our fair share of wildlife, and we will definitely be going back for more.