Archive for June, 2012

The Florida Keys for the Family

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

DSC01895Spring Break and the Florida Keys! It was supposed to be in the 70s while we were there but it turned out to be unseasonably warm and pretty much stayed in the upper 80s the entire time. We were very thankful for those great ocean breezes! The nights were beautiful and we enjoyed many long walks and bike rides. We never missed one of those famous Florida Keys sunsets!

Monday, February 20— After we got unpacked and settled in at Fiesta Key RV Resort we drove to Long Key State Park and Curry Hammock State Park. Long Key was closed indefinitely and we just drove around Curry Hammock a bit to check it out. We watched our first sunset in the Keys from our RV Resort. It was not a disappointment!

Tuesday, February 21—While we were in Louisiana we met a woman who had grown up in the Keys. She highly recommended that we visit the The Turtle Hospital inDSC01911 Marathon (http://www.turtlehospital.org/). This wonderful place rescues and cares for Sea Turtles that have been injured. Some of the turtles eventually get well and are released back into the sea while some, due to their injuries, become permanent residents at the hospital.

Our tour started with a presentation about Sea Turtles, their habits, the differences between the species, dangers they face, and the work of the hospital. Afterwards, we were taken on a tour of the Triage and Surgical Units of the hospital. The very best part was visiting the turtles. Those that are to be released are in smaller, individual tanks. A very large pool houses the turtles that live at the hospital. These turtles are used to humans and swam right up to the edge of the pool to greet us. Well…we thought they were greeting us but we soon found out that they knew we DSC01934were going to give them treats! Their size astonished us. What we loved the most was how they made eye contact with us. Even the shy Kemp’s Ridley turtle came up to say hello (we were told that she doesn’t do that very often). Our tour was over far too soon but we learned a lot about these wonderful creatures. As we were leaving a large iguana made an experience on the dock near the turtle tanks. He’s not supposed to be there (invasive species) but he was interesting nonetheless.

For the woman who suggested we visit this great place: Thank You!!! We are so glad we went! It was definitely a highlight of our time in the Keys.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring some of the other Keys before coming home to the pool and another beautiful sunset.

Wednesday, February 22—This was a very hot day! We had decided to spend it on Key West. The long drive from our resort to the most southern place in the United States was beautiful. There is so much to see; especially from the bridges. We soon found ourselves stuck in traffic. After not moving for quite some time, I got on the internet to find a traffic report for the Keys. The site http://keysnews.com/trafficcams was very helpful. There’s one main road on the Keys and if it gets backed up, you basically have to wait it out or turn around. We found out that there was some sort of an accident ahead but it looked like they were clearing a lane for us. Sure enough, we were crawling along soon after. (We found out the next morning that a truck had hit a motorcycle, killing the husband and wife who were on the motorcycle. The motorcycle was stopped at a red light when they were hit from behind. It’s very easy to get distracted while driving in the Keys.)

DSC02020Once on Key West, we found free parking at a lot near White Street Pier. We decided to walk to the end of the pier to look for marine life. Before doing so, however, we were welcomed by several of the Key West Chickens that are somewhat controversial but are very much a part of the Keys. (We say, let the chickens stay, by the way!) Once out on the pier, we saw a lot of fish and sea urchins but what we found most interesting was a group of people daring each other to jump into the water (they thought it was cold). As we were walking around the pier, a dog started viciously barking at us. His owner was embarrassed and apologized. After talking for awhile we found out that the man, a self-proclaimed beach bum, lives and works on Key West. He moved to the Keys about a decade ago from the East Coast, sold his car, bought a bike and never looked back. He gave us some great ideas as to some family friendly spots on Key West.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park (http://www.floridastateparks.org/forttaylor/) where Barry and the girls enjoyed snorkeling while myDSC01969 book and I found a quiet place under a shade tree. As sunset approached, we packed up and headed for Mallory Square (http://www.mallorysquare.com/). We enjoyed the very unique live entertainment, shops, and another amazing sunset. By this time we were all starved. We walked and walked and walked the streets of Key West in search of a restaurant that offered gluten-free food before finding one that very reluctantly agreed to grill a plain hamburger and make a salad for our g-free kid. It was pretty late by the time we got back to our truck and headed home but we knew we would enjoy the miles of bridges and Keys ahead of us.

Thursday, February 23—On this day we decided to to absolutely nothing and we loved every lazy minute of it! Barry ran a couple of our bikes to a shop for repairs. Other than that we read, napped, played games, and watched movies.

Friday, February 24—We drove to Key Largo today in search of Key Lime Pie which isn’t normally a problem on the Keys, but we needed gluten-free. There was none to be found on Key Largo but we did find out that we could get some on Big Pine Key. Before leaving Key Largo, we stopped at a neat shop that had several types of shells that we had never seen before. We also enjoyed walking through a real scuba shop (real as in not your “scuba” section at Wal-mart or K-Mart).

Once on Big Pine Key, we saw some of the endangered Key West Deer. Unfortunately, the shop was out of g-free Key Lime Pie but the woman running the shop very kindly called and ordered one for us to pick up the next day. On our way back to the resort, we stopped at Old Seven Mile Bridge to watch the sunset. We were delighted to see several sea turtles and manta rays in the waters below the bridge.

DSC02027Saturday, February 25—After spotting the marine life on Old Seven Mile Bridge the day before, we knew we had to return! It was very hot and although the sun was relentless, we walked to mile marker 1 3/4 to have what 2 passing joggers told us would be a, “a National Geographic experience.” We were not disappointed! Reef, lemon and nurse sharks, a bull shark, huge manta rays, stingrays, sea turtles, a pod of dolphins, tarpon and several other species of fish were in the calm waters around the bridge. We stayed too long and got sunburns but it was truly the experience of a lifetime!

When we finally pulled ourselves away from Old Seven Mile Bridge, we drove back to Big Pine Key to pick up our pies at the Key West Key Lime Pie Company (http://www.keywestkeylimepieco.com/). We saw more deer and chickens on the way. Before picking up our pie, we stopped at a little restaurant called Shirleys (http://floridakeysicecreamshop.com/) for some really good sandwiches. We then picked up our pie and headed over to the Key West Deer Visitor’s Center (http://www.fws.gov/nationalkeydeer/keywest/). Not only was this place really interesting (with a great touch table about the marine and animal life that can be found onDSC02045 the Keys) but it was a great resource for family friendly activities on the Keys. We wished we had stopped here on our first day. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do most of the things they suggested but we wrote them down for future use. We highly recommend stopping here first if you are looking for family friendly activities in the Keys.

Our next stop was Bahia Honda State Park (http://www.floridastateparks.org/bahiahonda/) which is also on Big Pine Key. We enjoyed our Key Lime Pies (the gluten-free pie was delicious—there was no telling that it was g-free). Barry, Mikayla and Eva snorkled while Jenna and I walked every inch of this beautiful state park. As sundown DSC02052approached, we walked to the broken bridge at the park to view the sunset. There we met a couple from Maine whom we enjoyed talking with very much. Afterwards, we headed down to an outdoor classroom for a ranger-lead class on the stars which proved to be one of the most interesting classes we have taken to date. In fact, we still talk about the class and have become avid star gazers because of it.

Sunday,February 26—Our last full day on the Keys! After attending church, we headed back to what had become our favorite spot on the Keys: Old Seven Mile Bridge. This time we packed the bikes so we could bike to the end of the bridge. We didn’t see as much marine life as we had on previous trips but we enjoyed it just the same. A man and his three friends from Italy stopped to help us fix one of our bikes. It was a pleasure talking with them! (And thank you, for the help! We hope you enjoyed your time in theDSC02003 U.S.)

Since our favorite spot was Old Seven Mile Bridge, we chose it as our spot to watch our final sunset. It was the most beautiful yet.

Some notes on family friendly activities in the Florida Keys:

There are some free things to do but most things are quite expensive.

Keep your bikes locked up at all times! A local told us they have a lot of problems with bikes being stolen.

Traffic can be quite bad on the keys and speed limits are taken very seriously. (We had a police officer stop us just because he didn’t think we slowed down fast enough at a pedestrian crossing!)

Google or the visitor centers weren’t much help in finding family friendly activities in the Florida Keys. The Key West Deer Visitor Center is your best bet! They also know the places to get good deals; especially on Kayaks.

There a couple of resorts in the Keys that cater to families. We didn’t stay at one but read about day camps that are offered for the kids while the parents play.

A site with some activities on it: http://www.fla-keys.com/keywest/children.cfm

Things we will do when we return to the Keys:

Eco Discovery Center: http://eco-discovery.com/

Harry S. Truman Little White House: http://eco-discovery.com/

Key West Audobon House and Gardens: http://www.audubonhouse.com/

Bike Paths on Big Pine Key that go through the Key West Deer Preserve (Stop at the Key West Deer Visitor Center for maps.)

John Pennekamp State Park: http://www.floridastateparks.org/pennekamp/; Glass Bottom Boat Tours: http://pennekamppark.com/

The Dry Tortugas!! (This is very expensive but if we ever return to the Keys, we will save for it in advance.) http://www.nps.gov/drto/index.htm

NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/

Dolphin Research: http://www.dolphins.org/

Boat Tour through Biscayne National Park: http://www.nps.gov/bisc/index.htm