Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Florida Road Trip. Key West, Naples, Anna Marie Island. February 2013.

On 2nd Feb 2013 we flew with Virgin Atlantic, VS75 from Manchester to Orlando. It was an Airbus 330-300. The flight was OK, the seats were small and close together, the crew was good. Drinks services were sparse, lunch was Sausage and Mash, then a cup cake for afternoon tea and soon after that we were landing in Orlando. Our plan was to pick up the hire car, then  head towards the Gulf Coast and stop when we got tired.
Getting through customs was fast, VS75 is the first of many Virgin flights to arrive in Orlando at similar times, we were first in the customs queue, there were many more behind us! in less than an hour we were in our hire car and on the road towards Tampa.
We got to St Peats Beach and saw this massive pink hotel, so we checked in for the night.
Don CeSar Resort
This was the Don CeSar Resort,I was very disappointed with my stay at this hotel. It looks like it should be fantastic, but we waited to be checked in for over 30 mins! Then had to carry our own bags (I don’t mind doing that but this place is suppose to be top notch!) and find our own way to the room. The room was nicely furnished, but no soap, shower hats etc, had to ask for them. No turndown, no water. We ate a hasty meal, we were told that it was rather late to expect to be was 20.30, and then got off to bed to combat Jet Lag.
 In the morning we had 3 wakeup calls that were not requested. Then the Hotel had the cheek to charge 3 extra ‘taxes’, a resort fee and make us pay US$ 10 for parking. All in all a very disappointing start to our holiday! 
With no plan in mind we headed on down towards Fort Myers, then after working out distances on the map, decided to fly down to Key West.
Cape Air fly between 3 to 6 flights a day from Southwest Florida International Airport to Key West. It took about on hour and flew over the Everglades.

Arriving into Key West as the sun set, we found accommodation then we walked into the town of Key West looking for food.

Space is so tight on Key West the graves are like flats!

We walked through the small streets, looking at all the brightly painted wooden houses, the houses looked Victorian in style and reminded me of the houses on The Berea in Durban.
The key West Cemetery was fun! this is built on the highest point of the island and the graves are packed in tight here.
Eventually we hit Duval Street, with its bars and souvenir shops leading us to Mallory Square.
Mallory Square was packed with people watching the sunset, the street performers and the cruise ships leaving. we had a few drinks, some Key lime Pie and Conch Fritters then enjoyed the walk back to the hotel.

this was our routine for our next 4 nights. we had a great stay in Key West, enjoying the bars, the live music and just the Key West laid back atmosphere.
There is loads to do in Key West, Eco Tours such as Wild Dolphin and Snorkel trips. Kayaking, Catamaran Sailing, Deep Sea Fishing, Ghost Tours, Pub Crawls. The Trolley does a 90 minute tour where you can hop on and hop off at over 12 stops. There is a Duck Tour and it is easy to hire bikes and get about as its flat.
We also saw a tour to the Dry Tortugas National Park. you could go by Sea Plane or boat, unfortunately all the tours by Sea Plane had sold out, so early one morning we were up to get the Yankee Freedom to have a day trip to The Dry Tortugas National Park.

The high speed Catamaran was full, so that's 150 passengers, as it travelled the 70 miles to the Island. on the Island is Fort Jefferson. This is the largest brick fortification  in the USA. it is a hexagonal shaped building with a moat, its very impressive. The snorkelling was said to be very good, but we did not think much of it only seeing a few bits of coral. The sea was crystal clear and the bird watching was good. But even if you just go to see the fort, its a great day out and if your in Key West don't miss it.
All to soon it was time to fly back to Fort Myers, this time we drove down to the upscale, rich town of Naples. From here we had a few day trips, one very eco unfriendly to Corey Billies Airboat tours where I had more fun on an airboat than I did on the jet boat in Queenstown NZ!
Then a fabulous free eco friendly day at the Lee County Manatee Park. this park is next to the power plant and according to the literature;
'During the cool winter months when the temperature of the Gulf of Mexico and rivers drops below 68 degrees F, the endangered Florida manatee seeks refuge from the cold waters by swimming into the Florida Power and Light warm water discharge canal. This non-captive manatee sanctuary provides a winter haven for these warm-blooded native mammals that live, feed and raise their young year round in the fresh, brackish or saltwater coastal areas of Florida.' We hired a canoe and as we sat in the river the Manatees and the calves bobbed up and down around us, a magical moment.
We also had a day at the Myakka River State Park, over 500 Alligators call this place home, we hired an Indian style canoe and 'canoed' across the lake, its so shallow at times we were punting! The bird life was interesting and I think we saw at least 500 enormous Alligators. The Myakka Canopy Trail was also worth a visit, once at the top you have a great view of the tree tops and surrounding area.
We then drove back up past Sarasota to Anna Marie Island. This laid back Island has unspoiled beaches and moves at a slow pace. We rented a small cottage a stones throw from The Rod and Reel Pier with its good restaurant and bar.
In Sarasota we visited The Ringling Museum Complex, this is an Art Museum and a Circus Museum. This is the 66 acre location where the Ringling Circus would come to in the winter months. The owner of the Circus, John Ringling built a house here in the 1920s, Ca d Zan. The house is built in gothic style, with its dock for the Ringling's private gondola,  it is a reminder of the roaring 20s and very similar in style to the Du Pont Mansion in Cuba.
The Circus Museum is very interesting, with many of the old wagons on display as well as the Ringling's private rail car.

Then it was back to the Rod n Reel for more chilling with good food and wine.

All to soon it was time to leave the idyllic Anna Marie Island and drive back to Orlando to get VS76 back to Manchester.
Just goes to show, Florida is more then Disney!