Tag Archives: Florida

Exploring Key West

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We woke Thursday morning to find ourselves docked in Key West.

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With a day full of sightseeing ahead of us, we ate a quick breakfast and prepared to disembark. We walked off the ship, ready to explore the city of Key West, the first stop on our five day cruise.

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Key West is an island city in the Straits of Florida. The city lies at the southernmost end of U.S. Route 1, the longest north–south road in the United States.

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Key West is the southernmost city in the contiguous United States and the westernmost island connected by highway in the Florida Keys.

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The island is about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, with a total land area of 4.2 square miles. Duval Street, its main street, is 1.1 miles in length in its 14-block-long crossing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic Ocean. Key West is about 95 miles north of Cuba at their closest points.

The island is popular for its eccentric, wild and laid-back vibe that is highly inviting to most cruise passengers. So popular is the island that it has provided seasonal homes to notable figures such as the 33rd president and one of the world’s most prolific writers.

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With the exception of Toby, the rest of us had never visited this southernmost Floridian city. Toby had visited Key West as a teenager, and had fond memories of the area. We were excited to take in the sites and learn more about this unique city. We decided that the best excursion to accomplish this was a city-wide scavenger hunt. We thought it would be a great way to learn about the area in a fun and engaging way.

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We walked to the starting location of the scavenger hunt and logged onto the website that began our hunt.

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By using a cell phone, we were given clues to follow and puzzles to decode that led us on a three hour foot race around the island.

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We had to seek out monuments and places of interest by relying on general knowledge, problem solving, keen observation and by utilizing the knowledge of the locals.

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It was a blast, and we were a pretty great team.

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It helped that we had a myriad of strengths between our team members, with some serving as the navigators, some were especially good at the puzzles that had to be decoded, while other’s had a strong knowledge of US history that we could tap into.

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Then there were our extroverts who boldly approached anyone and everyone to help weigh in on the questions we were seeking answers to.

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As we moved around the island, seeking out the next clue at the next location we learned much about the island’s history and soaking in its unique culture.

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Combining 19th-century history with its vast tropical charms, Key West is a haven for adventurers and historians alike.

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Its unique beauty mashes together brightly colored picturesque colonial houses with lush tropical gardens.

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Its narrow streets are lined with vintage shops, eateries, and watering holes. The coastline as well is breathtaking and is graced by the azure waters of the Atlantic and Gulf stream that boards the island on either side.

And then there are the chickens…

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Can we talk about the chickens?! They wander the streets like they own the place, something I found charming but that Gracie found terrifying.

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They are her greatest phobia. But like them or not, they are definitely part of the Key West ambiance!

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As we walked around Key West, the scavenger hunt clues led us to the following fascinating locations:

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If mystery is your thrill, visit Key West Cemetery to learn the interesting part of the town’s former times. The gravestones of fallen soldiers and townsfolk go into depth about the life and death of the individual. Epitaphs like “I told you I was sick” among others can be traced in this location, making it a twisted but interesting fun thing to explore. Here we had to seek out certain tombstones then add up the combined years of life to unlock our next clue.

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Key West, Florida, has a wild nightlife. One of its most iconic bars includes Sloppy Joes. Sloppy Joe is an old vintage bar that brags of Ernest Hemmingway as a longtime patron. Here we had to figure out whose picture was on the wooden sign out front. (It was Earnest Hemmingway.)

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Then we headed over to the Hemmingway House, an 1851 Spanish colonial building that hosted one of the world’s greatest writers of all time. The most intriguing thing about this home is that the famous writer lived here for almost a decade.

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The house is located in a picturesque, lush, peaceful environment and is easy to see why Ernest Hemmingway was inspired to write some of his masterpieces here.

Another home that required our attention was the Little White House. This home was originally a naval station’s command headquarters during World War 1 and World War 2. Harry Truman, the 33rd US president, called this house, home for several winters. Truman visited Florida 11 times and used to reside in this little white house. Our mission at this location was to figure out what other U.S. presidents had visited the Little White House.

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Our hunt led us to another iconic location. This one however was not historical but rather culinary.

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Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shoppe is one of these popular restaurant destinations and has been for over 27 years. Being a signature dessert for Key West, Florida, Key Lime Pie is a taste visitors don’t want to miss!

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We entered Kermits with the mission of solving the riddle asking us to name the ingredients in a key lime pie, but ended up doing some shopping and spending time loving on Pirate, the shop dog.

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We continued our hunt, seeking out 20 different locations by answering 20 different clues, to win the hunt…Woo hoo!

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We ended up returning to Kermit’s at the end of our hunt to indulge in one of their famous Key Lime Pies.

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We just couldn’t leave the Keys without tasting their most iconic dishes. It was AMAZING! Best Key Lime Pie I have ever eaten!

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We were done at 2:00 and had until 4:00 before we had to be back on the cruise ship. We debated as to what to do with our remaining time. Tyler and Braden were eager to get back on the ship so they could get in the pool and cool off. That sounded good to Zach too, so he took the boys back to the ship.

Toby expressed a desire to revisit an attraction that left an impression on him as a teenage boy: Mel Fisher’s Treasures.

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There is a well-known treasure hunter called Mel Fisher, who made the discovery of “Atocha” the sunken vessels.

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Nuestra Señora de Atocha (Spanish: Our Lady of Atocha) was a Spanish treasure galleon and the most widely-known vessel of a fleet of ships that sank in a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622. At the time of her sinking, Nuestra Señora de Atocha was heavily laden with copper, silver, gold, tobacco, gems, and indigo from Spanish ports at Cartagena and Porto Bello in New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama, respectively) and Havana, bound for Spain. 

Beginning in 1969, American treasure hunters Mel Fisher, Finley Ricard and a team of sub-contractors, funded by investors and others in a joint venture, searched the sea bed for Nuestra Señora de Atocha for sixteen and a half years. In 1980, Fisher had earlier recovered portions of the wrecked cargo of the sister ship Santa Margarita. He also proposed the idea to several other potential helpers, who were discouraged by the fact that this dangerous professional diving job would be paid at minimum wage unless the ship could be found. The Nuestra Señora de Atocha wreck and its mother lode of silver, gold and emeralds was finally discovered in July 1985. 

The treasure is on display at Mel Fisher’s Treasures, a place Toby was eager to visit again, so he and Grace headed to the treasure museum for a daddy/daughter date.

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One of my bucket list items was a visit to Southernmost Point Monument. It was a 25 minute walk from the port, but despite the hot and humid weather, we thought it was worth the hike!

After all, how else do you let the rest of the world know you have been to Key West? One must take a photo of onesself at the Southernmost Point Monument. This monument is a giant buoy built in the ’80s to represent the southernmost point of the United States.

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Molly and Rusty opted to join me. We enjoyed our stroll, then patiently waited in line for our chance to snap one of these iconic photos.

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We returned to the ship with 30 minutes to spare.

It was a beautiful day in a beautiful city. I fell in love with Key West and hope to return again for a visit someday!

Robert’s Fruit Stand

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As we were leaving the alligator farm we passed a fruit stand that looked interesting. The 1st thing that caught our eye was the size of it. The 2nd thing that caught our eye were the throngs of people waiting in line to check out.  It was a Monday morning and certainly not prime tourist season in Miami, so we figured there must be something special about Robert’s fruit stand.

Boy were we right!

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This novelty fruit stand boasts a wide selection of exotic fruits from around the world. We stopped to get some Florida oranges and ended up leaving with a buffet of sweet fruits from around the world. Most of the fruits for sell were not ones we had ever heard of before. In noting our confusion, an employee kindly handed us a fruit guide to help educate us as we considered which fruits to try.

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We wandered through the outdoor isles, reading the descriptions of different fruits.  In addition to each crate of fruit listing its name and price, it also listed where the fruit was from and an informative description of its flavor, texture, and appearance.

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We decided that we would get a variety of different exotic fruits to bring back to our rental to try as part of our Florida experience. Rusty was especially thrilled. Just last week he was requesting (for his time treat) some sort of unusual fruit that we could snack on during his one-on-one time. After perusing the aisles of Walmart’s fruit and vegetable section, I came up with the nothing more exotic than an apple, orange, or grapes. The pickings were slim, so this was especially exciting for Rusty who had just been talking about wanting to try some new fruits. He ended up not only trying a new fruit but trying 7 new fruits from around the world that we had never heard of before, much less tasted.

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Here were our choices for our taste testing smorgasbord:

Apple Bananas: “They usually look like an over-ripe banana. These bananas are great for pies and fruit salads, as the fruit does not discolor.

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(This was the favorite fruit of Zach, Toby, Tyler and Molly)

Canestel (Egg Fruit): “This fruit is yellow and shaped like a Hershey Kiss. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft (like room temperature butter), then cut it open and enjoy the sweet egg custard flavor inside.”

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(This fruit had the texture of cooked pumpkin and tasted like egg custard. We all agreed it would be a better savory side dish to a meal, than a fruit eaten independently.)

Carambola (Star Fruit): “It is a five-sided yellow fruit. Slice this fruit crosswise into little stars and eat all but the stem and seeds. It tastes like a cross between and apple and an orange.”

(This crisp, refreshing fruit was Rusty’s favorite.)

Guanabana (Sour Sop): “This fruit is in the same family as a sugar apple but tastes different. Known as Sour Sop, it is anything but sour. Wait until the fruit is extremely soft, break it open with your hands, and then eat the pockets from around the seeds inside. Tastes like cotton candy.

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Kent Mangos: “Wait until the fruit is moderately soft. To cut the mango, hold it so that your hand is holding the widest part of the mango. Slice the right side of the fruit from top to bottom then flip it over and slice on the left side. The beautifully rich yellow fruit inside has a peachy-pineapple taste.”

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(Best Mangos we have ever eaten!)

Passion fruit: “This is a round, dark red or deep yellow fruit about the size of a plum. Wait until the skin is wrinkled, then slice and eat the pulp and seeds inside. It tastes like fruit punch.”

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(Gracie couldn’t get over the appearance of this fruit when sliced open. She said it was too reminiscent of toddler snot, but the flavor was delicious and tasted like a very strong fruit punch.)

Sapodilla: “It looks like a large kiwi without the fuzz. Wait until the fruit is very soft, then slice and enjoy. It tastes like a pear with brown sugar.”

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(Mmmm…delicious! It truly did taste like a brown sugar pear with a hint of cinnamon. This fruit was a favorite of myself, Grace and Braden.)

Well there we opted to cut in to the Guanabana (Sour Sop) fruit, which was advertised as “the world’s most delicious fruit.” The sign said that it tasted like cotton candy. We gave it a try. It did indeed have the flavor of cotton candy, but we found our group had very mixed reactions to this unusual fruit.

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Most agreed that while it tasted good, the texture was a bit hard to embrace. We decided that in the end we would have been better off buying one of the smoothies made out of this fruit rather than the fruit itself so that we could enjoy the flavor without the stringy, slimy texture of the Guanabana.

After eating that fruit we decided to use the Apple Bananas we purchased as a chaser. They were delicious. We all enjoyed them immensely!

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Before leaving we took a stroll out back to love on the farm animals that call Robert’s Fruit Stand, home.

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It was the most bizarre menagerie of animals I’ve ever seen.

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There in the pen there were zebu,  geese, emu, tortoises, iguanas, and goats all frolicking together like some sort of  Floridian Noah’s Ark.

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We could have stayed all day. Robert’s was a delightful roadside find in Southern Florida.

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Next stop was Jet Boat Miami…

Hold on to your hats!

Everglades Animal Farm and Airboat Ride

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We arrived in Miami, Florida with 2 days to explore the area before was time to board our cruise ship. The reason for early arrival was because of the large price difference between flying out of Pittsburgh on Sunday versus flying out on Tuesday. We decided to make the most of the situation and use those 2 days to create an extended vacation. As we were looking for things to do in the Miami area we discovered the Miami Go two day pass, a discount attractions pass that allows visitors to see and experience an unlimited amount of attractions in Southern Florida for a set price. As we looked over the list of 20+ attractions offered, and compared the admission cost of those attractions to the cost of the two day pass, it was a no-brainer.

As we looked over the list of attractions we knew that one of our stops had to be an airboat ride through the Everglades. The Miami Go pass offered 3 different airboat ride companies to pick from. We chose to check out Everglades Alligator Farm and airboat ride. We liked that it combined both an airboat ride with a reptile farm that offered shows and hands on interaction with alligators and other reptiles. We knew that if we were going to be in Southern Florida for 2 days we had to take part in this iconic Floridian experience.

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It did not disappoint. This is what they advertised on the Go Miami site:

You’ll see over 2,000 alligators at the Everglades Alligator Farm before hopping on an airboat and cruising across the waters in search for more unique species.

The rest of Universal Studios

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Our first day at Universal Studios was spent primarily in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Once I entered, I didn’t want to leave…EVER!

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But near the end of the day I gave into the reality that I’d have to re-enter the muggle world sooner or later, so we exited that part of the park and headed off to explore the remainder of Universal Studios.

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The following day we returned to finishing riding the rides we missed the first day, as well as taking the time to enjoy some of the shows offered in the park.

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Universal Studios is divided into different “lands” that house rides and attractions inspired by that land.

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Upon first entering the park, visitors will find themselves in “Production Central.” This main street area is home to 3-D rides: Despicable Me minion Mayhem, Shrek, and Transformers.

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It is also home to this parks largest, most thrilling coaster: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. This was a favorite ride of some of the older kids.

The next area visitors walk through, when moving clockwise through the park, is New York. The building facades of this area of the park make you feel as though you are in New York City. Some of our favorite rides in Universal are located in the New York area.

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This includes Jimmy Fallon: Race through New York, a fun-filled 3-D race through New York City with the Tonight Show’s host, and Revenge of the Mummy, in which visitors plunge into the dark and face an army of mummies on this indoor coaster. This ride was the hands-down favorite of the entire family.

The next area of the park gusts will find themselves in is the San Francisco area of the park. Once again, Universal Studios did an amazing job of making visitors feel as though they had stepped into this beloved city with its attention to detail.

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It is in this area of the park that guests will find the Fast and Furious- Supercharged ride. This was Ozzie’s favorite ride of the day. My car-loving boy couldn’t get enough of this supercharged ride in which visitors join Dom, Letty and the rest of Fast and Furious family as they face off against an unforeseen enemy.

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Even more than the ride itself, Ozzie loved the queue and gift shop that boasted all sorts of sports cars and car memorabilia.

On the other side of the park visitors will find the areas more geared to a younger audience including:

Woody Woodpecker’s Kidzone,

Home of Curious George Goes to Town water play area:

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Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster:

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Fievel’s Playland, a playground with a mouse-eye view of the world,

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And E.T. adventure:

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It is also on this side of the park that visitors will find themselves in Springfield: Home of the Simpsons. We didn’t spend any time here, having never watch the Simpsons and not getting any of the references that delighted other visitors. We did stop for one of the huge donuts for sale, however, when we saw another park guest carrying it.

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The huge donuts sold in Springfield: Home of the Simpsons sales for $8.00 and was big enough to be split eight ways. It was the perfect mid-day pick-me-up…Yum!

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As fun as the rides in Universal Studios were, I found the best part to be the shows sprinkled throughout the park.

We stopped to watch the Fear Factor show.

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This show is modeled after the television show but allows visitors to audition to appear in the live show in from of a park audience. If chosen, guests will have to compete in various challenges including eating gross foods, being shut in a glass box with various creepy crawlies, and extreme physical challenges.

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We enjoyed watching as audience members, but were happy to not be in the show!

We also really enjoyed the Animal Actors on Location show. Led by a professional animal trainer, this interactive show allows guests to see how animals are trained for the movies. As a family of animal lovers, we loved this funny show starring dogs, cats, birds, porcupines, skunks, otters, and even a pot belly pig…all of whom have been trained to perform their part in the show.

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This was my personal favorite, non-Harry Potter experience of Universal Studios.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is still the showcase piece of this park, but found there were other experienced to be enjoyed if guests can pull themselves away from the magic of Harry Potter’s world of magical experiences.

 

Casa de Disney

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Ok, we have now arrived at our “permanent”  location for the remainder of our stay in Orlando.

On our two previous Disney World vacations we stayed onsite at Disney resorts: first at Port Orleans Riverside, and then at All Star Sport on our second trip. Both times we chose to stay onsite so that we could take advantage of the free Disney Dining that was being offered when we were visiting in September.

Unfortunately, this time our schedules did not align with Disney’s free dining dates, so our food bill will be higher this trip, but we were able to balance out that increased cost by choosing to stay offsite rather than renting two Disney World hotel rooms for the length of our stay.

A few months ago we went online to Airbnb and found an amazing deal on a four bedroom house for a fraction of the cost that two Disney resort rooms would be. With the house rental comes the added benefit of having a kitchen available to offset some of our food costs.

After a day of fun at Disney Springs we headed over to our rental home. Check-in was at 4:00 pm and the kids were itching to “move in,” unpack, and get swimming in the pool and hot tub that came with the house.

We pulled in, piled out of our “clown car,”

And untangled ourselves from blankets, charging cords, fast food wrappers and backpack straps.

The door was opened and the kids rushed inside, eager to check out the new digs and claim their rooms.

The house exceeded our expectations.

It is absolutely beautiful.

Check out our lovely new home that we have lovingly renamed, “Casa de Disney”:

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The view that greeted us when we walked into the rental.

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The kitchen and breakfast nook.

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The family room. We love all the big, comfy couches.

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Brandon and Tyler’s bedroom.

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Rusty and Ozzie’s bedroom.

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Grace and Molly’s bedroom. They took the second master suite with its own attached bathroom.

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They were thrilled to get a girls’ only” bathroom. “Look, Mom,” they exclaimed with enthusiasm, ” There is enough room for us to do our make-up side by side!”

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The master suite…Ooo la la!

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Here is where I plan to spend my vacation.

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This is where the kids plan to spend their vacation…in our own personal pool.  Everyone is feeling spoiled by this new living arrangement. I may have a tough time getting everyone back home to Pennsylvania. 🙂

For now this is our home away from home…

And what a home it is!

Smooth Sailing- Headed Home

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It has been an interesting project recording the adventures of Rusty’s scout troop and their Sea Base adventure. This blog series has led to lively discussion as everyone’s perception of events varied just a bit, affected all the more by my attempt to share memories of experiences that I wasn’t actually privy to. While the trip was shared by 8 individuals each person’s experiences varied slightly based on where they were and what they were doing at any given moment. Some saw wildlife others didn’t and had experiences their sea mates missed because of where they were at and what they were doing moment to moment. The result is 8 slightly different recollections of the same stories. I would love to have each of them pen their own synopsis for the sake of comparison and to get each scout’s point of view but know the likelihood of getting these guys to sit and journal for me is a long shot. 😊 I did, however, have Keith reach out and share with me his personal journal entries of the week, something that was a real treat to read as it gave me a more comprehensive peek into the time Rusty and Toby enjoyed in Florida. With his permission I thought I’d wrap up this blog series with his first-person synopsis of their last two days in Florida rather than struggling to piece together the stories from what I heard secondhand.

Thanks, Keith, for sharing your memories of the last two days of this once in a lifetime adventure!

 

“On Thursday we got up early and were packed before breakfast.  We had an 11:30 airboat appointment and had plenty of time to get there.  After breakfast, we said goodbye to Sea Base and started our journey home.  While still on Islamorada, we stopped at a souvenir place because they had a huge lobster out front.

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  After quick pictures, we continued on until we got to the Krispy Kreme shop – which had their hot donut sign on.  This time the donuts were hot and soft and sweet and good!  Two dozen donuts disappeared in 3 minutes.  Traffic on this morning was awful.  The GPS, when we started out, said we would arrive about a ½ hour before our appointment.  The traffic was bad because of construction.  We missed our appointment by 10 minutes.  Our spot was given to others.  However, the next time we could get a boat was at 1:00PM.

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 Now we had over an hour to kill with the boys.  There was Miccosukee tourist village up the road about 10 miles and so we went there for a few minutes to hang out in air conditioning in their souvenir shop. 

The Miccosukee are a branch of the Seminole Indians. 

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The airboat ride would take place on their reservation in the Everglades.  Our boat driver was named Fabian.  He was dressed in a bright yellow shirt and had a long braid down his back.  The ride was scheduled to take 45 minutes.

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 We all put earplugs in to muffle the noise of the motor.

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 We stopped at four spots where alligators were spotted, one of them being a small island where a few families used to live.  Dry land is hard to come by in the swamp.   

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At one point in the tour, we saw a big male alligator, about 8 to 9 feet in length. 

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Fabian stopped the boat and climbed to the front.  He started making noises that got the interest of the gator, which then came over to the boat.

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 The gator kept rising up out of the water as if to jump in the boat, but Fabian kept pushing the gator back down into the water with his hands. 

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All the time he was lecturing us on the habits of alligators in the Everglades.  It was fun to watch.

After the boat ride, we piled into the car.  Toby continued driving until we gassed up, when I took over.  We got off the interstate just after dark and stopped at the Metro Diner in St. Augustine for dinner.  They had some huge burgers and sandwiches.  The food was excellent and then we drove on to a Days Inn where we all crammed into one room to spend the night.  The trip down taught us it was almost impossible to get any rest while driving in the van. 

On Friday morning we ate breakfast at the Village Inn and then we went to the Visitor’s Center. 

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From there we walked past some of the old buildings of St. Augustine and a cemetery, seeing the sites along the way.

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 We spent most of our time at the Castillo de San Marcos.

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 This is the old fort that protected the city through the ages.

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They had cannons from the 1700s on display.

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 The workers there had a re-enactment of firing a cannon.

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   Rusty, Nate G. and Thomas all earned a certificate and patch associated with the Historical Site by filling out an educational workbook.

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A little after noon, we returned to the van where Toby, Pete and finally Nate A. completed the drive home.  Again, Nate had to use the cruise control as we traveled through West Virginia, making it an exciting ride.  We arrived home at 1:45 AM Saturday morning to Pete’s house.  Toby was kind enough to drop everyone off.  I was happy to sleep in my bed again.”

 

Smooth Sailing- Back on Land

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On Wednesday Rusty and his Boy Scout troop headed in from the open sea back to Sea Base, marking the end of their adventure on the water…

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 But not the end of their Florida fun.

They still had a few days left of their Scouting high adventure and there was much fun to still be had. It was just going to take place on solid ground for the next 3 days, instead of the high seas.

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On Wednesday morning the scouts were up early and began cooking breakfast as the sailboat made its way toward land. They arrived at port and proceeded to get their assignments from the captain. Some headed onto shore to get the carts needed for transporting their personal belongings and other gear from the boat to the Sea Base dorm.

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The tasks for unloading, cleaning and prepping the boat for the next week’s crew were split between the members of the troop, with some cleaning and returning the snorkel gear, while others began the task of washing down the boat.

Using special soap that was environmentally safe they scrubbed the outside of the boat washing away the signs that eight scouts/leaders had occupied it for a week.

While engaged in this chore some local wildlife stopped by to say hello. A large sea cow arrived boat side, lured in by the activity occurring around the boat. Evidently manatees are drawn to the splash of fresh water, a treat that must be limited because of the negative affect it has on their buoyancy if they consume too much of it.

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The boys and leaders had a wonderful time meeting and greeting this large lady up close and snapping some awesome photos.

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After they were done cleaning up and clearing out everyone had some free time to shower, rest, and do a little shopping at the Sea Base store.

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After lunch there was paddle boarding and kayaking for the scouts and their leaders in the bay. After some instruction they headed out to a small mangrove island ¼ mile away from the beach.

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The wind was blowing hard which made the trip out to the island easy but the trip back extra tough. Fighting the wind and waves led some to abandon their standing positions and lay down on their bellies to paddle back in.

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At 5:00 pm they congregated at the flag pole with two other troops that had just arrived, where they went over announcements and recited the Sea Base Grace:

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Bless the creatures of the sea.

Bless this person I call me.

Bless the Keys, you make so grand.

Bless the sun that warms the land.

Bless the Fellowship we feel,

As we gather for this meal.

Amen

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The two other troops headed to dinner while our troop walked over to the volleyball court for some Sea Base planned activities.

They played volleyball,

Polynesian tug of war,

And Poison Barrel.

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A limbo competition opened the door to the luau themed dinner that was their final meal at Sea Base.

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This special luau dinner on the beach is the traditional conclusion to every Sea Base adventure and a perfect way to end a magical week.

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The setting was spectacular, and the meal was too.

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My boys raved about their feast of Mahi Mahi, rice, Hawaiian rolls, crab cakes, corn, chicken wings, and key lime pie.

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With stomachs full and eyelids heavy the troops headed back to the dorms for a good night sleep before the following day’s adventure with alligators.

Stay tuned!

Smooth Sailing- Part 2

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It has been a week now since the boys rolled back into town after their road trip/ sea trip adventure. As the days pass more and more stories of heroism, shenanigans, and the thrill of everyday chores when living on the high seas are shared. I continue to relish in the stories that are being revealed as time passes and have been jotting down notes so as to try and do a decent job retelling their story of adventure…a tough task when the writer wasn’t there to experience it herself.

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Their time on the high seas quickly settled into a routine of sorts. Their days typically began around 6 or 7 am, when everyone rolled from their sleeping bags to begin their day.

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Just like at home their day was filled with trivial tasks like teeth brushing:

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And food preparation:123_1519962637018

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Typical tasks that take on an atypical slant when done in the unusual confines of a sailboat.

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Breakfast varied day to day but was typically a hot meal of some sort, prepared by the scouts with the assistance of Keith who graciously pitched in as sous chef.

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Lunch occurred during the busier part of their day and as a result was usually a grab and go meal like sandwiches or snacks.

Dinner was another hot meal, prepared after the events of the day. As the sun set and the cabin darkened the addition of head lamps helped the scouts get dinner on the table.

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Their meals were largely built around the pantry items they stocked at the start of the trip with the addition of seafood caught through the day.

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Much fishing occurred each day and the troop was able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, feasting on meals of Jack Crevalle, Grunt, and lobster.

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Yes, you read that right.

While we were home eating spaghetti and grilled cheese the scouts were feasting on fresh lobster.

Their captain explained that scattered through the waters of the Florida Keys are hundreds of lobster traps, many of which are ghost traps. Ghost traps are lobster traps that  have lost their distinctive buoy that brands that trap as belonging to a particular fisherman. After the most recent hurricane many lobster traps lost their markers and are now considered ghost traps; unclaimed by any fisherman, sitting on the ocean floor, catching and not releasing the lobsters within. The boys found a few of these ghost traps during their sailing adventure.

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If ghost traps couldn’t be found in the waters nearby there was always the means of catching lobster with nets and a tickle stick. The boys would snorkel down to a hole in the rocks and prod the hole with a stick while positioning a net at the entrance of the hole. If it was the hiding place of a lobster they would come scuttling out, right into the net.

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The caught lobster then had to be measured to ensure its maturity and if it was big enough it would end up in the supper pot.

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Only on a Sea Base adventure do teenage boys add fresh lobster to their Kraft macaroni and cheese and call it dinner.

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I was a tad jealous when I saw the pictures!

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It seemed their days revolved around meals and sailing. The task of sailing their 44-foot sailboat fell mainly on the Boy Scout’s shoulders. They had an experienced captain to teach them the ropes and guide them along, but aside from the guidance they received from the captain 90% of the tasks were performed by the boys while the men sat back and enjoyed the ride.

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As Crew Chief Rusty was given the responsibility of managing and assigning tasks, something far outside his comfort zone. He later confessed that he found himself often choosing to do the necessary tasks rather than assign jobs to others because it was more within his comfort zone. I see this is an area where we could use some work, but I can’t blame him. I am much the same way. I would rather be a hard-working Indian than a chief any day of the week.

Luckily, he was blessed with an awesome crew of guys who were more than willing to take on any task assigned to them. It was really a great group of boys and leaders.

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Following a predetermined route, troop 558 made their way from Sea Base out into the ocean and onto Marathon Keys, their stop halfway through the trip. To leave the bay they had to pass under a drawbridge. With a mast reaching 40 feet in the air their boat didn’t fit under the bridge, so they had to wait for the scheduled hourly draw that lifted the bridge up into the sky and allowed the tall sailboats to pass underneath.

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As they sailed they had the opportunity to stop and snorkel at reefs along the way. The experience was neat and they saw some awesome sea life. Their only regret was that they sailed during a week of high winds which resulted in big waves and silty water. Which made swimming and snorkeling a bit of a challenge.

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On Monday they arrived at Marathon Keys. They were scheduled to dock there for the night, fill the water tank, shower, restock supplies, and perform the service project that they were assigned by Sea Base, which was cleaning the restrooms and bath house.

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Tuesday morning, they were back on the water and on the second leg of the trip taking them back toward Sea Base.

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During the day, while they sailed from snorkel sight to snorkel sight,

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most of the troop congregated in the cockpit around the scout who was at the wheel. This became the “living room” of their home away from home as they sat and chatted while sailing along.

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Some would use the travel time to troll for fish.

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While on the water they were privy to many wondrous sights including dolphin, barracuda, eel, puffer fish, sea turtles, and one shark sighting…

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Not to mention the spectacular sunrises and sunsets that would bookend their days.

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 Each night the sun would start sinking beneath the horizon around 6:00 pm and by 8:00 pm these weary scouts and their leaders were tucked in sleeping bags and falling asleep to the rocking of the waves.

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Now that’s the life!

 

Smooth Sailing- Part 1

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FB_IMG_1519869021196Last Saturday Toby and Rusty returned home from a week of sailing the open seas with their fellow sea dogs. It was an adventure of a lifetime and I was so glad Rusty got to experience it with his Dad.

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Their crew was comprised of three other young men from Rusty’s scout troop and three other leaders, making it a solid crew of eight.

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This adventure came about as a result of an awesome Scoutmaster who time after time pulls out all the stops and goes far beyond the call of duty to offer these boys incredible, skill building, character developing, life changing challenges. This was, however, an opportunity that went beyond their normal adventures. This was a once in a lifetime experience offered through The Boy Scout’s Sea Base in southern Florida.

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A year ago they secured a spot for the season and Toby and Rusty signed up to go with the troop, giving Rusty a year to work and earn the money needed to fund this fun. Those twelve months flew by and before we knew it the time had arrived for them to pack their bags and hit the road.

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The troop decided to drive down to Sea Base in our 12 passenger van, a spacious and dependable vessel that they soon discovered was built for high capacity not high comfort. They left on their road trip early Thursday morning and drove for 22 hours straight, allowing a few quick stops along the way, including an emergency 2:30 am stop at a Krispy Kreme Donuts.

One of the passengers in the van who was not sleeping at the time spotted the “Hot Donuts Now” sign lit up like a beacon of refuge to weary travelers. With a shout of “STOP!” those sleeping were jolted awake and this van full of scouts pulled in to claim their hot donuts from the drive-thru window…Donuts which ended up being merely warm, much to their disappointment.

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By the time they pulled into the Sea Base parking lot everyone was worn and weary and ready to catch some ZZZZZs… wherever they could find them.

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They were informed that they could check into the dorms at noon, so while they waited they headed over to Robbie’s, a local dumpy but delicious dive on the water. There they enjoyed a yummy breakfast on the docks. Toby said it wasn’t much to look at inside with the exception the notable décor that papered the walls. Evidently the inside of the diner was wallpapered in dollar bills that had been stapled up onto the walls over the years. Toby estimated their was a few thousand dollars worth of Mr. Washington’s papering the walls, money that he thought would have been better put to use fixing up the place.

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He did say that despite the wear and tear of the building, the view was incredible.

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At noon they were allowed to check into the Sea Base dorms where they, as the first crew out for the season, found they had the dormitory of 50 beds all to themselves for the night.

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They were not scheduled to set sail until the following day so Friday was spent napping a little, exploring the Sea Base compound, doing their snorkeling test in the pool, and prepping their sailboat with supplies.

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After a restful night sleep in the dorms they set sail on Saturday morning. Their vessel for the week was a 44 foot sailboat that would become their home away from home.

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Below deck was the Captain’s sleeping quarters (which were off limits to the crew)

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Capt. Hajo

The galley where the boys prepared meals three times a day:

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The dining room table (which converted and became Keith’s bed at night):

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The head (bathroom), and a storage area for the single bag of gear each crew member was allotted:

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As well as a few beds:

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Toby’s bed for the week.

Some slept below deck while others spent the week sleeping out under the stars:

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Others caught Zzzzs whenever and wherever they could:

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Once on the boat they set sail for an adventure on the high seas.

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Under the leadership and guidance of their faithful captain, Hajo, they began their training to become proficiant sailors. As they headed out of the marina they caught their first glimpse of the magical sights that awaited them. It came in the form of a sunrise that set the tone for the week and gave this crew a preview of the awesome experiences that awaited them.

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Stay tuned as we look back on their week of adventure and I attempt to do justice to the stories they have shared and the pictures they captured as they sailed around the Florida Keys.

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