The Rambling Family



Using the Military Salute Discount Disney World passes in a single week.

Disney world offers an amazing opportunity for military members with their Salute Ticket available from the Ticket office at the Shades of Green on Disney World (and maybe your ITT office).   These tickets have 3 options you can read about at the Shades of Green website. We’ve always done the 4 day base tickets with the Fun and More – seems the most bang for your buck and we really don’t dig on park hopping (its just too busy). FYI – you can order these via email ahead of time, get your numbers, and still register for Fast Passes in your MyDisney account.  Just use the Ticket Info Form and ask how!

Continue reading “Using the Military Salute Discount Disney World passes in a single week.”


Santa Fe Zoo & the Good Ole’ FMNH

Since I know the upcoming week is going to simply FLY by, I decided that the kids and I would take off today and do one last day trip to Gainesville.  We LOVE Gainesville: bike lanes, museums, zoo, baklava, what’s not to like?  Anyway,  this coming week will find me busy busy busy putting our junk-o-la into piles:  Fast Track Korea,  Slow Boat Korea, Suitcase for the next 2 months, and See
You in 3 Years Storage.  So, I need a day off before even getting started.  (Plus, this is the last day of sun in the foreseeable future).

After a 2 hour drive straight south on I-75 we took FL exit 390 to the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.  This adorable place has all kinds of animals – birds, lizards, snakes, lotsa turtles, gators, monkeys, and even some bigger ostriches, bobcats, and an awesome ocelot.   We started the walk around by visiting the reptile house – which the kids love.  I find these to be a bit, meh, but they simply love trying to find the creature hidden in the leaves.  Avi also loves to make the SSSSSSnnake sound.  After that he stared at the big tortoise for about 10 minutes; I even changed his diapy standing up and he didn’t notice.  One highlight was the crazy puffed out peacock strutting his stuff in the playground.  We love the little playground at the zoo, but this peacock made it even more fun.  Of course Zoe was enthralled and wanted pictures…and to pluck, which I disallowed. Avi didn’t seem to even notice the peacock until it squawked and then he was a little tentative.  He would rather slide on the playground.  A walk around the path found many animals up and about!  This surprised me because it was just before noon.  We were especially excited about a giant frog on a log, watching the otters play, and seeing a little monkey show us his food.   One of the coolest things, though, was seeing a baby tree kangaroo out of it’s mommy’s pouch.  It flopped around a bit and then hopped back into mom.  The other spot that I had to drag (literally) Avi from was the Ocelot.  It sleeps in a big crate that is half inside his enclosure and then half out.  There is a big glass window that separates you from it, so it’s almost like you can pet the thing.  Avi thought this was incredible and couldn’t stop yelling, “Keee, keee” (kitty) even as we moved on.  In the end we spent about an hour and a half at the zoo.  It’s a great place!

One final trip to Falafel King found the kids and I perched at the half-table that faces the window.  I should learn not to let Zoe select our seats.  It actually worked out great though because they love to watch people and the parking lot construction vehicles outside.  Avi loves gyro and will eat it straight from the pita – sauce and all.  Zoe is a bit pickier and wants it separate.  Between the 3 of us we devoured one gyro, a side of hummus, pita, and 2 baklava.  Delicious.  It’s been tough finding good Mediterranean food around Valdosta.

With full bellies we headed over to our local favorite: The Florida Museum of Natural History.  We have visited many times since living in Valdosta. It is well worth the trip down to Gainesville.  There is a great little Kids Discovery Area that has been created, and even expanded, since we first visited a couple years ago.  There are lots of puzzles, activities, touch items, and more for the kids to mess with.  The favorite, it seems, is the wind tunnel.  It’s simply a fan pointed at the ceiling with a tube directing the flow.  The kids love to put things in and watch it go up…Avi spent a long time sending strawberry crates up in the air.  Our last couple visits to the museum I have saved the Discovery area for last.  We, instead, start over near the butterflies.  They have a huge butterfly atrium (which I’ve never actually gone into – it costs extra).  There are also tons of hanging butterfly cocoons and lab areas where they raise the butterflies and moths.  It is too neat.  Today there was a humongous moth the size of Zoe’s head hanging out by the glass.  After that we took a quick gawk at the Energy Efficient House where the kids like to open and close all the cabinets to see what’s inside.

The highlight of the museum for Avi was the skeleton area….it’s a big display of Florida Fossils.  These are all those weird animals that came after the Dino’s – giant sloths, tiny deer, saber tooth cats, and more. Though there are no dino’s Avi couldn’t help yelling, “DIIIINOOOO … sore”  as we walked along.  Zoe knows these animals now and corrects him. “No, Avi, that is a paleo shark”  It’s too funny.  Another exhibit features the Estuary environment and how the native Calusa peoples used to live.  It’s a fun spot with dugout canoes, and lots of cool info about fish.  You even get to ‘shrink’ once through a hallway with huge fish that gives the feeling of being in the water.  Zoe quite enjoys going inside the chief Calusa house – she has memorized the story.  A visitor has come to visit the chief, there is his wife, they are touching hands to say hello with respect, it is thunder storming outside.  She likes it so much in this big reproduction thatched house that we have to set aside time for her to pretend to visit and take a nap.  Avi is nervous about the darkness and (I think) painted faces, or maybe just the diorama people who don’t actually move.

One final display that my kiddo’s love is the Florida Environments area.  We get the chance to walk through beaches, estuaries, inland forests, and even a cave.  Zoe always has fun at a Velcro wall placing the animals in their correct environment.  Avi seems to find the diorama’s much more interesting – especially when he can push buttons and hear bird sounds.  The cave, however, is the favorite by far.  It is super realistic and has lots to see and and do: once your eyes adjust.  There are fossils to find, animals to hunt, and even a tiny cave for kids to explore.  It’s great.  As we exit the cave into the upland woods there are more animals to find and even a log with bugs inside!  We LOVE the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Of course, after this both my kids are exhausted.  We take a trip through McD for some of there not-really ice cream, but cheap and delicious, ice cream and hit the road.  Back north into Georgia for us….but only for two more weeks.  I’m excited to get home and start packing for Korea.  10 minutes up I-75 and both kids are sleeping.   Perfect.

Tallahassee Museum

It’s been a while since we ventured down to the Tallahassee Museum.  We were members the first year we were here, and have loved it.  Since Bryan was gone most of last year we haven’t been.  Well, they have recently added a super cool new zipline and Tree to Tree adventure that just puts the fun over the top.

The best part:  it is FREE for MILITARY all summer.  Check out Blue Star Families for a TON of great museums around the country that are offering this.

The drive from Valdosta to Tallahassee is about an hour and a half, but worlds apart.  We love Tallahassee for all the bike paths, the natural food store, the parks, and (of course) the Tallahassee Museum.  We arrived in the afternoon, and it was hot.  The museum is almost totally outside, but it is also nicely shaded so we didn’t mind the heat so much.  The biggest fun was Zoe doing the kids’ Treemendous Adventure.  It’s the challenge ropes course for the 39″-60″ crowd, and was well worth the additional $15!  She was amazing!!  The staff got her hooked up in a full body climbing harness.  She was then taught her how to use her two caribeners opposing each other, and to always connect one at a time to the next obstacle.  Then, she was on her own climbing up the course. It started with a few easy ramps, then opened up to higher and higher open bridges and tunnels.  She was amazing messing around with the beaners and loved the whole thing!  The best part was the last obsticle:  a kiddo zip line!!  She got to go down it twice on each of her two go-arounds on the course. 

While she went on her second turn Avi and I explored a few of the old farm area.  There are a bunch of farm animals and a small living-history section with a house, barn, and work buildings.  He then ran around like a crazy man at the playground.  It was hot, but he didn’t seem to notice. Once Zoe and Bryan joined us we ventured down past the indoor kids discovery area and preschool (yes, an actual preschool I would’ve loved Zoe to attend IF ONLY Moody had been in Tallahassee).  On the way to zoo area there are now some super cool dinosaur statues made from old car parts.  Avi loved yelling DINO at them all and running around.  A walk around the zoo found the same native Florida animals that we’ve enjoyed before.  They were all surprisingly visible and awake, too, for it being so hot.  The fox was resting near the boardwalk, the bear was walking around, the gator was lounging out of his pool, and both Florida panthers were lazing in the shade.  We were even shocked to see the bobcat walking around, the otter swimming, and both wolves had dug glorious holes to cool in.  All the animals were out; Zoe was great at running ahead to spot them for us.  The coolest thing is that the new adult zipline adventure goes over many of the animal areas!  What a great new attraction!!

Our final stop was the caboose.  Avi squealed with delight that there was an actual train and loved climbing around the old conductors quarters.  At this point we were all hot and ready to go…skipped the cool old schoolhouse, church, and plantation house, though they’ve been fun to see in the past.  Before heading home we took a quick shopping excursion to the New Leaf Market; our favorite natural food store in Tallahassee.  It will be missed as we move to Korea, but we are excited to get back to buying our food at the open markets!

Florida Trip Days 13/14 – Way Down Upon the Suwannee River

Our little tent felt cozier with Bryan in it the past two nights.  And warmer!  It got down to 40 degrees during our overnight on the river.  That’s really cold for April in Florida, but it felt pretty great after being so hot these past two weeks.  Our final adventure for our big Florida Trip was kayaking down an upper portion of the Suwanee river. 

We started Saturday with slow packing and dividing the camping stuff – we had to figure out what to bring in the kayaks and what to leave.  It was especially imperative since it would be getting cold.  That was followed by shuttling the old Outback to the spot where we would take-out the following day: Spirit of Suwanee music camp.  It wasn’t 20 minutes down the road, but 20 miles on the river takes a lot longer.  When we finally got the ‘yaks into the water at the Stephen Foster Historical Park it was around 11am. 

The Suwanee River of folk song fame is quite nice.  It has a gentle flow to it and barely any ripples (except one spot called Big Shoals which we avoided).  It’s dark with tannin and a lot wider than we expected.  There are gators in here, so there would be no swimming though we did pass some spots with great beaches that would’ve been nice.  Kayaking this river is relaxing.  Zoe rode with me and Avi with Bryan for a while.  Avi was schroochy. He wanted to put his hands in the water.  He wanted to stand up. He wanted snacks.  It took him a while and some ‘deep daddy voice’ to get him to sit calmly.  Then he fussed and took a nap.  Eventually he woke, and we took a lunch break on a sand bar.  The kids and I were finally warmed up and changed from our long sleeves into shorts and short sleeves.  It then got hot.  The river is surprisingly sunny at midday.  Because it is so wide, the trees really only shade a small part at a time.  Again, not what we expected but it was still nice.  After our break filling bellies and getting toes full of sand (we just don’t wear shoes when kayaking) we got back on the river.  This time Avi rode with me and Zoe with Bryan.  Again Avi was a bit of a handful.  Once I felt like he may even tip the kayak.  Getting him to focus on turtle spotting seemed to work.  Just as all of us were getting a bit bored with the same scenery, we came to our stop for the night!

There are numerous River Camps along the Suwanee that the park service has made for overnight boaters to stay in for free.  You can reserve a screened-in hut or just camp out at the River Camps; you can also simply camp on a sandbar but there are big stretches of this northern section with cliffs and no sandbars.  We were prepped for camping, but ended up pitching the tent in a hut since it was available.  Both Bryan and I expected some kind of small screened porch, but these things were super nice!  Ceiling fans, full screens, electric and water…gourmet kayak camping for us.  In addition, there is a camp host who helps out and lives there in his camper, AND a bathhouse with toilets and showers.  Definitely fancier than we expected.  The best part was that we had the kids contained while we got stuff ready.  River Camp Hut = Giant Playpen.  Zoe and Avi spent the evening chasing each other around the hut, digging in the dirt, and exploring.  We all took a walk around to see the other huts and out a dirt road.  At bedtime we sat around and told scary-ish stories; Bryan and I enhanced some of our pre-children adventures to include a bit of lore.  It was fun and belonged in a feel-good movie. 

Sunday (Happy Easter) we woke early, slowly packed and got back on the river.  It was basically a repeat of the day prior.  Relaxing, lazing, kayaking down the river.  Fun just floating along.  Again Avi got fussy and cranky just before falling asleep on Bryan.  Zoe watched for birds, gators, and laid her head down to watch the trees go by.  Bryan and I even got to have a real conversation!  It was so nice to get a chance to enjoy each others’ company without kid interruptions or a schedule to keep.  We stopped again for lunch on a sandbar.  Bryan helped Zoe engineer a giant water holding tank while Avi threw rocks in the water.  The scenery had now changed into some fairly size able crumbly cliffs with trees and Spanish moss hanging over them.  The water was still black with tannin and not super inviting, but it was pretty nonetheless.  Avi rode with me for the last part of the trip and got super antsy; I became quite focused on finding and pointing out turtles to keep him interested and prevent him from jumping in the water.  He loves swimming…not in the this water, though.  Uck!

It was a wonderful and relaxing way to end our Florida trip, and perfect since Bryan was along.  The drive home was about an hour, and my shower never felt so good!  Zoe spent about an hour in her bath, too.  Avi spotted his toys and realized he missed them.  I’m so glad we were able to do this trip before leaving Georgia.  Now that I feel like we saw all Georgia and Florida have to offer I’m ready to move on.  Happy Easter everyone.

Florida trip day 12 – Daddy!

We woke at our cheap hotel well rested and ready or a day of free Disney fun. Got breakfast at the hotel, and then hit up a couple of touristy shops. Zoe wanted an Ariel shirt, but we could only find a swimsuit … Which she thought was awesome. From there we parked at Downtown Disney and wandered a bit. Avi had fallen asleep so it was nice to explore the fancy Disney shops with Zoe who
(mostly) understands how to browse and not buy.

Zoe then got soaking wet in the squirt fountain and didn’t believe it would make her cold. She was then so cold on the shuttle boat that she curled in a tiny ball in the sun. Once Avi woke we boarded the “Sassagoula River cruise” boat that shuttles between the Port Orleans resort and downtown Disney. It was a fun way to get a boat ride and we enjoyed the playground at the resort for a bit. She was dry by the time we returned and checked in for a late lunch at the T-Rex cafe.

We had been into this place before a while ago during our last Disney World vacation. But we hadn’t seen the whole place or eaten, so this was a special visit. The whole restaurant is dinosaur themed with giant animatronic Dino’s and bugs and fossils. It even features a periodic meteor shower when all the Dino’s go nuts and the ice cave changes colors. It’s similar to a rainforest cafe, just paleo. Predictably, Zoe loved it and Avi enjoyed that we were seated by a huge tropical fish tank. This was after I asked to be moved away from a table in the main aisle. The food and service was just eh, and it was so loud I couldn’t speak just yell. Oh well, it was still a fun experience.

After T-Rex we were done with Disney and wanted to get on the road north. Tonight Bryan was meeting us for a kayak trip down the Suwannee river! Well, he beat us to the campground since he got off work early. It gave him a chance to scope out our kayak route and figure the car shuttles. Our drive north was just under 3 hours, and both kids slept the ENTIRE time. Seriously. I woke them as we pulled into the Stephen Foster historical park and they both screamed “Daddy!!!!” as we parked at the campsite.

It is so nice to be back with Bryan. I’ve missed him these last two weeks. It’s especially awesome that we get to do a fun part of our trip together as a family. Zoe was so excited to give Bryan the cool stuff we have gathered for him along our trip: a few shells, a special leaf, her Jr ranger badge, some key limes, key lime jelly beans, and even a tiny key lime tree. Avi was just so happy to snuggle with Daddy and give him big hugs! Now we are just having much needed family time doing what we love best: camping.

Florida Trip Day 11 – Driving to Disney

OK, we’re not really DOING Disney we are just staying in Orlando for a night. It meant a LONG day of driving today, but gives us a day to mess around here with only a 3 hour drive tomorrow.  We are meeting Bryan tomorrow night!!  Finishing up our loop around Florida with a kayak trip down the Suwannee over the weekend. 

Last night there was a big storm in Key West.  It kept me up a bit and woke Avi who has been sleeping pretty well this whole trip.  Needless to say, I was tired this morning but still got up early knowing that our 7 hour drive from Key West to Orlando was really going to be about 9….and it was.  We stopped a few times for gas, for snacks, and for run around time at a playplace.  It was long, but fine.  Zoe is an incredible car rider and entertains herself in an amazing way.  Avi not so much.  Zoe even tries to entertain him.  I’ll look back and she will have gotten out his tray table and a coloring book for him.  He will color for a short bit, but not an hour or so like her.  Eventually, our 2 1/2 hour initial push from Key West to Homestead made him falll asleep not long after a gas stop.  The driving was pleasant again until the last hour when he woke and got antsy and needed toys and books and snacks handed back at him.
We are staying in the Travelodge Inn & Suites East Gate Orange.  I Pricelined this hotel for $25.  It’s great!  Seriously.  The “Orange” in it’s name is descriptive of the GIGANTIC orange shaped citrus store next door.  Our room is sizeable with 2 beds and a front area with a table, 2 chairs and fold out couch.  The pool is also great.  It’s super warm and has a hot tub and kid pool  There is also free breakfast and a playground.  Pretty great for $25!  I’d stay here again if I was coming to Orlando and needed a cheapo spot.  It’s not far from Disney, either. 

First on the agenda for us was swimming.  I checked in, and we spent 10 minutes in our room.  Just long enough to get into our swim suits.  It was great to have those kiddo’s unwind in the pool after such a long driving day.  After that the fun came!  Since we are here I wanted to take advantage of all the FREE Disney junk-o-la, so we headed to Disney World.  I parked at the Polynesian after being let in without paying; probably because it was so late in the day (like 6pm) and I was asking how to get to the Polynesian.  Got a stellar spot right at the entrance, and we walked in.  This is such a cool resort.  I’ve always like it.  The monorail was our first free fun for the night.  We rode it from the Polynesian around past the Magic Kingdom and stuff to the Transpo center where we switched to the monorail for Epcot.  Avi just ate this up.  He nearly leapt out of his stroller when we walked under the monorail, then squealed when he saw it pull up next to us on the platform, and bounced out of his gourd as we rode around.  We got a seat by the window and both kids were plastered to it.  Zoe recognized stuff at Epcot; that is where her favorite attractions are.  Avi pointed out boats and other trains as stuff whizzed by.  Waiting in line for the Epcot monorail took about 20 minutes because 2 trains were having troubles.  A Disney employee came around and gave everyone free Fastpasses (the short line at major rides) for Epcot.  To bad we don’t actually have tix for going to the parks.  I’ll find someone to give them too.

Once we returned to the Transpo center from Epcot it was getting quite dark and we had a half hour before the Electric Light Parade.  This is a fun, old school, cheesy, water parade of lights and music that goes by the resorts on the lake near the Magic Kingdom.  I remember it from my childhood, and love to watch it.  We walked back to the Polynesian for the parade.  Zoe loved that all the walkways are jungle-like and lit with tiki torches…she kept giving me high-fives for the ‘fire walkway’.  Eventually we found the beach after lusting over the nice pool they have (though it’s likely not as warm as ours).  Zoe picked a nice spot for us to settle down and began building a castle.  We had about twenty minutes to kill so Avi and I wandered up and down the beach where he found a drake and a mama duck warming her brand new chicklets.  He kept yelling “chick chick” at them until I said, “no they are ducks” enough times that he started yelling, “duck-he duck-he”.  I had to pull him away from there, but he remembered and ran back to check on them throughout the evening.  Our spot was stellar for watching the light parade.  Avi was mesmerized and did not move from my lap the entire time.  Zoe had fun naming the things in the row: a sea serpent, a whale, a turtle, dolphins, seahorses (Neptune), a brachiosaurus, and there was an octopus in there somewhere.  She’d remember. 

After those thrilling 15 minutes we had to wait another 45, until 10pm, for the fireworks to start.  The Polynesian beach is just the best free spot to watch all this stuff.  You have a straight shot view of the Magic Kingdom castle…which keeps changing color at night, BTW.  It didn’t seem like a long wait – Zoe played in the sand, Avi terrorized the ducks, we had some snacks, and then it was time.  By now, the beach had crowded out a bit and all the spare lounge chairs the kids were playing on were taken.  As the music started we settled onto our chairs for the show.  Avi was sleepy and had just gotten fussy 5 minutes prior.  The fireworks entertained him enough to hold off the sleeping.  Zoe loved it, and chatted most of the show about the different colors.  I secretly hoped it irritated the old farts who had pulled there chairs almost directly in from of ours…..we just scooted ours to the side a bit and kept our amazing view.

At the end of the fireworks Zoe declared loudly that she was cold and had “goose lumps”.  I plopped Avi back into the stroller and he nearly instantly fell asleep.  We walked the short distance to the car and headed back to our cheapo hotel.  Zoe joined Avi in sleepy land before we were out of the parking lot.  Tomorrow we will sleep in!!!  Then we will checkout the free stuff along Downtown Disney before driving north.  Goal: ride a boat.

Florida trip day10 – key west for free

When today started I was kind of thinking we should’ve been moving on; that we were done with Key West, and this extra day was going to be lame.  We slept in, watched some TV, and walked over to the Navy Inn for our free breakfast.  After that I loaded up the kids and grabbed all the smelly clothes I’d been stuffing into an extra pillowcase and we drove up to the Sigsbee part of base.  The RV park there has a laundromat.  So,
 for a buck I tossed all our nasty clothes – and a squirt of dish detergent for lack of anything else – into a laundry machine.  In the 2 minutes it takes me to do this, the kids have each snagged one of those wheely launry baskets.  They’ve both pushed them outside opposite doors and Avi had his down the road.  Zoe got stuck in some soft sand.  Crazy kids.  Avi pitched a fit when I returned his basket, but Zoe helped.  I occupied the next half hour getting snacks and stuff at the commissary before returning and using one of those baskets to transfer all our now clean clothes to a dryer.  Spent those 45 minutes going to Wendy’s for lunch.  Success!  clean clothes.

After our chores I drove to the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. It’s a free small museum run by a bunch of agencies like NOAA, the NPS, and the local Marine lab.  Lucky for me Avi fell asleep on the way, and in a rare moment was able to be transferred to the stroller STILL ASLEEP.  This gave Zoe and I some time to ourselves to explore all the neato touch screens that walked us through each environment in the keys.  She liked it alot, but did wonder where the ‘rest’ of the museum was at one point.  It is a bit small, but well done.  There is even a little Aquarius underwater lab to go in and push buttons to see video underwater.  We made a point to watch the film they have, and she loved it.  It featured a little girl who grows up snorkeling in the area….of course she made an instant connection with herself trying to snorkel yesterday.  It was great.  Avi woke during this and it held his groggy attention.  After that we walked back through the exhibits into the aquarium area.  Avi loved this – as did Zoe – he stared and squealed and pounded on the glass saying ‘fee, fee’  which is (I believe) Fish.  The highlight for he an I was seeing a conch shell in the aquarium.  It came out of its shell!!  I have never in my life seen this.  It looks like a snail with an elephant snout and giant eyes on antannae.  Weird!!
As usual, the afternoon was hot.  My original plan was to have a final beach day, but I’m still a bit red and toasty from yesterday and Avi’s cheeks are as well.  Zoe is, of course, tan.  My legs, STILL, also itch a bit from the sand fleas last week.  It seems to worsen when I’m out in the salty water and sand, too.  So, I”m just done with the beach at this point.  We went back to the comfort of our trailer for the late afternoon.  We pressed flowers, walked around looking for kitties, played hide and seek, folded laundry, and I got stuff packed to leave tomorrow.  As evening approached, we ventured down into Key West town one last time.

This time, I lazily drove instead of walking the mile.  And boy did I luck out with a stellar free street parking spot.  There is very little parking in Key West, and the lots are expensive….but it was a lucky night for me.  We walked to Mallory park for the daily Sunset Festival.  It’s a free gathering of street performers, musicians and crafters who show their stuff and ask for donations.  It was super fun and well attended, and the talent was great!  We watched a guy tumble over cans, another ride a unicycle while juggling fire, and a fire eater.  There was also  a silver human statue who came to life when money was put in his bucket.  Zoe put in a one and he gave her some beads as she posed for a picture.  There were also magicians and palm readers.  One guy looked at Avi and said, “that boy is going to be a baseball player!”  I said his Daddy would like that, and he goes, “look at his hands!  Ball player for sure”.  It was funny.  Not sure what makes Avi’s hands distinct but I guess they’ve got what it takes.  Zoe was so enamored with the performances that she setup her own little space and did a mini show spinning and tossing her new beads from her foot to her head like the unicycle guy did.  Avi joined her with his little clap-squat dance that  he does.  Zoe’s performance continued as we walked back to the car via Duval street.  There is definitely a different vibe in the evening after the cruise ship folks are gone.  It’s a more mature group of visitors and locals that aren’t in a hurry to get drunk before the boat leaves.  It is no less rowdy, though!  Avi danced in his stroller as we passed open bar after open bar with live music.

Back in our trailer I got together a quick late dinner and was able to ‘make’ a final Zoe show.  Her after dinner show was quite exceptional as she danced and narrated herself through the life stages of a butterfly.  Avi, the dancing sidekick, entertained in between Acts.  It was a great end to our time in Key West; so glad we stayed this extra day.

Florida Trip day 9 – Dry Tortugas

Today marked an astounding event. The kids and I got our national parks passport stamped at the Dry Tortugas national park! It’s the farthest park away from civilization and to get there was an adventure.

We woke before the sun this morning and walked a half our down to the marina to check in for our ride on
 the Yankee Freedom. I booked our tickets a month ago and I’m glad I did because it was a sold out boat! Its a mid sized ferry boat with 2 floors. We boarded, stashed the stroller under the bulky storage area, and made our way upstairs to grab a seat inside. We found three seats open at a table. Once the boat was underway we walked downstairs where there is a lot more indoor seating and also the galley. Our trip cost included breakfast and lunch. I had Zoe carry her plate while I held Avi and my plate. It took us a while to eat and we enjoyed the company of the two ladies at our table: they were teachers on spring break too. The trip was 2 1/2 hours so we got busy talking, looking for turtles, wandering the boat, and hanging out on deck. Zoe and Avi were just getting antsy and starting to run around when we spotted the first island of the tortugas: there are seven.

The boat docks at Garden Key which is dominated by Fort Jefferson. It was built in the mid 1800s but never truly completed. We had a blast exploring this place. Unlike other park facilities it’s pretty open to walking around with the potential for falling off! Avi loved running along the arched hallways of canon windows. Zoe got busy finding all the items in her junior ranger book and took it fairly seriously since the boat crew offered a free ice cream to any new junior rangers. Of special note were the cool but dangerous spiral staircases up to the roof of the fort walls. Zoe loved being up high and was super careful not to go to the edge. I held Avi as we walked along the roof; it is 3 floors up on the inside of the fort but much higher on the outside down into the moat. Zoe liked pretending to bake in the old brick ovens. Avi found a nice 4 foot long piece of board and insisted on carrying it around for an hour. Zoe held the other end which worked to keep him close. I felt like I had a preschool group.

Around noon we ventured back to the boat for lunch – sandwiches, chips, and the kids favorite: watermelon. We ate in AC of the boat and then grabbed the beach bag for some water fun. The other reason people come here is for good snorkeling. Our tour included snorkel equipment which Zoe was super excited I try. We grabbed a kid set for her and she helped me pick some pink flippers for myself. Then we harched down to one of the two beaches. I brought both life vests for the kids to make snorkeling a possibility. We suited up and headed in. Zoe loved the flippers and sticking her face in! She tried the snorkel a few times but couldn’t quite get it so I took it off. I mostly just tread water holding Avi and stuck my face in every now and then. We weren’t seeing anything cool, but having a fun attempt. Except Avi. He hated something and it took me a while to figure out it was my mask. He hated it and would freak out when I would put it on so I gave up snorkeling and simply had fun swimming. Eventually we beached ourselves and Zoe played on some old wreckage while Avi jumped off it.

I was getting tired and hot so we finished up Zoe’s junior ranger pack and took it into the visitor center to get her badge. The ranger gave Avi one too for being a good sport. At the time he was screaming mad that he couldn’t take all the plastic turtles out of the shop.

With an hour left to departure we were over to the second and closer beach just past the camp area (yes I was tempted to campout but it was too pricey). This beach was nicer with a tad bit of shade and we actually got to see some cool colorful fish. Zoe was excited about that and put her snorkel stuff back on to check it out. I tried but it made Avi mad. He and I could see them from the surface anyway and had fun splashing around. At 2:30 we for changed and quickly made it back to the boat. I thought it would be fine to be there 15 minutes before it left to get our seats again. Well… We were the next to last to board. The crew were all packed up and pulling the gangway as we crossed!! I didn’t know what to think and checked my clock. It was 2:50 an the boat was underway! Whew!!! We almost missed it. I’m still a bit perplexed about that since I doubled checked the sheet and it said departure at 3. Everyone else was on though so I must’ve missed something. Oh well, we made it and got the kids’ free ice creams with the junior ranger badges. Avi nearly fell asleep as he ate his ice cream sandwich and crashed in my arms with his final bite. Zoe also finished hers and promptly laid herself down in a tiny ball to snooze. I plopped my head on the table and got a bit of rest too. The trip back was a lot bumpier and rough ish. It seemed quicker than the way out.

Back at the marina I loaded Avi into us stroller and cleaned a pile of sand out of Zoe’s shoes before walking the mile back to our trailer. No complaints! I was tired but Zoe was refreshed and chatty, as was Avi. He has become a little talker lately. I made some dinner and we spent the last half hour of daylight out at “the beautiful forest” of 7 trees by the fence. What started as a wild kitty finding mission (they are here on base too) ended up in a tree. Then it was baths, Skype with Bryan and bed. We all got a little extra sun today… I’m a bit burnt in a few spots I neglected to touch up. Of course I was vigilant with the kids’ (especially Avi) sunscreen and no so with myself. Maybe we are done with beaches.

Florida trip day 8 – Key West

I have great kids! We did a lot of walking today and they remained happy and well behaved the whole time! This morning in the car Zoe even said today was going to be a great day. We started off slow with a leisurely breakfast and then a quick trip up to the Boca Chica section of the Key West naval base: now we’ve seen it all. I had to get a weekly pass for the car instead of the temporary day pass I got yesterday. It was easy and
 gave us the chance to drive around up there. It is on the little island just north of Key West. Let me just say these navy folks are not roughing it. So far the base housing has varied in quality based on which part of base we visit, but many of the houses are waterfront, some have their own boat docks, and the base has a few different boat storage places with marinas…not to mention a couple beaches! Worlds away from crappy Valdosta and our tiny little Moody AFB.

Once we returned from our little trip lusting over the NAS facilities we packed up the stroller for a walk downtown. It isn’t far and the weather was nice. We began walking along the waterfront where Avi nearly leapt out of the stroller at the boats. He also yelled, “boot” at them all in his cutesy voice. As we made our way into town Zoe had fun picking everyone’s flowers that hung out onto the sidewalk and Avi seemed content to ride. We even saw some adorable little houses that Zoe wanted to buy. One pink one was even for sale. Hah. If only…. Our first stop of the morning was Hemingway House where I had promised Zoe and Avi the chance to see cats. They were so exited about this that I had two little meowers with me as I waited in line. As advertised, the cats were abundant and the kids had fun petting a few, chasing a few, and angering one which actually struck out at Avi. He cried and cried about it like his feelings were hurt. Poor guy just can’t stop yelling “ki-EE” at the top of his lungs when he sees them. It’s funny but doesn’t seem to attract the cats. We spent way longer than most folks at this place and finally left around lunchtime.

Stopped into a little cafe for a subpar lunch and tried the obligatory conch fritters that seem to be the dish of choice here in the Conch Republic. They were eh. I’d much prefer a crab cake. The kids had fun at the cafe, though, watching people go by and enjoying the air conditioning and our nice server.

The rest of the afternoon we spent walking Duval street – the main tourist artery. It was fun to see the funky shops and art stores. Zoe loves this one place that had a big dolphin fountain. She also thought the murals of the ladies on the side of one bar advertising nightly drag shows were quite beautiful… And they were. I’m sure they are fun in person, too. That will have to wait for a grown up trip ;). Other highlights were a man weaving baskets from palm leaves and a dog dressed in a lei. I got each kid an ice cream cone on the way which meant we got lots of comments about Avi. You know, “man, that’s the life” and “he’s really in paradise” kind of stuff. It was funny. Duval street morphs quite suddenly into an open air bar street as you near the port. This made it quite fun with lots of music and noise. It became apparent that a cruise boat must be in town, too, because those last four blocks were packed full if people (who apparently don’t get very far off the boat). As we rounded a corner Zoe got so excited she was screaming that there were two cruise boats! Yes, there were and they are gigantic pulled right there so close to town.

After reaching the end of Duval we started back to our calm little trailer on the navy base. At this point both kids got grumpy so I had Zoe (who had probably walked about 4 miles at this point) sit in the stroller with Avi on her lap and I walked at a mommy-pace back. It was hot and we needed naps. Around 3 pm we plopped into our beds for an afternoon snooze.

This evening we relaxed and had a great dinner at Thai River just outside the gate. It’s an outdoor restaurant on the second floor of a building along the marina. both kids were super we’ll behaved- we draw things and guess what they are while waiting for food. The surrounding boats and the sunset also served to keep their interest enough for a wonderful time. I had Pad Thai, but Avi ate almost all my chicken and shrimp out of it plus a giant bowl of rice. Zoe had sushi. After dinner we took a walk along the marina before coming back to the trailer for baths and bed. Tomorrow is an early day for us to catch our boat out to Dry Tortugas!

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