2013 December – Miami/Orlando, FL & New Orleans, LA

Did you ever think it was possible to do so much in Florida in 10 days, having driven from San Antonio? This was a planned road trip for us…the total driving distance is 21 hours+ from San Antonio, TX to Miami, FL – but with multiple breaks, overnight stays, sightseeing on the way – it didn’t turn out to be quite as bad!

Day 1 & 2 – Drive from San Antonio to Florida

We left San Antonio in the afternoon and drove to Baton Rouge – it was a 7 hour uneventful journey. There was not much to do there – just an overnight stay. Next morning, we set off for Spring Hill, Florida which is a little town just outside of Tampa, FL. On the way to Spring Hill, about four hours from Baton Rouge is the beautiful town of Pensacola Beach with its white sands and supers vistas of the ocean – definitely worth a stop. Unfortunately for us, this time the weather did not cooperate very well with us … we had to fight the rain all the way to Pensacola and beyond, a great opportunity lost!

Day 3 – Tampa to Miami, FL

We left early morning from Spring Hill and drove about an hour south to Tampa/St. Petersburg area. We visited the Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida, where the 2010 movie “Dolphin Tale” was shot (about Winter the Dolphin who lost her tail in an accident). It was amazing to come face to face with Winter. More than an aquarium, this is a recovery area for several underwater creatures – turtles with broken backbones, seals with broken jaws, otters with broken fins – very inspiring place to be in to see all these poor animals recovering from their injuries and/or handicaps. Thereafter, we headed to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, a short drive from Clearwater. We are big fans of the Dali art – but there was nothing we saw in this museum that we couldn’t have found on the internet. So unless you are a true art connoisseur and enjoy standing in front of paintings and appreciating each brush stroke, I would say the artifacts of this place are best seen “remotely”. So, one hour and about $100 later, we set off for our true destination – Miami, Florida is only 3.5-4 hours drive from there, but we took the scenic route (off the freeways) and got there in about 5. Our hotel in Miami was in the Miami Lakes area which is quite a scenic area, away from downtown and the South Beach – both of which we could not visit because of lack of time and because they are not typically considered “family” hangout spots.

Day 4 – Key West, FL

Early next morning we took the 3.5-4 hour drive to Key West – honestly, the drive was nothing much to write home about. When I had first heard about going over island after island, I had visions in my head of little islands surrounded by blue waters, lined one after the other. Nah! Most of the way is actually driving through small towns where you don’t even see the water – it could as well be driving through villages on land. Even though the distance is about 200 miles, it takes more because of the slow traffic. There are several pull-out points, eating places on the way but since we had to come back the same evening, we just chugged along! Key West is a major port for Cruise Ships and has lots of quaint little shops, cool restaurants, major shopping etc. around there. Parking there is a minimum of $20-$30 though! We parked, paid and then walked to the southernmost point of continental US. Took a Tiki boat tour in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico (the sea gets rough where the two streams meet). From the boat we saw several beautiful waterfront properties including the homes of Oprah and Jack Nicholson. The guide was great and narrated several stories about people living on the boats anchored all over the place. Also saw the helicopter that was supposedly being flown by Jimmy Buffet for his grocery shopping. Could not stay long enough for the sunset at Key West and decided to drive back to the hotel, which was 4 hours away. 30 minutes east of Key West was the beautiful Bahia Honda State Park (there are several along the way – we just chose this one) .. we stopped there for a brief while. It was a good decision since we enjoyed the lovely white sand beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, frolicked on the ocean side, visited the Butterfly Garden (didn’t see a single one though) and saw the awesome sunset from the historical broken bridge in the State Park before stopping for authentic Cuban Food on the way back.

Day 5 – Everglades National Park & Drive to Orlando via Ft Lauderdale

Once again, we started early in the morning for the Everglades National Park which is an hour south of Miami. The entry fees was a mere $10 for the vehicle and it gives you access to the 1.5MM acres of the park, full of swamps, trees and supposedly alligators. However, we saw two alligators when we took the Royal Palm/Anhinga walking trail which is the first one closest to the entrance of the park. Just the drive through the park was good – nothing spectacular though. Again, I had expected the place to be crawling with alligators – no pun intended! Later in the afternoon, we took a boat ride into the marshes of the Everglades and learnt about the flora and fauna of the marshes. One of the coolest trees we saw was about a poisonous tree called the Manchineel tree that is a native there, so poisonous that it can drain the life out of you in minutes. This is where the fresh water and sea water meet – the ONLY place in the world where alligators (fresh water) and crocodiles (salt water) co-habitate. The experience was unique and one of its kind, although we saw only one crocodile on the shore and nothing else on the boat ride.In the late afternoon we set off for Orlando. Drove through Fort-Lauderdale (the Venice of America!), an hour north of Miami and and enjoyed the scenic beauty of the canals and the beautiful beach homes in the city.

Day 6 – Islands of Adventure, Orlando, FL

Like all of our other days, this one started pretty early in the morning too…headed to the best and the newest theme park, Islands of Adventure (part of Universal Studios). We had bought multi-day park passes as a package in advance. The Express Line (Fast Track) would have helped us through the lines but at $89 apiece it was too expensive. Luckily, the lines weren’t too long that day because of the rain and the nip in the air, even though it was the 1st of the year! We did almost all rides, and even managed to do some of them multiple times. Below is a listing of all the rides we took and our kids’ own personal rating (in order of liking) for each one of them….
Islands of Adventure, the Park * * * * *

– Adventures of Harry Potter * * * * * Part Simulation, Part Ride!!!! (Best ride in the whole Solar System – so amazing, especially if you are a fan of Harry Potter!). It’s amazing how they have created the whole atmosphere of the Harry Potter books/movies with the Hogsmeade Village, Hogswart School of Witchcraft, Talking Portraits as you weave through the line, Sorting hat that talks to you, Pensive where you can look in, moving/talking Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron…. just amazing! The icing on the cake was the ButterBeer!!! – amazing mixture of Butterscotch and Shortbread flavor. We have been looking for the recipe ever since 9Apparently Starbucks serves it as part of their Secret Menu during holidays).

  • Spider Man * * * * * Part Simulation, Part Ride!!!! (Amazing, Awesome)
  • The Hulk * * * * Roller Coaster! (So fast and so much fun)
  • Poseidon’s Fury * * * * Live Show (Very good but no seating, adventurous)
  • Jurassic Park * * * Ride (Good but be prepared to get wet)
  • Eighth voyage of Sindbad * * * Live Show – Good but cheesy)
Some Rides we would have liked to do:

  • Cat in the Hat
  • The Grinchmas Ride (Now we will never know what it was all about!) 🙁
  • Rip Saw Falls

Day 7 – Universal Studios, Orlando, FL

Spent the whole day at Universal Studios – the sister park. After having seen Harry Potter castle, nothing else stood up to it. The park was not a disappointment per se, but IoA had really set our expectations too high! Below is a listing of all the rides we took and our kids’ own personal rating (in order of liking) for each one of them….
Universal Studios, the Park * * * * *

  • Simpsons, The Ride * * * * * Simulation! (Amazing, Awesome)
  • Despicable Me * * * * * Simulation! (Amazing, Awesome)
  • Revenge of the Mummy * * * * * Roller Coaster, Horror Ride! (Awesome)
  • Animal Show * * * * * Show (Cute!)
  • Terminator 2 * * * * Show – 4D (Not of special interest to girls)
  • hrek 4-d * * * * Show – 4D (Seats shake unnecessarily at random times)
  • Disaster * * * Show/Ride (Introduction was too long before the actual ride)
  • Twister * * * Show/Ride (Introduction was too long before the actual ride)
  • MIB * * Ride (Terrible, shoot aliens with fake guns, for little kids)
  • Horror Make Up Show * * Live Comedy Show (The host was really good, making it a lot of fun)
Some Rides we would have liked to do:

  • Rock it – Roller Coaster
  • Transformer – Show 3D
  • ET – Simulation

Day 8 – Drive to New Orleans, LA via St. Augustine

Left early morning for New Orleans via St. Augustine. We drove along the coast once again on A1A – we drove through the lovely Daytona Beach to St. Augustine. St Augustine was surprisingly very beautiful with a very European feel to it – what with the castles, narrow roads, horse carriages et.al. It is indeed a beautiful historical city with several reminiscences of the Spanish Culture. This was the longest driving day for us as we went eastwards to St Augustine from Orlando first and then westwards to New Orleans on I-10.

Day 9 – New Orleans, LA

It was finally good to have a day when we didn’t have to get in the car again! This was an atypical lazy day for us, where we ate and slept for the most part. New Orleans boasts of some fabulous food in Cajun and Creole styles – we made it a point to have at least one each of the various famous dishes the city has to offer – the Jambalaya, Catfish Po-boy, Shrimp Po-boy, Shrimp Creole etc etc. In between we also could squeeze in time for some sightseeing on Bourbon Street (of course!), St Charles Street (lined with multi-million dollar ancient homes), walking by the Mississippi river watching the cruise ships come and go, French Quarters with their ancient history, the Katrina ravaged areas and finally the cemetery tours, which were not bad at all!

Day 9 – Home, Sweet Home

Left New Orleans early in the morning for San Antonio after stopping for a little bit in the French Quarter area for some local handicrafts artifacts. On the way back, we stopped at Lake Charles in their world famous casino and even got to gamble a bit.

Do’s and don’ts:

  1. DO NOT forget your swim suits when you go to Key West (We did!) 🙁
  2. Book the Glass Bottom Boat Tours at Key West well in advance for that day. All tours were filled by the time we got there.
  3. Go to Universal Studios before you go to islands of Adventure otherwise you will be disappointed!
  4. Dali Museum is strictly for art connoisseurs unless you are a humongous Modern/Abstract art fan

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