Our 5-day cruise to Mexico was now a memory.
Our cruise ship, The Independence of the Seas, docked at 7 am at Fort Lauderdale. And with over four thousand people on board, it was no surprise to see long queues for immigration and customs.
Disembarking at 8.45 am, we finally emerge onto the footpath at 10.15 am. Thankfully we located the airport bus to Fort Lauderdale to collect our rental car from Avis.
Our next adventure was a 10-day Florida road trip.
Our airport bus driver, who was very chirpy, was full of helpful information with ideas of what to see along the Florida Keys.
But first, Miami.
With its sandy white beaches and high-rise buildings. Who can resist this melting pot of a city?
And more importantly, its access to the Gateway to the Keys, where the Everglades meet Florida Bay.
The Florida Keys Road Trip Stops
Collecting our rental car with only one drama, car insurance. The cost of our cheap rental had now doubled in price. Yikes!
Oh well. The hiccups of travelling.
Our next challenge was the vast motorway system around Miami.
If you are new to driving in the USA, you’ll either be impressed or intimidated. The motorway system is large and, at times, fast, with moving vehicles zipping between lanes.
For the next couple of days, we would be travelling along the famous Overseas Highway (US Highway 1), stretching 205 km across 42 bridges of coral islands known as The Keys.
The Keys divide the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico, with Cuba only 140 km away from the southern point.
Kayak at Key Largo
The long straight roads at 45 miles per hour (72kmph) meant we weren’t going anywhere fast.
Our stop for the night was Pelican Cottages, arriving at 3.30 pm. While waiting for the room to be ready, we strolled down to the end of the pier. We were immediately captivated by the beautifully clear blue colour of the sea.
Not to miss an opportunity, we choose a double kayak. With Terry in front as the photographer, on the lookout for alligators and anacondas.
Maura is behind in providing the power.
See a Manatee at Key Largo
We kayaked along the mangroves finding plenty of birdlife and small fish.
A splash or two by the mangroves had us perplexed. It’s not a fish, not an alligator, but something else.
Something else was a manatee, a large sea cow similar to a sealion. They surface for air, and luckily one took more of its body to the surface.
Enjoy an Evening Sunset
The sunset was spectacular.
Sitting on the pier with music from a local bar and restaurant in the background, we viewed the sky’s beautiful yellow, orange and red tones.
With manatees popping their heads up to the surface in the distance and the air’s warmth, it was a special evening to share.
As the sun disappeared, the sky became a beautiful pink.
Returning to our hotel room was like a box with a bed pushed up against the wall.
The room we had in Osaka, Japan, was bigger, and even that was small. No option but to use the car as the wardrobe. Time for sleep.
Snorkel at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Our friendly Fort Lauderdale bus driver told us of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for snorkelling.
The following morning we drove the 2km back to the park and paid the entrance fee. We booked a snorkelling tour for 1.5 hours.
Due to the notification of the Portuguese Man of War and other stinging Jellyfish, we rented wetsuits. The boat was full, and the ride took 30mins to the marine park full of coral and fish.
Here in the very clear water, we sighted a turtle.
- Park Entrance Fee – USD8 per vehicle of 8 people (2022)
- Snorkelling – US40 per adult (2022)
- Snorkelling Gear Hire – US4-US10 (2022)
The biggest find of the morning was a set of car keys sitting at the bottom of the coral reef. Well spotted Terry as he dove to retrieve it. One of the fellow snorkellers had put them in his pocket. We never did find out if they worked again.
Picnic lunch on land and a walk through the bush to view the first lime plantation; we were then on our way to the next stop along the keys.
Travel the Bridges of Key West
Travelling from Key Largo to Marathon, we stopped at Islamorada and several old bridges.
Tragedy at Islamorada
At Islamorada is The Monument to the 1935 Hurricane that killed 400 to 600 people. The 320kmph winds struck the Florida Keys. At the time, 200 WWI veterans working on the railway perished.
The destruction from the hurricane terminated the building of the railway and its bridge.
Channel #5 Bridge
Channel 5 bridge was the next stop. There were plenty of fishing rods cast for the daily catch.
Terry spied a couple of Iguanas hiding by the old bridge.
We discovered the bridges along the Keys were updated by 1982. So you’ll see a lot of old and new bridges alongside each other.
Old Seven Mile Bridge
It is one of the amazing bridges we crossed travelling the Keys. Its arch is 65ft above the water.
We stopped to walk on the old Seven Mile Bridge built alongside the Seven Mile Bridge.
It was here we saw a Portuguese Man of War go floating by. We were so happy not to swim with those around.
Book a Two Night Stop at Marathon
Our two-night stop was at Sombrero Resort and Marina, a recently renovated apartment-style room. It’s only 3.2kms to Sombrero Beach.
We decided to catch another sunset of beautiful yellow and orange colours. We walked rather than take the car, which wasn’t great. We had to walk back into the darkness. With no torch, we hoped we wouldn’t find any moving creatures.
Marathon was the base camp for the workers building the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
Lunch at Key West
Getting to Key West took a little longer than expected only because we wanted to stop to investigate the many bridges along the route.
Key West gave us the old town feel with its many old wooden buildings, despite the large influx of tourists due to the cruise ship in port for the day.
Parking the car near the marina for USD3.50 per hour had us 100 metres from all the action. We walked along the marina with its bars and eateries, soaking up the sun and atmosphere.
We chose Sunset Pier for lunch (based on a foodie show) with its high-top tables and chairs, with sunshades set up along the pier. A great spot with views across the water, watching boaties, jet skis, parasailing, and the local coastguard passing by stood to attention.
Lunch was the flavoursome fish of the day. Terry chose blackened fish Mahi Mahi and Maura, topped with salsa.
The Little White House
We spent the early afternoon wandering past the Little White House used by Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy (for Bay of the Pigs), Carter and Clinton.
The old Customhouse and Post Office was built in 1891 with bricks bought over to Key West.
But what took our interest was the 25ft high statue “embracing peace.” And the jet fighters doing manoeuvres from the nearby navy airforce base.
Stop at Miami Zoo
A leisurely morning with a swim in the Resort pool before our drive back to Miami.
We stopped again in Key Largo for lunch at The Fish House, recommended by our bus driver. And again, we were not disappointed with the day’s flavoursome fish served with rice, black beans, and a cob of corn.
Oh my goodness, the corn had been soaked in butter and baked deliciously.
As we entered the outskirts of Miami, we looked over to see old buses and trucks parked. Near them, workers are busy picking a local crop. No combine harvesters here.
The speed limit is the only hassle with a road trip in Florida. Travelling at 50mph and staying in Miami for the night made sense.
Finding our AirBnB on 187th Street in the suburbs was easy. You need to count the streets. The Airbnb turned out to be a windowless room we nicknamed the bunker. Thankfully it was comfortable.
And with Miami Zoo only a couple of miles away, we drove to see American flamingoes. We arrived with only 30mins to closing and were excited to find the flamingoes out front of the zoo. And better still, no payment is required.
See Alligators at Everglades Florida
Packing the car in the morning, we noticed the street strewn with debris from the heavy rain and wind overnight. One advantage of sleeping in our bunker, we heard nothing.
Our plan today was to visit the Everglades Safari Park. The Everglades Florida is one of the must-sees in Florida, with an abundance of wildlife and alligators.
Earplugs in, we climbed aboard the airboat and were off. Zooming over the water grasses and out to the main waterway areas.
We stopped to see the deadliest flower in the world (Water Hemlock), learned about acid trees and see lots of alligators.
Having learnt a little more about alligators made it easier for Terry to spot alligators sunning themselves on the banks next to the road.
But on the drive to Naples, our next stop, the signs warning of Black Panthers had us sticking close to the car for a toilet stop.
Luckily the only other wildlife we saw, apart from birds, was a tortoise crossing the highway.
Plan a Visit to Bonita Springs
Our three nights at Bonita Springs are close to Naples, Florida (not Naples, Italy).
The Airbnb was a large one-bedroom flat in a local neighbourhood.
Luckily, we found Maria’s restaurant at the end of the street for Taco Tuesday. For $1, we ate delicious tacos washed down with a Rum Margarita. Perfect.
and Plenty of locals waiting for their tacos to be cooked.
The next two days were spent exploring:
- Lovers Key State Park
- Fort Meyers Beach
- Lee County Manatee Park
We found plenty of wildlife at Lovers Key State Park, including dolphins and herons. Young families flew interesting kites as the breeze picked up.
Still, no swimming as the sea was full of blue bottles.
A wander along Fort Meyers Beach showed the result of the storm, with lots of dead sea life on the beach.
Our final destination on our Florida 10-day road was Tampa.
Why Tampa? It all started with meeting great travellers on our GAdventure China tour and the invitation to visit.
But they were specific. It had to be the end of January to celebrate Tampa’s Gasparilla Festival.
Embrace Tampa’s Gasparilla Festival