A week in the warmth of Florida was made even more enjoyable to remember when we arrived back in Denver yesterday to 14 degrees and snow on the ground. I had only vacationed in Florida a couple of times before, both times in Orlando, so this was new and different for us. Also, we really enjoyed the company of two couples from our RV group, all very good friends, who had not been to this area before either.
I got to thinking about the trip this morning and what we learned from the experience there. Here are some of those lessons, counting down:
9. Beware of aggressive drivers
The drivers in Florida reminded me a lot of Las Vegas. Doing the normal 5 mph over the speed limit is likely to get you rear-ended and half a car-length is enough space to have them cut in front of you. It seemed like there were more Maseratis than Chevys and you'd think they would be more careful not to damage their $200K cars, but I guess if one can afford several $200K cars, one doesn't care if they damage one.
8. Margaritaville isn't what it used to be
We visited Hollywood, FL, one day and decided to eat lunch at one of the five or so Jimmy Buffet restaurants within walking distance of the Water Taxi drop-off. The food was okay but the ambiance was nowhere to be found. They were playing country music on the speakers (I think I did hear one Jimmy Buffet song while we were eating) and there was almost no tropical decor. We might as well have been eating at Denny's, if Denny's had poolside seating.
7. Food, food and more food
Speaking of meals, it seemed like Fort Lauderdale had more restaurants than gas stations, supermarkets and traffic lights combined. Even mid-week, most of them were brim-full of yuppies by 5pm, replaced by us old folks by 7, so plan to eat early or wait in long lines to be seated. The up-side was that with that kind of competition, most of the food was exceptional. We all enjoyed nearly every meal we had, topped off on Friday night by a chance stop for dinner at Acquolina Weston (acquolinaweston.com), a fabulous Italian restaurant, which we all agreed was the best meal of the week.
6. Don't bother with hotel/resort amenities
Amenities are great if you are living in or spending considerable time in a resort, especially if you know the region well. Why not sit at the pool and play bingo? However, we found that there was so much we wanted to do we hardly used any features of the resort we stayed in, and we didn't do everything on our list. Next time, amenities won't be a consideration for booking a hotel or resort in Florida or anywhere else we are visiting that has a lot of stuff to see or do.
5. The Water Taxi is a must-do
We waited until Thursday to take the Water Taxi (watertaxi.com) around Port Everglades, the Intercoastal Waterway and the Fort Lauderdale canals. It was relatively inexpensive entertainment (around $30 per person for the day pass) and there would have been no better way to learn about the rich and famous who live or have lived on these waters. There are 10 stops on the main route, including a stop at Hollywood and Hollywood Beach, plus 4 more on an adjoining route, and you can jump on or off at any stop along the way. To take the entire tour, with only a couple of stops, took us the entire day.
4. The Giga-rich have mansions and yachts here
Did I mention that the rich and famous have mega- and giga-homes and yachts in and around Fort Lauderdale? Homes from $2 to $36 million and up to 36,000 square feet were snuggled along every waterfront, and the yachts moored nearby, according to the guides, were valued from a few hundred thousand dollars to nearly a half a billion clams (yes, that's $500 million), with the larger ships costing just about $2 million per foot. This port, we were told, has the largest collection of giga-yachts in the world, and seeing them lined up along several channels, this is believable.
3. The Keys took a big hit from Irma
One of my bucket list items has been to drive through the Florida Keys and four of us took the time to drive halfway to Key West. I wanted to scope out the RV park that comprises 2/3 of Sunrise Key (just south of the 7-mile Bridge) but we were turned away upon arrival due to the park being inaccessible and under reconstruction. Puerto Rico, Haiti and other Caribbean islands got most of the press, but Irma did a great deal of damage in the Keys. Key Largo had some damage and the farther south we drove, the more devastation we observed. The Sunshine Key RV Resort (rvonthego.com/florida/sunshine-key-rv-resort-marina) will be open by May, according to the security guard at the front of the property.
2. Deep sea fishing charters are plentiful
We chartered YB Normal (fishingbooker.com/charters/view/8992) a couple of months earlier for a full day of fishing and were not disappointed. Between the three of us, we caught a couple of barracuda, one a trophy-sized fish, a couple of king mackerel (my 30-pounder helped make a great BBQ that night), and a 50-lb. amberjack. From what we heard, ours was the most successful trip of the day out of Fort Lauderdale, but there are many options for fishing in Southern Florida, and it looked like many boats were taking walk-ups or scheduling same-week trips. Our thanks to Captain Vinnie and his dad who made the trip enjoyable and whose knowledge of the fishing spots made it a successful outing. The cost of our private charter and captain was $925 including tip, which we split three ways (we did not get a discount for a review, darn it), making it fairly affordable for each if us.
1. One week isn't enough
I think all of us found that we wanted to return someday soon to continue our exploration of the area (and do some more deep sea fishing). One week was great, but it was just not enough time to see this activity-rich part of Florida.
Jack Huber is a novelist with 6 mysteries published, along with several books of poetry and photography. Now retired, he and his wife, Nadyne, are free to travel the country in their 32' 5th wheel and 1-ton Ford pickup.