Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Trip log: Florida Keys

Locations: Miami, and Big Pine Key (about half an hour east of Key West)

Dates: September 16-24, 2011

Ages: Littles = 4 years 3 months, Noob = 19 months

Methods of transportation: We flew into Fort Lauderdale, which was cheaper and less insane than the Miami airport. Upon arrival, we rented a car for the week.

Accommodations: Hotel room for the first two nights in Miami. Vacation rental in Big Pine Key, found through www.vrbo.com.

Sleeping arrangements: In the hotel room, Noob slept in a hotel pack n play, and Littles slept in the Peapod Plus.

In the vacation rental, Hubby and I slept in the master bedroom. Littles and Noob shared the second bedroom, with Littles in bed and Noob in the Peapod Plus. (The vacation rental provided a pack n play, but Noob is able to climb out of those now, and we didn't want him doing that without an adult in the room.)

Eating arrangements:There was a grocery store right on BIg Pine Key (about a five-minute drive from our vacation rental), so we bought food there and cooked most meals at "home." The vacation rental provided a booster seat, which we used for Noob.

Checking out the beach at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne (a short drive from downtown Miami):


Visiting Everglades National Park, and walking the Anhinga Trail (we did this on our drive down to the Keys):



Bahia Honda State Park, just a short drive from Big Pine Key. We visited all the beaches and hiked up the old railroad bridge.




Fishing in the channel behind our vacation rental:


Day trip to Key West to visit the Key West Butterfly Conservatory, and Fort Zachary Taylor State Park:



Checking out all sorts of wildlife at Blue Hole and other areas of the National Key Deer Refuge, which covers most of Big Pine Key:

(yes, that's an alligator visible between the slats...)


Making buttons at the fabulous (and free!) visitor center for the National Key Deer Refuge. This little gem is a must-visit if you find yourself on Big Pine Key with kids. In addition to the buttons, they had various stuffed animals, and a table full of things for kids to touch (key deer antlers and skulls, snake skins, turtle shells, etc.)


Enjoying some amazing sunsets (and stargazing far from city lights):


Key piece of travel gear: The Peapod Plus. Versatile enough to work for both Littles and Noob!

Biggest challenge: The flights. We chose late afternoon flights (around 4 PM) in both directions. Big mistake. Noob got his usual nap in before both flights, and therefore didn't sleep at all in the air. It's only about 2.5 hours from Dallas to Fort Lauderdale, but that's a long time to occupy an active toddler on an airplane...

What worked well:

  • Going in September. It's hurricane season, which means that rates are lower. We made sure to choose a vacation rental that had a full-refund policy in the event of a hurricane, just be safe. Obviously, that didn't happen, so we enjoyed a great vacation for a lot less money! It did rain almost every day, but there were more than enough periods of sunshine to do everything we wanted to do outdoors.
  • Big Pine Key. We chose this key over the more-famous Key West because it was much less touristy and offered more of the outdoorsy stuff that we love to do. (Bonus: Outdoorsy stuff is cheaper than touristy stuff!) Plus, it put us much closer to the beaches at Bahia Honda, which we far preferred to the ones at Fort Zachary Taylor. And Key West was still a very easy day trip.
  • Using a vacation rental, again! This is definitely our preferred way to travel with kids. One nice perk of this particular one: It included a Florida state parks pass, which saved us about $40 on entrance fees to the two state parks we visited over the course of the week.
  • One nap a day. Noob dropped his second nap after our Panama trip. It was nice being able to go places in the morning without having to worry about when/how he might nap.

What didn't:

  • Our hotel room in Miami. We stayed at the same hotel that we stayed on our first Miami layover during our Panama trip, but the room we got this time around was half the size. The bed, Peapod Plus, and pack n play took up virtually all the floor space.
  • Mosquito repellent. Lots of mosquitos in the rainy season. We all got bitten in spite of repellent -- except Noob, for some reason.

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