Apr 30, 2019

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, FLORIDA

"There are no other Everglades in the world"- Marjory Stoneman Douglas.


Everglades is one of the largest tropical wilderness found in the USA. This is one of the parks where you can get up close views of manatees, alligators, crocodiles and various species of birds that visit during the warm winters. 

 Things to remember :

1.) Dry season: This lasts between November - March.
Better chance of seeing a variety of birds and predators, wildlife
2.) Wet season: April to November.
Buggy and chance of storms are inevitable.
Many ranger programs are closed. Check the NPS Everglades website here for latest information.
3.) Get a pair of binoculars. Your kids will thank you!
4.) Check for closures on the NPS website as they are regularly updated with latest information.
5.) Carry sunscreen

How did we cover Everglades?

We had 1 1/2 day here. The first half we spent at Coopertown. We went on an airboat excursion to see the reptiles and natural surroundings.

There are 3 areas to cover at Everglades.
- North Entrance covering Shark Valley and Gulf Coast covering Everglades City
-South Entrance covers Royal Palms at Homestead covering the Anhinga trail and Gumbo Limbo trail.
It also covers Flamingo which is 38 miles into the south park which ends at the Florida Bay.
- The 3rd entrance is via the Florida Bay to explore the gulf coast.

We visited Everglades in November and if I distinctly remember the Shark Valley tram tours were not operational. This would probably have been a great experience. If you do get a chance go when the tours are operational. Here is the link.  Reservations are needed specially from November to April and it is about a 2 1/2 hour tour. 

What will you see:
Estuaries, freshwater marshlands, mangroves,sloughs, tropical hammocks, cypress trees and coastal mainlands along with reptiles and animals like alligators, manatees, egrets, are some of what you can expect to see.

Ernest F. Coe visitor Centre is a good place to start. Pick up a map here. The rangers guided us as to the best spots for seeing wildlife and advised us of some areas that were closed. This is the southern area in Everglades NP.

1. Anhinga Trail:
Anhinga Trail

- About 4 miles from the visitor centre is Anhinga Trail. It is a short 0.8 mi trail. If you have time do the ranger hike. We managed to catch up with one that had just started. Going with a ranger is the best education you will ever get. They were so knowledgeable and answered questions that the kids and little ones had. It had a small loop and a boardwalk over the Taylor Slough. We heard alligators nearby growling The seemed to be very near to us but due to the thick dense habitat we had to settle with just hearing them. There were cormorants, Tricolored heron and great egrets on the trail and a vast area of lily pads in the water.
The trail was stroller friendly. It was scorching that day. Thank goodness for the hats.

- Gumbo Limbo trail was closed due to flooding when we visited.

2. Mahogany Hammock:



We wanted to make sure we did not miss out on anything. So we made a quick stop here. It was a short boardwalk which had a lot of mahogany trees just like how the name of the stop was. The place was humid as there wasn't a lot of air circulation due to the thick vegetation. The loop was short however there was a lot to learn on the trail.


Gumbo Limbo tree
The gumbo limbo tree is one of the most hurricane resistant tree in the area.


Nurse Log
The nurse logs are trees that continue to support the plants and animals. Mammals and incubating animals live inside the fallen logs. Plants absorb the stored moisture along with the nutrients. Evern after total decomposition, the trees essence live on in the plants that grow from the nutrients left behind. So interesting. Read this on one of the informational details on the trail. 

4. West Lake Trail:




New growth at mangroves
This was a short boardwalk which had a thick mangled mangrove. There was nothing much to see here except for the mangroves which I saw for the first time at a close distance. At the end of boardwalk was the West Lake. There were three types of mangroves white, red and black. The mangroves thrive in salty, soggy, oxygen poor places with tropical weather. The area was filled with a bad stench. So we hurriedly moved to the next destination. 

5. Flamingo Visitor Centre:

This was almost about 35 miles from the Ernest Coe visitor centre. There were manatees flipping and swimming in the river nearby. A few crocodiles were basking in the sun and there were some in the water. There was a marina and a kayak rental. We clicked some pics of the reptiles and the sea animals and moved on to our next destination NASA.

Manatee in the water

Crocodiles


Apr 24, 2019

AIRBOAT TOUR, EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK

To make it easier for planning purposes, I will break up this Everglades tour into two parts.

- Airboat tours
- Everglades National Park ( Ahinga trail, shark valley visitor centre etc. )

The two places are about an hour drive to each other. So you can plan as to how it would suit your itinerary. We did the airboat tours first and then stayed for the night at the Hampton Inn and Suites Miami South in Homestead. Hampton.

While there are crocodile zoos and farms for crocodile viewing, one cannot miss going to Everglades National Park without visiting and seeing Alligators in an Airboat! Driving from Keywest to Coopertown, we were short on time and it took a bit longer than our estimated time to reach our destination due to some construction that was being carried out. However we reached bang on time before the last tour went out at Coopertown Airboat tours for the day. 

There are a few authorized airboat tour operators. They can be found on the  National Park Services website.  These three are Coopertown Airboat tours, Everglades Safari Park and Gator Park.

We wanted to see alligators in their natural habitat so we decided to go with Coopertown Airboat tours. It was a difficult decision to make as to which one would be a good choice as all had reasonable amount of good ratings. We decided we did not want the safari park as we had not much time. So we settled just for the boat tour. Did we have any regrets to not go to a safari park? Well it was mixed if we have more time we may have given it a second thought but since it was a good 3 and a half hours from KeyWest we decided to keep it simple just in case we were delayed.

Keep in mind their last tour timing. After purchasing tickets, we were given a short talk about the importance of the marshlands that help protect the habitat and the abundant wildlife in their habitat.

Recommended to Read before your trip to Coopertown Tours:

- Go in the morning/afternoon. The alligators love the sun.. There is a higher chance of seeing more of them during this time.
- Check online coupons to save some cash.
- Parking is free.
- Last boat ride is at 5.15pm. Contact the tour company for latest information.
- If you have a National Park Pass, there may be an additional discount for the ticket.   
- You will get a chance to hold a young alligator at the end of the tour.
To families unsure if this would be right for your toddlers.. We travelled with our 2 year old and yes we found it safe. We definitely would recommend using the cotton / headphones for them too.
- The guides do their best to find alligators however there may be a chance that on some occasions they are are no sightings.


We had a professional and educational airboat guide who took us on a 9 mile tour and who went out of his way to find us a few alligators. We had the 24 seater boat to ourselves as we were probably the last visitors for the day. We were given cotton balls plus headphones to block the resounding noise the boat makes as it made its way through the marshland.


The best part of the evening was the sunset as we were I presume about 9 miles out on the marshes and the spectacular rain cloud in the other direction as it poured closeby. If there was one thing we would have changed about this trip, it would be to visit earlier in the day.


The boat waded through tall saw grass. No wonder Everglades is called the river of grass. We travelled through a Hardwood Hammock which was a small island of solid ground into the river of grass. Our guide showed us many alligator holes alas no alligators. I'm sure there would have been birds but we didn't see any closeby except for their chirping in the fading sunlight. He would switch off the large beast and made some kind of a sound to get the attention of the animals. Not sure if they really know them by name but he called a couple of them and it was real funny to see one medium sized alligator swim right up to us. So exciting!


It was a marvelous experience venturing out into the habitat and searching for the wildlife. At the end of our tour we got to hold a baby alligator. On the field talking to our guide was so much learning for my 4th grader who used his 4th Grade National Pass for the Everglades trip.

Our guide was truly passionate about his job and went out of his way to find some for us. There was no doubt that he knew the area extremely well as he maneuvered the airboat like it was his backyard!

VIDEOS:

Boat tour out to the marshlands:


 



There are other businesses where you can get to see alligators, snakes and crocodiles. We did not check these places out however am mentioning them below should you be interested. 

Everglades Alligator Farm
Naples Zoo
St. Augustine Alligator Farm
Myakka River State Park
Shark Valley
Big Cypress National Preserve

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and I have not been compensated for writing the same.

BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK, FLORIDA KEYS

Bahia Honda State Park in The lower Keys is one of the most picturesque beach on the way to Key West.. It is located at Mile marker 37. Best known for its views, location and best snorkeling spots. Snorkel boat tours, beach equipment, food and kayaks are available at the store.

Take a short walk on the old bridge which is now closed and enjoy the views. Below are some pictures that were taken. Some pictures were clicked a few months after hurricane Irma destroyed some parts of the islands.






Before and after pictures after Hurricane Irma in 2017.


This was one of last stops on our way back before heading to Everglades National Park. Soaking in views of this beautiful place we were ready to see alligators in their natural habitat. 

Mar 26, 2019

HARRY S TRUMAN LITTLE WHITE HOUSE VISIT

Yes !! We visited the only Presidential Museum in Florida. I am referring to President Harry S Truman's Little White House. From 1946-1952 President Harry used this house for 175 days as a retreat and a functioning White House. It has also served as a Presidential retreat for 6 US Presidents.


The entrance to the house is from the Gates Entrance from Whitehead St and Front St..Parking garages are located nearby. Tours are conducted to see the house from 9 - 4.30. The Museum is located on the first floor. If you do get a chance you might want to check out the house tour.



The above picture is President Truman's shirt. When he visited Key West, his staff would leave the formalities of the White House behind and would change into a uniform that was casual. This came to be known as the "Key West Uniform" The uniform consisted of colorful tropical shirts, khaki slacks, and long brimmed gold hats. The shirts were worn to presidential meetings and dinners.


Presidential Podium

The Executive Order that was signed by President Truman.


If your planning a visit here, the Truman House is located at
111 Front Street, Key West.
https://www.trumanlittlewhitehouse.com/

Key West Butterfly & Nature Observatory


One of the attractions in Key West that lured me to visit was the Key West Butterfly and Nature Observatory. I had never been to one before so knowing that in Key West I had the opportunity to visit one was exciting. People who know me know I am a lover of rainbows, butterflies, fish and flowers.

After we finished taking family pictures at the Iconic Southernmost Point, we walked for less than 5 mins and we were at the entrance. I got to know much later that there are coupons you can use in addition to avail of discounts. I didn't have any so paid in full. For the amount of time you spend here, ( not more than an hour ) unless you have kids who want to be here forever, it was a tad but pricey. Once you enter you will see loads of butterflies, birds and I think 2 flamingos. Butterflies roam freely and some even landed on my sons tshirt. There were a few on the pathway too. Keep a look out you will not know when one may land on you.

As you complete your tour, at the exit you get a butterfly sticker that you can put on your top. I have preserved it as a memento. Below are some pictures we took. For more information visit Key West Butterfly & Nature Observatory


As you enter there is a glass case of cocoons and caterpillars and a history of how they transform into butterflies. So interesting. I had never seen a cocoon before and this was certainly a lot of learning. There was a seat with butterfly wings that we took pictures on. Once inside, butterflies roamed freely. There were butterflies of different hues and the best part was seeing them at a close range.











2 Days in Key West, Florida


The road trip to from Miami to the Keys was an experience altogether. Having seen the Travel Channel some years back it was my silent wish to come here and experience driving on the 7 mile bridge for myself one day. Well I got that and more on this vacation. Key West is just another beautiful getaway when visiting Florida. Noted for its location miles into the ocean with the peninsula surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, it is a fantastic tropical stopover via cruise or a drive for the weekend from Miami. The color of the deep blue green ocean with massive cruise ships, coconut trees hugging beaches and the high energy from walking down Duval street, lip smacking key lime pies and more made our tropical holiday even more memorable.

When would be a good time to visit Key West? We are always asked this question. We visited in the month of November. Being a shoulder season for the tropics, November weather could have some rain and sunshine. The best months would be between December and May. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites by the Marriott, Key West which had good breakfast to start the day and was just about a 10-15 drive to downtown. It was conveniently located. 
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Key West is about 6 miles in length and 2 miles in width. If you have two days you can cover almost all of the must see spots here. While we stayed on the east. It was just a 15 min drive downtown Key West. There are many parking spots for about 15-20 bucks. We parked in a lot that was off Duval street and was midway. That way we could walk up and down the street and enjoy the evening and a little bit of the night life if we could. Remember having kids in tow, it is best to move around their schedule and call it a day if you have to. Chickens roam around freely and a couple of roosters and hens with their chicks were seen enjoying the warmth of the day.
So in brief here is what you can see and do. 1. Fort Zachary State Park. 2. Duval Street 3. Mallory Square 4. Old Town Harbor Walk Seaside 5. Southernmost Point 6. South KeyWest 1.) FORT ZACHARY TAYLOR STATE PARK: This park is so pretty and the entrance is from the Truman Annex residential neighborhood. Once you enter the neighborhood you need to turn left and the park entrance is just there. This park is good for a picnic, snorkeling and viewing cruise ships coming into Key West or just relaxing and getting and getting a great tan for all to envy.
Fort Zachary beach


It is highly recommended to use water shoes as the beach is initially sandy but as you get into the water there are rocks that kind of cut into your feet and it is not a great feeling and is quite uncomfortable. I could call it a stony beach to be exact. It is a popular spot for snorkeling. There is a takeout place right near the parking lot. The sandwiches were delicious. Restrooms and shower heads to rinse off are also available. Slather on sunscreen and enjoy the views while getting a nice tan.

2.) DUVAL ST: Duval St. runs from north to south. We were able to visit every place on our schedule. Parking mid way near Duval St made sure if we were tired we could always go to the South by car, park and enjoy the rest of the place instead of doing all the walking specially when walking with kids as they tired too fast. Having a good pair of walking shoes really helped. There are hop on hop off trolleys, I also saw 2 wheeler bikes for rent, cute colorful fancy 2 seater cars and cycle rides for 2 or 4 people. Here are some pictures.

Duval Street

Willie T's Pub Leave your mark Currency

Artistically painted car with shells with shells and an ocean theme
Rental Cars
 
Smallest Bar


Old Customs House Inn
Oldest house on Duval St.

3.) MALLORY SQUARE: - Naval Kiss located at 281 Front St., Key West, FL It is located in front of the Custom House Museum and across from the Mel Fisher Museum. - Mallory Square - Old Town Clock - Visit HARRY S TRUMAN LITTLE WHITE HOUSE. The winter white house is a working museum. - Sunset Pier Pic. At sundown there are street performers performing for the crowd who come to enjoy the sunset. Cruise ships docked sparkle against the setting sun. - Visit the market here, so many pretty gifts to choose from.
- Midway off Duval St is MILE MARKER 0: Exact Location: Corner of Fleming Street and Whitehead Street.

Statue of the Iconic Kiss

Mallory Square 

Mallory Square 

Sunset at the Pier.

Street dancers at the Pier
4.) OLD TOWN / HARBOR WALK SEASIDE:
Old Town is quite close to Mallory Square. I accidentally found the Cuban Coffee Queen while researching online for our trip. I loved the postcard and the giant coffee mug and made sure it was on my must see list. While we ending up visiting after sundown it wasn't a bad idea after all. Though we didn't get a chance to fully explore harbor walk seaside, at least I can say I was here for the pic.



5.) SOUTHERNMOST POINT:
Everything on the southern end of Duval Street begins with Southernmost - Oldest house, Oldest beach resort, smoothie house, southernmost pier. Here you will find Southernmost Point. People wait patiently between 30-60 mins for a picture against the famous iconic buoy structure. Keywest Butterfly Obervatory is located just a few steps from here.

South beach, KeyWest
5.) SOUTH KEYWEST:
Smather’s Beach. This beach is quite secluded and a bit further from the busy touristic town. We stopped here for some pictures while on our way out. While we were there it was practically empty with just about two families enjoying the beach. That morning was a cloudy day and periodic heavy showers were expected. There is a parking lot just opposite the beach. You can rent beach chairs and kayaks. There is hardly any shade and it can get very hot.

A capsized boat after the hurricane


Smathers Beach

This was our last stop in Key West. We headed out back north for another 4 hour drive to Everglades National Park.

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