Our Florida Trip | From Miami to Key West, FL and back | May 24-30, 2018
Thursday May 24, 2018
The day started out as usual except we’re on vacation with Royce and LeeAnn and headed for Florida. Beth showed up on time around 6:15 AM to shuttle us to the airport so we locked up and headed out around 6:30 AM. LeeAnn texted me on the way that they were approaching the airport (via Uber) about 10 minutes before us so we coordinated where to meet and did so without a hitch. After checking bags and being run through the TSA gauntlet (Mary & I both did not have “TSA Pre” and we both had our bags searched so Royce and LeeAnn got to wait for us. (They both had TSA Pre… Go figure…) The plane was a bit late getting in so we were a bit late boarding but all went well so the flight was actually on time and maybe even a bit early arriving in Miami. We landed and retrieved our luggage for a LONG walkabout to the tram for the trip to the rental car area off the airport. We made it through that process and picked through some of the rental choices in “Row 7” until we decided on a relatively new (4250 miles) Hyundai Santa Fe SUV.
Royce was the designated driver on this leg so we loaded up the Hyundai and headed away from MIA airport and toward Miami Beach… This is where it got interesting. We all wanted lunch but couldn’t decide where to stop. We debated where to stop for several minutes and several miles until we decided to park and and walk to our restaurant, The Latin Cafe. A very authentic little local joint. Royce and I had a “local” beer (turns out Cerveza Hatuey is actually brewed at a brewery in SC. You had to look at the label carefully for the “Made in USA” label.) while the girls had a glass of wine (in clear glass coffee cups) with our meal. Royce, Mary and I enjoyed the Cuban sandwich while LeeAnn had a bit of a problem. She ordered the chicken dish but they were out so she ordered a chopped/grilled pork which turned out to be excellent. Royce finished it… The service was a bit slow and the food came out sporadically but all in all a great experience. This is typical of the “local” restaurants we go to in the Caribbean and, true to form, we had to ask for the check, a sure sign we were not in an American restaurant. I would say most of the diners were Cuban and english was NOT their first language. A great time and meal.
We stayed at the “4 Points” by Sheraton Hotel is right next to the famous Fontainebleau Hotel in the “Mid-Beach” district of Miami Beach. We checked in and after a little car shuffling we decided it was cheaper to valet the car at $40 per day than to self park and pay each time we left. What a scam. They’ve got you here just like Manhattan, NY and downtown Chicago. Everyone gets a piece of the action…
We headed down to the pool/beach area to check things out and found a boardwalk between the hotels and the beach so we walked it to the nearest beach access and headed down to the water. The water temperature is surprisingly warm. I expected it to be cooler. The waves were gently rolling in, it’s cloudy but warm and a bit humid (as usual) but the walk was enjoyable. We walked north past the Fontainebleau and other hotels people watching. Not many people to watch… This feels like “off-season” to me but I’ll bet the crowds start forming as we approach the holiday weekend (tomorrow). We were entertained by a pair of F35’s buzzing Miami Beach and the surrounding area. My guess is they are getting some practice time in or maybe a part of the DEA program down here. There were also helicopters and a sea-plane going by so the DEA thing is the theory I’m sticking with.
We headed back to the rooms to figure out what to have for dinner and decided on, wait for it, Greek food. “Santorini by Georgios” at the bottom of South Beach. We changed and called for the car then headed down to South Beach. Santorinis is in the Hilton Hotel on South Beach. We walked in and met Christos, an Astoria, New York Greek who migrated to Miami. He sounded like a New Yorker but when Royce started speaking to him in Greek he came out of his shell, started jabbering to Royce in Greek and all of a sudden we had a new “best friend.” The host lead us to our table followed by Christos and Royce. Christos introduced us to our waitress (Pamela) then proceeded to run off for a surprise while we discussed what to have with Pamela. We decided to start with a large Greek salad to share as Christos showed up with 4 glasses of Uzo on ice. Yummy. LeeAnn doesn’t do Uzo so Mary and I had a spare to consume… Some bread showed up next (like a nut bread but better) and then the salad showed up just after Pamela took our dinner order. WOW, the salad was huge and wonderful. When the rest of the food showed up it was like a frenzy and a food feast. Mary and I had the Octopus and the Saganaki while Royce and LeeAnn had the chicken and shrimp dishes. Royce and LeeAnn were very impressed with all of the food. (Yes, Mary and I were also but that doesn’t count. We like everything…) Royce stated he couldn’t replicate this and both Christos and Pamela were very thankful for the compliments. Well, that brought on a special desert along with some Greek coffee. All in all a feast that will be memorable for years to come…
Friday May 25, 2018
Good Morning! I dressed and left Mary to some additional peace and quiet while I headed down to the restaurant with my computer, phone and glasses to catch up on this log, check email and have some coffee. I texted Royce twice before he finally responded and joined me around 8:15 AM. By that time I had got up on this log, checked out all of the new emails and had too much coffee without any food. Royce wasn’t sure about breakfast so we continued with the coffee while discussing life and what to get into today. Mary came down next after showering so Royce texted LeeAnn who wasn’t interested in breakfast after the feast the night before so we finally had breakfast.
Once LeeAnn joined us we sat around the pool (Russ jumped in for a swim). When it started raining we all bailed to a “covered” table off of the pool area but it started raining hard enough that it chased us to a table in a protected area near the towel room and mini-bar. We continued to relax, talk and read while it rained. We also watched the airshow over the ocean with C-130s and A-10 Warthogs performing maneuvers nearby. Noisey but fun to watch…
We decided to head to the Jewish Holocaust Memorial nearby with lunch planned afterward. The memorial was a stark reminder that you can never underestimate the brutality and insane actions of a group of people who decide they are better than you. We toured the Memorial in the rain with ponchos (I was hot and sweaty the whole time as my poncho was very warm.) We stayed dry but the place was humbling and depressing. We finished the tour with heavy hearts and headed to lunch and a beer to wash the awful feelings away. This is a vacation. Right?
The Yard House was just what the doctor ordered. We ordered drinks and appetizers (it was happy hour) and enjoyed everything. There were a couple of minor glitches but there always are so I’m not bitching. We finished and headed back to the hotel.
Once there it was time for the hot tub except for Royce who needed a nap. The girls and I headed down to the hot tub in the rain and warmed up for a while. It really started ainin hard so we jumped back in the hot tub to stay warm. I got heated up sufficiently so I departed with instructions to refill LeeAnn’s drink cup and wake up Royce. Royce awoke and came over to see what was happening. I gave him his instructions and he fulfilled them (kind of) and headed down to see the girls. Next thing I know LeeAnn is back fixing her drink because Royce didn’t make it right. Finally things settled down so I could concentrate on emails, logs and maps of Key West prepping for tomorrow.
Mary and LeeAnn decided to stay in for the evening and entertain us with a few games of dice and order in a pizza so we all met at the Kyriakides pad. Let the games begin… Mary “took us to the cleaners” two games in a row… She’s hot tonight (so far…). The final game of the evening someone else won… me! That’s was enough for me. Get out while the getting is good they say (who’s they).
Saturday May 26, 2018
This is our transition day. We pack up and head our Hyundai south to Key West. The weather isn’t cooperating but we’ll make the best of it. Possible flooding is in the forecast so we’ll see how things go today. We’re supposed to check in after 3 PM so we’ve picked 10 AM as our departure time. As I scope out the map to the Keys and list all of the possibilities for lunch along the way it’s going to be a tough choice. One I hope the girls will decide. I don’t want to get into a debate over food… Wish me luck. We headed back to the room to pack and get ready to check out. By 9:30 AM all were ready so we checked out and headed south.
Royce took the first shift. We traveled through Miami in a light rain down Highway 1 out of the downtown area to the outskirts of Miami. The traffic was heavy and the visibility was limited but the speeds were slow on Highway 1. Once out of town the traffic got lighter and speeds switched between 45 mph and 55 mph depending on the township we were traveling through. As we approached the southern tip of Florida the rain got heavy to the point where the wipers were on full blast but it didn’t last long. We hit the Keys Highway 1 entrance about 11:30 AM and headed toward the Keys. The rain was lighter with little spots where it got brighter but the clouds were with us all the way.
We stopped at the “Visitor Center” on Key Largo to get some info and the lay of the land. “Larry,” a native of Key West, took good care of us (quite the salesman but he was up against Royce). I purchased a bright fluorescent “Key West” tank top for $10, we listened to Larry’s pitch and gathered up the brochures to continue on our journey.
The girls decided on “The Lazy Lobster” (also on Key Largo) for brunch so we made our way there. We walked in just at noon and had a great meal. I wasn’t hungry but a cup of their conch soup was very tasty and enough tide me over till we hit Key West. Mary had the Lobster Roll (yummy) and Royce & LeeAnn split a salad and a shrimp dish. When you can impress Royce & LeeAnn this must be a great place so I gave them and Larry (remember Larry?) a 5 star review.
I took over the driving duties for the balance of the trip so we continued south… It rained most of the way but some areas were dry but still cloudy. With sunglasses on and wipers on slow we continued along the Keys Highway. The girls discussed what to do once there while Royce took a short nap as I moseyed on down the line. We made it to the “Seven Mile Bridge” around 2 PM and finally hit Key West just at 3 PM which was perfect as that was our check in time. So we did.
Once settled in we decided to head down to the “Old Town” area to scope out the joint. With ponchos in hand (and on, when needed) we found parking and walked around the harbor area to get our bearings.
After an “altercation” with a nice waitress (from bad instructions from Royce) Mary and I finally got our order (it was 2 for 1 so Mary ordered a beer(s) and I ordered a shot of tequila(s). The altercation was I needed BOTH orders and their follow ups (remember 2 for 1?) right away. So after we explained our dilemma the waitress figured it out (after telling me I made this too complicated. Well maybe but no one was getting it so I had to apparently) and she brought Mary and I BOTH of our drinks. So we finally had our beer and a bump… WOW, it shouldn’t have been that hard. Oh well, after I finished my beer and the bump I didn’t give a s**t… 🙂
After some debate and Googling we decided on the Waterfront Brewery. It was still raining as we were seated for dinner (inside). This brewery is lightweight but it turned out just fine. I ordered a “lager” which turned out to be a lot lighter than any lager I have ever had. Drinkable but barely. Mary had a “phuphu” beer and Royce ordered a flight.
I hate to say it because the food was fine but this brewery is for ultimate light-weights… Royce couldn’t finish his flight (the IPA and the “phuphu” beer was not drinkable) We finished (and enjoyed the food) and headed back out to the harbor for the walk back to the car.
Sunday March 27, 2018
The days plans were put in place so we headed out for Harpoon Harry’s for breakfast. We found the parking lot we discussed then walked a block to the “cash only” restaurant. We were greeted at the door by a host (male) who set us up with the next table for 4. The wait time was very short and the breakfast was wonderful for all. We had this great waitress that knew how to handle us, gruff and direct but wonderfully presented. A perfect combination of great food and service. I was impressed!
Full and satisfied we walked one more block to the Conch Train Station to purchase tickets for the train tour plus both the Hemingway House Tour and the Truman “Little White House” Tour.
After a short wait we jumped on the train and off we went. Our first leg was short. The train dropped us off near the “Little White House” so we hopped off and headed there. The tour was interesting. Lots of info on Truman and the other Presidents who have been there (including Trump recently) but Truman liked it the most and visited, from what I remember, 179 days of “working” vacations. His wife wasn’t a fan so she went to MO instead on many occasions. She thought this was the “boys” escape…
We walked back toward old town and stopped in a few stores to check things out until it was time to jump back on the train. I found some coconut ice cream to share with Mary. Two scoops… Not the same as Cozumel’s stand but pretty darn close and with the sun and heat (finally) it was refreshing. We jumped back on the train for the next leg of our toru. This tour guide/train driver was much better than the first one and the ride was longer so we enjoyed the breeze out of the sun and the info the guide was relating as we moved along Key West “Old Town.” Our next stop was the Hemingway House so we hopped off again and walked the two blocks to the House. We entered, gave the tickets to the gatekeeper and walked in to the house to look around while waiting for the next tour to start. Once the guide announced the tour we followed along. Our guide was pretty full of himself but once you got used to his dry sense of humor and bad jokes you could almost overlook the attitude. He did have a problem with a couple of little french brats that mom and dad couldn’t control and making all kinds of noise so I could see his frustration while trying to give the rest of us the tour information. Not the best tour and I wouldn’t recommend it but we got through it…
After the tour we hopped back on the train for our next leg and, by pure happenstance, got the same guide (the good one) so we enjoyed a continuing amount of good information about Key West. Our next stop was a full circle back to the parking lot area so we hopped off and walked back to the car for the ride back to the condo. The weather cooperated (hot, humid and sunny) and the day was a fun experience.
Monday May 28, 2018
We were up around 7:30 AM and greeted by a hot cup McDonald’s coffee thanks to the efforts of Royce. We discussed the day and decided to pack, check out and head north back to Miami Beach with several stops on the way. Our destination, Royal Palm Hotel on South Miami Beach. We headed out of Key West around 10 AM (I was driving this time) with a quick stop for a light breakfast at Royce’s favorite new place, McDonalds. After a Sausage and Egg McMuffin off we went north on US 1 and the Keys with all of their bridges.
We moved on to our next stop, lunch at the Hobo Cafe on Key Largo. A nice place. We sat in a covered area outdoors and enjoyed our lunch. Back on the road again toward the mainland which was close but not in Memorial Day Weekend returning traffic. We hit a bottleneck as we approached the split at Florida City where US 1 and the Toll Highway merge. We choose the non-toll US 1 but the majority of the traffic wanted the toll road. Once we get beyond that we had slow but clear sailing to Miami still about an hour away. We needed to make a “pit stop” for Royce as we entered the city then off to the races on US I-95 toward Miami Beach and the hotel. The traffic gets crazier as you hit the beach area so we decided, the hell with it, we’ll succumb to the parking gods and just let the hotel valet take care of business. After almost seven hours behind the wheel I was done with the car, in need of libations and some down time. I got very little…
We checked in and headed up to the rooms to freshen up and get ready to relax. We met up and walked down to the beach together to see the ocean once again. Other than the fact that it was cloudy and windy it looked pretty good. I put my toes in. It felt cool but palatable. After getting blown around for a bit we walked back to the hotel to unpack. We started discussing dinner and arrived at several choices so off we went to “dress” for dinner.
So off we went to the “Plan B” on the list of potential places. We ended up at an Asian Fusion place across the street. Mary and I share sushi for 2 along with a soup & salad (which we shouldn’t have ordered as it turns out) and Royce and LeeAnn shared several appetizers. When they brought the food we needed a bigger table. Too much food! But, we ordered it so we dug in. Our mini sushi boat was amazing. There was so much to eat I couldn’t figure out how we’d finish and I was right although we did a lot better (or worse) than I thought we would. It was very good. And the Kyriakides didn’t hold the horses either. When it was all done we ate too much but really enjoyed ourselves.
The wobble home wasn’t as easy as the feast but we made it to the rooms and prepared to sleep it off if that was possible. I didn’t think so and I was right…
Tuesday May 29, 2018
We met in the lobby for the short walk to The Front Porch, a breakfast place that turned out to be a very nice place. We had breakfast and headed back to the hotel to prepare for a day at the beach.With suntan lotion applied and swimwear on we headed to the beach in front of the hotel.
We ordered two sets of towels, chairs and umbrellas just like all good tourists do and settled in on South Miami Beach for the day. We didn’t move much except for the occasional jump in the water or find refreshments.
This final evening we decided to head down Espanada Way where the restaurants are thick. It actually reminded me of the area around the Plaza in Cozumel where there are many shops and restaurants and vendors selling their wares. The restaurants had a “rep” standing out in front trying to entice potential customers to dine with their establishment, just like Cozumel. Apparently a “normal” procedure south of the 25th parallel…
We decided on Mare Mia, an Italian Restaurant with seafood. We sat under an umbrella outdoors just in case the clouds decided to let loose. It didn’t and the dinner was very good. We enjoyed half price wines and good meals (except for Royce’s pasta dish, it was dry so he ordered extra sauce).