Today, we cried and screamed like toddlers on the inside as we drove to the airport, leaving behind our lovely Nurture Her Nature family vacation. As Ali mentioned last week, we took the girls to Tampa this year, and it was the perfect balance of play and relaxation. I think I speak for Ali as well when I say that if you’re considering a family vacation, follow in our footsteps — except plan better for meals. We had to throw out too many groceries, making us both sick at the sight of wasted food. Other than that, perfection.
With three-, five-, and seven-year-olds, we knew we needed a direct flight, and Southwest came through with cheap tickets and no charges for checking our luggage. The fewer carry-ons, the better. Each of the girls had packed a backpack with entertainment, but we were still unsure of how it would go considering Riley hadn’t been on a plane since she was a baby and this was Maddie’s first time flying. The two-hour flight was just a snap too long, but we made it out without serious tantrums or fights, thankfully.
We rented a minivan, which may have been my favorite part. I’m not kidding. For six days, I was a minivan mom. And I drove like one. I got us to a boat that none of us thought we would make. Yeah. Oh, yeah. The room! All three girls sat on the same seat while not touching! So. Much. Room. The room, the respite, the respect. Rent a minivan, moms. You’ll love it.
We tried out Airbnb for the first time, and it was the best decision ever. It was cheaper than a hotel, we had a ton of space, the girls had their own room complete with television, Ali and I had our own rooms, and we even had a laundry room! Did I mention it was beautiful? Check it out:
We went to the beach every single day. It was the girls’ first time in the ocean, and they just loved it. The salt water was a bit of a surprise. All three made fantastic yuck faces when they got water in their mouths. The ocean stole two pairs of Maddie’s goggles, and the sandcastles didn’t stand long, but otherwise it was simply ideal. The beauty can’t be put into words, so I won’t fumble around trying to describe it. Just go. Clearwater Beach.
Our favorite restaurant, on a recommendation from a friend (thanks, Jon!), turned out to be Frenchy’s; its grouper sandwich was simply sublime. Even Story and Riley ordered one after trying ours. We ended up there twice because of the kids’ begging chants. One meal was finished with key lime pie. Don’t judge. We were in Florida. It’s a rule.
One afternoon was spent on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise. The ship was quite an attraction. Beyond the scenery, the cruise provided dolphins, dancing, and drinks. Kids could learn to speak pirate, participate in water gun battles, and play pirate trivia. I wish I could share a picture, but in true NHN fashion, the girls refused to cooperate and all had weird, unrecognizable expressions when the crew took our picture.
Another afternoon was spent at the Florida Aquarium. I have to say, this was a letdown. We thought the place would have much more than it did. The exhibits they had were nice, and the created environments were impressive. However, there seemed to be some very obvious holes. There were no dolphins and no manatees, for instance. And this was a FLORIDA aquarium. Strange and disappointing. Oh, and I got bit by a duck. I’m sure that in no way colors my opinion of the place.
We didn’t go into the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, but we took advantage of their Sea Life Safari boat tour. This was our favorite surprise activity. We hadn’t planned it in advance but were so glad we made the impulse reservation. We saw several dolphins on our way out to a small island that was picturesque and full of shells. Also along the way, we made a stop to drop a net, and then on the way back, the crew taught us about the fish that were caught in the net. Two dolphins led us back to the dock. Magical.
Like I said, we really didn’t want to leave. To alleviate our sadness, we tried to think of next year’s vacation destination. I have a feeling the planning will start soon!