The Great Florida Adventure

Last Sunday we returned from our wild Florida adventure. It was a whirlwind week with lots of sights and experiences. Just the way I like a vacation to be! In total we covered over 2,800 miles and visited eight different towns. As promised, here is my summary of our adventures:

Gainesville, Florida

Originally I planned to stop in Macon, GA, for the night on the way down to Florida, but we arrived in Macon around 3 p.m. Not having anything to do there, I decided to keep going. At 7 p.m. we finally made it to the Florida-Georgia line, and Riley and I celebrated by singing This Is How We Roll by Florida Georgia Line as we crossed. Finally tired, we stopped for the night in Gainesville.

In the morning the girls and I grabbed a picnic breakfast from Aldi and explored the University of Florida campus, something my parents would have made me do on our vacations. The campus was beautiful, and the girls made friends with all of the squirrels. After breakfast it was off to our next adventure.

Crystal River, Florida

About an hour and a half along Florida country roads brought us to Crystal River, Florida, the winter home of the manatees. As I learned from one of the volunteers at Three Sisters Springs, the manatees enjoy water above 70 degrees, so in the winter they find smaller, warmer pools of water. One of these places is Three Sisters Springs, a nature preserve that is set back in the countryside and has three natural springs. It was absolutely beautiful. Poor Riley ate too many sugar-free mints and suffered a stomachache through the whole experience.

After the stomach pain subsided, we grabbed lunch at a local diner, where I introduced the girls to onion rings and cheesecake. Riley devoured the cheesecake and declared that it must be her next birthday cake.

Feeling full we got on the road again for a two-hour trip to Winter Haven, home of LEGOLAND.

Winter Haven, Florida

By far, the highlight of our trip was LEGOLAND. Riley was beside herself with joy as she entered the hotel, and although Maddie was scared of the people dressed like LEGO characters, or big stuffed animals as she called them, she was excited too. We made the most of our first night hitting the pool and playing in the lobby all night.

The next day we went to the LEGOLAND park, where the girls rode their very first rollercoaster. I was terrified, Maddie was thrilled, and Riley enjoyed calling me a baby the whole time. Much to my dismay, the line for the coaster was very short and we had to ride it two times.

The rest of the rides were super fun, and the things that they could make out of LEGOs was astonishing! Riley was very into it and bought a set that she worked on for the rest of the vacation.

Maddie’s big accomplishment at LEGOLAND was finally overcoming her fear of big stuffed animals by the time we left. She even danced and took a picture with one. She was very proud.

Lake Wales, Florida

Tuesday morning it was time to move on from LEGOLAND. We said a sad goodbye and headed out to Lake Wales, 40 minutes away. Lake Wales is home to Bok Tower Garden, a botanical garden created by American author Edward Bok. He grew up with his grandmother telling him, “make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it,” which is exactly what he did here.  The gardens are incredible, but the highlight of this place is certainly the tower he built. The tower is a rose brick with a spattering of gorgeous granite and golden details. I could have spent the whole day here but the road called us and we headed to our next destination, Stuart.

Stuart, Florida

We arrived in Stuart in the late afternoon and excitedly headed right to the beaches for some snorkeling. The girls had brand new snorkeling masks that they were excited to break in. Unfortunately, as we arrived at Bathtub Reef Beach we were met by the state patrol who informed us that all beaches were closed due to a shark bite. Yikes!

The next morning shark bites were still top of my mind so I decided we would spend the day at the water park. To the girls’ dismay, I made them hike a bit at a nearby Florida state park first. After lots of beautiful scenery and much whining, we headed to the water park.

Luckily for me, this water park didn’t include any areas where the girls couldn’t touch the bottom of the pool so I got to spend the day relaxing and watching them play from afar. It was glorious, even if it wasn’t the beach.

After the water park we grabbed lunch in town and then explored a park full of turtle homes. It was really cool to see all of the turtles hanging out in the bottom of their burrows.

Islamorada, Florida

The next day we took at three-hour drive south to the Florida Keys, specifically Islamorada. A work colleague of mine was vacationing there and invited us down for a day of boating with her and her family. The water there was amazing! It doesn’t get any deeper than 7 feet for as far as you can see, which creates the most beautiful aquamarine color. We had a great time on the boat and lunched at a restaurant that we were able to pull up to with the boat. So much fun!

After soaking up the rays we headed back two hours north to Boca Raton to meet up with the rest of the family. Once at the hotel we spent the night catching up with family and playing games.

Boca Raton, Florida

The next day we tried again to snorkel at one of the Boca Raton beaches, but, unfortunately, the waters were too rough from an impending storm. We still had fun playing on the beach.

That night was my cousin’s wedding. The venue was beautiful and so was she. The girls had a great night pretending to be married to my other cousin, and we all had a fun time with family.

Atlanta, Georgia

Unfortunately, the next day meant it was time to head home. Reluctantly we said goodbye to family and Florida and made our way north. The original plan was to spend the night in Chattanooga, TN, but unfortunately, Florida traffic was a bear and we only made it to Atlanta. All ended well as we found a hotel with a pool and checked in 30 minutes before the pool closed. I have never seen the girls change their clothes so fast!

Tired from all of our adventures we made it back to Indiana at 5 that Sunday. It was a great Florida adventure and a wonderful vacation.