Sunday, December 17, 2017

Florida Travel Diaries: Miami and Gasparilla Pirate Festival

Like the trip to the West Coast, this trip to Florida was planned for a long time. At the beginning like all trips, the itinerary had another form. But in the end, taking into account the days we had we did not want to see many places in short time, since surely and as we love it, we will return to the USA. We preferred to visit the sites well and enjoy each of them.


Day 1 - Florida Keys

That morning we got up early at 4.45 am. We had the Chicago-Miami flight at 7.30 in the morning. A taxi driver was waiting for us at the exit of the hotel because the previous night we had already notified at the reception. We arrived and were part of the chaos that was in the airport itself. We waited at least an hour to check-in. And then inside the flight, it was three hours of travel in a hard seat like a stone that could not be reclined.

We arrived in Miami at 11.30am. During our stay in Miami, I met some friends and they were the ones who came to pick up me at the airport in the car we had rented. We headed to Key West. We stopped to eat before entering the cays, as it was already about 13.30 pm and the route that awaited us was long.

From Miami to Key West it was 3 hours and 30 minutes by car. The road is straight and hassle-free. We arrived around 4.30pm in the afternoon. The road is long but is quite enjoyable. The island is small, but not as much as I thought. In fact, when it came to going to the hotel I thought it was quite close to the center, but walking there was tiring.

Our hotel was more or less on that street with South Street, in the south of the island. Seeing on the map is close, but walking is about 35 minutes. The first thing we did was leave our bags and go to the first point of interest on the island that we had next to the hotel. We leave for the Southernmost Point of the USA. It is next to the road and there is not much more to see.

After waiting for a small line to take the picture, we wanted to see the sunset at Mallory Square. The Mallory Square pier is the best place in Key West to enjoy a very special sunset. After sunset, the area is full of musicians, jugglers and street vendors who take advantage of the occasion. The sunset was around 7.30pm. We started walking down Duval Street, with a map in hand.

And Key West is beautiful. Their houses are spectacular and have a super cute atmosphere. I loved it. And as for the sunset, it's very nice, although not the prettiest we saw in Florida. After seeing the sunset, we took a taxi to return to the hotel, since it was late.

We showered and went out to dinner at Duval Street, this time by car. We dined at a restaurant in the same street, on the terrace and with a very good atmosphere. Then we went to have a drink to a famous a bar frequented by Hemingway and where there was a live country band. We had a few beers. From there, we went to the hotel.

Day 2 - Miami Beach

We got up early, had breakfast at the hotel and took the car to visit some of the tourist attractions offered by Key West. One of the interesting attractions here is the Key West Lighthouse. The lighthouse was for many years a place of surveillance of the US Navy until in 1969 it was handed over as the country's heritage and readapted as a museum. We do not go up.

In front of the lighthouse is the one that was the home of Ernest Hemingway, nowadays also converted into a museum. We got back to the car and went to the Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, built to defend the coast further southeast of the USA. Inside the park, there is also a beach. We decided not to stay on that beach and go to another. So with the fort, we said goodbye to Key West.

Then we headed to Bahia Honda State Park before reaching the Marathon Key. This park is very good. It has its little beaches and the view of the old bridge makes it unmistakable. The beaches are small and also the water does not cover anything. There is a place to eat hamburgers and sandwiches. It is not very big but it is good. But the most successful thing is to bring food. We took a walk through the park.

After eating and being back on the beach for a while, we took the car and went a little closer to Miami. From Bahia Honda we went to Key Largo, stopping at one of its beaches. It was very long and here there was more wind. We lay there, swim around and we headed to Miami.

We arrived in Miami and went to the apartment. The apartment was super nice that two blocks away from Ocean Drive and next to Lincoln Road. The truth is that it is unbeatable. After we arrived we unpacked and went to have dinner. After a nice dinner, we go to the bed.

Day 3 - Ocean Drive

Today was our first day in Miami Beach and after a good breakfast in the apartment, we went out. Miami Beach is an island that is linked to the continent by 5 bridges. We visited South Beach, which is the southern part of the island and the most famous part as well. This is where we also had the apartment. The first thing we did was go to Ocean Drive, where the Art Deco district is located, formed by several buildings designed with this architectural style.

We see the mansion of Versace in Ocean Drive. Between the beach and Ocean Drive is the Lummus Park. It is a great place to shelter from the infernal sun that hits Miami. Then we decided to rent bikes in one of the perpendiculars of Ocean Drive (we asked at the tourist office and they told us we could rent them on this site).

Then we decided to go to Lincoln Road, a street full of shops and restaurants. The street is pedestrian. So we left the bikes at the beginning of the street with the padlock that came with each of them. We returned with the bikes along the same beach promenade and went to where Lummus Park ends.

It was time to eat and we decided to eat at the one that was right on Ocean Drive. After eating and sitting for a while on the terrace of the restaurant, we went to the beach. The South Beach is one of the busiest beaches in Miami. The water is quite clear and it is very shallow.

We went to one of the wharves of Biscayne Bay from where we can see downtown Miami. Afterward, we returned the bikes and left Miami and leave for the Everglades National Park. When we saw a place that convinced us to do the tour, we stopped. The truth is that there was no one, so we only waited 15 minutes for the time when the hovercraft was coming.

The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes, and the truth is that riding the boat that seems to fly is a unique experience. We had heard that many who did the tour did not see alligators, but we did. Then the tour boy also took us to the place where the Buffalo Indians used to live, where we saw some grasshoppers that looked like dinosaurs.

The experience was very good. After the tour, we tried alligator meat, and we did not like it too much. It tasted like chicken but it was a lot harder. Then we went to Cayo Vizcaino. We stop on the way to eat and go to the beach. From Everglades to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park it took about an hour. This park that is south of Cayo Vizcaino is mostly known for its 29-meter-high lighthouse. There we spent the whole afternoon, in the sand and splashing in the water.

After spending the afternoon on the beach we went to the apartment. We took a shower, we got ready and went for a walk, this time to Espanola Way that we had next to home. Espanola Way is a very small, pedestrian street perpendicular to Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue.

It is full of Italian, Mexican and Spanish restaurants and the area is expensive. It is the most expensive place to have dinner in Miami, better to have dinner at Lincoln Avenue (where we had dinner one of the following days). We have a bite and prepare to go out for a drive along Ocean Drive to see the art deco district illuminated at night.

After the return, we seat in a terrace where there was a DJ. There was a very lively atmosphere and we had a mojito. From there we went home to sleep.

Day 4 - Fort Lauderdale

This day it was time to change cities and visit Fort Lauderdale, which is 40 minutes from Miami Beach. Ft Lauderdale is known as the Venice of America for its large number of channels. I had read that one of the best ways to visit the city was by taking theWater Taxi. This means of transport has three different routes. The yellow one, the blue one (it crosses the part of Fort Lauderdale) and the pink route (it crosses the neighboring city of Hollywood).

We parked in a public parking lot near the yellow route and took the boat that runs through the yellow zone that is not more than 10 minutes. We decided to do the pink route first, but it was a mistake since it only took us two hours to get there. There is not much to see except four mansions and a port. One incentive could be the Hollywood beach, in which we stopped.

It would have been nice to spend the day on the beach, but it was not our idea. So we took a walk along the beach promenade and then we went back to catch the Water Taxi back. As we had already paid, we decided to do the other route (Ft Lauderdale), which is much shorter (about 30 minutes) and with enough more houses and yachts to see.

It was already quite late, so we decided to go to eat at an outlet. Then, at night, we took the car and went home. We dined in the apartment. We showered and we went out for a while in Miami Beach. First, we take something in a perpendicular of Ocean Drive. We had some pina coladas, which is fine, although the bar was not as chic as the ones on Ocean Drive.

Then we decided to go to another street. We sat on a terrace and saw that they served super large cocktails in huge round drinks and ordered two. While we were sitting on the terrace we saw some impressive cars. Yes, we sat on that terrace because most clubs and bars were closing (and that was Friday, about 12 at night). Surely there are more places much cheaper, but those glasses caught our the attention.

Day 5 - Little Havana

This day we relax after the beating we had from previous days. We take a coupon to ride a jet ski. The jet skis was somewhere near the north, so we went by car. We parked in a public parking lot next to the beach and went in search of our desired jet ski. We talked to them and they told us that the sea was bad and that they were not going to open that day.

We spent the day on the beach and we did much more than sunbathing and resting. We left the beach to eat Mexican taco at a restaurant near the beach. After lunch, we went around Miami Beach. There was a nice atmosphere in the afternoon.

We leave to visit Little Havana. A very small part of Cuba is located in this small neighborhood of Miami. The main street is Calle Ocho where there are many shops selling cigars, Cuban restaurants or shops. The most famous spot on the street is Maximo Gomez Park, where Cubans gather to play dominoes.

After visiting Little Havana we went for a drive by Coral Gables, a quite rich neighborhood full of mansions. It is good to drive around the neighborhood and die of envy seeing those huge houses. We decided to go home and pack as this was our last day in Miami.

By seven o'clock, tired, we went to the apartment. We had dinner. We got ready and went out to have a drink at the house of some friends of the friend we had in Miami. It was a typical American party (but without any American) at home. About two o'clock in the morning, we retired home as we were already tired.

Day 6 - West Coast of Florida

We leave the Miami apartment. The first thing we did after breakfast at the hotel was to take the taxi and go to the airport to get our third and last rental car. And so we set course from Miami to Naples, about two hours of travel. At the time we arrived, we went around and ate on Fifth Avenue. After eating and making occasional purchases, we took the car and toured the city, freaking out in colors of the mansions.

We leave for the Sanibel and Captiva islands. From here Sanibel was barely 15 minutes. The island is tiny and very beautiful. The beaches are very good although we prefer to go to the beaches of Captiva. We visit the area of the lighthouse, east of the island. The lighthouse area is beautiful. It is also a fishing area and there are many people fishing in that area.

We went around the area and then before going to Captiva, we ate at a place we saw in Sanibel. Afterward, in Captiva, we went to the beach and saw the most beautiful sunset in the world. Also, the beach is super good, very quiet with super fine sand. After the beautiful sunset, we went in search of the hotel.

Day 7 - Siesta Key

Today was our last day at the beach in Florida. Our intention was to visit Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and Siesta Key but before we went through Venice. We stopped to take some pictures from there we headed to Anna Maria Island. I confused about one thing. I would say that Anna Maria was close to our hotel so we should have left for the end.

Venice was about an hour from our hotel and the visit is not worth much. The beaches at the end of the area are practically all the same. After spending some time in Venice we went to Anna Maria Island, which was another hour from Venice. It was time to eat and we stopped at one of the few restaurants with a terrace on the beach, and where we ate very well.

After lunch, we went to the beach and stayed until five in the afternoon. At that time we decided to go to Siesta Key (in the end we did not go through Longboat Key, which is right between Anna Maria and Siesta Key). The beach of Siesta Key is said to be the best beach in the United States and the truth is that it is huge. The sand is super fine, it looked like flour. I had never been on such fine sand and is perfect for walking. In Siesta Key we arrive and have a swim and walk around the beach and see the sunset.

From there, we went to our hotel.

Day 8 - Orlando

Our last day of travel in Florida was in Orlando. From Ellenton to Orlando it takes about two hours. We ate there and already in the afternoon, we went to our hotel. Near our hotel was the Orlando Eye, the Ferris wheel to see the panoramic views of the city, although we did not go up.

We visit the Island of Adventure park in Universal Parks. We like roller coasters and that's why we chose this park, which although it does not have many. There was a lot of people and also a terrible heat. So we spent the day going up and down the park's attractions. The truth is that in Orlando there is not much to do but go shopping, eating and visiting theme parks.

At night we went to a restaurant area next to the Disney parks. It was not a very good idea because to enter we take about an hour of all the traffic jam and the cars that were. We rested for a while in the hotel. We showered and went to dinner at a Cuban restaurant that had a live show. The restaurant was near the hotel (on International Drive) and we dined at the outdoor terrace with live music. At least it was enjoyable. We get back to the hotel, as we had to pack our bags since it was our last night of the trip.

Day 9 - Gasparilla Pirate Festival

Our last day arrived. What a pity! But everything good ends. That day at night we took the flight back home. We left soon from Orlando to Tampa to say goodbye. It's about one and a half hours of traveling from Orlando to Tampa. We ate along the way and when we arrived in Tampa Bay we realized that there was some kind of event because several streets were closed. There was a lot of people and cars in the streets.

It was the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. I did not know, but Gasparilla is the third largest parade in the United States. The first is Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is a parade that takes place every year, in honor of the Gasparilla pirate, who arrived in Tampa a few centuries ago.

At the bay, there were dozens of boats. Then there is the arrival of Gasparilla's boat. It's a very pirate-like craft and, I'll venture to say, with hundreds of them, it's Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. The boat comes to the sound of cannon shots, but it's just the sound itself, it has no cannon (okay, it took me a while to realize I did not have it) and a lot of excitement.

I loved that part, it's very lively, people go crazy with the pirates. All men on the vessel are of a type of club and can participate in the invasion. However, for those who are accustomed to Carnival in Brazil, it is quite different. The concentration of people is much lower than in the streets of Salvador or Rio de Janeiro during our Carnival. The erotic appeal also has no comparison and things are a bit more organized.

After seeing the madness in Tampa Bay, we went to the airport with great regret that our trip was over but with the satisfaction that everything had gone well and with the certainty that we will surely return one day.

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