Monday, June 29, 2015
I think our travel day and the Florida heat were finally catching up with our littles as they napped well into dinnertime after our day at Busch Gardens. It was good timing, as we saw what would be our only rain storm the entire week during their nap. As I showered and got ready for the night, I checked outside a hundred times wondering if the rain would dampen our plans to head to the much talked about Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach. I was so excited to be on the Gulf side of Florida this year, hoping to catch a few seaside sunsets during our stay, but it wasn't looking good this night. But when the kids woke up at 6 and were definitely not going to be ready for bed at their normal hour, we decided on a whim to go for it and if all else failed, find some seafood and maybe a good movie to watch. I didn't pack a beach bag as we weren't going to have much time for swimming, and we left in total vacation mode as we chased the sunset west...
It was completely overcast and still raining when we left our hotel, but by the time we pulled up to Clearwater Beach, the clouds were breaking and the sun was determined to give us one last show for the night. We immediately escaped from our shoes and sunk our toes in the floury sand, watching Cruz's face turn to that of wonder as he remembered that one-of-a-kind touch. That was it, for within seconds, we lost our boy to the waves. He went running for the water, as fast as he could trudge through that sand, and completely lost his senses as he was soaked from head to toe within seconds. And although we may have different responses, I didn't blame him for a minute. There is something about the ocean that completely overcomes you. Its size, its power, its ability to overtake all five senses all at the same time, is all consuming. Every time I have the opportunity to stare at the ocean for awhile, I question why it is we live so far away from it. There is perhaps no greater combination in the world than breathing in that salty air, feeling the perfect warmth of the water rush over your toes, and watching the sun sink into the horizon as the big waves create the most calming soundtrack. I marvel at God's creation and feel pretty confident that Heaven must be on the coast. Maybe with an endless Iowa summer on the other side. :)
Unlike her brother, who was now having a difficult time keeping his drawers up because of the weight in salt water and sand, Mila was pretty fearful at first. The ocean must look scary to someone of her size and she felt much safer watching the waves crash from our arms. She also kept her eye on her brother, I'm not sure if because she was nervous about his safety or curious about how much fun he was having! We took some pictures, collected some seashells, and tried to drink in every big stormy cloud that painted the perfect sunset for us that night. It of course set much too fast for my liking, and soon we were left with the reality of a wet little boy and nothing but a pair of pajamas (sans underwear) for him to change into. No towel, no extra pair of shoes, and no good way of washing some of that sand away before hopping into our rental car. At first, Cruz was not having this pajamas with no underwear thing, but we bribed him with dessert at Crabby Bill's, a beach-side restaurant that advertised the best seafood in town, a win-win for Beau and I who were very much ready for some seafood and cocktails.
We ordered a full order of steamed white gulf shrimp, two bowls of clam chowder, and a round of daquiris, two virgin and two not so much. The kids were in slushy heaven for the next half hour, allowing Beau and I the chance to get elbow deep in shrimp as we peeled em, dunked em in butter, and devoured every last one, licking our fingers and wishing for more at the end. I tell you, if I could just teleport once a week for a sunset on the beach and a full order of steamed shrimp afterwards, I would be one happy woman!
While our day at Busch Gardens was fun, this night felt like vacation. We hopped in our little Ford Escort and made the trip back to our home away from home, planning our day while the kids dreamed of roller coasters and ocean waves in the backseat.
It was one of the very best nights...
Friday, June 26, 2015
Our first full day in Florida started a little later than we had anticipated, almost missing the cooked-to-order breakfast downstairs because we slept that late. We didn't even bother to set an alarm because we both assumed our kids would be up very early and we were shocked to see it past 8:30 before anyone woke up! I had no idea how all of us sleeping in the same room would work, but the kids did awesome. Mila had a full-size crib we rented from Tampa Bay Baby Rentals (best money ever spent), and Cruz had a full-sized bed all to himself. We had conquered the flight AND conquered our first hotel sleep with flying colors and I was more than ready to get out and see something new.
We decided to head to Busch Gardens for the day. We really had no plans and no expectations for our week, a nice change from our Disney trip last year. We figured Busch Gardens would have enough to entertain Cruz and Mila for the day. The Florida heat was no joke this week, but we planned to go until the kids were sleepy, then head back to the hotel for naps and a dip in the pool before heading to the beach for dinner.
For those of you planning a Florida vacation in the future, don't overlook Busch Gardens. Comparable to Disney's Animal Kingdom minus the Disney characters, this place was part zoo, part amusement park, including several towering roller coasters that made Beau and I drool most of the day. It was pristine and manicured much like the Disney properties, with gorgeous tropical vegetation around every corner. But most of all, it was QUIET! We got there shortly after it opened at 10:00 and we felt like we were one of the only families there! We had zero lines for the entire morning and actually felt comfortable letting Cruz and Mila explore areas without constantly being on top of them. It was a breath of fresh air, especially since fresh air was hard to come by this day.
After swings, the roller coaster, and an ill-received greeting from Elmo and Bert and Ernie, we took a welcome break at a little splash pad in the middle of Sesame Street. Cruz was a little reserved, but Mila jumped right in and cooled off in a way that envied us all. Thankfully, I packed her another outfit because she was soaked!
After a dry diaper, some Dippin Dots, lunch with some tropical birds and a train ride through the premises, the kids were ready for naps. We called our hotel shuttle, made our way to the hotel and crashed for big naps in fresh bed sheets.
We woke up rested with a forecast for what was sure to be a perfect beach-side sunset.
To be continued...