All posts by Troy

A Memorable Day

Entering Biscayne N.P.

Every day is a day to be thankful for but there are days that make an impact on you that you won’t forget.  Today was one such day!  Our plan from the beginning was to get going to Biscayne National Park to explore Convey Point and Boca Chita Key with the hope of spotting a manatee some time during this adventure.  There was a dilemma that arose a week ago which required some difficult decisions and examining our priorities.  I fully enjoy exploring National Parks and all they have to offer and was really excited to see Biscayne.  The issue that conflicted with that was one of the sports teams I follow was in the playoffs and I really wanted to watch the game.  My resolution before today was to miss the first half of the game and leave the park a little early.  Well this came with a further examination of priorities as the day wore on.  In the end, all worked out well.  Let me explain:

I don’t follow a lot of sports teams with any regularity and am content with just hearing scores most of the time for a few teams around my area.  There is one team I have followed for much of my life and they are the Green Bay Packers.  Well, a week ago they earned the right to play in the NFC Championship game with the winner going to the Super bowl.  Unfortunately the game was scheduled for mid-afternoon at a time I was planning on enjoying the sights and environment of Biscayne National Park. After doing some soul searching and examining my priorities I came to a conclusion. I may never be back to the park and there is a probable chance the Packers will make it to the playoffs again in the next decade or two so the park held a higher spot on my list of priorities.  I decided to leave the park a little early (probably only by an hour) and that should allow me to watch the second half of the football game.  That seemed acceptable to me and a good compromise.

The Lighthouse at Boca Chita Key

Apparently that was not a close enough examination as our plans were called into question once we arrived at Biscayne National Park.  We had planned on taking a boat tour out to Boca Chita Key which was listed as departing once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  As we were getting ready for this tour we were informed that there was only an afternoon trip which would not get us back until the football game was almost over.  Our decision was to either miss the trip to the key or miss most if not all of the game.  I didn’t want to do either but could not do both.  Ultimately the decision was to take the boat trip and hope we could see the end of the game and the highlights.  With technology there was another option, I could watch the game on my laptop as long as I could get reception.  A nice way to enjoy a bit of both the park and the game.

Watching the NFC Title game at Biscayne

After deciding to take the boat tour the day began to fall into place and ended up being a day I’m sure I will remember for a long time.  As we began looking at the displays in the visitor center and learning about the park I had a gentleman ask me to take some pictures of him and his girlfriend.  I agreed and began to follow him outside when he further explained that he was about to propose to his girlfriend and where so that I could take some pictures for him of these important highlights.  I was very happy to do this and be a part of something that can be so significant for two people. After this the day went to fast as we explored Biscayne N.P. and searched for the elusive manatee.  We enjoyed seeing many fish and birds along with the amazing scenery of the landscape and ocean all the while seeing the city of Miami in the background.  On our way back to the hotel I managed to find a radio station to listen to the football game and did make it to the hotel to see the last few minutes of the football game and watch Green Bay win to move on to the super bowl in 2 weeks. 

Boca Chita

In the end staying with your priorities, even when they are challenging to determine, will allow you to be confident in your decisions.

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Travel Preparations

Getting Ready to Leave for Miami

Preparing for a family trip of 10 days is no simple task. There are many things that need to be taken care of while we are away. We began making arrangements several weeks ago so that things are taken care of while we are away. Enjoying the company of pets has its price. They have to be taken care of when we’re not here. Fortunately we have family members in the area and one of them has agreed to live at our house during our travels. Other items that needed to be planned weeks or even a few months ago where snow removal so our guest can move a car out of the driveway in the event of a significant snowfall and water changes for our fish. We have a few larger aquariums to maintain so scheduling water changes to compensate for our time away is part of our travel preparations. I planned out when the first water changes could happen when we return and worked backwards to determine which aquariums needed to be changed at which dates to provide the best environment as possible. Some of those fish tanks only need to be changed once a month while others need to be changed every week and a half.

Checking It Twice

Getting closer to the actual travel dates bring many more items to take care of. Mental packing lists and items needed for our trip help so that when it’s packing time we have everything we want to bring with us. Many people actually write down a list of items to pack however we choose to make it a little more interesting by just using mental lists. Fortunately we have gained experience over the years and have a good idea of what we need to have and items that if we forget, there are places at our destinations that we can get them. In order to get this experience, we have forgotten many things and have figured out how to improvise. Essential medications are probably the most important item to bring as they can be difficult to get especially if traveling out of the country. I place cameras as a high priority item however as they have gotten less expensive over the years they become less important. Things such as toothpaste or socks can easily be replaced at most destinations.

Do We Have Everything?

A week out and our travel documents should probably be printed out as our arrangements are all made online. It’s surprising to me how much paper we go through with all of the air, hotel, car, and cruise documents that we need. I’m bringing a small book of reservations! There are a few tours we know right now that we want to participate in so we booked those. That adds to the small book so we have confirmation numbers, times, dates, addresses, and telephone numbers that we may need. These documents are always kept in our carry on so that they are with us all the time. Other information that is often helpful is telephone numbers for credit card companies, emergency contacts, and personal physicians in case something happens and medical information if needed, not necessarily in that order.

Looking Ahead

Packing for a 10 day trip takes almost a full day after clothes have been laundered and missing items acquired. The first part includes deciding appropriate dress for the destinations we’re going. In order to gage this we look at the extended forecast for each place we will be spending time. This has changed how we pack more than once. Initially we may be planning on bringing more summer attire and then check the forecast for a specific area and realize that it is not expected to be as warm as we thought it would be. Getting each person’s items for each part of the trip and putting all of those items together into a pile is the next thing we do. Once we know how much we are trying to put into a few suitcases, these piles can be organized and packed using every bit of space as efficiently as possible. Socks can be put into shoes and other open crevices. We add small items inside our snorkel flippers and masks to help increase efficient use of space to reduce the amount of luggage we have to carry through the airport and into hotels. As we are packing our suitcases, we always remember more items that we need/want to bring. The final piece to packing for an extended week trip is to get the suitcase closed. I have had to sit on a suitcase to close it a few times. Once it is closed, each suitcase is wheeled to our bathroom scale and weighed to get a general idea of how heavy it is. If it is too close to being considered heavy by the airlines we will do some adjusting to reduce the weight which I have also done a time or two.

Is This All We Have?

I think all of our travel documents have been printed off and placed in the carry-on and our bags are about 90% packed.  Come Friday night we should be ready to go without staying up most of the night packing.  We have spent many nights before a trip packing and I do what I can to eliminate this as I like to get a full nights rest before traveling.  That may be the last full night for a week as there is no place like home for a comfortable place to sleep.

The Caribbean

Which One is Ours?

As we continue planning our Caribbean cruise portion, it has been duly noted that none of these locations are on the board.  We have declared it alright to take some side trips and add destinations as we are able to and desire to. When plans were being made on how to travel our National Parks Monopoly board we saw the Florida Everglades and planned on adding a cruise to this property.  What was unexpected was adding Biscayne National Park and a drive through the keys.  In order to accomplish all of these places and at least get an introduction to them we had to compromise and shorten the length of the cruise.  Our Eastern Caribbean cruise was chosen because there are 3 stops on a 5 day cruise, 2 of which we have never been to before.

Our first stop is to Grand Turk after a fun day at sea.  While researching some of the attractions of this location, I was surprised to learn that this is where John Glenn was taken after he splashed down in the Atlantic.  He also trained at the US Air Force Base and space tracking station located on Grand Turk.  We are expected to be in port a little over 7 hours.  Looking through some of the excursions offered by the cruise line, this should be enough time to enjoy one excursion and still provide time to do some exploration and shopping.  There are many references to the coral reefs around this island and the chance at seeing humpback whales as they migrate for the winter.

Getting Immersed In Aquatic Life

Next on the itinerary is Half Moon Cay (Little San Salvador Island) in the Bahamas. The revues of this stop have all raved about how nice the beach is with beautiful sand, crystal clear blue Caribbean water, and very friendly people.  Half Moon Cay is all about the sand and the water.  There really is nothing else on the island to see.  Perfect!!  Fishing, snorkeling, diving, and playing in the sand sounds like a great way to spend a vacation day.  Snorkeling and an encounter with stingrays top our list of excursions at this island.  Becoming immersed in the coral and colorful fish allow your mind to forget all of the facets of daily life and concentrate on the creatures beneath.  Little San Salvador Island has a protected area of stingrays where you can interact with them and feed them.  Watch out for the Stingray hickey!  Afterwards, taking a few minutes to bury your feet in the white, soft sand would be great way to end the day at Half Moon Cay.

Our final stop in the Caribbean is Nassau, Bahamas.  Watch out as you disembark from the ship or the hair braiders will get you. Fortunately there is much for them to work with on my head. There are many different experiences to be had at this location.  Those who enjoy gambling have a plethora of casinos in which to spend their day.  There are a number of pirate themed adventures that can be entertaining and educational as you discover the history of Nassau. For me, I prefer to be outside exploring nature and enjoying the warmth of the sun.  There are snorkeling, diving, fishing, and boating trips available for a day full of sun.  For us, one of the new experiences we would like to explore is swimming with the dolphins. I’ve tried to do this before but unfortunately the trip was canceled or altered due to weather.  Hopefully this time will be different.

Riding Off In the Sunset

After a short time back on the ship we will be back in Miami going through customs and re-entering the United States for the last part of our trip.  Fortunately we will still have a few days in Miami so that we don’t have to go from the warm Caribbean to the cold upper mid-west.  After getting off the ship, we get to take another property off of our National Parks Monopoly board – the Everglades and then off to the Keys.

Another Board to Travel

 
Chocolate Edition Board

Over the holidays we have found another board to add to the list of “Boards Traveling”.  This one should be quite easy as it is the Monopoly Chocolate Edition.  The board itself has all of the same properties as the original game but the rest of the pieces are different.  There is a spinner and the deeds/chance cards.  In this edition, the deeds and chance cards are made of chocolate. 

Board and Pieces

Monopoly Chocolate Edition is probably one of the easiest and fastest editions to play.  The rules are as follows:

1. Place the board and the spinner on the table
2. The host spins first. If the spinner lands on a colored square, the player can take a chocolate of the same (street) color from the box and put in on the board on a street square of the same color.  Then it is the next player’s turn.
3. If the spinner stops on a square with a question mark, a similar chocolate is placed in the bank.
5. If the spinner stops on the Free Parking square, the player may take ALL chocolates from the bank.
6. Once the last chocolate belonging to a color on the board street has been placed, the next player to spin this color may take ALL the chocolates of that color.
7. As soon as all streets and all stations have been distributed, the player who has won the most chocolates wins!  The winner may also eat any chocolates left in the bank.

 
Chocolae Deeds and Chance Cards

 

This game is for 2 – 4 players.  That could be a lot of chocolate for 1 person if they are playing a 2 person game as there are 32 pieces.  I think we will wait for a couple of months to travel this board as there are plenty of holiday treats still around. 

There have been other chocolate versions created such as Chocolate – Opoly which is dedicated to chocolate aficionados. Then there was the Neiman Marcus Chocolate Monopoly Edition which was made entirely of chocolate including the board, deeds, and hotels.  This edition was sold in 1978 for $600.00 according to Extremechocolate.com. Apparently there were only 25 of the Neiman Marcus editions made.  I would have to have a fairly large gathering in order to eat all of that chocolate.  Finishing a complete game must have been near impossible due to pieces missing (eaten). What a great conversation piece though.

Chocolate Edition Box

This edition of Monopoly may not be quite as chocolaty as the Neiman Marcusedition; it doesn’t come with that kind of price tag either.  I believed that there was a Monopoly edition for everyone before with all that have been made over the past 75 years.  Now I’m convinced with the making of chocolate versions!

Between the Parks

Between the Parked Ships

In between our visit to Biscayne National Park and the Everglades National Park we are going to explore parts of the Caribbean on a cruise. This 5 day cruise will take us to Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, and Nassau. We have visited Nassau once before 15 years ago where we enjoyed a submarine excursion through some very beautiful waters being amazed at the colors of the fish and the ship wreck while looking into the Abyss as the ocean floor dropped out of site.  Claustrophobia entered for a brief time as the submarine began sinking until the sites of the ocean floor came into view. We enjoy cruises as they allow us to experience a number of different places in a short period of time.

This wasn’t always the case.  During our first few cruises we primarily wanted to stay on the ship and just relax.  We would get off the ship for a little while and shop in the local stores and then return never really exploring the destination just enjoying the ocean breeze.  One of the reasons for this was the cost of excursions at a time when we didn’t have the disposable income for traveling.  Another reason was a lack of desire to explore along with wanting to lounge around and relax.  As I have gotten older and in more of a routine of daily life, there is a greater desire to experience new things and explore areas I have not been to before.  Excursions make a tremendous difference in the number of memories there are while on a cruise. 

Sunset Over the Ocean

These excursions don’t always have to be booked through the cruise line itself, especially with the internet access today.  There are many destinations that have tourist information online where you can look for tours other than what the cruise line is offering. We are looking into a dolphin swim in Nassau that is not offered by the cruise line we are taking. Sometimes going off on an unplanned excursion can make just as many memories or more because it was spontaneous.  One of the times we did this was in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  We negotiated a price with a taxi to take us to some of the highlights of Montego Bay and began our sightseeing.  We were able to see the area botanical gardens and climb Dunn’s River Falls for a lot less than we would have paid from a cruise ship and we had more freedom to see what we wanted for the length of time we wanted. 

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Rushing Back to the Ship!

 
One concern of creating your own excursions is that they are not cruise sanctioned so you have to be very aware of the time because the cruise ship likely will not wait for you if you are unable to get back to the ship on time.  I have tested this return time on more than one occasion and it is not a pleasant experience.  Fortunately I have made it back with enough time to get back on the ship.  On at least one occasion I have joined security as they were getting back on the ship and closing the doors.  After all was done, I made the most of this brief stop and have some great memories and a lot of laughs now.  Some of my family members won’t go with me on my custom made excursions because I make them to nervous about getting back to the ship on time.  This reminds me, I probably should keep my passport with me this trip so that if I do end up missing the boat, I can still get home!

The Keys

Dividing the Waters of the Florida Keys

After visiting the Everglades National Park, we are going to begin our journey to the southernmost point in the continental United States – Key West. Driving the U.S. 1 through the Florida Keys is something that I have wanted to experience for a long time. During our excursion to Southern Florida we have decided to finally do just that – Drive the almost 160 miles from Miami to Key West.  This highway has been highlighted in such movies as True Lies and Licence to Kill which began my interest in wanting to drive this long span of bridges that connect many of the Florida Keys. We will be staying in Key West for one night before returning to the mainland for our trip back home.   

A tropical sunset

The plan currently is to leave right from the Everglades about mid-afternoon and drive the 4 hours straight for Key West where we will enjoy the rest of the night.  One of our games right now is to figure out where we’ll be for the sunset on this drive.  The next day we plan to take in some of the sights and attractions as we meander back towards Miami.  Since time will be limited we will have to stick to some shorter excursions.  Some of the places in Key West that may be interesting see are the southernmost point marker, beaches, the Butterfly Conservatory, the aquarium, and the Hemingway House.  I’m sure there is much more than this but these are some attractions the caught my attention.  

Feeding Frenzy

As we drive back through the Florida Keys some of the other places that might be of interest in our short time are Bahia Honda State Park, feeding the tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada or visiting Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park.  Continuing on to Key Largo could bring a stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park where there is snorkeling, hiking, or kayaking to enjoy.  I have read many positive reviews of this state park which moves it a little higher on our list of places to see while driving the Florida Keys.  Of course snorkeling is abundant in any of these areas and there is always the option of sitting back and taking in our surroundings.   

While researching the drive on U.S. 1 through the keys, I discovered that we could easily spend our entire 10 days in Southern Florida playing in the keys so to only take a day is a great teaser for future endeavors to this area.  I am eager to experience driving on a highway that has the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.  It’s hard for me to imagine driving on such a long span of bridges connecting so many islands together.

Adding Biscayn N.P.

 
Boca Chita Key with Miami in the distance

While I’m sure we could spend many days exploring the Everglades National Park, we have chosen to visit nearby Biscayne National Park as part of our excursion to Southern Florida.  This destination is not on our National Parks edition of Monopoly but is a place we highly look forward to experiencing.  It is common for us to add non-board destinations to our trips which help both in tiring us out and packing more experiences into each trip. We have planned for one full day at Biscayne National Park so I hope the weather is nice.  This is not enough time to do all that we would like to do I’m sure but does give us a taste of this park which is the intention of our visits to all of the National Parks on our board.  

 

Most of Biscayne N.P. is underwater (95%) which is one of the features that really draws us to it.  Snorkeling is a favorite activity whenever we are in tropical waters with reefs.  Kristy is anxious to travel to Southern Florida as this will be her first attempt at snorkeling.  This will be Lysa’s second time snorkeling.  Her first experience was in Cozumel, Mexico three years ago. I am excited to take them and let them experience life on a reef.  They have both looked over pictures of reefs and fish and we have a small saltwater aquarium with corals and fish but to be able to see everything going on at a natural reef is so much more mesmerizing.  Fortunately by watching how different animals work together in our aquarium, Kristy and Lysa will have the opportunity to notice many things that can be missed when snorkeling such as how the cleanup crew (snails, crabs, shrimp, and sea stars) scavenge around the reef and interact with the fish.  Watching all of this will make the day go by exceptionally fast!  

Our home reef away from the reef

 

While snorkeling appears to be a great way to explore Biscayne National Park, there are other activities that highlight the diversity of this park.  There are hiking trails, the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point, boating, fishing, and a lot of history according to the National Park Service website.  The beginning of the Florida Keys is considered by many to be in Biscayne N.P. – Elliot Key.  Since we won’t have a boat to freely move about the reefs and keys, we need to plan ahead to use the park vendor for boating excursions in order to be able to experience this area and see what we can.  I would like to see the lighthouse on Boca Chita Key and Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay along with snorkeling.  Kristy and Lysa enjoy becoming Junior Rangers at all of the national parks that we visit so this will be a priority at Biscayne National Park as well.  

Motivation and Anticipation!

 

Camping is allowed on Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key which would be a great way for us to really enjoy and explore this wondrous area.  Unfortunately, we are limited by our arrival to Miami late the day before and have commitments early the day after.  I would love to watch the sun set and rise again from a key while star gazing and surveying the nighttime Miami skyline.  These are some of the things we may have to explore on another trip after completing our National Parks Monopoly Board.  

As I write this I am looking forward to this trip more and more.  Maybe it is time to stop writing about this national park and focus on the upcoming holidays.

Our Next Destination

The Great Egret Among Cypress Trees

Our next National Parks edition monopoly board property has been chosen and planned – Everglades National Park!     

We are planning on spending only two days there which is going to be enough time to start to experience all that this park has to offer.  Our intentions on these trips are only to get an introduction to these parks and experience many different areas of the United States.  Once Lysa and Kristy are older, they can return to whichever locations they may want to explore further and do the activities that interest them.  For now, our family will explore some parts of the Everglades to get a general idea of the intricacies of that park.    

Some interesting information about Everglades National Park:    

  • It is the 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states with 1.5 million acres
  • Created in 1947 when President Harry S. Truman dedicated the original 460,000 acres
  • This is a sub-tropical environment with a distinct dry season (December – April) and wet season (May – November)
  • Wildlife include the American Alligator, American crocodile, indigo snake, Florida panther, West Indian manatee, many different birds depending on the season, freshwater and saltwater fish, along with many different amphibians
  • Known as the “river of grass” and has the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie in North America

    Sawgrass

 Exploring the everglades    

There are a number of different ways in which to explore this vast area.  Driving, hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, or boating all are options that can give different experiences and perspectives to the diversity of life in Everglades National Park.  For the diehard adventurist there is the option to camp overnight.  We have chosen to enjoy the comforts of environmental controls typically associated with a hotel.  Hiking, driving, canoeing, and boating are the modes of transportation that we are researching currently.     

Once arriving at Everglades National Park we will find out what ranger programs are available and begin to plan our two days according to which programs are of interest to us.  I always enjoy these ranger programs and gain some great information.  Being able to identify some of the flora and fauna or knowing some of the planning and history can really increase the enjoyment while we are out exploring the park on our own.     

There appears to be other tours available such as tram trips, boat tours, bird watching trips, canoe trips, and fishing trips.  These all would give different aspects to the wilderness of the everglades but due to our limited time we can only participate in a few activities.  How do we determine which actives will provide the best experiences for us?  We have to prioritize what we want to do and see the most.

Florida Bay

 

Once we get a list of the ranger programs we can determine which of those we want to attend and we know that Lysa and Kristy want to get their Junior Ranger badges.  Visiting the Everglades without riding on an airboat doesn’t seem like a complete visit so that is something we want to schedule in.  We will take some time to drive through as much of the park as we can to see how the scenery changes as Everglades change from the saltwater of the ocean to the freshwater rivers and streams that flow through the park.  While driving around we will likely stop in a number of locations to enjoy some hiking at a number of different trails.  If there is time, canoeing would be a great addition to the experience for a couple of reasons.  First, Lysa and Kristy have never really been in a canoe before. Secondly, much of Everglades National Park is based around water so seeing the park from this perspective can enhance our adventure.    

We have much more planned with our trip to southern Florida which I will write about in a later post.  For now, we are excited and looking forward to exploring Everglades National Park and including this location on our monopoly board!