It’s summer. Now what?!
Are you looking for a fun-filled, educational, jammed packed summer vacation? Here is how we did just that in Florida.
I am a planner. I tend to research vacations to death before actually booking anything. I’ve also been known to change plans after booking. My boyfriend jokes that I can’t speak to him about it and he only needs to know what day we are leaving (joke, hmm).
I am a firm believer that kids needs experiences and not things. We strive to plan a trip every year that is not only fun but teaches them something as well.
When planning this year’s trip, I was stumped. We had already done Disney and the beach and were looking for something different. We had about 2 weeks carved out for something, we just weren’t sure for what yet.
Our youngest mentioned manatees one day and suddenly became infatuated with them. I started doing some research after remembering that I swam with them as a child.
An idea forms
Crystal River, Florida is home to many many manatees, but not much else. I started looking for something to add to the trip and wrote down a list. St. Petes, Sanibel, the Keys, St. Augustine and Destin made the list. I began thinking, if we drove, how many of these places could we hit?
After many, many revisions I came up with an initial plan. We’d drive to Florida from Pennsylvania (eek), spend 1 night in Crystal River and swim with the manatees the next morning. After that we’d head to Disney for lunch in Downtown Disney before continuing down to Key Largo. We’d spend 2 nights in Key Largo, spend 3 nights in Marathon with a day trip to Key West. After the Keys, we drive through the Everglades up to Sanibel. We would spend 4 nights there before heading back home.
When I ran the first plan past Jim, I expected great opposition. It was a TON of driving and a lot of moving around. He actually loved the plan. He also suggested keeping the entire vacation a secret from the kids, only telling them the night we were leaving.
Again, the research continues. The first thing I booked was a condo in Sanibel. We wanted to end our trip with a few days of not driving and doing nothing but relaxing. I went on Home Away and found an amazing condo within our budget. It was adorable and only steps from the beach.
The second two places I booked were the hotels in the Keys. We knew we wanted to spend time in Key Largo and Marathon. I ended up choosing the Marriott Courtyard Key Largo over a Marriott resort due to cost. I couldn’t justify spending twice as much when we weren’t going to be there. We weren’t unhappy. The Courtyard offered every amenity we could possibly need and was really close to Pennekamp State Park and lots of restaurants.
In Marathon, we stayed at the Hyatt Place Marathon. It was a little fancier and resort-like and we loved it. The pool area had an island vibe to it and the overall hotel atmosphere was fantastic.
The final place I booked was a Comfort Inn Crystal River. I went super cheap here because we only planned on sleeping and leaving by 6 am. The hotel was cheap but clean and quiet. It did the job.
We kept the kids in the dark until we were done packing up the car. I made brochures with our week’s activities and handed them to the kids. They loved it. The only thing we kept secret at the last point was the trip to Downtown Disney. We planned on just showing up and surprising them.
We left at night and planned on a 20 hour drive (eek). The ride down was uneventful and we made it in 19 hours. That gave us time to stop at the botanical gardens in Gainesville before heading over to Crystal River.
The rest of the trip went smoothly. The only thing I would have tweeted was adding 2 extra days in Sanibel. It felt like our time there was really rushed.
The LONG drive home
Remember how the drive down and the trip went smoothly? The drive home was the exact opposite. It was like we hopped onboard with the Griswold’s. We got 2 flat tires, one of which required an overnight stay and a new tire. We had a kid that kept getting car sick. So our record time of 19 hours on the drive down had 2 days added to it coming home. However, we made it home and look back on the trip laughing now. It still rank so as one of my kids’ favorite trips. Over Disney!