Summer didn’t go anything close to how I expected. Which should have been expected, given how crazy a year it has been. Between the majority of the kids summer events and camps being canceled and none of the trips I originally had penciled in panning out, I could have let it be a bummer of a year. However, we were able to salvage summer 2020 a little.
Our Florida Travel Plans
Typically, I like to take each of the older kids on at least one trip during the year to get some concentrated one-on-one time with each of them. I was looking at spending four days in Florida with my daughter as our trip for the year. Surprisingly, she was open to one of her brothers coming along, so I ended up booking tickets for all three of us.
With multiple trip cancellations plus extra points from some manufactured spending over the past few months, I had my pick of the miles to use for our trip. I took a couple tries to get something booked, though, as plans were plagued by flight changes. I finally settled on booking our outbound with 22,500 Turkish Miles & Smiles for all three of us, an excellent deal out of our local airport. The return I booked with 37,500 Aeroplan miles, since I had some difficulty trying to get Turkish to ticket it.
For tickets that would have cost us a little over $450 per person round-trip, this was an excellent deal. Solid 2.25 cents per point.
For our hotel, I used 60,000 IHG points for four nights at the Holiday Inn Express Daytona Beach Shores. This includes the 4th night free benefit from the IHG Premier card. Additionally, I received 6,000 IHG points back since I still hold the old IHG credit card as well. I thought about using Hyatt points for the Hyatt Place in Daytona Beach, but we have plenty of IHG points. This would hardly put a dent in our stash.
Our flights were uneventful and on time. The kids were both excited to be flying again. Ironically, I’ve not yet had a delayed United flight since the pandemic started. This has long been one of my biggest gripes about flying them, especially regionally.
Day 1: St. Augustine
While St. Augustine isn’t among my top 10 U.S. bucket list destinations, it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a while. Founded and settled by the Spanish back in the mid-1600s, it is the oldest colonial city in the United States. In less than 50 years, St. Augustine will have its 500th birthday, which is an incredible milestone.
There are a number of things to do and places to see in St. Augustine, and one day is not enough to experience everything. I wanted to prioritize seeing the old section of the city, visiting the lighthouse, and maybe hitting up a small museum or two that the kids would enjoy.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum is open to the public, and you can tour the lighthouse itself, the adjacent house, and some of the other outbuildings. There are some great exhibits on the history of the lighthouse, of St. Augustine, and about shipwrecks that occurred just off the coast. One of the outbuildings contains a working marine archaeology lab.
The kids were less than thrilled about climbing up the many stairs up to the top of the lighthouse in the humid Florida heat. But it was a non-negotiable. We’re headed up. There’s a view at the top that we gotta enjoy. My kids are prone to seek the comfortable, easy route at every juncture, which is exactly why I push them. This is an easy challenge.
The view from the top of the lighthouse is quite nice. You can see the city of St. Augustine, the inter-coastal waterways, and the ocean beyond, of course. You’ll also be reminded how utterly flat Florida is.
After exploring the lighthouse and maritime museum, we grabbed lunch. Then it was off to the historic district of St. Augustine.
St. Augustine historic district spans several blocks, roughly between the Castillo de San Marcos and Flagler College. The historic fort was closed, which was a bummer. I had hoped to visit the Spanish castillo with the kids. Most other places were open at this point, but the castle is still currently closed due to COVID at the end of August.
We walked a few blocks along the pedestrian thoroughfare, visiting a few of the shops. I absolutely love the old architecture, especially the overhanging porches.
After a pit stop at the Black Parrot Candy Shoppe (the kids convinced me they needed candy), we made our way to the Pirate and Treasure Museum. The museum is an enjoyable place for kids, although there are a couple exhibits that might make you a bit squeamish, including one showing a man performing eye surgery on another. Overall, it’s a cool little collection with a lot of pirate history and fun for the young ones. I enjoyed it a lot as well.
The other museum I’d considered was the Medieval Torture Museum. After seeing some of the photos online that are pretty graphic and gruesome, I debated whether the kids would be able to handle it. At 9.5 years old, I thought my son might be okay. However, the guy at the front desk warned me again that some parts are pretty gruesome, and the museum is geared toward teens and adults. They have a “wall of sexual torture” among the exhibits. Uhhhh…I think we’ll pass.
We spent another hour wandering the streets and shops of St. Augustine before heading back to Daytona Beach along the A1A. Even though it is slower than the interstate, I really enjoyed the coastal drive. We capped off the evening with a brief time on the lovely Daytona beach and promises that yes, we would indeed have a lot more time to swim in the ocean the next day.
Day 2: The Lazy Beach Day
The lovely beach sunrises were one of my favorite parts of the brief stopover my daughter and I enjoyed in Miami Beach last year. Living on the Pacific Ocean, I’m used to seeing ocean sunsets when I do get a chance. In Florida, you get to decide which you want, as you can enjoy either coast.
The main issue facing our second day in Daytona Beach was the fact that I had a 4-hour conference call that I couldn’t miss. Four. Hours. Yes, it was one of my longest on record. And I had to facilitate the whole thing.
Luckily, I was able to set up in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express with a clear view of the pool below. I told the kids that they would have hours to kill in the pool, but if they got bored, they were welcome to go to the room as well.
I was impressed that they lasted nearly three hours in the pool before coming up to me and bugging me to let them watch something on the iPad. By that time I didn’t really care what they did. I just wanted to be done so that we could get on with our day.
After grabbing lunch at a nearby taco shop, we spent essentially the entire afternoon enjoying the ocean. I’ve never really been keen on visiting the beach, even growing up and living just a few miles from one my entire life. Now I understand the draw. Our beach is usually cold, windy, and has gritty sand that blows in your face. Only on the nicest of days is it a good experience.
Florida is an entirely different experience. And I love it. The water is warm and the beach has amazingly soft sand. After swimming and playing together for a couple hours, I can see us coming back here again and again.
Our day ended up dinner out on the pier at Crabby Joe’s. The views of the beach are nice, but the food is pretty meh. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Day 3: Disaster in Ocala National Forest
For the third day of our trip, I planned an excursion to the Ocala National Forest where we would canoe at Juniper Run. This came at the recommendation of a coworker who grew up in Gainesville, not too far away. The Ocala National Forest is roughly an hour from Daytona Beach.
We started our day a bit later than I’d hoped. I let the kids sleep in and then underestimated how long it takes them to get ready. We made it out to the National Forest around 11:00 AM. Unfortunately, Juniper Run was closed. But we were directed to Silver Glen Springs, another boating location about 15 minutes away.
We rented a single three-person canoe and were soon launched onto the lake. The water at Silver Glen Springs is wonderfully clear. There were lots of other boaters on the run, which heads out to Lake George. The National Forest recreation area also has a dedicated swimming area.
All was fine and dandy. We started paddling out toward Lake George. But no more than 15 minutes into the excursion, a squall blew straight over us. We saw the rain starting across the water, and soon we were completely engulfed.
Florida rain is no joke. We were soaked through within minutes. I was worried my cell phone and my daughter’s camera were going to be casualties of our misadventure.
Still, I was having a blast. It was about 90 degrees out, but with the cloud cover and rain soaking us, I still felt fine. My kids didn’t feel the same way. We lasted maybe another 20 minutes before heading back to shore and returning the canoe. What was supposed to be over two hours on the water turned into a frustrating experience that lasted less than an hour.
The faces say it all. Both mine and theirs. And my daughter’s shirt is just too perfect.
On the way back, we noticed some of the local wildlife having a field day with some of the other people’s picnics. Remind me never to leave my table in Florida, for fear of the vultures.
We headed down the road to a diner for lunch before heading back to Daytona Beach. After stopping at the hotel to change, we headed to the pier. My daughter had seen the giant Slingshot ride, and that was all that she wanted to do at this point.
The weather stymied this as well. They can’t operate the slingshot when lightning has struck within 5 miles of its location. The clock kept getting reset. It reminded me of how airports stop all ground operations during lightning events. But this gave us time to enjoy the pier area and nearby beach.
The slingshot finally reopened after dark, once the squalls had passed. I was by far the most nervous I have *ever* been about a ride. Roller coasters and other amusement park rides are one thing. Being flung up into the sky at high speed in a tiny double chair is entirely different. But I wanted to humor her, and we did it together. I tried to get my 9-year-old to go in my stead, but he refused.
I screamed. But we survived. And I have the video of the whole thing. No, you can’t see it.
Day 4: Wrapping it All Up
I’d expected to spend our last day at the Kennedy Space Center, but two things changed my mind at the last minute: 1) the recommendation is that you treat this as an all day activity. 2) The cost. It is pretty pricey.
After letting the kids sleep in, packing, and eating breakfast, and playing on the beach (final promise to the kids), we were going to arrive at the Space Center just after noon. Not really enough time to justify the expense. My son is a whole lot more keen on visiting, so I’ll see if we can jet back over here for a weekend at some point in the future.
At least we got some final time in the warm waters of the Atlantic. Definitely made them happy.
So it was mini-golf instead. The day was atrociously hot and humid, and it was threatening to thunderstorm all afternoon. We got soaked in sweat on the tiny Congo River course.
Feeding the alligators was a highlight. The critters knew what was up when they approached the fence with the poles. It was a made scramble of snapping jaws for the tiny bits of food.
We spent the night at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport. Our original itinerary had us flying out early the next day. However, this was changed to an early afternoon flight. We’d get home later, but this did provide some time to enjoy the hotel pool. This is taken literally a second before she pushed him in.
The Hyatt Regency is located right in the Orlando Airport terminal. It’s an excellent choice if you’re flying in late or departing early. I’d definitely stay again, if just for the views. Just need a camera lens with even greater magnification.
The central coast of Florida turned out to be a great choice for a summer getaway. The heat was obviously oppressive, but between enjoying swimming in the Atlantic and other activities in the area, I was glad we got to do something together after months of little school and no other activities. Man, what a crazy year it has been.
Now they are back in class, and I have no idea when our next trip will be. There are a couple on the radar for summer 2021, but nothing yet before then. I want to see how my daughter acclimates to a classroom, as this is the first year she is back in class after being home schooled for three years. I’ve had no qualms pulling them out to travel before, and as long as things are going well, we’ll likely look at a family trip early next year.