RECAP: My husband and I both grew up on the river. Literally. The river was just footsteps outside of both of our front doors. We love the water. We love the beach. So when we decided to start venturing further than a day's drive away from our home for a family vacation, we chose the beach. Ft. Myers Beach, FL, to be exact. Here's what we did on:
Rise and Shine!
Day number two was our big travel day. We woke up around 3:30 and got on the shuttle bus to the airport around 4:30. Surprisingly, the kids were wide awake. The little boys seemed especially pumped up to be riding on a bus with just their regular seat belts (something that would NEVER happen at home)! The eyes of our three year old, who is addicted to Dinosaur Train and who makes time tunnels and trains out of EVERYTHING, lit up like a Christmas tree when the shuttle bus traveled through a bit of a tunnel on the way to the airport. He broke his shy silence then and in a whisper laced with excitement and eyes as big as saucers, announced to all the passengers on the bus, "Time Tunnel." I could see this was going to be a big day for our little homebodies!
|Isn't this just a cool photo my husband took of the panhandle?|
My husband and I had not flown since March 2002 and our children had never flown. We were all very excited and a little apprehensive. Okay, I was a little more than a little apprehensive. I was TOTALLY FREAKING OUT! I had really not slept at all the night before. I was rolling around certain that we had packed things that shouldn't be packed. They would find all sorts of contraband in our luggage, pockets, shoes, etc., and we'd never be able to leave Milwaukee. I had packed food and gluten-free cookware and I was certain this was NOT going to be okay. So, while I was excited to fly and get to some warmer weather, I was a ball of nerves worrying that I may have mistakenly broken a TSA rule! As usual, my worrying was pointless. Check-in and boarding went very smoothly. All the carry-ons fit in the overhead compartment. None of our suitcases were over the weight limit. No one arrested me for packing a forbidden liquid or blessed salt.
We flew on Southwest Airlines and their seating is not reserved so the earlier you board, the better the chance you will get to sit where you want. Having our children spread throughout the plane was another fear I had, but we all got to sit close to one another. We had paid a little extra to try to ensure early boarding positions. We had also purchased car seats specifically for the flight. The reviews I read before purchasing proclaimed they were inexpensive, narrow, and lightweight. All of this proved to be true and they fit without any problems at all. So finally I relaxed...until I started worrying about one of the children getting sick, even though they had taken their Dramamine. I was worried, but I was able to relax enough to start to get excited and enjoy the flight. I used to love flying and flew at least couple times a year when my husband and I were dating long distance and I always enjoyed looking out the tiny windows wondering what was below me. So you can imagine my amazement and utter delight in using Southwest's Flight Tracker on the ipad for the whole trip! I think my excitement over this little feature rivaled our three year old's excitement over the "Time Tunnel" that the shuttle bus traveled through. I was also pretty pumped up about how decent the ipad pictures turned out from the air, and to have a general idea of what I was taking pictures of was just the icing on the cake!
|Mountains in Georgia (if my Flight Tracker was accurate)|
Welcome to Ft. Myers!
|View of Ft. Myers Beach taken by my husband!|
We were on a nonstop flight and everything was perfectly on schedule. We landed and our luggage came around the carousel in record time. We could feel the warmth and couldn't wait to get the rental van, grab a bite to eat, and hit the beach. Except all the speediness and perfect timing of the day came to a screeching halt when we saw the line for the rental cars, and by the end of the day we would learn that Ft. Myers is an excellent place to go if you are looking to grow in the virtue of patience. Quite some time later we had the keys to our "new van" as the boys called it, and were heading to the parking garage. Unfortunately for us we learned that the back of a Honda Odyssey holds a whole lot more than the back of a Dodge Grand Caravan and we had to squeeze luggage in all sorts of creative places in order to make everything fit. I won't go into the details, but we then spent about an hour driving in circles while we waited for our navigation technology to actually work and get us to an Outback for lunch. I will say there were some tense moments in that hour and I may or may not have muttered, or snarled, or growled, an "I told you so!" approximately every 5 minutes.
We did finally find the Outback and I have to say it was the absolute best Outback food I have ever tasted. It probably helped that it felt amazing to sit outside eating in the warm sun, in the middle of February, knowing that we had just been in sub-zero temperatures just hours before. After lunch we found a Walmart and stocked up on food and supplies for the week. We had read that traffic on and off Estero Island, where we were staying, was horrendous and so we wanted to make sure we did not need to make any unnecessary trips off the island. Our cart was overflowing when we left Walmart and we literally had to buckle everyone in and then pile the groceries on top of ourselves. There were bags in every nook and cranny. The traffic descriptions we had read were no exaggeration and it took us a very long time to get onto the island, and to our rental home, but finally around 4:30 we made it. We had been up since 3:30 and traveling since 4:30, and 12 hours later we were at our final destination!
|Back side of the house (this is what faces the Gulf)|
We rented a house, 2nd row, on the ocean side of the island. It was in the perfect location for us, because it was away from all the businesses, crowds, and action on the north end of the island. There was a Publix (grocery store) a little over a block away, which carried everything we could possibly need, including tons of gluten-free foods, all very reasonably priced. Had we known this we would have skipped the Walmart trip (we did know there was a Publix, but did not know how many gluten-free products they would carry and we assumed since people were sort of stuck on the island that the prices would be outrageous). The house itself was in our minds the perfect beach house. Even though we were not front row, we had a few great ocean views.
|View from south side of Master Balcony|
|View from the north side of the Master Balcony|
The kitchen was perfect, bedrooms and bathrooms, great, and the garage was full of beach supplies, chairs, toys, bikes, etc. Quite a few of the items were in need of repair, but we had no expectations of having these items so even if they needed a bit of work, it was still a treat to have them in the first place. My husband was able to get one of the two bikes working so that made one less bike for us to have to rent for the week! After our trip to the Outback we did not eat out again for the remainder of our stay in Florida. The house became our home for the week and it was business as usual in terms of eating, laundry, and bedtime. It just happened to be business as usual...in paradise. Perfect!
It took quite awhile for us to settle in and we did not do much that first night. We made it down to the beach as quickly as we could and I loved seeing the kids see the beach and ocean for the first time. Our three year old stood laughing hysterically while throwing handful after handful of sand into the waves and yelling (we don't know what) at the Gulf of Mexico. It had gotten pretty cool and the water felt like ice to me, but he did not care. He stood there shivering, throwing, and laughing. The older kids started what would become their week-long search for seashells and shark teeth, and we all knew this was a place that was going to stay in our hearts forever.
|Letting loose after being cooped up all day!|
|View from the pool area, walking back to the house on the first night!|
Other days of our trip: Day 1, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9