For Christmas 2016, we continued our new tradition of taking a trip. This year, we opted for a location where we could incorporate our new hobby Scuba. We are keeping our Christmas trips stateside, so The Florida Keys won. There are other places to scuba in the US, but I preferred someplace warm, with warm water, for my first real scuba experience. Our base of operations would be Key Largo, with the entire Keys at our disposal. Bring on the sun, salt, and sand!!
(Grandparents knocked the gifts out of the park so they weren’t lacking in gifts?)
Our travel day started bright and early at 5:00am. We were half way to Love when we got our first delay notice. By the time we got to the airport, winter storms in Ohio had delayed our flight a good 3 hours. While annoying and boring, we didn’t have anything scheduled that first day, so we were able to wait it out with minimal stress. Others on our flight were not so lucky. There were multiple families in danger of missing cruise ships. I was very grateful to not be dealing with that scenario! (As far as we know, most were able to make their cruises on time! Whew!)
We made it to Fort Lauderdale in time to stop at Divers Direct to get some needed dive gear, most importantly: wet-suits. Trying on wet-suits is a bit of a workout. They are also not the most flattering garment, so I wasn’t terribly excited about them. however: since I won’t even get in our swimming pool when the water is below 80°, the wet-suits were a must. I soldiered on and found one that looked decent and would provide me with some extra warmth. Score!
We made it to our hotel and discovered that we were just in time for a local Boat Parade. People deck their boats out with Christmas lights and music and line up in the bay for a parade. It was pretty neat, some were really impressive. I was bummed that my pictures didn’t turn out very well, but you get the idea.
The best part of getting to Florida and our hotel, was the temperature. As temps were falling at home, we were set at a warm 78°! Perfection! I couldn’t resist making sure people at home knew about it too 🙂
Adventures in Scuba – The Florida Keys edition
Day 2 started with a lot of nerves. We had the morning to play but at 12:30 we were getting on a boat to scuba. The plan was for Cole and I to finish our certification dives and then enjoy whatever time was left to explore. Things got off track with a phone call around 10am from our dive master. While the weather was beautiful, the winds on the ocean had swells up to 6 feet. This information set into motion a roller coaster ride of a morning. The news of ‘no dive’ was met with mixed emotions from Cole and I. The rest of our crew, (Jason, Jalyn, and Grandma) didn’t have that issue, they were just majorly disappointed. The mixed emotions on our part involved disappointment, relief from the anxiety of having to do the certification dives, and uncertainty on what this meant for the rest of our trip.
Jason is not one to be deterred from a goal, so he set off to verify the information, find alternatives, and/or talk our dive master into another location, etc. A look at dive site weather info and a talk with the dive center in the hotel confirmed that the waves were indeed too high to safely go out. Disappointment set it, along with questions regarding when we could try again, when were we going to get to Key West, and when would we do our certification dives.
A few phone calls between Jason and the dive master later, we had a new plan. While the ocean was off-limits, there was a lagoon available for us to use for the certification dives. Jason, Jalyn, and Grandma would also be able to get in and dive around a bit too. This new information sent Cole and I on a new spin on the emotion roller coaster. Dive anxiety started to climb.
We had most of our gear still out, waiting for us, so it didn’t take long to get ready to go. We met Dorsey at the dive shop, filled out some paperwork, took a review quiz, tried on gear, and were on our way to the lagoon.
Once there, we filled out more paperwork and began the process of ‘kitting up’, or getting our gear together and on. Once we had our gear on, air checked, and were ready to go – we got in the water. Even with the wet-suits, the first step in was a chilly one. Thankfully, between the wet-suits doing their job, and all our attention being on the tasks at hand, I didn’t think about water temperature again.
The lagoon checked the box for a place to dive, but it wasn’t ideal. With the ocean being off-limits, there were a lot of people trying to work in dives in this little lagoon. That made the water very murky. There were times when I couldn’t see Cole even when he was right in front of me. The limited visibility added another layer to our diving anxiety. We were also going at a pretty quick rate to ensure we got as much done as possible before the lagoon closed for the day. All of these factors made equalizing my ears trickier than usual. It also lead to a couple of nose bleeds. While I didn’t notice them, Cole said they were pretty gross.
While Cole and I completed our open water certification dives, the rest of the gang spent the time exploring the lagoon. Being new divers, they also found the murky water hard to navigate but gained experience and problem solving skills.
All in all, even though it wasn’t the best experience; we were all able to dive, Cole and I got the majority of our certification dive tasks done, and gained some experience in dealing with weird conditions. Not too shabby.
That night we went to The Fish House for dinner. As pretty big “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives” fans, one way we choose restaurants is by seeing if Guy Fieri had been there. The Fish House came recommended by both Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay so we knew that was our spot. The fish was just okay but the Coconut Shrimp and the Key Lime Pie were to die for. So good!
Road Trip to Key West
Day 3 had us road-tripping to Key West. There is quite a bit to do on a drive through the Keys. We started early and after breakfast we hit the road.
We had a plan of stops to make, but ended up driving past most of them 🙁 Everything is done by mile marker but we weren’t very good at paying attention to them. Oops!
Our favorite was at Mile Maker 77.5 – Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada.
This stop was recommended by almost every one and it did not disappoint. We got there before most of the kiosks and shops had opened but that was okay since the one thing we wanted to do, was open. To feed the tarpons, you buy buckets of bait. Being unfamiliar with big fish, i had envisioned a bucket of worms or maybe even minnows, nope – there were decent sized fish in that bucket. The guy selling the bait also gave us a long fishing net/pole to shoo off the pelicans. We had so much fun! The boys loved it. Definitely a ‘must do’ if you are in the area.
We also stopped at Big Pine Key to try to get a glimpse of the endangered Key Deer. It ended up a bit of a wild goose chase, driving down back roads, residential areas, and searching for the No Name Pub, but we eventually saw 2 deer resting in the shade of a house. We also found the No Name Pub, but they weren’t open yet. On the way back to the hotel that night, we saw another tiny deer from the road.
Once we arrived in Key West, our first destination was food. Instead of finding one place to an entire meal, we opted to do a sort of pub crawl, dipping into different restaurants/pubs for appetizers and beverages. This way were able to experience more of what Key West had to offer.
As we worked our way down Duval Street toward the Southernmost Point, we shopped, looked for chickens, and ate/drank. After taking our picture as close to Cuba as we could get, we started our way back up to Mallory Square.
We stopped at the Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters Museum. The views from the top of the lighthouse were amazing!
Our time in Key West ended with a beautiful sunset.
Watts Dive the Keys
Day 4 was set to be another day of scuba. Our boat was to go out early and weather looked good. Things were looking up! The mood of this dive day was excitement all around. Cole and I only had a couple of things left to check off for certification, so the majority of the dives would be free of that stress. It was also Jason’s birthday, so that added a festive mood to the day.
We got to the dive center at 7:45 and were on the water by 8:30! The ride out to our first dive site, Benwood wreck, went by so fast. We spent the time putting on our wetsuits and getting dive gear ready. Once there, we shuffled our way to the edge, took our giant stride, and began our adventure.
Unfortunately, Benwood was shy and did not want us to see her that day. Once again, even in the ocean, we were struck with poor visibility. We couldn’t see more than 5 feet in front of us. Not good when you are trying to look at fish and wrecks. We spent enough time under water to finish off our certification and be able to log the dive, but otherwise, it was a bust. This damped our excitement a bit, but we had high hopes for our 2nd location.
We arrived at Molasses Reef ready to see some fish! As soon as we got in the water and were able to look around, we knew this dive would be better. You could see!!
We followed our dive master around as he took us on a tour of the area. We saw fish, a lobster, barracuda, and more. This was the experience we had been hoping for.
Alas, our dive ended way too soon, as Jason started to run low on air.
For our two short dives, we had each used 1 tank so we were thinking we had another dive ahead of us, but it wasn’t meant to be. Our 2 dive charter, was for 2 dives – no matter the length or quality of the dives, or how much air we had left. This left us pretty bummed.
Luckily, Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was just up the road. While we couldn’t scuba again, we could snorkel! And snorkel we did. They took us out to Grecian Rocks reef and because we were in the water longer, we were able to see so much more than during our scuba dives. We saw so many different fish, a sea turtle, and Cole even saw a shark!
While the scuba wasn’t what we had expected, we learned a few very valuable lessons regarding our skill level, what to look for in a dive master, and things to clarify before the dive. Our inexperience left us feeling a little taken advantage of and now we know how to ensure that doesn’t happen again. Plus we did get to breathe underwater for a while, so I’ll call it a win!
Happy Birthday Jason!
Our last day was spent eating some amazing muffins at Harriette’s Restaurant and then hitting the road back to the airport. We stopped in Miami to eat some Cuban food and set foot on Miami Beach. It was a low-key travel day, my favorite kind.
I wasn’t kidding about the muffins. We had the Key Lime, the Chocolate Key Lime, and the Double Chocolate Chip. Heaven. The Key Lime muffin might have been the best thing we ate. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Finally, we closed out our Christmas trip 2016 by putting our toes in the sand one last time. It was a beautiful day to end a wonderful trip.
2016 was a pretty great year for Watts travel – can’t wait to see where 2017 takes us!