Warning: all of these posts about our vacation are going to be very long, because I am trying to record our memories with the intent of making a photo book sometime. So you can just look at the photos if you want and skip all the text!
We flew from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale on Monday afternoon, and the girls were fantastic during our long day of traveling. Everything went well at the airport, although Megan was upset going through security, because she didn't want to leave the stroller on the conveyor belt. But she walked through the metal detector all by herself from me on the non-secure side to Amelia on the secure side. The TSA agent told me afterwards that I could have walked through with her, but of course they didn't tell me that beforehand. By the time we walked to our gate, stopped at the bathroom, and picked up Happy Meals for lunch, it was just about time to get on the plane. We only had a few minutes to look out the window and watch the planes and the baggage "trains" drive around. Megan wanted nothing more than to push the umbrella stroller around (interestingly, just like Amelia at the same age when we flew to Hawaii.)
Amelia loved flying! She couldn't wait for the plane to take off, and she liked looking down and seeing everything on the ground. At one point she asked me "What are those big white things on the ground?" and I told her they were clouds. She couldn't believe we were looking down on clouds. Here she is impatiently waiting for us to take off:
Megan sat on my lap most of the time; she did NOT like looking out the window when we were flying and especially during take-off and landing. But she was fine when we kept her busy. Megan spent a lot of time eating on the plane (thanks for the bagels and chocolate rolls, Mom and Dad!) but she also enjoyed coloring with markers and doing stickers. Amelia spent most of her time playing with my ipad, which I had loaded with all kinds of kids games. Her favorites were:
Letter School (learning to write letters)
Hiding Hannah (an interactive book where you have to find a little girl who is hiding)
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox (color and shape recognition, easy puzzles, letter recognition, size sorting, matching)
Easy Bake Treats (a free app where you can make and decorate cookies and cakes)
I did nothing on the plane other than entertain children, but as we were leaving, the person in front of us commented that the girls were so well behaved that she didn't even know they were sitting behind her. I'm sure she was exaggerating, but it was still nice to hear! We had McDonalds for dinner (the girls were thrilled to have Happy Meals twice in one day!) and stayed near the airport that night so that the girls could go to bed right away. We all thought it was fun to see a few little lizards in the parking lot at the hotel.
On Tuesday we drove down to the Keys. We stopped at the Everglades on our way, but it was really hot and the girls were getting cranky because their lunch and nap schedule was messed up, so we didn't stay very long. This is probably the only popular national park that I've been to before my parents! We did the Anhinga trail, which I would highly recommend to anyone:
We saw quite a few anhinga birds and alligators. Part of the path was on the ground along swampy ground, and part was a boardwalk over a lake. Here is Megan pointing out an alligator:
Here is an anhinga flying, and another one resting with its wings open to cool down:
Here is an alligator watching an anhinga with suspicious intent:
We sent an alligator postcard to Amelia's preschool class, and they read it on Tuesday while we were still in Florida. On the postcard, Amelia wanted to tell her friends that we had seen an alligator watching a bird, and the teacher told me later than one of the boys in the class interrupted to ask if the alligator had eaten the bird. I wonder if he did?
After the Anhinga Trail, we went to what the brochure called a lookout tower. It was a short little trail, but we were disappointed that the "tower" was only maybe 15 feet above the ground. Admittedly, the vegetation was all pretty short, but it wasn't even fully above tree level. It was the end of the dry season, and the terrain reminded us of photos of African savannah.
It would be interesting to see the terrain in the wet season, but I wouldn't want to deal with the heat, humidity, and mosquitos. We would like to go back sometime and do an airboat ride (you have to be at least 4 years old) or rent a canoe (which seemed like a bad idea this trip) and get to see different parts of the park. We stopped at Robert Is Here fruit shack and got key lime milkshakes (a little too tart for me, but Ben thought they were delicious). They had passion fruits for sale, but we didn't get any. It would have been a fun stop if we weren't all kind of cranky, because they had goats to pet and feed, birds to look at, and a sprinkler park.
After we checked into our condo and took naps, we went to Harry Harris beach on Tavernier for a quick swim before bedtime. Surprisingly, there aren't very many beaches in the keys, and this was a man-made one that was pretty close to us. It was a good beach to start the trip with for our girls, because it was enclosed by a rock wall and so there were no waves. The girls loved sitting in the shallow water and splashing:
Amelia wasn't too fond of going in a little deeper at first, but she gradually warmed up when she realized she could walk out a long ways before it got deep.
Ben taught Megan how to paddle and also how to splash:
And of course we had to act out part of the book "Duck, Duck, Moose":
"Look," said Mommy. "I see a shell!"
"Look," said Amelia. "I see sand!"
"Look," said Daddy. "I see a sea monster!"