Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Break 2014 - Day 2: Miami

It was Monday morning and we had hoped to get away early to spend some time at the beach.  We were all moving slowly and were trying to figure out which beach to go to since our "beach" trip the day before didn't turn out like we had hoped.  Unfortunately, anywhere we went was going to involve a bit of a drive.  We were considering Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, Ft. Lauderdale, Hollywood Beach and a few others.  We finally decided on Hollywood Beach (just north of Miami and south of Ft. Lauderdale).  We had originally wanted to leave at 9:00 AM, but didn't get out the door until 11:30 AM.  We got stuck in Miami traffic and didn't get to Hollywood Beach until 12:45.  We parked in a five-story garage that had a digital display telling us that there were 8 open spots available and were able to find a couple of open spots on the 3rd level.  (This garage had sensors installed at every parking spot similar to what you might see on automatic-flushing toilets.  A po-dunk Missourian like myself had never seen one like this before.)

The weather did not exactly cooperate for our day at the beach.  It was 73°F.  When we arrived, the beach was a sea of humanity (which was good prep for what was to come).  We struggled to even find a spot to spread out some...oops!  We forgot to bring towels.  We had everything else though.  As soon as we found a small patch to set up shop, it started raining.  In about 120 seconds flat, everyone scattered and we found ourselves nearly alone on the beach.  The instantaneous evacuation was amazing.  While I was glad to have more space to maneuver, the poor weather was not to my liking.

The wind picked up.  The skies were gray.  It was raining.  And we were at the beach.  Bad things happen when the Bartons decide to go to the Beach.  (In our two family beach vacations, both vacations were cut short due to hurricanes.)  It should come as no surprise to you that we are just not big fans of the beach.

Vanessa (Clay's wife..Clay being Elly's brother) put up umbrellas and beach chairs while Elly went looking for a beach store to help us with our towel shortage.  The kids and I hit the waves....or, what passes for waves here in south Florida.

I have memories of going to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as a kid and getting pummeled by waves that rolled and literally crashed on top of me.  We saw no such waves here at Hollywood Beach today.  What you see above is what the surf looked like.  We played in the water for a while and then were done.

Even though the air temperature was cool, the water was quite comfortable.  We hung out for a little while longer before returning to our car, which was one of the few cars remaining in the parking garage which was packed when we arrived back when the sun was shining.

We returned to Clay's house and had a nice dinner of grilled hamburgers and were looking forward to heading to Disney World early the next morning.

TO ALL OF YOU BEACH-LOVERS: What is it about the beach that we are missing?  Both Elly and I have zero desire to ever have another beach vacation as all the hassle that it involves seem to be much greater than any enjoyment we get out of being at the beach.  Please enlighten us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Break 2014 - Day 1: Miami

I slept like a rock last night and ended up getting almost 12 hours of sleep.  Just what I needed to get this vacation back on track.  It was Sunday and we were headed to the beach.  But since we were in Miami on Spring Break week (this week was also the state of Florida's Spring Break), we were worried that all of the popular beaches would be especially packed.  Clay had heard some good things about a spot south of where he lived which we figured wouldn't have the normal tourist traffic.  The location was Biscayne National Park and off we went...

We soon found out that it was not easy to find Biscayne National Park.  We knew something was wrong when we got to a bridge that went to the Florida Keys.  So we had to backtrack and ultimately arrived at our intended destination late in the morning.  We thought we were going to a beach and what was actually there at Biscayne National Park was a lagoon.  And not just any lagoon, but a lagoon frequented by crocodiles.  (Yes, you heard me correctly...crocodiles.)

Even though the lagoon was not exactly what we had in mind, we all had a good time there.  It was fairly low-key (which I appreciated), though we were one of the only families there that spoke English.  We did not stay there all that long before deciding to pack up to grab a late lunch at a decent restaurant.  We ended up at a really nice waterfront place (Black Point Ocean Grill) which was exactly the type of restaurant I like to go to when "at the beach."

We were mildly disappointed though to learn that the wait to seat our party of 10 would be about an hour, but were quickly put into good spirits by a flurry of texts from people back home informing us that Kansas had just gone down in flames in the NCAA Tournament to the mighty basketball power that is the Stanford Cardinal.  Things were really looking up when the hostess then informed us that our table was ready after only a 10-minute wait.  This was a really nice lunch.

After enjoying our time at the Black Point Ocean Grill, we went back to where Clay lives.  Only instead of going to his home, we went to the neighborhood swimming pool/country club.  We spent more time here than we did at the lagoon earlier.  This was a very nice facility and we enjoyed all that it had to offer (which included hot tub, sauna, steam room, etc.).  Clay was great with the boys as you can see from the photos below.

After a fun-filled day, we finally returned home at 7:30 PM.  The kids ate some pizza while the rest of us nibbled at left-overs from lunch and previous day's meals.  Serai and I casually watched some of the basketball games before we all retired for the evening.  It was a good day.

Spring Break 2014 - A Drive to Forget

Three years go, our family spent Spring Break at Disney World.  It was a wonderful trip which is described HERE in excruciating detail.  Last year, the kids stayed home for Spring Break while Elly and I had an amazing time in Aspen, Colorado.  This year, we decided to return to Orlando to rekindle the magic of Disney.

Elly's brother Clay recently moved from Washington D.C. to Miami and he encouraged us to "swing by" Miami on our way to Orlando since we would be driving down this time (as opposed to flying as we did in 2011).  The kids were not excited about riding in a car for the 20 hour trip to Orlando and were especially not liking the idea of extending the drive down an additional four hours to hang out for a couple of days where there was no Disney World.

Clay and his family then decided they would also be going to Disney World so we considered just meeting them there rather than driving all the way to the southeastern tip of the U.S.  We ultimately decided to tack on two days in Miami so that the kids could have a little beach time (Ariya has never been to the beach).

The original plan was to leave as early as possible on Friday afternoon to have fewer hours driving while tired.  I didn't know if Elly and I could handle this type of drive as it was about six hours beyond my road trip comfort zone.  We were going to play it by ear and stop to rest if we needed to.

I ended up getting away from work a lot later than I had hoped which pushed our departure time back to about 4:30 PM.  We loaded up the trusty Expedition and headed east.  Our first pit stop was in Illinois and it was a quick one.  We made decent time through Kentucky and Tennessee.  I had been driving the whole way and started getting tired after we crossed into Georgia.  I really wanted to get us past Atlanta and hoped that I would revive as dawn approached.

I was not prepared for the amount of traffic that I would encounter on this trip.  Just about every license plate I saw in Tennessee and Georgia was an Indiana plate, with a few Illinois ones sprinkled in.  But even in the middle of the night, the highway was full.  Best as I can tell, the whole Midwest was on Spring Break and everyone was driving to Florida.  Let me tell you, it's hard enough driving through the night on an empty highway, but when you have to be dealing with heavy traffic every second of that all-nighter, it makes it that much more difficult and exhausting.  By 4:30 AM in the heart of Georgia, I was done.

When I pulled off the highway the car started making a funny noise.  It did not sound good at all.  I pulled into a gas station, filled up and told Elly it was her turn to do some driving.  We did pop the hood to see what was making the noise. was pretty obvious as there was a belt that seemed to be doing something it shouldn't which was what was causing all the racket.  Elly and I both figured it was the timing belt since we're both clueless about cars and that was the only belt we knew by name.  Since we didn't have any good options where we were, we thought we would keep heading south and pull off in a couple of hours to have the car looked at since we wanted to keep moving toward our destination.

Poor Elly starts heading down the road and within 20 minutes, the belt completely blows and she is forced to bail out on an exit ramp which miraculously appears in the early morning Georgia darkness.  We quickly get on the phone to call for a tow truck.  An hour later, the tow truck picks us up and drops us off in Warner Robins, Georgia.  It was pretty funny seeing Elly and the four kids packed into the "backseat" of the truck cab.

The tow truck dumped us into the parking lot of a Ford dealership and there we were 90 minutes before the service department was scheduled to open.  An hour passed.  Thankfully, a few employees got there early and immediately gave the car a looking over.  Initial reports were that they may not have the parts and would not be able to have the car worked on until Monday.  We were thinking we would need to rent a car to continue our trip and just pick up our car on the way back home the following weekend.  It was looking like it would have been a much better idea to fly.

We were soon told that the car could be fixed that morning, but that it would take close to three hours to make all the repairs.  We were thrilled to hear that the car could be fixed, but were slightly saddened to hear how much time would be lost here in Warner Robins at the local Ford dealership.  As you can see, the kids were not thrilled with the predicament.

It was 9:00 AM and the kids were hungry.  I figured it would be good to get them out of the service department waiting room.  We went on a walking tour of the "business loop" of Warner Robins, Georgia in hopes of finding a McDonald's or some other place to grab some breakfast.  We walked around for a bit and only found a place called Krystal.  The kids and I all agreed that it was disgusting.  We later found out that Krystal is a fairly popular place in those parts.  The locals acted surprised that we had never heard of it, but when they found out that we were from Missouri they would all say, "Oh...well, you have White Castle."

Before I move on, there are two things I want to say about Warner Robins, Georgia.  First and most importantly, everyone we came in contact with there was extremely nice and went out of their way to do whatever they could to help us.  Secondly, we struggled to understand most of what they said because their accent was so strong.  On a couple of occasions, I had no idea what was being said and just nodded my head and laughed because I had no idea what they were telling me.  Elly and I were trying to figure out if they had as hard a time understanding us.

They were able to get the car repaired fairly quickly and we were back on the move at 10:00 AM.  Total down time was approximately 5 hours.  I was back behind the wheel and we were headed south but sobered by the fact that we were only halfway to our destination.

There was nothing fairly interesting about the rest of the trip except for the kids getting antsy at various points.  It was a long drive and one that I hope that I never have to make again.  The Spring Break influx made it especially difficult as we were fighting heavy traffic every mile all the way into Miami.

We pulled into the driveway of Elly's brother's house in south Miami at 7:30 PM Eastern time.  Our total trip time was 25 hours, 33 minutes.  (1,326 miles in our car...about 30 miles in a tow truck).  I slept well that night.