During a sales presentation for time shares near Disney World, we were scoffed at for saying that staying with family was how we intended to enjoy our vacation.
“Surely you want more than a visit with FAMILY” the woman sneered.
Mike responded, “well, we like our family.”
After the third time when we supplemented our family visits with a 3 night complimentary stay in a plush resort equipped with pools and 2 bedroom suites, I think they started to catch onto us. We had no desire to purchase a time share, but we did enjoy taking advantage of these generous offers and sometimes even shared our suite with my sister and her family!
The sunshine state welcomes people of all ages, especially during these cold, dark months in the north east. Having family in Florida makes it a no brainer to visit when the SAD (seasonal affective disorder) starts to creep in. My sister and mom both live in Bradenton which is about one hour south of Tampa and is a perfect destination for a winter getaway.
But how do you go from visiting family for more days than you may be welcome to having a fun adventure? I’ve got some experience on that one.
1. Rent a car (or drive yours to Florida)
Having your own transportation is a great idea in Florida as the public transportation system may not have been developed yet. We saw train tracks in Sarasota but I was told it is for a freight train that appears on occasion. Having a car gives you the freedom to take off for the day on adventures while the host family goes about their usual routines. They can join you or not but you are not dependent on the folks driving you around.
You can also stop at a store and pick up groceries which you may want to consume or share with family when you decide to make one of your specialty meals, if you have one.
2. Bring a friend.
Your family or friends may already have a life and are likely not on vacation the week you happen to be. Just because you are a widow, doesn’t mean people need to stop their lives to entertain you. Bringing a friend along gives you an instant playmate while still visiting and enjoying everyone’s company. Your friend and you may have different ideas about what is fun but that just adds to the adventure.
3. Dine outside
Because you can. So many dining establishments are located outdoors on the water. We visited John’s Pass near St. Petersburg and enjoyed walking along the boardwalk. Cute shops selling turquoise painted starfish nestle between restaurants and ice cream shops with signs warning us of hungry birds. Pelicans watch as dolphins pop up between jet skiers and fishing boats as if cued for posing. Fish is fresh and tasty so indulging in fish tacos, grouper sandwiches and conch fritters are some of my favorites. Drinking a margarita with fresh squeezed lime juice is also highly recommended.
Some outdoor dining restaurants we loved this visit were:
Woodys River Roo in Ellenton, dining outside on the Manatee river with live music.
PIER 22 Restaurant in Bradenton, also on the Manatee river. A bit more upscale than Woodys yet still casual dining.
Sculley’s Restaurant in John’s Pass, Madeira beach. Waterfront dining with birds swooping overhead. Live music during the day and easy to walk around and see some shops, dolphins and the beach after the meal.
3. Visit model homes
Florida real estate is booming again. Everywhere you look, especially inland developments like Lakewood Ranch, construction is underway. Everything is new and the communities are building such nice pool and snack bar areas to accompany golf resort style living. Some homes are about 20 years old, but there is so much new stuff to look at that it is fun to stop by open houses and check out all the flashy light fixtures, and odd decor. You have to envy the outdoor living areas with pools and spas, t.v.s and fireplaces too. One bathroom had an enormous car wash sized shower and a jar full of toothbrushes as a decoration. It actually looked good. Weird!
4. Try to golf
I thought I could do it – I had played with my kids when they were first learning years ago at the town course but I haven’t really played or taken lessons since. My mom let me borrow, and then adopt, her club set that she had purchased a few years back when she moved to Florida. After a few OK shots at the driving range I hopped in the cart and we followed the French Canadian couple to the first hole. There we were greeted by about a dozen eager golfers waiting for us to go so that they could walk the course. I had not expected an audience. My first swing moved the ball about 7 inches. I tried again and got about 12 feet. I was told to pick up my ball and start at a spot where the others had landed their balls. I knew this was going to be fun after that! I did ship the clubs home so I plan to keep learning this sport. It could take some time.
5. Take a walk
This is a sporty activity that I am actually pretty good at. It is nice to take a walk in a park or on the beach but even in the neighborhoods where my sister and mom live it is so quiet and safe. The sidewalks are not in disrepair like the ones in New York. Sighting different exotic birds is almost a given on any walk and it is not unusual to spot the sleeping alligator in or near a pond as well. Another bonus is that the roads are flat. My neighborhood is quite hilly, so while I do like walking, it is something you need to psych yourself up for. Just remember to wear a hat and sunscreen as that Florida sun is strong.
6. Visit something in nature
I always try to find a new place to visit that has something to do with animals or nature. This time we visited the Sarasota Jungle Garden. Here you can feed flamingos, pose with parrots, and see turtles and hawks that have been rescued. Even some cute lemurs and prairie dogs were living happily in this tropical paradise. Several shows are offered each day and there was a large gift shop with a help wanted sign. I could have a future here…
7. Have lunch with an old friend
If you are like me, you probably have some friends who have moved to Florida! Why would they want to leave the cold, crowded, expensive environment of Long Island, New York and smile daily in the sunshine state with it’s easy to enter and exit highways? Why would they want to pass up shoveling snow in exchange for using air conditioners in the hot summer? Well, while you are down in Florida find time to catch up and visit with a friend from the past. You have more time now that the kids have grown up and who knows what new adventures lie ahead.
8. Watch horses in training
During junior high and high school I spent everyday working at a local horse farm in exchange for horse back riding lessons. It started after I fell off a horse on a one hour trail ride and ended up in the hospital with a concussion. I knew I needed lessons and this was the only way I was going to get them. For years I would attend the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden and several times went to see the Lipizzan Stallions.
Just east of Sarasota in Mayakka you can watch the Lipizzan Stallions train for their summer tour. Rehearsals are open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays at 3:00, and Saturdays at 10am for a $5 donation. These animals are beautiful and graceful and fun to watch. Herrmann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions of Austria continues to breed this rare line of aristocratic horses and has a few rescue horses on site as well.
9. Watch the sunset at the beach
My family lives on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida which is conducive for spectacular displays of light and awe.
10. Swim outside in a pool
Again, because you can. It is not the same as visiting the local YMCA pool in the middle of winter. The pools are heated and you are OUTSIDE. Also, it seems many pools come with their own hot tub or spa. YAY! Those wonderful jets massage your body as the heat relaxes your brain. Then a quick or languishing dip in the pool and an hour or so in a lounge chair in the shade. That is something not to be missed on a trip to Florida.
Don’t forget to take that photo of your polished toes to share on social media. This will insure that you have lots of takers to accompany you on your next trip to visit family in Florida.
Thanks for reading. Do you have any good ideas for visiting friends or family? What works and what doesn’t?