This summer vacation in 2000 started with a flight from San Francisco to Memphis, and on to Orlando. It was no ordinary flight . . . .
We all want to thank Northwest Airlines, and the pilot of their flight from San Francisco to Memphis in the morning of August 15, 2000, for inviting the children into his cockpit and daring to let them all sit there! That gesture gave our Florida vacation a great start. Our pilot and co-pilot were particularly appreciative.
August is not exactly high season in Florida. One reason is that it’s the hurricane season, which interested rather than dissuaded our group. Another is that it can be stifling and hot, which again did not give us pause: some like it hot.
But what tilted the balance, apart from our need to fit vacations into the kids’ school holidays, was the low air fares relative to flying to Europe. Imagine paying for eight tickets every time your family gets on a plane!!
We spent twelve days baking in the sun and exploring this incredible combination of tourist attractions and natural beauty. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time, and 12 days wasn’t really long enough, but there was something for each of us everywhere we went.
One of the high spots was the jet ski that we rented for an hour or two outside the hotel on Key Biscayne. It’s not on the move in the photos, but when it was, it moved pretty fast!
On a jet ski, the sea was not as calm as it looked. There were storms and strong winds circulating offshore which agitated the sea, even where we were, very close in. On a choppy sea, that jet ski was a blast!
We also went, of course, to Disney World. It was our only trip there, and everyone loved it. Our first few nights in Florida were spent at a fabulous Holiday Inn in Orlando built to house families like us visiting the theme parks. It had suites decorated with cartoon characters for children and enormous swimming pools which seemed to be everywhere we walked. We all fit in one two-bedroom suite.
Driving to the hotel from the airport was a preview of the visit. It was a very warm and very dark night. The airport was an island of bright white and sparkling neon in a sea of surprising blackness, until we started seeing the hotels approaching Disney World. Once we arrived, we couldn’t resist a little exploration even though it was late already. It was odd seeing the strong metal fencing around the entire hotel complex, all white for some reason, and carrying notices about making sure that the alligators kept to their side!
The pools were a big hit with the younger set. Balancing our time between romping in the hotel swimming pools and touring the Disney parks, not to forget choosing the park for the day, kept us all busy.
We also needed to keep cool: it was very hot the whole time we were there. The pools solved that problem effortlessly. In the parks, our crew were more creative, and solved the problem in various ways. Nothing like needing spray for inspiring youthful creativity!
After leaving Orlando, we drove down to Miami and Key Biscayne, where we stayed at a wonderful hotel, the Sonesta Beach Resort. It had been found for us by the travel agent at the law firm where I was working at the time, and she made a great find! Again, it boasted a swimming pool to die for, visible in the photo on the left and here.
All we did all day long at that hotel was hang around the pool, and maybe walk along the beach every once in a while. “Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer!” We didn’t have a lot of those when many or all of us were together, but this was one of those times!
On we moved again, because I tend to keep moving. Marie-Hélène would rather stay put most of the time, but she too enjoyed exploring strange places, and Florida is definitely strange, in ways that are hard to pinpoint. Partly it’s all that nature, and partly it’s the feel of spring break in the air almost constantly. Maybe it all comes down to the heat.
As the State Tourist Board will certainly tell you, Florida is not all sun and sea. Driving between Orlando and Key Biscayne, we found the time to visit one of the other major attractions, the Kennedy Space Center. This is the home of the USA’s biggest and brightest accomplishment of the 20th Century, putting a man on the moon. Here he is on the right, with Alban, Charles and Daphné.
Back to the sun and the sea, we also drove through Palm Beach, one of the wealthy resorts, and admired the villas. A strangely crowded place.
And how many of you know that the Salvador Dali Museum is in St Petersburg, Florida? It’s “(t)he world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of Salvador Dali”, which is interesting and, dare I say it, strange. In short, it fits perfectly in Florida, and can be found at http://www.salvadordalimuseum.org/.
We visited the museum, at Marie-Hélène’s instigation, and it was most impressive and as enjoyable to watch as was Dali himself. Here he is on the left, flaunting his later years, in a picture which is NOT ours, by the way.
The natural wonder of the vacation was the Everglades, which we drove across to the Gulf (west) Coast. They are a kind of shallow inland sea, with trees and bushes growing all over as if on land. Enticing and, dare I say it, strange. There are also alligators in Florida, and we saw a few crossing the Everglades. But due to a lack of moral fiber, when we found them off the side of the road we did not seek photographic opportunities. They were big, and looked prehistoric. We are neither big nor prehistoric, and felt that keeping our distance was the more sensible approach.
Instead, we found this miniature post office off the side of the road a few miles later on, and boldly took its picture. Isn’t it cute? We don’t have to ask why it serves so few people. The Everglades were already occupied when people arrived. The earlier occupants have very big teeth!
Alban wrote an amazing little summary of this vacation as a school report after we returned. It is reproduced here.