I took fewer photos than I have on earlier trips to see my son in Florida, but that was fine because I actually got more time to spend with him, and I just wanted to enjoy our time together.
Here are the pictures I did take during my week there. We both had a fantastic time.
Tampa River Walk, Tampa. I took these on April 20, the first night I was there, after the 12 hour long car ride. These were taken just before, during, and just after sunset. I was sore from the car ride but still managed to walk quite a bit. It was definitely worth it!
I’m the one in the gray sneakers.
Sign greeting me in my hotel room. The beachy decor was adorable.
The surf was rough on this day (4/24) due to storms in the area, so there were few people swimming, and there was a rip current warning. The waves were very high for the Gulf.
I will never get enough of those Clearwater sunsets:
Anclote Key sandbar (via boat ride from Tarpon Springs):
The photo doesn’t do this justice. Anclote Key is a state park and camping area, accessible only by boat, about 4 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. It is very remote. The sand is as white as snow, and is almost blinding in the sun. The many tidal pools are filled with shells and hermit crabs.
My son took these two photos of the seabirds at Anclote. This post wouldn’t be complete without them.
More than two months ago, my daughter and I spent 8 days in Tampa and Clearwater Beach, Florida. I never got around to writing about my trip, even though I kept promising to. Well, I finally got around to it. Better late than never, right?
Horseshoe crabs — one of them crawled right over my feet!
I got to see my son while we were in Tampa, even though he had to work most of the 4 days were here, but we did all go out to dinner a couple of times, spent some time lounging at the hotel pool and hot tub. On our last day together, we all went to ZooTampa. It was a bit pricey, but worth it. We got a late start, but still managed to see almost the entire zoo, except “Australia.” The sections we saw were “Florida,” “Africa,” “Asia,” and “Primates.” The zoo is very large so if you go, be prepared to spend lots of time walking! Stay hydrated. As we passed through the indoor reptile area (a welcomely cool respite from the heat), there were colorful decorations all over the ceiling that resembled deep sea creatures and looked as if they were made of glass — but they were actually sculptures made from recycled soda bottles and other plastic trash!
We loved seeing all the different animals (there were even river otters — my favorite — in the “Florida” section). My daughter seemed quite taken with the pink flamingos, who were very entertaining and funny. There were so many of them! We spent a long time just watching their antics.
One of the days my son was working, my daughter and I decided to drive to Tarpon Springs, a small Greek fishing village which is known as the Sponge Capital of the US. It was my third visit there. It’s one of my favorite places in the Tampa Bay area. On a whim, we decided to take the Sponge-O-Rama cruise out into the Gulf. It’s a two hour cruise and pretty cheap at only $20 per person. We had to wait a while for the boat (a sort of ferry) to fill up, but when we took off, the water was pretty choppy from recent storms, and I had to hold on. Drinks were served but it was hard to hold onto them without them splashing everywhere. After we got out into the Gulf, the dark water from the marina and inlet suddenly turned bright aquamarine. For a minute I thought someone had slipped some LSD into my beer! But this is the actual color of the water.
The boat’s captain, a youngish Greek man who had been raised in Tarpon Springs and worked with the boats all his life (his name was Atticus!) explained the reason why the color of the water changed so abruptly isn’t so much due to the depth, but because once you leave the river and enter the Gulf proper, the water changes from brackish (almost freshwater) to salt water. The mangroves dotting the area suck up the nutrients from the water, making it clear. He pointed out other things we were seeing along the way.
Finally, about three miles out into the Gulf, he pulled the boat over next to a large sandbar. This was part of Anclote Key Preserve State Park, a group of very small mangrove islands so remote there is no way to get there except by boat. The sandbar is a semi-permanent fixture, with a few low growing plants and grasses and a lot of seaweed washed up on the sand. The sand was absolutely blinding white, like snow, and surrounded on all sides by the clearest aquamarine water I’ve ever seen. In the shallow areas the water was so crystal clear you could barely see it. Our group (there were about 20 of us) spent about 30 minutes exploring, collecting shells, or swimming. We were each given a plastic grocery bag to collect shells in. I didn’t spend much time shelling. After a few minutes, I ran out into the pristine warm salt water and just let it engulf me. The whole experience was exhilarating, even though 30 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time!
The above photo is my absolute favorite. The juxaposition of the white sands, aquamarine water and fluffy white clouds stirs my soul. I have made this photo the background on my laptop!
Our combined seashell booty.
The marina at Tarpon Springs (notice how much darker the water here is)
We drove to Clearwater for the remaining 4 days. The 10 mile drive over Tampa Bay into Clearwater is very pretty. We stayed in a cute hotel right on the beach, but the weather during our stay could have been better. We only had two days of good weather, but being right on the boardwalk, there was still more than enough to keep us busy. Our first night, we ate at Clearwater’s most famous eatery, Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe. The beach was wonderful, and not too crowded. One day we decided to drive out to Treasure Island in St. Petersburg, even though it was raining. Hey, why not? It rained during the drive, and the entire time we were there, but the beach was still pleasant and the water warm. We didn’t stay long, but it was nice having the beach almost completely to ourselves.
Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe, Clearwater.
Treasure Island in the pouring rain.
The sunsets over the Gulf were incredible. I just can’t get enough of Gulf sunsets, and here are the pictures proving that.
Sunlight from sunset reflecting off the clouds to the east.
On our second day, we had beautiful weather (even though the morning forecast had predicted rain), so we decided to book the Pirate ship for its Champagne Cruise, which takes off in the late afternoon. There are two champagne cruises; ours was the first. The next one takes off at sunset. I would have liked to go on that one too, but we’d already had way too much champagne. Yes, I confess both my daughter and I overindulged (you pay your $40 for the cruise, and the drinks are unlimited), but we had so much fun, and the views from the ship were amazing (a few are pictured below). The pirate theme was fun, and the appropriately costumed staff were friendly. The nice young man pictured below (I can’t remember his name) even hung out with us on the upper deck for a few minutes.
Me with view of the beach in the background
One thing I noticed this time was how good I’m getting at finding my way around the Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater metro area. It’s my third trip to this area, but this time I was finally getting comfortable just driving around and finding my way from one place to another. I’m generally not good with directions and navigation, but because everything’s pretty much laid out on a grid here, it’s a lot easier to get around the area than where I live, where there are mountains and no grid to speak of.
It seems so much longer than two months ago I was in Florida, but in some ways it feels like it was just yesterday. To end this post, here’s a little video I made just after sunset of the patterns of the surf (it’s actually the first video I ever made from my phone).
Every day of this week in Florida has been amazing, but I think today was definitely the most fun (and also the most expensive!)
My son was finally off work for a day (as a shift manager, he practically lives at the store) and the weather was looking good, so we drove south about 20 miles to Clearwater Beach. There’s a reason (actually a lot of reasons) why Clearwater is one of the most famous and popular beaches in America. It’s probably the prettiest beach I’ve ever been on, and there are tons of things to do there. I definitely got that “I’m on vacation and enjoying every second of it” feeling today.
Clearwater is touristy, but in a good way. The snowbirds haven’t arrived yet and it’s past the peak of the summer season so it wasn’t that crowded. The beach and surrounding area are very clean and well maintained, and the merchants are all friendly. Parking is a bit of a pain, but it wasn’t too bad. We paid $16 for the day because we got an $8 discount for buying drinks in the Surf shop. It would have been $24 if we hadn’t bought the drinks so it was a good deal.
The beach itself is gorgeous. The sand is pure white, almost as white as snow, and a bit blinding until you get used to it (or put on sunglasses). The water is the closest to a Carribbean aqua I’ve ever seen in person. Today the water was a very clear pale green. Someone told me normally it’s more aqua, but there’s a hurricane or tropical storm brewing somewhere in the Gulf which is causing more wave action, making the water cloudier than usual. I still thought it looked different than beaches farther north, the water a lot paler and clearer, and I could actually see the bottom when I was up to my neck in water. It’s also quite warm, much warmer than beaches off the Atlantic.
The water felt so nice I didn’t want to get out of it. Besides, it was way too hot to sit there on the beach and cook. My son stayed in the water too, and we had a long conversation out there treading water. There were waves but they weren’t very big–just big enough that they bobbed you up and down very pleasantly. There were three people near us–two men and a woman–who had driven all the way from Michigan, and the poor woman was having a panic attack. It turned out she had never been in the ocean before. The two guys tried to coax her into going in further and she wouldn’t, but after awhile she seemed to be more relaxed and even enjoying herself.
Someone near our spot on the beach had left a bag of chips open, and the seagulls descended like vultures. People kept trying to shoo them away, but the birds kept coming back, trying to get at those chips. They certainly aren’t afraid of people! I love this photo I got before the owners came back and put the food away.
My son and I ate dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the beach called Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe, which serves seafood and things like burgers. The food is very tasty (and you get a lot of it) but it isn’t exactly cheap. Fortunately I hadn’t spent much money this week, so I was able to afford to buy us dinner. Our tab came to $62 but it was worth it. We skipped dessert there and went to an ice cream place instead and ate it outside.
We browsed around the surf shop and I bought a small souvenir mason jar which I filled with some of the white sand and a few tiny shells I’d found–a nice keepsake to bring home and remember this day.
Just after sunset there are performances out on the pier. It was a bit of a walk to get there, but along the way, we saw a postcard-perfect tropical sunset so of course I took pictures. There were a lot of boats too, including a pirate ship. I liked the way the post-sunset clouds still reflecting the sun looked behind it in this photo.
There were all kinds of performers on the pier, including a guy dressed like Spiderman who gave us fist-bumps and another guy dressed like a Transformer with glowing electric eyes. There was also a performer dressed like Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean and he pulled me out of the crowd and made me fake-dance with him! I was so embarrassed but it was fun too. My son was in hysterics the whole time!
The first of the two main attractions were a father and son escape-artist team. The son was wrapped up in a straitjacket and then two other guys picked at random out of the crowd wrapped him in heavy chains but he still managed to free himself. The other main attraction were husband and wife acrobats. They were very good, but the husband was also extremely funny. He’s 41 years old and I told my son that when he got too old for acrobatics, he could turn to comedy.
This will probably be the last of the vacation posts. Tomorrow is my last day before I start the long drive home on Saturday, and it will probably be a fairly quiet day. I’ll probably go over to Rees Park again for an hour or two, then my son is taking me out to lunch (he just got paid). After that, I’ll probably just relax by the pool and do a small load of laundry so I don’t have to bring dirty clothes and towels home with me.
It’s been a fantastic week. This was the first real vacation I’ve had in eight years (the last one was to Myrtle Beach in 2008). If I’d known this trip (including gas) would be so inexpensive I wouldn’t have waited this long. I’m planning a shorter trip there in late March (hopefully things won’t be too crowded with the spring-breakers) and I’ll be bringing my daughter with me. I’m seriously considering moving to Florida at some point when I figure out how to make that a reality. Until then, visiting isn’t nearly as daunting as I’d expected.
I hope all of you are having a great week too. I really needed this time away and to be with my son.