Sugar sand beaches and clear, warm water are a few reasons people take a beach vacation to the state of Florida. But did you know that some people visit for the cockle prickly, jingles, conch and angel wings? These are just some of the types of shells you’ll find when you head on a shelling adventure and visit Caladesi Island along the shores of the Gulf Coast of Florida.
Shells are naturally arranged on Caladesi Island (Photo by Marcea Cazel)
From Honeymoon Island, just north of Clearwater Beach, all the way south to Naples Beach, shells are plentiful due to the way the shelf floor of the Gulf of Mexico sits. The continental shelf on the east coast of Florida has a steeper drop-off than is on the west coast of the state. That flatter area next to the Gulf Coast allow shells to remain more intact when they make it to shore, making for a fun day looking for shells!
A mountain of shells lie on Caladesi Island (photo by Marcea Cazel)
While Sanibel Island is often called the seashell capital of the world, my family enjoys hunting for shells on Caladesi Island. It’s not crowded and is close to Clearwater and Tampa. Voted one of the best beaches in America, Caladesi Island is the perfect place to have a nice day on a quiet beach.
So here are some simple tips on how you and your family can visit Caladesi Island to find some great shells on your vacation.
How to Visit Caladesi Island
View from the ferry on the trip to Caladesi Island (photo by Marcea Cazel)
A part of the Florida State Park System, Caladesi Island is only accessible by boat. For this reason, it’s less crowded than some other beaches in the area. You can kayak out to the island, take your own boat or catch the Caladesi Ferry over. The ferry only takes about 20 minutes from the starting point on Honeymoon Island to Caladesi. If you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins in the inlet on your trip.
Riding the Caladesi Ferry (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Check The Tides
Checking the tide chart is important when looking for shells. You want to head out to visit Caladesi Island within an hour of low tide. With the tide being farther out, you can see more area, see more shells and also venture farther out onto the sand bars. You wouldn’t be able to do this when it’s high tide.
Take The Right Supplies
You’ll have the most fun shelling if you have the right supplies. Pick up a shelling net and a shell bag before you get to the beach. While you should walk the sand to look for shells that have washed on shore, you’ll often find some really great ones that are still in the water. The shell net will help you get those shells that are buried in the sand without having to bend over too much.
Using the shell net to explore for shells (photo by Marcea Cazel)
The shell bag can be slung across your body, which will free your hands. The bag also has holes that help drain the water and some sand. Some people bring a plastic bag to hold the shells but that won’t drain the water. Besides, plastic just isn’t good for the environment or sea life so leave it at home.
Strolling Caladesi Island while shelling (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Do The Stingray Shuffle
As you’re walking through the water, it’s rare to come in direct contact with sea life. However, stingrays do hang out close to shore. Stingrays aren’t out to get you but they hide in the sand. When you step directly on their backs, the barb on their tail is engaged in a defensive mode and can embed in your foot, causing a very painful sting. The best way to avoid this? Shuffle your feet as you walk through the water which will alert the stingrays you’re coming.
Types of Shells
When you get on the dock to visit Caladesi Island, you’ll find a large board that shows you all the shells that can be found on the island. There are over 40 shells listed with their popular name, scientific name and some information about them. We like to compare the shells we found with the ones on the board when we’re headed home.
The shells that can be found on Caladesi Island (photo by Marcea Cazel)
One of the beautiful things about shelling is that one person’s bad shell is another’s treasure. My daughter loves the big plain white clamshells which are called clam quahogs. I find them a little boring but it doesn’t matter because there are so many varieties of shells to be found. No one leaves feeling like they didn’t find something they love.
We found a lot of great shells on our adventure (photo by Marcea Cazel)
In additional to traditional-looking shells, you’ll also find some rare shells on Caladesi like scotch bonnet shells and sand dollars. I’ve never personally found a sand dollar, which is a dream of mine. I did recently see a guy on Caledisi Island find one, so I know they’re out there!
Be Thoughtful When Shelling
When you pick up a shell make sure you turn it over or look inside of it before putting it in your bag. Sometimes shells will already have ‘owners’. Remember that shells are the protective hard outer base for live sea creatures. In the state of Florida, it’s illegal to remove a shell from the beach if it has a live inhabitant. When we find a live animal in the shell, we throw it back into the water as far as we can to give it a fighting chance.
This shell has an owner so it went back into the ocean. (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Another important thing to try to do is to not take every shell you see. I know, it’s hard. It’s very exciting to find a wide variety of shells and want to keep them all! This is especially hard for children. I use it as a teachable moment and explain to my daughter that there will be plenty of other shells as we walk along and that we want to share with the other beachcombers.
Where To Stay
Caladesi Island is located in Dunedin, which is a quaint artsy town just north of Clearwater and 45 minutes west of Tampa. There are many hotels within a few miles of Caladesi Island for your family to stay at. The newly renovated 1920’s Fenway Hotel is part of the Autograph Collection by Mariott. The brand new Hampton Inn Dunedin (Hilton) and the Yacht Harbor Inn, part of the Best Western chain, are located right on the water.
(Insert Thank you for visiting Caladesi Island photo here)
Finding a great place to go shelling while visiting the Tampa Bay Area is easy when you head to Caladesi Island. With a peaceful undeveloped beach located in a fun area, Caladesi Island provides a great opportunity to find a lot of shells and make wonderful vacation memories with family.
Many of our friends are vegetarians, and Triton and I enjoy the occasional vegetarian meal too. But riddle me this – why is the teen girl vegetarian trend so pervasive in our household and community? At times over the last couple of years, Sophia has announced she was now a vegetarian. Until recently, Ava held on to her carnivore status. But now with two teen vegetarians in the house, we are struggling to keep up.
Not only are our girls following the teen girl vegetarian trend, they are now occasionally dipping into veganism. These left turns come unannounced. One day she’s vegetarian and the next day she’s vegan, leaving the household to shift focus on our food supplies.
Ava helps me cook sometimes, including this recipe from my Italian nana for her vegetarian pasta with fresh fava beans.
Teen Girl Vegetarian Trend
As two gay dads raising two teen girls, we’ve always tried to be sensitive to their needs while being realistic about ours. Too much indulgence on dietary choices and dislikes raises some pretty spoiled kids. So we’ve provided some leeway for their tastes while still setting some guardrails on how we’ll stock the pantry. Everything in moderation, right?
Now old enough to make pronouncements for themselves, the girls have proclaimed vegetarianism. Except for one small thing: neither of them like vegetables very much. Oh, just that small factor.
An early planting paid off this year, allowing us a big summer harvest.
This whole shift is hard on parents. I’ve said for years that I am not a short-order cook who will prepare a different dinner for each member of the household according to their current likes. Nope. Not going to happen in this busy house.
With a refrigerator full of traditional food ingredients, we’ve punched up the fruit and vegetables to accommodate our new teen girl vegetarians. Due to their pickiness about most veggies they don’t all get eaten, which spurs a conversation about waste. Waste of resources and money, but also extreme lack of empathy for people struggling with starvation around the world.
The girls’ simple solution is to eat white things. Pasta, rice, bread, cereals and the like were all becoming primary mainstays. Also not healthy.
Another of their solutions was to just eat out. Um, with whose money? We like a good restaurant meal as much as anyone, but that can drain our pocketbooks pretty darn quick.
My nana’s recipe for pasta with fava beans is a hit.
We Are Not Alone
Mentioning this dilemma to friends, we are at a loss as to why this happens around teen girls. He also hear many similar stories. Other parents are experiencing this teen girl vegetarian trend in their homes too. Many of our women friends’ response to our questions tend towards “Oh, I went through that when I was their age too”.
We lament the difficulty of juggling food and menus, and swap recipes for vegetarian dishes the whole family will enjoy. They tell us this is a phase that many teen girls go through, and they will come out of it eventually. Well tick tock.
Fresh ingredients are the key to tasty and healthy vegetarian meal.
When the girls read this, they will be mad for me outing them but this phenomenon is important to note.
We’ve had long conversations about the cute little animals “we brutally slaughter for our own selfish purposes”. I’m sure they must have watched Food Inc. or Fast Food Nation and are genuinely disgusted at some of the abhorrent food practices in this country and elsewhere. Telling them we only buy organic/free range/grass fed does not sway their tide. They are so sure in their positions, and we did raise them to be strong young women who can speak for themselves.
HOWEVER, there is cheating. A hamburger here, a filet mignon there, some chicken nuggets thrown in for good measure. This always comes with their stated allowance that they can waiver now and then. So what about those animal rights? They are too young to call out as hypocrites, because they are learning and experimenting. So we sigh and cook up another steak.
Vegetarians don’t bother me, but give me a delish ribeye from Omaha Steaks any day!
Prepared Meal Plan Solution
Luckily we live in California where there are plenty of vegetarian options. Because we don’t want to cook multiple meals per day, we researched home meal delivery services in our area. After digging in a bit, we’ve tried Eat Clean Meal Prep in San Diego and have actually been pretty happy with their meals.
Eat Clean Meal Prep delivered a variety of vegetarian meals to our home, and in last week’s delivery we had several delicious dishes including:
“Sausage” with couscous and zucchini
“Chicken” with pineapple and rice
“Chicken” with broccoli and peppers
Made with soy-based proteins and other ingredients, even I enjoyed eating these dishes. They also sent along some delicious prepared overnight oatmeal in a variety of flavors. Fresh juices rounded out the delivery, with flavors like pear, ginseng and red pepper.
Meals from Eat Clean Meal Prep come assembled, fully labeled with directions, and ready to heat and eat.
And guess what? The girls actually like this food, and ate it all up! We’re thinking this could be a good ongoing solution.
Other solutions recommended by friends include Purple Carrot, Sun Basket, Thistle and Green Chef. All of these and many more offer vegetarian and vegan meal options. Just googling vegetarian meal delivery provides dozens of companies that cater to this diet. Trick for us is that we have to prepare the meals ourselves. Still, we’re going to try this option as well.
Triton and I can always add a little chicken or meat on top of our plates, right?
Our faux sausage dinner from Eat Clean Meal Prep was delicious!
If Ava and Sophia choose to make this a permanent part of their lives, we will support them. In today’s world vegetarianism is quite common for a host of reasons. Regardless of their commitment, their tastes and their own points of view, they are getting old enough to make some decisions for themselves.
We do think it’s important they read up on healthy meals and proper nutrients. Where will they get some of the necessary vitamins and minerals that meat proteins supply? How will they understand that a diet of carbs is not ok?
We found some good information online that you might be interested in looking into:
Guess it’s inevitable that we will sit down to dinner with potentially 2-3 different meals represented (depending on who might be vegan at the time). Triton and I will still love our meat and poultry. Occasionally the girls might too. And as far as the vegetarian meals go – well that’s a work in progress.
Fresh tomatoes grown in our own vegetable garden provide endless meal options for our vegetarians.
Print & Copy Service at Office Depot is My Superhero
Office Depot sponsored this post, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Have you ever made plans to attend something really important, only to realize you aren’t prepared with all the supplies you need to be successful there? This very thing happened to me recently, and luckily Office Depot offers print and copy services directly through its website to help me out.
I was so excited to hear we got passes to Comic Con this year, especially because this global entertainment sensation is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. Already a mega-event in the entertainment world, Comic Con is ridiculously hard to get tickets for in a regular year – let alone during its 50th birthday party. When our passes came through at the last minute, I was overjoyed to go and do some business networking!
Comic Con was even more full of excitement, surprises and cool business opportunities this year!
And then the panic set in when I realized I was nearly out of business cards.
Printing & Copying On Demand
Luckily, Office Depot had my back. Again.
Rushing around to meet deadlines on projects and a variety of other commitments, I did not have time to chase down a printer on short notice and order more business cards. So I went online to OfficeDepot.com and navigated over to its Workonomy™ Print & Copy Services page.
Navigating to the Office Depot Print & Copy page on their website is easy.
In the Printing Services section on the Office Depot website, there are super simple instructions on how to get business cards printed. It’s all part of Office Depot’s Workonomy ™ program that enables small businesses like mine to thrive. Plus, printing orders for business cards start at just $20 for 500 cards!
Uploading the art files for our business card printing job was easy at OfficeDepot.com.
I clicked on Standard Business Cards and followed the easy prompts to upload a PDF of the artwork for my cards’ front and back. From there, I chose style, paper and quantity with just a few simple clicks. A quick proofing, and I hit send to complete my order. The cards would be shipped directly to my home office for free, saving me a trip down to the nearest Office Depot store location. Of course, if I had wanted to do that I could pick them up myself too. With so many things on my To Do list, having the printing order delivered was an easy decision.
Action Packed at Comic Con
Armed with my handy business cards from Office Depot, I set off with my family to take on Comic Con. We waded into the masses of costumed characters and fans, and it was so much fun! Not only did we want to participate in this legendary event, but the girls were intent on seeing celebrities – and we did!
The force is strong with this one, so I had to give him my business card.
Wandering the convention floor at Comic Con, I was able to connect with several companies I wanted to meet and explore business opportunities. After some good conversations about the possibilities of working together, I handed them my fresh-off-the-presses business cards so we could stay connected.
And best of all? We got to have our family picture taken with SpongeBob and Squidward! I even gave them my card. Thanks to Office Depot, making connections at conferences is easy. Check out their printing solutions for your business.
After this photo was taken, Squidward and I had a very important business meeting.
Office Depot sponsored this post, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Have you had the opportunity to visit Sedona, Arizona and take a tour in one of the ubiquitous Pink Jeeps? If not, you are missing out! And I’m not just saying that because they are HOT PINK (the official color of the gays). Whether our family had two dads or not, I guarantee we would have been on one of those Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona.
They’re ubiquitous. We must have counted at least a dozen pink jeeps parked around town as tangible advertising for Pink Jeep Adventure Tours. And that didn’t even count the actual jeeps full of fun-loving visitors in the midst of a tour! Perhaps for locals this might be a little much, but we found it charming – especially since we had such a blast on our own Pink Jeep Tour experience.
Pretty Pink Jeeps all in a row, waiting for the next guests to hop on board.
Your Very Own Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona
Quite some time ago, some smart business owner decided to make their off-road tour stand out. After all, tours of gorgeous Sedona, Arizona rock formations are better in touring vehicles painted pink. Brilliant. So our family went along for the ride, and loved every minute of it.
What to Bring on Your Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona
In case you didn’t know, it’s hot and sunny in Sedona most of the year. We visited in the heat of summer when it was over 100 degrees. Bring a bottle of water for each person, a hat, sunscreen and good walking shoes because you get out of the jeep to walk on the rocks a bit. Also, the ride is bumpy (you are off-roading after all) so wear comfortable, loose clothes you don’t mind getting a little dusty. For those of you who are worrywarts, just stop it – you will be fine!
Our Pink Jeep took the Broken Arrow turn-off, but there are a lot of choices.
Broken Arrow Tour
Pink Jeep Tours’ signature is the Broken Arrow Tour, although they offer many other interesting choices. Our whole family loved this tour, because we felt like our little group were the only people in this canyon. OK, maybe there were some other Pink Jeep Tours around as well, but still.
(Fun factoid: It’s called Broken Arrow because this area used to be the film site of many old Hollywood westerns, including a Jimmy Stewart flick called Broken Arrow).
Our Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona drove us to the top of this amazing rock formation.
Our guide David was terrific and knowledgeable, with a wry sense of humor that made his narration even more entertaining. He told us about the sedimentation that formed these rock formations. Pointing out the layers of color in the massive cliffs, David explained why this tectonic shift happened millions and millions of years ago. It was like a Cliff’s Notes version of an outdoor geology lesson, The adults loved it, and the kids tuned out – just like in school. Oh well, maybe some of those details did seep into those forming brains.
Sedona Rocks with Pink Jeep Tours
Most of Sedona’s famous vistas are enjoyed from a distance, so you can take in their huge scale. Formations like Bell Rock, Castle Rock and Cathedral Rock are wildly popular and recognizable. All are postcard-perfect examples of what has brought so many visitors to Sedona.
The beauty of Bell Rock is just breathtaking, no matter what the vantage point.
Having said that, the Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona that we took allowed us to get up close and personal with these formations. We loved seeing them up close and studying their detail. In a couple of instances, David parked the jeep and took us on a short walk. On one stop, we walked to the top of a giant rock so we could touch and feel the stone. He even pointed out a fault line from eons ago, which put a straight-line crack through the giant rock we stood upon. It was geeky cool.
Hilarious Laughs on Bumpy Terrain
One of the coolest things about this tour was the incredibly steep terrain we traversed in our sturdy jeep, both up and down. The kids squealed with laughter as we climbed up tiny pathways that seemed so vertical we should fall backwards. Don’t worry, it felt safe the whole time – just VERY STEEP.
Hard to tell in this photo but this trail is super steep for Pink Jeep Tours and anything else!
Even more dramatic were the sections of path downwards that was sometimes at a 45-degree angle (or more). David expertly guided the jeep over gigantic boulders in our path as we descended to a more reasonable angle of pathway. It was so cool, and a tiny bit unnerving. But that’s the fun of it! We laughed the whole way, amazed to look back at the mountain we had just descended.
Beauty All Around You
People travel to Sedona from all over the world to see these famous red rocks. This Sedona Pink Jeep Tour serves up all that and more, including flora and fauna. We saw many colorful birds and squirrels, and we hear local mule deer are regular morning visitors. No snakes though, thank goodness. The rattlesnake population does well in Sedona (or so we are told), but we never saw a single one.
With the right camera angle, Ava looks like she’s hanging off a cliff in Sedona
The plant life amazed us, and our guide pointed out various plants and their native uses. Some we could eat if stranded, use for shampoo if feeling a little soiled, and store for sources of water if our thirst grew too great. Not that we truly needed to access any of these emergency rations, but it’s always good to know. You know, for the next time you find yourself alone in the middle of the high rocky desert with a dead phone and no hope.
Aaaaanyway, back to the fun. There is a reason why these Pink Jeep Tours are ubiquitous – it’s because they are so darn cool. This is simply a must-do activity on your visit to Sedona. Don’t get all anti-commercial and crystally-vortexy on me. This experience is well worth your time, no matter how enlightened you are.
Where To Stay
While we were visiting Sedona, we stayed at the ultra-relaxing Enchantment Resort & Spa. It’s one of the best spa resorts in Arizona, and wow is it a spectacular experience. Our stay here was far too short, so we just need to make our way back there for a week or three.
You can’t miss the Pink Jeep Tours office and meeting place right in the middle of Sedona town.
*This experience was sponsored by Pink Jeep Tours, and we thank them for hosting our family for this awesome adventure.
Hotel Review: Family Fun at the La Jolla Shores Hotel
Sometimes you don’t need to travel farther than your own back yard for a wonderful family getaway. Recently we had the greatest staycation ever, with tons of family fun in La Jolla at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. With it’s prime beachfront location overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this hotel is well positioned for Southern California beach vacations. Whether you live in the area or visiting from out of town, La Jolla Shores Hotel is one of the best San Diego hotels on the beach.
Our room at La Jolla Shores Hotel had this incredible balcony view
Best San Diego Hotels on the Beach
People think California beachfront hotels are a dime a dozen, but they’re not really. There are many amazing hotels on along the California Coast we love to stay in, but not many are oceanfront. In California, “oceanfront” can mean a lot of things. Sometimes the terrain can be hilly and unpredictable, meaning guests cannot typically walk directly out of the hotel and on to the sand. Sometimes “ocean view” can be misleading too. More than once, we’ve been surprised by hotels with “ocean views” from across the road. Or worse yet, a sliver view squeezed between two other tall buildings.
This is definitely not the case at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. This is Southern California beachfront, complete with the iconic boardwalk to boot. And this is why it ranks as one of our best San Diego hotels on the beach. AND THE BEACH IS AMAZING!
You can walk for miles on the beach in front of the La Jolla Shores Hotel.
Great History in La Jolla
Holding court on La Jolla Shores beach for decades, the La Jolla Shores Hotel has been fulfilling guests’ dreams for many years. Generations within families have grown up loving the casual vibe at this hotel. Many continue to come back year after year, now with children of their own and grandparents in tow. In fact, when we were staying here we saw many multi-generational families enjoying the hotel and its offerings.
La Jolla has long been recognized as the jewel of San Diego. It’s an affluent enclave with a beachy vibe, where surfer dudes in board shorts mix nicely with ladies who lunch. Home of Torrey Pines Golf Course, Scripps Aquarium, designer boutiques and bazillion dollar homes, La Jolla is also blessed with a chill vibe. At the center of all this Southern California energy, the La Jolla Shores Hotel holds court.
Main entrance of La Jolla Shores Hotel
After a recent room remodel, the spacious guest accommodations at La Jolla Shores Hotel are impressive. Our room had an enormous wrap-around deck and stunning views of La Jolla Shores beaches north and south. We could enjoy watching the waves along Scripps Pier, the kids playing in the surf, and kayaks paddling out to sea. Honestly, we were so close to the sand we could read the words on the sunbathers’ trashy summer novels if we wanted to. But who wants to do that when there are so many gorgeous vistas to take in?
Our room had two queen beds and a fold-out couch, along with sitting areas both inside and out on the decks. Our teen girls have gotten to the point where they refuse to share a bed, so the fold-out was very welcome! Bathrooms were spacious but not overly luxurious. The emphasis is definitely on the view here, and why not. The La Jolla Shores Hotel is one of the best San Diego hotels on the beach for a reason: THE BEACH IS AMAZING.
Enjoying the view from our room at La Jolla Shores Hotel
Fantastic Dining at Shores Restaurant
In my nearly 30 years of living in San Diego, I had never eaten at The Shores Restaurant inside the La Jolla Shores Hotel. And after having dinner and breakfast there, I’m asking myself why I’ve not been there before. Not only was the food excellent, but did I mention it is beachfront? And remember, THE BEACH IS AMAZING.
Arriving for dinner, we must have timed ourselves perfectly as we were seated by the giant picture window. Overlooking the beach, ocean, and setting sun, we felt so perfectly San Diegan. Instantly we were all in a good mood, and the rest of the evening was only up from there. As our attentive and knowledgeable waiter got us settled with drinks, we dug into the menu.
Outdoor dining at The Shores Restaurant has killer ocean views.
The Shores Restaurant Menu
Right away, one item stood out that we had to try – Brussels Sprouts with Habenero Sausage, Pecans and Goat Cheese. We love all those things! Never have we had crispy Brussels sprouts served with melted goat cheese, and we could not get enough. Another stand out was the Pesto Ricotta Flat Bread, colorful and delicious with tomatoes, artichokes and spinach. The Chicken Potstickers were also out-of-this-world, and surprised us with their perfectly flavored Asian bite. We were off to a great start.
Chicken potstickers and a cucumber gimlet at The Shores Restaurant? Yes please!
Our entrees were also delicious and well prepared. We sampled the Maine Diver Scallops, Dynamite Wild Shrimp with Forbidden Rice (why is it forbidden when it’s sooooo good?) and more. Everything was superb – well seasoned, not too fussy and extremely well prepared and plated.
And in the midst of this amazing meal, the sun set over the blue Pacific Ocean directly in front of our table. Honestly a postcard-perfect view and by the way, the view of THE BEACH IS AMAZING!
Watching the sunset from Shores Restaurant at the La Jolla Shores Hotel.
We finished with The Shores Restaurant version of Banana Split Mudd Pie, a sinfully delicious concoction we shared along with the Passionfruit Layered Cheesecake. Ridiculously rich and tasty.
This Banana Split Mudd Pie was gone in 60 seconds.
La Jolla Family Activities
After all that feasting, we had to get up and be active the next day. There are so many thing to do in the area, we came up with a list of things for a fun family day at La Jolla Cove.
Or you can simply stay put at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. With so many activities right there, you may not want to leave.
View looking west towards Pacific Ocean from La Jolla Shores Hotel.
For room details and pricing, visit LJShoresHotel.com. The room we stayed in starts at approximately $499 during high season, and other rooms can be booked starting at around $319.
Imagine a world where mermaids swim through crystal clear blue waters, breathing underwater, dancing to music. A place where you can slide into crystal clear freshwater springs. Somewhere your family can explore and learn more about a former roadside attraction of the last century. There’s no need to imagine all this – it all takes place where you can see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida.
History of The Springs
Located on the west coast of Florida, Weeki Wachee has the deepest natural springs in the United States. The springs expell about 150 million gallons of crystal clear fresh water per day and maintain a temperature of 72-74 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Named by the native Seminole Indians, the springs flow directly into the Gulf of Mexico 15 miles away.
Crystal clear waters of Weeki Wachee Springs (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Outside of the Native Americans using the springs and a skirmish or two during the Civil War, the area surrounding Weeki Wachee was fairly desolate until after World War II. Then in 1946, a Navy SEAL named Newt Perry came to the area. He came up with the idea of a roadside attraction that featured women swimming underwater using breathing apparatus hoses.
After cleaning up the springs which had become the area’s dump, Perry built an underwater theater. The theater is still in the same location but larger than the original 18 seats. Now it’s built into the limestone and is 6 feet below the surface. Perry found some women who agreed to be ‘mermaids’ and trained them to swim using the air hoses. They can also eat and dance, all while underwater!
View of Mermaid Theater at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
By the 1950’s, car travel became huge in the United States and Florida was becoming more and more popular (thanks air conditioning!) Weeki Wachee was a roadside attraction and became one of Florida’s most popular vacation stops. Even Elvis Presley visited to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs.
Things To Do at Weeki Wachee
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is built into two sections: Weeki Wachee and Buccaneer Bay, which is the water park. Admission to the park provides entrance to both sides.
When visiting, it’s good to remember that the Weeki Wachee side was built in the 1940’s and has an old-timey feel. It’s not that things are run down. In fact, recent renovations were done to the walkways and mermaid theater. It’s just that it’s a small park and doesn’t have lots of flash and pizzaz, which is why I love it so much.
The park’s pontoon takes you down the Weeki Wachee River with a captain who gives a guided tour. The tour takes about 30-40 minutes and the captain will point out wildlife and give you some history about the area. It’s a great way to get a good view of the river without renting a kayak. If you visit in the winter months you might spot a manatee or two since they gravitate to warmer waters when it gets colder.
View of Weeki Wachee River from Pontoon Tour (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Florida Wildlife Show
The wildlife show is a great way for visitors to get a glimpse of the wildlife that resides in Florida. One of the rangers brings out native birds, snakes and alligators and explains how they interact with the eco-system of the state. Don’t worry if you aren’t keen on getting close. Everyone sits in bleacher seats while the animals are on the stage.
Wildlife Show at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Let’s be honest – boat tours and wildlife shows are fun. But people visit to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs. There are over 20 mermaids that work at the park and swim int the shows 365 days a year. They also have mermen, or Princes as they’re called since they’re part of The Little Mermaid show.
Mermaids swim inside of the Mermaid Theater (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Sitting in the 400-seat theater, watching the curtains lift and seeing the mermaids performing to the music being piped into the theater is an experience unlike any other. While you know that these are humans with tails attached and you can see them holding their breathing tubes, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the underwater ballet being performed.
Since Weeki Wachee is a living spring, you will even see wildlife like fish and turtles swimming by as the mermaids perform. During one of the shows we went to during the winter, we looked in the background and saw a manatee swimming by. Where else can you get that experience?
Mermaid performs at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
The shows are about a half-hour long. There is a video pre-show that shows the history of the springs along with footage of mermaids from the past performing. The theater can fill up quickly so I suggest that you arrive at least 40 minutes before showtime during the crowded summer months to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee. After the show, make sure to head to the area outside the theater where one of the mermaids who didn’t perform is available to meet and take pictures with visitors.
Getting a Pic With a Mermaid at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Have you ever considered being a mermaid? Becoming a mermaid requires an audition and includes an endurance swim test and the ability to tread water for 10 minutes. If you’re like me and a little too old to audition but would love to experience what it’s like to be a mermaid, think about going to mermaid camp. For children who are too young to work as a mermaid, there’s a camp for them too!
Entrance Sign to Buccaneer Bay (photo by Marcea Cazel)
On the opposite side of the mermaid theater is Buccaneer Bay. A waterpark that features three water slides, a floating dock, swim area and lazy river, Buccaneer Bay is built right into the freshwater springs of the park.
View of Springs Inside Buccaneer Bay (photo by Marcea Cazel)
Buccaneer Bay has a sand area that has lounge chairs on it. You can also put your towels out on the grassy area to sit. People bring their own small tailgating tents or pop-up cabanas – those are only allowed to be set up in the grass.
Beach Area of Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee Springs (photo by Marcea Cazel)
If you’re traveling with older children (pre-teen and above) you’ll feel comfortable letting the kids get on the slides or in the lazy river in groups since it’s a small place and there are lifeguards at every ride. If you have smaller children under the age of 11, you’ll want to walk around with them.
Floating On The Lazy River at Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee (photo by Marcea Cazel)
There are height restrictions on the slides but not on the lazy river. The floating dock you have to have the ability to swim out to. The spring is more than 6 feet in some spots so swimming skills are required. Flotation devices aren’t allowed inside Buccaneer Bay unless the child cannot swim without it. So lifevests and baby floatation devices are okay; decorative pool floats aren’t allowed.
Only open during the summer, Buccaneer Bay can fill up very quickly resulting in both parks closing to additional visitors. Tickets aren’t available for pre-purchase so the best way to avoid this is to arrive at the park before it opens. You can also follow Buccaneer Bay on Facebook or Twitter for updates of when the park has reached capacity.
Food, Drinks and Rentals
Both Weeki Wachee and Buccaneer Bay have food and drinks available to purchase. Choices include burgers, wraps, chicken fingers, sodas and ice cream. The prices aren’t too high and the quality is good.
If you’d like to save some money, small coolers are allowed to be brought into both parks. No alcohol is permitted to be brought in from the outside. Buccaneer Bay does have a tiki hut bar that’s open for frozen drinks and beers.,
At Buccaneer Bay you can rent lockers, umbrellas, chairs and pop up cabanas. To ride the lazy river you’ll need to purchase a tube wristband for $7 but the wristband is good for unlimited rides throughout the day.
Where To Stay
Weeki Wachee is a very small town. There is a motel across the street and several in the surrounding area. I’d suggest that you stay in the Tampa/Clearwater/St Petersburg areas and make a quick day trip. It will only take about 75 minutes from any of those locations, and you’ll be closer to a wider variety of things to do during the rest of your stay.
A trip to Weeki Wachee Springs is a trip into Florida’s past and the days of smaller roadside attractions. An opportunity to see mermaids at Weeki Wachee shouldn’t be missed, and makes for a fun visit while vacationing with the family.
The worst thing you can hear this summer is: I’m bored. It’s irritatingly common that kids these days don’t know how to entertain themselves. Unless you want give them unlimited access to Fortnite or their Nintendo Switch, you are going to have to find unique ways to overcome summer boredom for kids.
However, it’s not as hard it may seem. With a little creativity, some imagination, and a willing spirit (or 3) you can make this a summer to remember. To get you started. here are 9 things you can do with your kids to overcome summer boredom no matter where you live.
Hula hooping in backyard. (photo credit:vgajic)
9 Ways to Overcome Summer Boredom for Kids
Find a new park.
Blow right by the park you always go to and check out one you’ve heard about that is in a neighboring town. Look for ones with “spraygrounds” so the kids (and you) can cool off.
A group of kids gets soaking wet while playing in a fountain (photo credit:BluIz60)
Have a picnic.
You can overcome summer boredom by having a picnic in your backyard, at a local nature preserve or really anywhere you want. Get the kids involved in helping to prepare for your picnic. Let them make the lunch and pack it up.
Summer picnics are a great way for families to find quality time together. (photo credit: eli_asenova)
Go to an outdoor concert.
Just about everywhere in the US, there are outdoor concerts throughout the summer. You may have to drive a bit if you live out in the country, but do it anyway. Make a day of it. Don’t worry about what’s playing or who’s singing, just go!
Families enjoying a live concert outdoors (photo credit:msubhadeep)
Go see a movie.
Movies can be expensive, especially when you are bringing a bunch of kids. However, during the summer, many of the movie theater groups offer discount deals. Also check out the dollar theaters that are present in most cities. Did your kids already see the movie? Who cares? Take a break from the heat and see it again!
Going to the movies is a fun way for families to cool down during the summer. (photo credit:Geber86)
Remember when you were a kid and you could spend a whole day riding bikes? Why not show your kids how to do that? Get out with them in your neighborhood, at a local park, or on a trail. If your kids don’t know how to ride a bike, then let this be the summer they learn. And if you don’t have a bike for yourself or your kids, you can often rent them by the hour in most major cities. Also check out Goodwill Stores for crazy cheap bikes your kids can use all year.
A summer afternoon bike ride makes the entire family happy. (photo credit:GeorgeRudy)
Visit your local library.
Libraries are a great place to get the kids learning during the summer, without them even knowing it. Besides checking out books and DVDs, libraries often have special programs and events geared to kids of different ages.
A visit to the library can keep kids entertained for hours. (photo credit:FatCamera)
Have a lemonade stand.
Why spend money when you can make money? Teach the kids some early entrepreneur skills and make friends with your neighbors. Let the kids make the lemonade, serve it to customers, give out change, and count the money. Have a goal for what you’re going to do with the money in case kids start slacking off.
The rites of summer passage always include a lemonade stand. (photo credit:viafilms)
Bake a cake.
You may want to save this for a cool or rainy summer day as the oven will heat up your house. But, the smells and (hopefully) the taste will be worth it. Let your kids take the lead by choosing the recipe, adding ingredients, and putting the cake together. When it’s all done and frosted, be sure to celebrate with a giant slice for everyone.
Baking with the kids can be all kinds of fun (photo credit:evgenyatamanenko)
Have a dance party.
Are you hip to all the new Fortnite dances your kids know? How about the ones that go with the latest songs? Spend an afternoon letting your kids teach you how to do them. Just know turnabout is fair play because you then get to teach the kids the dances you got down to as a kid. Running man anyone?
Family dance parties are the best! (photo credit:gorodenkoff)
The main thing I’m trying to show you, friends, is that you don’t have to spend a ton of money, have lots of technology, or be super crafty to overcome summer boredom for kids. So what are we going to do today?
Maria Smith is a wife and on-the-go mom to four children ages 12 to 7. Maria lives in Atlanta and blogs at MamaliciousMaria.com. A former Oprah Winfrey Show producer, she is now a freelance writer for several print and online outlets. When not writing, Maria can be found on the tennis courts, savoring a good book, or traveling the world with her family.
Everyone raves about vacations in Florida, a state we have not visited much together. Recently we spent a long weekend in the Florida Keys, and now we see why people love visiting here so much! Spectacular weather, warm waters and plenty of interesting flora and fauna make this a really amazing place for vacation. With so much to see and do here, we made a list to share with you of our favorite fun family activities in the Florida Keys.
Honestly, there is so much to do here we didn’t even scratch the surface. With the help of friends, advisors, experts and our own kids’ spidey senses, we found some really amazing things for our first visit here. We left so many other things on the table, we’ll just have to go back and tick more things off the list. Until then, here are some of the highlights!
Ava gives eyebrow at the southernmost point marker in Key West.
Fun Family Activities in the Florida Keys
From our home base at the gorgeously remodeled Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, we plotted our agenda of fun family activities in the Florida Keys. Tearing ourselves away from the hotel pool and lagoon was not easy, but it was really sweet to return here each day. More on the Hawks Cay Resort below.
Feed the Tarpons at Robbie’s
Probably one of the most fun things we did while visiting the Florida Keys (and most alarming!) was feeding the tarpons at Robbie’s of Islamorada. First and foremost a restaurant and marine activities center, Robbie’s has become famous for the schools of giant tarpon that swarm their docks. Tarpons are saltwater game fish common to these waters, and can grow up to 350 pounds and 8 feet in length. Their mouths are enormous caverns of hungry darkness.
Triton and Ava jump back as a giant tarpon grabs their bait.
So at some point, Robbie himself started feeding these gargantuans of the sea. Now when you visit Robbie’s, you can buy a bucket of bait fish for $2.25 and feed the tarpons yourself. The fish seemed to sense our presence and start to get rambunctious in the water next to the pier. Holding a fish by the tail over the water, we each took turns slowly lowering the fish towards the water. Suddenly, a bold tarpon will rise out of the water with its mouth open wide.
The soundtrack to this photo is a high pitched scream (from me). Look at that mouth!
I don’t know what happens if you hold on to the fish while the tarpon closes its mouth around your hand. Instead, we all screamed like little girls and dropped the bait fish as the tarpon jumped up. Damn things look prehistoric when they are coming at you with that hungry look in their eyes!
Those tarpons can jump high out of the water at Robbie’s of Islamorada!
Robbie’s also offers great food in a casual environment with full bar. Activities offered here include jet skis, parasailing, kayaks, snorkel cruises and plenty more. It was too windy the day we visited to embark on any of these activities. Just another reason to come back and see our tarpon buddies!
The indoor/outdoor vibe at Robbie’s of Islamorada in the Florida Keys
One of the only turtle rescue hospitals in the world dedicated to rehab and release programs, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon is exceptional. Dedicated to helping turtles injured by humans, other creatures and disease, the hospital staff comes to their rescue. Visitors are invited to come to the Hospital for educational tours, with proceeds from ticket sales supporting the organization’s non-profit mission.
Sage the teen turtle rescue at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys
For our animal-loving kids, this visit was an emotional highlight. Both Sophia and Ava fell in love with these sweet creatures, some very badly injured in boating accidents and shark attacks. With battered and broken shells, turtles are nursed back to health here. Ideally, turtles recover fully and are released back into the wild. Unfortunately some do not fully recover, and are no longer able to care for themselves outside the hospital. Those creatures live here for the rest of their days, pampered and loved by staff and visitors alike.
It was fascinating to see the operating room, holding tanks, and dedicated staff caring for these turtles. Most are green sea turtles, some are loggerheads and others are Ridley’s. There were little baby turtles, teen turtles and all the way up to ancient old man turtles. Some live to be as old as 80 years, so caring for them 24/7 is a huge commitment!
The staff bandages an injured turtle brought to the Turtle Hospital for recovery.
Touring the facility, we were able to learn about, observe and even feed the turtles. Our girls were in heaven, and there was even talk of veterinary school in their futures. We’ll see about that, but their commitment to animals runs deep.
Tours run every hour, and admission cost is $25 per adult, kids 4-12 are $12, and children under 4 are free. For more information, view the Turtle Hospital website.
The operating room at the Turtle Hospital was impressive.
Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
In the heart of Key West at the very southernmost point in the US, the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory holds court. Fun for all ages, this butterfly zoo is a menagerie of colorful winged creatures and plants. With more than 50 varieties of butterflies on site, there are also moths, tropical birds and two very friendly flamingos (but more on them later).
Butterflies of every color of the rainbow flit around the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
As we walked through the thick tropical jungle of plants and flowers, swarms of butterflies swirled around us. Bright blues, deep oranges, hot pinks and vibrant yellows were mixed in with pretty much every other color of the rainbow. It was so peaceful to just sit on a bench and watch as some even landed on us for a moment before floating away again. For kids, there is a great educational video and lobby with caterpillars munching away on their favorite plants. This place is just magical.
Here, the staff is very knowledgeable about all the different species of butterflies, moths, birds and plants. With docents positioned throughout the enclosure, we had tour guides all around as we meandered through. Visitors exit through a very well themed gift shop, where our girls had a field day. We came home with so many butterfly themed gifts for family and friends!
Gorgeous butterflies and flowers at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory has a special event called Flamingle, offered only to a very small group of people a few times per week. After closing time when all the guests have departed, this small group is led into the enclosure to sit on benches inside the arbor. And then, the two resident flamingos are released from their pen to walk freely around the entire enclosure. Their names are Rhett and Scarlett.
Scarlett the Flamingo was fascinated with Triton’s grey locks.
The most fun part of this? Rhett and Scarlett love people and are very sociable, so they come running right up to check out their new guests. And by right up, I mean up close and personal. Instructed not to touch the flamingos, we sat with huge smiles while they sniffed, preened and tickled us with their gorgeous bills and bright pink features. Really, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences we will be talking about forever.
Ava was a little freaked out at Rhett and Scarlett’s very friendly behavior, and sensing this they left her alone. The rest of us were showered in attention and love. Rhett did this weird thing with his bill, vibrating it on my legs, arms and neck in a way that tickled enormously. He took a liking to me, and kept trying to stretch his long legs and climb into my lap! Scarlett preferred to preen Sophia and Triton’s hair with her bill, separating each hair carefully in her effort to show attention and love. It was very sweet.
Rhett reeeeeaaaally wanted to get in Jon’s lap.
We can’t recommend this highly enough. In order to reserve your spot, you must contact the team at Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory far in advance. For rates and more information contact Clarisa Fluker at (305) 296-2988 ext. #11 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ernest Hemingway’s Home & Cats
Right down the road from our butterfly experience, we walked on to the grounds of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Hemingway is famous for his novels such as For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises and more. Many were turned into movies of great acclaim. Deceased since 1961, Hemingway’s estate is now a museum filled with his memorabilia and writings. Ever the man of the hour, Hemingway lived an outsized life while traveling the world. On his adventures he collected many things of beauty, and a few oddities as well. Quite a few are on display here.
Oh the stories Hemingway’s old typewriter could tell.
One of these oddities was his pet cat, Snow White, who was polydactyl. This means she had six toes instead of the normal five or four. Now the Hemingway estate is teeming with her descendents, all with the unusual six toe signature. Over the years, this DNA has spread and there are at least 50 cats on the grounds. Our kids went wild trying to lure these cats into their arms, petting them madly and cooing. Honestly, I think they would have tried to smuggle one out in their backpacks were it not for the eagle eyes of a nearby docent.
Sophia and Ava wanted to bring all the cats home in our suitcases.
By everywhere on the grounds, I mean these cats are all over – inside and out. Curled up asleep on Hemingway’s bed, a sweet long-haired tabby was dozing . Splayed out across the bathroom windowsill, his cousin napped nearby. In the garden, dozens of their family members roamed about. Definitely not a place for cat-haters or those that are allergic!
All the cats at the Hemingway Home in Key West are polydactyl with six toes.
The house is open every day of the year (even holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets include a guided tour, and cost $14 for adults and $6 for kids ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and younger are free.
Hawks Cay Resort
During our visit to the Florida Keys, we stayed on the water’s edge at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. Located at about the halfway point on the Keys, the resort is easy to get to from either Key Largo near the mainland or Key West at the very tip. Perfect jumping off point for visiting fun family activities in the Florida Keys.
Our room was in the Sunset Villas at Hawks Cay Resort
Our suite was incredibly spacious, with a kitchen, dining area, living room with fold-out couch and large decks both downstairs and upstairs. Upstairs, there were two bedrooms each with ensuite bathrooms. But the views, oh the views! Our deck had stairs down to a grassy area and then the bay, right there in all its glory. We watched boats whizz by pulling waterskiers, jet skis and kayaks and all kinds of aquatic sports. Best of all, the sun set over this view each night and we witnessed a daily light show from our suite.
Sun sets over the Florida Keys as we watch from our deck at Hawks Cay Resort
Hawks Cay Resort has everything a family would hope to find in a vacation spot. The pool was enormous and serpentine, with areas for play or relaxation. We loved the saltwater lagoon nearby, warm and calm with stand up paddleboards and canoes. Around this lagoon, chairs and umbrellas are positioned for extra lounge areas dedicated to guests who wanted more quiet solitude.
The pool was hopping at Hawks Cay Resort during our visit.
There is even a dolphin encounter on site, located in a private bay where guests can reserve the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. We opted for family time in the gym instead, and loved the fitness facilities connected to the spa.
Rooms at the Hawks Cay Resort start at around $230 per night and go up from there. Our two-story, 2-bedroom suite was approximately $380 per night.
So Much to See and Do
The list of things we share above is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many fun family activities in the Florida Keys, we think we need to go back for more experiences. Stay tuned for Chapter Two of this story!