Someday I think the girls will look back and talk about the summer back in 2014, because it was one of the best vacations so far!
It took me a long time to write this post. I stalled writing at first because I felt it too big a task to share everything I felt about this vacation. There were too many words and too many feelings that were captured, that the task of writing about all of it seemed daunting. I felt I might miss the essence of our vacation. I also felt there would be a need to share every last thought and feeling, in order to never forget the amazing time we had. But, I had to stop thinking this way and finally sit down and write. I can’t capture everything I want in this post, but it’s enough for the girls to have as they look back someday. And, the greatest thing is that it’s stored in my mind (and I believe Doug and the girls’ mind as well), and we will always remember this special vacation, back in the summer of 2014.
It began on Friday evening at 5 pm on July 25th. The girls waited anxiously for Daddy’s arrival home from work, because that was the marking point for the start of vacation. They had no idea of our plans for vacation, because this year we planned on trying something new. Usually we end up in a resort in Orlando where we play in the pool, drift down a lazy river, eat fancy dinner’s and visit a theme park. But, this year was going to be different, and they had no clue what that plan was. All week Daddy gave them little clues about vacation, and then promised them that on Friday night he would reveal the surprise. So, when he arrived home in the early evening on Friday night, they met him at the door, and before he could walk in, they begged him to tell them the plan. His response, ” Wait girls…I’m taking you ladies to dinner, and then when we get home I’ll tell you all about it.”
We landed at Harborita Cantina for dinner, a little Mexican eatery downtown. We ate taco’s and played Old Maid.
Then the girls begged us to go home, so they could hear all about vacation. When we arrived home, everyone sat on the couch, and Doug pulled out his laptop. He presented a slide show of the fun things we would be doing over the course of the next week. The girls squealed as he told them we would visit Lowry Park Zoo on Saturday, Busch Gardens on Sunday and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Monday to see Winter the dolphin. Then he revealed the big surprise; a vacation on Palm Island. We would stay in a condo that our wonderful friends so graciously opened up to us, swim at the beach, swim in the pool, explore the island via golf cart, enjoy ice cream and dinner, and collect artifacts from the beach. I wish I would have captured the girls reactions on video camera, but since I didn’t, I will tell you that they screamed in delight, jumped up and down, hugged one another and us and stated that they probably wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. Watching the girls excitement compounds our excitement. Then Daddy announced, “Let vacation begin! Let’s start it with ice cream.” We grabbed our shoes and walked to Coldstone downtown, talking excitedly about our upcoming vacation as we walked.
Saturday we explored the zoo, where we pet goats and observed zebra’s, giraffes, wild cats, walabee’s, elephants and gators. The girls rode a few of the small rides and Sara and Doug braved Gator Falls and got soaked. We wrapped up around 3 pm, and headed home to get cleaned up for dinner at Mellow Mushroom. After dinner we visited Dairy Queen for more vacation ice cream.
Sunday, we spent the morning getting a few things ready for vacation. Then we arrived at Busch Gardens in the early afternoon, for a day of rides and fun. Our favorite rides included water. Sara rode Cheetah Hunt with Daddy (which goes up to 60 miles an hour), and Soph and I rode Grover about 6 times. We took in the beautiful scenery and animals of the park from a birds eye view, as we slowly cruised above the park in the sky ride. We attended a new animal show, where birds flew above our heads, dogs and cats did trick’s, and a horse crossed the stage…just to name a few. Then we ended our evening watching an acrobatic show followed by fireworks.
Monday, we visited Winter the dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This was my favorite spot of the weekend, because I’m a dolphin lover. I dream of swimming with my own dolphin someday. I imagine a dolphin visiting me while I’m reading a book on the dock, and then that fantasy turns into a movie, where the dolphin visits me everyday and I give him a name. Whenever I’m sitting on the dock, I spend much time looking out over the water, hoping to catch a glimpse of a fin. It’s tiring really. Dolphins love and they smile. We watched the dolphin Nicholas jump, play and do tricks at a show we attended when we first arrived at the aquarium. Then the girls spent some time touching sting rays, visiting sea turtles and laughing as the sea otters swam on their back’s. The aquarium isn’t an all day things, you can visit in a 2 hour span, and right at 2 hours the girls were ready to go. I wasn’t. So, I told myself and Doug that I would be revisiting on my own for a full day with the dolphins.
At that point in the day, it was time to start packing and finishing preparations for our trip away.
The weekend had been loads of fun but also busy, and by Tuesday everyone was more then ready to relax on an island. We loaded the car and started our journey right around 11 am. The trip over was beautiful. I love driving over the skyway bridge. The water, palm trees and boats set the mood for our island vacation. We arrived at our ferry right about 2 hours after we left the harbor. We pulled into the Palm Island Marina and drove our car onto a ferry to cross over a very very short stretch of water, and then we backed our car onto the island. We parked the car, found our friends golf cart, loaded our bags and drove to the condo.
The place was beautiful, a Tommy Bahama modern take on the beach house. The girls had their own room, and the master suite overlooked the beach, with an easy access sliding glass door to the back porch and the beach. While Doug and I unloaded the bags and admired the beauty of the place, the girls quickly put their swim suits on, and waited anxiously for us to complete our tasks.
We made it to the beach around 3, with chairs set up in the sand, an umbrella above our heads, beers in the cooler and Doug’s jawbone speaker entertaining us with a little island reggae music. The girls greeted the water as though it had been years since they’d seen it. The wind kept us cool and the waves were perfect for body surfing. It was at that moment that a flood of gratefulness and excitement came upon me. For the next week, I would get to enjoy my family on this beautiful beach with no distractions and loads of beauty and relaxation.
We played in the sand and ocean for a good 2 hours before we decided to hop on the golf cart and explore the island. The island is beautiful and also simple. The roads are white dirt roads, with little street lamps. Palm trees shade the two story beach home’s. There are 3 salt water pools and several tennis courts. In the middle of the island stands a grocery store with overpriced toilet paper, a rental shop/shed and the one and only restaurant. Behind that is a dock that takes you out to a boat station, where you can wait for a water taxi to take you to the other restaurant. At the end of the island, called North Beach, you can watch a beautiful sunset and maybe catch dolphins playing. It’s also the best spot to search for shells and shark teeth.
After visiting the North Beach for a bit, we drove back to the condo and decided to try the pool. Then it was time to eat dinner. Our personal chef (my favorite chef) prepared wings for dinner. While our chef cooked dinner, the girls met a little girl that was staying next door. She brought a few small sea turtles over that had been born under the deck. She called the front office to let them know of her find, and later that night the baby sea turtles were released in a spot near the ocean, where they would survive. After dinner, we brought out the games. LRC and Old Maid were the games of the night. It was such a fun evening. So much fun that we didn’t call it quits until 11 pm.
The next morning we woke up late, had a delicious breakfast, and then took a trip on the golf cart to the beach rental shop. We picked up 2 boogie boards and some tennis raquet’s and balls. Then we loaded our gear and walked down to the beach. The girls spent hours playing in the waves. They also built a sand castle and then later watched it wash away.
After a few hours on the beach in the sun, we hopped on the golf cart and took another different tour of the island, where we discovered some of the most beautiful homes right on the beach.
In the early evening, Doug prepared for us a wonderful shrimp cocktail and crab legs, with a side of lemon butter for dipping. Then we finished the day on the North Beach as we watch a gorgeous sunset sink into the ocean.
On Thursday morning, we began our day on the North beach shell shopping and searching for shark teeth.
Then we drove back to prepare for time on the beach. Thursday was a different kind of day on the beach. The ocean was calm and clear and beautiful. It was a perfect day for snorkeling. We spent at least two hours soaking in the salt water and exploring life below the surface. The ocean is a magnificent place in my opinion and always takes me to the fantasy/imagination portion of my mind. My imagination runs wild, and then sometimes I don’t think at all. I just look out upon the endless expanse of water that is without flaw. In my fantasies I imagine myself as a mermaid, and the life I’d live under the sea. Perhaps this occurs because of the million times I watched The Little Mermaid and Splash as a child. And, as I said before, I also imagine myself swimming and playing with a dolphin. I remember the hours upon hours me and my sisters would spend in the ocean playing together, in our childhood years, and these are the stories we’d play out together. The ocean brings about a feeling of imagination. It also brings about a feeling of inspiration and sometimes it’s just a place of unplanned meditation, where the mind is forced into a period of complete clearing, where no thoughts exist. Beauty is the only thing that overtakes the mind and brings about a peace and delight that’s overwhelming. This is how I felt on Thursday as we rested in the ocean. Then Doug decided to set the chairs in the water, so the girls could play in the waves while resting in the chairs. They sat there and played for nearly an hour.
When lunch time approached, we decided to make a switch to the pool, where the grills reside. Doug grilled the most delicious burgers, while the girls and I played in a pool that was void of anyone but the 3 of us. It was a private party.
When lunch was done, and other vacationers started arriving, we decided to head back to the beach. We like being alone, just the 4 of us. The afternoon was spent swimming for hours, and eventually all that swimming induced hunger. Doug composed a beautiful blue cheese wedge salad and a shrimp appetizer broiled in a butter parsley and spice sauce as our first courses. Then we enjoyed a perfect filet mignon and baked potato for our main course. When dinner was complete, we caught another beautiful sunset.
The highlight of the evening was attending the Palm Island Cinema. While the girls were in their room, Doug set up a realistic looking concession stand using the glass coffee table. The goodies included several candies, Coke and popcorn. Then he found background noise on one of his app’s that sounded like people talking and mingling in the background, to give the vibe of a busy movie theater. The TV screen displayed the movie and it’s description. The lights were dim. Doug grabbed his little flashlight and knocked on the girls room stating, “Ladies, please let me escort you to your seats now.” Both girls grabbed their daughters Kit and Ruthie, and excitedly followed the usher. I wish I had recorded their reactions to the setup. Sara took every little detail into her brain and expressed her opinion through her huge smile. She noticed the other people in attendance as she heard the sounds from Doug’s jawbone speaker; people talking and clanking glasses. She noticed the perfectly arranged snacks at the concession stand and she loved the little flashlight that the usher used to help her get safely to her seat. Ruthie and Kit sat in a chair by themselves. I worked behind the bar, cooking up popcorn and pouring cream soda. Then it was time to silence the audience, and that’s when the usher, who also works as an announcer stated in a matter of fact, but professional manner, “Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. Please silence all cell phones and small children. Thank you for coming to the Palm Island Cinema. Now, enjoy your movie.” With that, the 2005 Herbie, Fully Loaded movie began. The girls loved the movie. Sophie was most impacted when Herbie was destroyed in the demolition derby. She kept stating how sad she was for Herbie. The night was a success and the girls favorite night of vacation. Before we tucked them in bed, they both asked if they could go back to The Palm Island Cinema again, while on vacation.
Friday morning we slept in late and mingled around the condo for a bit in the morning. Doug prepared Bloody Mary’s and a cheese and olive plate in the late morning.
We decide to start at the pool and we played there for several hours. Throughout the day, we played tennis, took naps and took in the beauty of the beach from our porch.
In the early evening, we got cleaned up and the girls and I put our dresses on for a date night with daddy. We drove the golf cart to the little grocery store that stands in the middle of the island, and walked down the dock to the water taxi station. Our water taxi met us promptly at 5:45pm and escorted us to the Palm Island Marina for dinner at Leverock’s. It was a perfect 15 minute ride over, especially because it was just the 4 of us on the boat, besides the driver. The food was fine (I’ve become a little fussy, from eating Doug’s cuisine), the wine was delicious and the company was the BEST. It was another perfect slot of time together. We were able to make it back in time to catch another sunset before we pulled out the games, Old Maid and LRC.
We started our Saturday on the North beach, and I’m so frustrated with myself, because this was the one time I left my camera behind, and the one time a we discovered a little dolphin playing right near the seashore. He played for a good 30 minutes and he was so close. We snapped an iPhone photo, but doesn’t do the justice compared to my camera. It was amazing though, and stored in my mind. Doug and the girls went disinterested after about 5 minutes and searched for shells and shark teeth, but my eyes gazed only on the dolphin or the surface of the sea.
The majority of Saturday was spent on the beach, playing in the crystal clear water and snorkeling. Saturday was perhaps the most calm day on the beach, and one of the most beautiful days in my opinion. In the afternoon we took the girls for ice cream, and then explored the island a little more.
That evening we caught another gorgeous sunset on the West side and perfect storm clouds in the East, right above the condo. Doug and I sipped wine as we watched the girls play together on a very windy night, as a storm approached. We thanked God for the beauty of the two little people who danced, played and laughed before us. They are beautiful. We expressed our overwhelming gratitude for the beautiful place we got to enjoy for the week. We experienced a flood of thankfulness for the life we get to live together, and all the blessings that come our way. These feeling and the beauty and vastness that stood before us, brought tears to my eyes. Neither one of us said a word, but both of us felt the same.
One of the greatest things about this vacation was that even though we weren’t alone on the island, our moments were alone. It was though our vacation was completely private, unlike the mass amounts of people that vacation to Orlando. That’s great too, and last year we met dear friends in Orlando, that we’ll vacation with again, but this year, after such a busy school year and so much focus on nursing, it was nice to have undivided attention between the 4 of us. This vacation felt like a private island vacation to me, and it was the highlight of my summer.
The sky grew darker and the thunder started, along with a rain drop here and there. We packed up our stuff, and quickly ran inside. The girls wanted another night at the cinema, and a full re-creation of concession stand, background music and such. So, we got everything together and attended a showing of Rio 2. The storm came in quickly, and the sky above the ocean was the opening act. The best light show I’ve ever seen, and almost frightening at times. The storm was harsh, but we were safe and snuggled under blankets as we watched our show.
We never wanted vacation to end, so we stayed for as long as we could on Sunday. We spent a few more hours playing in the pool and at the beach beach before it was time to pack up and say goodbye. As I write now, I feel the same sadness I felt on the day we had to leave. It was so hard to go. What made our vacation wonderful, was that it was void of technology (for the most part), filled with natural beauty, spent with the 3 people I adore with all my heart in a way that lacked any distraction and where the only thing that mattered was what was happening right in the moment. It was a reminder to me of the importance of living in the moment. This vacation left me inspired, thankful and refreshed.
On our way home, we stopped for a nice dinner at Red Mesa, for our last night of vacation. We looked like vacationers with our golden tans, beach strewn hair and tired eyes, but we enjoyed a delicious meal and our time together (and the sangria). We were happy to finally pull in the driveway when we did, and the kitties greeted us at the door. After unpacking and starting a load of laundry, I looked out over the water, and once again felt gratefulness.
It was a wonderful summer vacation. It was a wonderful summer.