Posted by: JerseyOrganic | July 11, 2015

Florida 2015- Everglades NP, Biscayne NP, and Miami Beach Trip Report

In May 2015, Chuck and I went on the best vacation ever; hands down. This vacation blew Mexico out of the water and was probably half the price…

We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and stayed with friends for a few days, relaxing and catching up. They showed us the local color and we explored Hollywood Beach. It was really nice to see old friends in their beautiful state.

After a few days we picked up our rental (Always Enterprise, thanks to their awesome gov’t discount) and headed down to Miami Beach! This was my first time south of FLL and I could barely wait to see the ocean. Side note- when driving in Florida please keep in mind that car insurance is NOT required, like in NJ. People drive kind of crazy and never, ever use their blinkers. I’m taking, cut across five lanes with no blinker during peak times. Crazy… in fact, the speed limits are two numbers; 60 max no less than 40. Some people even would slow to a stop on the highway. I was happy Chuck was driving. Not for nothing, this is coming from a New Jersey Turnpike driver. I own the turnpike, but I’m scared of Florida. LOL

Otherwise, driving into Miami Beach was picturesque. We stayed at the Impala Hotel which was the best decision. (See my Trip Advisor Review here) The hotel was an escape from the bustle of Miami Beach. A beautiful garden welcomes you into a what seems like a hidden entrance to the Impala Hotel. We were kindly greeted and shown to our room. The rooms here are very ‘rustic-Italian’, as you can see in the pictures below. There was complimentary coffee, water, beach towels, a beach bag, and chairs as well as a blow dryer and iron. To our surprise, the room was quiet even though it was a block off of Ocean Drive and 12th. For those of you who don’t know, 12th and Ocean is where the Palace Bar is and the gay beach. If you want to people watch, sit across from Palace on a bench by the beach. Or if you like to be part of the fun, sit outside at the palace for some cocktails and food and enjoy the show. It was fun for all ages as long as you are open minded… Because Miami Beach is such a melange of people, the people watching is second to none and highly recommended.

I can’t not mention the gorgeous beach. The water was perfect and cool after cooking in the heat. Note to the wise, go early or late- not mid-day. Also, I was stung by what was a apparently a Portuguese Man of War jelly fish, which they (the lifeguard and the hotel) said is pretty common. As far as I know, this is a dangerous jelly for the elderly and young children, but I did just fine. Though when it happened, i could not feel my leg at all. We had to go to the hotel for ice and a antihistamine. Then we went back in the water. Can’t keep me out!

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There was some seaweed down by the pier but not on the 12th st. beach

This area also happens to be the Art Deco district and on your walks you can view the iconic retro buildings that make Miami Beach so special. If you are like most tourists, you can line up at the Versace house to get a glimpse of, well, the house. My favorite part of Miami Beach though, was walking to the South Pointe Park Pier for sunset (a great place to see the cruise ships go out too!) and walking back to the hotel barefoot on the beach, at night! Night beach walking is not allowed in NJ, where we go, so this was a real treat. To sit where the water meets the sand and gaze up at the starts, in perfect blackness was pure bliss.
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If you are up for nightlife, which I am not (yeah, I sound fun right?) this would be a good time to go to the bars and clubs to enjoy those late night shenanigans. Chuck and I were sleeping by 9:30 each night because the AMs were filled with adventure.

Speaking of adventure.. Biscayne National Park and the Everglades National Park was the highlight out our trips. We ventured into ENP first, departing at 6AM. It’s about an hour drive from Miami Beach but we didn’t make it to the park entrance until 8 due to a Dunkin Donuts debacle. We made our way to Ernest Coe Visitor Center to start. There were no trails here, but it was a gorgeous morning.

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We continued down through Homestead on Ingraham Highway making various stops to hike and see the sights. We even got to see Rock Reef Pass, a high elevation point, at a whopping 3′ elevation! This is the kind of NP where your hopping in and out of the car, not a hiking park, though there are a few 5+ mile hikes. Not too many for good reason because in my opinion the Everglades seemed more like the Serengeti! People could become dehydrated quickly and that never goes well.

We did arrive at the beginning of the wet season, as I was hoping to miss mosquitoes but they found me and took a few pints. It wasn’t too bad though, I’ve had worse days in the Pinelands. However, there was one 2-3 mile hike we did in Flamingo (Guy Bradley Trail) that went along the mangroves and we got killed by mosquitoes and biting flies.

Rock Reef Pass:
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Some memorable hikes included Mahogany Hammock, Anghinga Trail, Guy Bradley Trail, Pa-Hay-Okee Trail, Gumbo Limbo Trail. We stopped to view the scenery at Hells Bay (you can kayak here too, but no thank you), Royal Palm Visitor Center, Nine Mile Pond, West Lake, Flamingo Visitor Center, and some others I can’t recall. Unfortunately, we did not see any crocodiles, panthers or manatees, but we saw tons of other wildlife! Had we gone on a boat tour through the mangroves, we could have seen both manatees and crocs. One of the rangers at Ernest Coe told us a panther just killed a deer on the road down to Flamingo so I was hoping to see that (is that weird? I don’t think so) but Rangers cleared the road and vultures took care of the rest.

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Hell’s Bay

At around 9AM, when we reached Royal Palm Visitor Center we hit Anhinga Trail. This is probably the favorite of the park and I can see why! We saw HUGE gators! There were lots of cool grasshoppers, birds, gators and fish. Note that the visitor center offers tarps for your cars, as the vultures like to eat the rubber off the wipers. They didn’t bother any cars when we were there though and no one used the tarps. After Anhinga Trail, we did Gumbo Limbo Trail which brings you through dense forest with Gumbo Limbo trees, which are really cool. We saw a baby gator and an owl up in a tree!

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Anhinga Trail

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He was huge!

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Bedrock

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Huge spider on Mahogany Hammock Trail

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A lake on the way to Flamingo

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One of the lakes…

We then continued down to Flamingo and noticed the landscape change. You go from what seems like wide open, blazing hot spaces to swamps and lush greenery. Once we arrived in Flamingo we explored and relaxed for some time. There is no concessioner any longer, which means you either bring food or get some at the boat place by the docks. I’m talking microwavable hot dogs and plastic wrapped roast beef sandwiches.. perhaps bring food and plenty of water. We drank a case of water between the two of us. The water at Flamingo is pristine. You can sit on the ledge and look out to the mangroves, channel, and keys in the distance. We toured the visitor center but no one was there which is kind of a shame because this could be a popular area! In fact, the mangrove tours leave from the docks and there are campgrounds near by. I hear this is a great location to see gators and crocs. Actually, the only place in the world! But they didn’t want to be seen by us. 😦
IMG_5381IMG_5392IMG_5414IMG_5401We finished up around 1 and started the two hour drive back to Miami Beach. At this point, we could no go any further south!

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We were sure to stop at Robert Is Here for smoothies, which were pretty good. I liked the key lime strawberry personally. They have farm animals in the back and a kiddie play area. Also, there are rainbow eucalyptus trees! I have never seen colored trees, so that was a treat.
IMG_0041That completes my Everglades trip! The next day was to be our trip to Biscayne NP, on the water. Biscayne National Park is predominately made up of water. There is a visitor center in Homestead area but we did not go there. I was dead set on being on the water, thats how I wanted to experience it.
On the way home I called to confirm our previously booked snorkeling trip to Biscayne NP with a company I will not name, but they are the only ones who offer snorkeling inside the NP. To my dismay, they cancelled our trip and never called to tell us or refund us. (I booked it in early April) I was a mess. Biscayne NP was to be the highlight of our trip. What do i do now? My heart was broken… I may have cried!
Well, we grabbed some Cuban take out and hung out in our room for the rest of the night trying to find someone to take us out! Finally, I found Captain Alex with Miami Inshore Fishing. He agreed to take us out fishing the next day (the day before we left) at 6AM! WooHoo!! I didn’t care if we fished, snorkeled, or just toured, I just wanted to get out on the water. We met up on Key Biscayne and off we went, first to catch bait fish then to our destination. The boat ride itself was an adventure. It was just the three of us and plenty of room on the boat to relax and enjoy the ride. I was able to bring my Canon Rebel T1i that I shoot with and it was totally safe from the water. (put away when in motion) The water was clear as glass and it was truly a perfect day. You could barely tell where the ocean turn to sky and for some crazy reason, we were the only ones on the water! Seriously!

When we reached our fishing spot within the National Park we starting fishing! Right of the bat we were hooking onto Barracuda! One, two, three, they just kept biting!

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We moved onto another area and set up for Grouper. They bite hard! Chuck was able to land a few but they were too much for me. I think I had a big one hooked that I lost because the fight was more difficult than the Barracudas I caught.

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It was around may 10AM and the fish weren’t really biting anymore so we made our way over to Boca Chita Key, one of the few Keys that are park of the NP.

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IMG_5480When we arrived and hopped off the boat, we were SWARMED with mosquitoes. This was unlike any mosquito attack I have ever encountered. Captain Alex quickly gave us some special spray (I’m not a fan of any chemicals but I had no choice) and we doused ourselves; it worked and they disappeared. Chuck and I had about 30 minutes to wander around the Key and we found a hidden beach! It was’t really hidden, but there was no one else on the island so we had it all to ourselves. In seconds we were in our swimsuits and in the water! There goes the bug spray but oh well. Swimming in a what seemed like our own private beach on our own private Key was truly paradise. Eventually it had to come to an end and we were on our way back to Miami Beach.

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To our surprise, before we left the park Captain Alex gave us a tour of Stiltsville. Stiltsville is a group of stilt homes built on the flats in Biscayne Bay and are part of Biscayne NP. In the days of prohibiton these homes were used as speakeasies. Unfortunately many of the stilt homes have been destroyed from storms. Luckily we were able to take a special tour of one, the A-frame home!

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(we were allowed here and did not enter inside)

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We made our way back to the harbor with Miami creeping closer and as it came into sight, it was like a city rising out of the water. This was truly the most perfect day and Chucks favorite National Park. I am so happy that first company cancelled on me…

We left for Philly the next day and landed in 50 degree weather, vacation over. 
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Just so ya know, I found the food in Miami Beach to be underwhelming and extremely over priced. Remember the 18% gratuity added to all checks, so don’t over pay. It just felt like everywhere was a tourist trap and we gave up on food on day 3. From that point, the trip was only about national parks. Otherwise, it was a perfect vacation.

Hope you enjoyed the book.

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Responses

  1. Wow what a trip! Looks like you and your husband had a great time.

    Florida drivers are notoriously awful. Dave Barry has made a career out of commenting on how bad their driving skills are.

    The Everglades sound awesome, gators! Biscayne Bay might be even better – lighthouses and houses on stilts, fish with scary looking teeth. Thanks for sharing your trip!


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