Tag Archives: Florida attractions

A Weekend Getaway at Weeki Wachee

I hadn’t been to Weeki Wachee since I was a child, or so I thought, but nothing looked familiar and I think I might be remembering Silver Springs instead. Located on the corner of US 19 and SR 52, we headed north, over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

I booked a room for two nights at the Spring Hill Marriott. Or so I thought. Turns out I booked a hotel room in Tampa, NOT Spring Hill…the name of the hotel was “Spring Hill Suites at Marriott”. We were about 45-60 minutes away. The hotel service was excellent, the room modern and comfortable, and it was a non-refundable deal, so we decided to stay.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? I should have. Our weekend getaway to Weeki Wachee coincided with a major bike rally. For some reason, bikers decided that the land of mermaids was the place to display their colors and tattoos. I was extremely uncomfortable having to walk through a crowd of at least 1,000 bikers to get to the entrance. I found out later that the rally was for a police officer dying of a tumor. Police! Dressed up like thugs! Later, inside the park, they held a raffle. For guns. In a kids’ park. It just seemed bizarre to me.

The park’s entrance fees were reasonable, I thought: $13 for adults, $5 for kids. We headed right, toward the swimming area, which turned out to be very nice, with picnic areas, a white sand beach, two large water slides, and lots of room for swimming and tubing down the inlets.

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The spring is shallow, the water a constant 74 degrees. There are several concession stands, a shop that offers swimsuits, sunscreen, etc., restrooms and volleyball courts. There is also a fenced off pool for toddlers.

We explored the other side of the park after that. The Wilderness River Cruise does not last 25 minutes as advertised. It’s more like ten minutes. We did not find King Neptune’s daughter, Princess Wonderous, or her home.

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The space is shared by canoes and kayaks, so it was crowded during our visit. Any wildlife had long been scared off, save for the fish.

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The Underwater Theater show was cute. We watched the “Fish Tails” program.

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“The Little Mermaid” show is offered twice a day, as well. The young people who perform are very talented.

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This young woman dove 117 feet down to the source of the spring, against currents strong enough to push her face mask off, holding her breath for over 2 ½ minutes.

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We also saw mermaid try-outs and according to the two middle-aged women who sat beside us, there are mermaid camps for girls of all ages. They were participating in one.

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Water ballet used to be popular back in the 1940s, when Weeki Wachee was first developed. Back then, the women would line up in bathing suits beside the highway, waving in the cars that passed. Even if the audience only had one person in it, they performed.

The grounds are well manicured and peacocks and pea hens roam freely.

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We skipped the Wildlife show. We were at the wrong end of the park and missed it, but did enjoy the short Tranquility Trail.

The park is an excellent choice for families, particularly those with young children, and most definitely for families with little girls who dream of a life “under the sea”. We thought the value was excellent. For around $50, a family of four can spend the entire day swimming and tubing in the spring (a triple tube is $15, less for singles and doubles) and ride the wilderness cruise and/or catch a free underwater or wildlife show when they need to escape the sun.

Dakin Dairy Farm-Wholesome Food and Fun

Dakin Dairy Farm, Wholesome Food and Fun in a Rural Setting

Established in 1973, Dakin Dairy Farm is located on Betts Road, off SR 70, east of Bradenton, Florida. No true seeker of Finding Florida would overlook the state’s rural areas and since there are only 150 dairies still in operation in the state of Florida, this producer of superior dairy products should be high on the list of “must-see’s”.

The family-operated dairy embraces old-fashioned values coupled with today’s technology and modern farming practices. Some milk is bottled on site, some is sent for processing in Miami.

Dakin DairyDakin Dairy Farm is a “sustainable farm” and composts its own fields. Mixing the grasses (harvested twice daily), homegrown hay and fresh grains creates a diet rich in beta-carotene, Vitamin D & E. The cows are closely monitored by a qualified nutritionist, for optimum health for the cow and more nutritious milk for the consumer. The CLAs (conjugated linoleic acids) are natural cancer inhibitors and improve healthy milk-fats. The proof is in the taste, deemed sweeter and high above that of competitors, large or small. An added benefit is a creamier texture.Dakin Dairy Farm/Organic Approach

The Dakin family takes an organic approach to dairy farming, allowing the cows to come in for milking as they choose. The philosophy is that when cows are allowed to set the pace according to their instincts, stress is reduced and milk production increases.

 

 

The on-site farm market carries a full line of milk products, honey from local bees, homemade ice cream, and small gifts. Milk choices range from whole, 2%, 1%, fat-free, and chocolate milk. Cream, heavy or half & half, is also available, as is eggnog and orange juice. All products are 100% all natural, with no artificial ingredients.

Milk can be purchased at the Dakin Dairy Farm itself or statewide at Whole Foods stores, as well as local Sweetbay grocery stores. Additionally, over 150 local restaurants and farm stores offer Dakin Dairy Farm products, as well.

Milk products are not all that Dakin Dairy Farm sells, though! Compost (15 yards or more) is also available for purchase, as are bull calves (heifer calves are not for sale).

Educational and hands-on “Agri-Tours” and school field trips are available October through April. Visitors can see the process of milk production from cow to bottle, take an informative hayride (or the cow train!) through the ranch, and bottle-feed a calf. Autumn brings additional treats of corn and hay mazes, and, for those interested, fossil digs. Birthday parties are a popular choice. Don’t miss out on one of their picnics for a true Myakka City experience, where you can order up anything from boiled peanuts to pulled pork sandwiches to S’Mores over a campfire.

For those seeking a rural Florida experience, Dakin Dairy Farm in Myakka City is a good place to start. Y’all come visit, they’ll make you welcome.

Additional photos may be seen at Julie North Photography (permission granted), whose daughter has become so accustomed to the taste of Dakin milk that she thought a competitor’s had gone bad!

 

 

 

 

 

 

King Mango Strut in Coconut Grove

Bring Your Enthusiasm and Sense of Humor to King Mango Strut in Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida

King Mango Strut is an annual event held in Coconut Grove, Florida on the last Sunday of the year. Since its beginnings in 1982 as a poke in the ribs to the Orange Bowl’s King Orange Jamboree Parade organizers who snubbed The Mango Marching Band. For some odd reason, they didn’t have any use for a couple of Grove residents who used kazoos and other eclectic “music makers” to entertain the crowd as they marched along wearing conch shells on their heads.

In retaliation, the King Mango Strut was born. Turning bitterness to laughter, King Mango Strut is no ordinary parade. Instead, it offers participants and onlookers an irreverent tongue-in-cheek review of newsworthy events of the past year. Oftentimes described as “the weirdest parade in the universe”, its participants vow to “put the NUT back in Coconut Grove”. Be sure to bring your sense of humor to this event, because boundaries of good taste are oftentimes tested!

If you visit Florida this year, and you are in the metro Miami area, don’t miss the 32nd annual King Mango Strut held on December 29th. The parade starts at 2 PM (come early for a good seat) and the “After-Strut-Party” continues until 6 PM in Commodore Plaza. It’ll be quite a party.

The good citizens of Coconut Grove know how to celebrate (photo courtesy of Michael Wayne Cole studio).There’s something here to appeal to every sense of humor, from political (Michael Wayne Cole studio) to protest (photo courtesy of flickr.com/lurker), whether complaint (photo courtesy of Michael Wayne Cole studio), environmental concern (photo courtesy of Michael Wayne Cole studio) or personal entreaty (photo courtesy of flickr.com/lurker).

Some of the marching bands, such as the New Orleans Funeral Marching Band, travel some distance to join in the revelry. Others, such as the Grove Jugglers, are local. And if you’ve ever had a longing to be Grand Marshall, you may bid for that honor on ebay.

No mangoes were hurt during the parade? Well, THAT’s a relief!

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(photo courtesy of Michael Wayne Cole studio)

If you wish to participate, download the entry form from the King Mango Strut website. Entry is free (however, donations to help defray costs are happily accepted) and there are no other requirements (except safety rules) for qualification to participate. Whether onlooker or participant, if quirky, good-natured fun is for you, come strut your stuff with other zany fun seekers at the King Mango Strut in Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida.

 

The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park

The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park: Plantation Operations

The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, Florida, preserves a bit of antebellum history and offers up clues that reveal the challenges of homesteading and the politics of the day.

The Gamble Plantation operated because of slave labor, over 160 human beings at its height of operations. The Little Manatee River that runs through the property provided necessary water, diverted to the sugar cane fields through a series of canals built by the slaves. The canals provided easy boat transportation to and from the Manatee River and helped with flood control, as well. One of the original canals can still be seen along the edge of the property that remains.

Gamble Mansion #1

A cistern, seen on the right side of the home in this picture, collected rainwater from the roof for the home’s residents.  Unfortunately, the cistern also attracted mosquito larvae. To combat this problem, Major Gamble kept minnows in the cistern, to eat the eggs, an early form of purification. In addition to sugar, vegetables were raised and cattle were kept.

The plantation (citrus, olives, and grapes were also grown) only operated for twelve years. A crash in sugar prices led to its demise. Major Robert Gamble fell deeper in debt and was eventually forced to sell his property and slaves in 1856.

Gamble Mansion #9

 

Gamble Mansion #12

Destroyed by Union soldiers in 1864, the remains of a sugar mill are all that remain of the cane operation.

The cane reeds were fed between the sugar cane rollers, and juice was collected in large catch pans. Pure cane  juice is still sold at roadside stands in the Everglades.

The history involving The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park Gamble Mansion in 1865 will be discussed in the next post. Owner Archibald McNeil’s assistance in helping Confederate Secretary of State Judah Philip Benjamin escape prosecution after the Civil War was England’s gain.

 

The Gamble Mansion

The Gamble Mansion’s Thick Walls Protected Against Seminole Attack

The Gamble Mansion is South Florida’s only remaining antebellum mansion. Located in Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, it belongs now to the Florida State Park system after being rescued from decay and neglect by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But in pre-Civil War days, it was home base for a thriving sugar plantation. The park itself is now known as the Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial.

Shortly after the Second Seminole War ended in Loxahatchee, Civil War Major Robert Gamble staked out his homestead and began to build a home. The mansion was built in two stages. The rear of the house was built first, as protection against Seminole attacks as they fought extradition in a clash of cultures. The US government’s intention to resettle the Native Americans on reservations out west did not sit well with the Seminoles. They used guerrilla warfare to resist, hiding in swamps they knew well and mounting surprise attacks. While many were captured and relocated, quite a few Seminoles avoided capture and maintained their independence. Their descendants are scattered about the state.

Gamble Mansion #2

The architectural style called Doric Revivalist Vernacular graced the front of the house. The Greek Revival pillars make it seem larger than it actually is. The original plantation grew to encompass 3,500 acres in its prime; today 16 acres remain.

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The Gamble mansion is built of red brick and tabby, a crushed shell, sand, water, and lime mix. The insulating two-foot thick walls and wide verandas provided much needed relief from the summer heat, as did the numerous Live Oaks found on the property. The home was large for a bachelor: ten rooms in all in the two-story mansion. The building is split into two sections, front and back, with the traditional dog-trot air space between buildings.

Comfort has hard to find, but the homesteader did his best.

The mattresses on the beds were stuffed with Spanish moss, so named, it is told, because it resembled the early explorers’ beards. Taken from the Live Oaks on the property, the bugs that inhabit Spanish moss, called “chiggers”, also made it into the beds, giving birth to the saying, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”. The mattresses were secured by ropes, which could be tightened by a key. There is an extra blanket on the roller in case the air turned chilly.

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An early American flag

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Civil War era kitchen at the Gamble Mansion:

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In my next post, we’ll look at the role the plantation played during and after the Confederacy and its impact on operations in and around the Gamble Mansion.

 

Lakeside Inn Dining, Shopping in Mount Dora

Lakeside Inn Dining, Shopping in Mount Dora

That evening, we enjoyed a lovely meal in the Lakeside Inn dining room.

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We split an order of baked brie, warm and smooth inside a puff pastry drizzled with white chocolate and raspberry sauce, topped with crushed walnuts and served with fruit. It could have been dessert! I ordered the St. Jaques Seafood, which was quite good, my husband enjoyed his roast duck. Lakeside Inn dining was delightful. Between dinner and killing a bottle of wine, we were full and opted to take our desserts (raspberry cheesecake and orange cake…fantastic textures!) back to our room.

Lake Dora itself is not a busy lake, and wildlife was bountiful. We walked out on the dock and enjoyed the silence. Thankfully, no one had opted to use the jet skis outside our room during our stay.

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I was pleased with the pictures of a wading heron I’d taken. The surface of the lake was still and glassy as the sun set. A few others joined us from time to time, but none of us spoke much, each of us drinking in the cooling air and sounds of nature.

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The main dock had four or five smaller docks jutting off it, each small dock ending in a park bench. Everyone seemed to walk first to the octagonal deck at the end of the main dock, then back track to one of the benches on the smaller docks, so each of us had the feeling of having the place to ourselves. Nice touch.

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Downtown shopping in Mount Dora is delightful, as are the art venues and galleries. We also enjoyed the old-fashioned bathhouse down by the lake shore near the yacht club.

The only downside was the lack of interest from the staff at the Lakeside Inn. Despite numerous requests, we never received extra clothes hangers or a replacement iron, and our complaint about the gap in the shades was ignored.

Checkout brought another surprise as I looked over the billing that had been slipped under our door. I called the front desk and protested the extra charge of $110 over the quoted package. After a twenty-minute wait, the charge was cancelled.

Before breakfast and checkout, I strolled the grounds one last time.

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Our late morning/early afternoon included a stop at the Renningers Antique Show on the edge of town. As I strolled along, I commented on the prices being asked for the crocheted linens from the 30s and 40s. Many of these items are exactly like the ones I inherited from my beloved Mother in Law. She never could understand what I saw in all that “old junk”. To her, it represented hard times. Another woman overheard our conversation and we started comparing different linens we had and decided we should open up a shop!

The trip home was uneventful, other than the usual nail-biter on I-4. The traffic eases after Lakeland, but it’s still a place to keep alert at all times. I’ll revisit Mount Dora one day, but I’m not sure I’ll give the Lakeside Inn another chance.

 

 

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

The Florida panhandle has seen its share of storm damage. Tropical storms aren’t usually too much trouble for a Floridian, but hurricanes can be relentlessly unforgiving. As one man said, “You hunker down and ride out the wind, hoping you don’t lose everything, grateful for what’s left.” As hard hit as it seems to get year after year, I simply cannot resist going back time and again to drink in the Florida of my youth, when people stopped to do a favor and roadside stands promised just one delectable temptation at a time.

Of course, once we round the bend, our mouths start watering for oysters, so we spend a lovely morning of shopping in Apalachicola, stop for an oyster po’boy lunch and then we head west again to visit the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. Yes, it’s a mouthful, but then again, this park is an eyeful.

The park is on the very end of a finger of land that protects the mainland. The waters are clear, blue and not prone to riptides because of the peninsula’s protection. Nine and a half miles of snow-white sand welcomes the beach crowd on the Gulf side and bayside accommodates the boaters with some interesting accesses into the grass flats and coves that carve out the landscape.

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There is a tiny “museum” of fossilized specimens of days gone by; some, sadly, has been taken, since there is seldom an attendant on duty. There is a concession stand, but I’ve never bought anything there, since I was far too busy discovering wildlife along the 6 mile access-by-permission-only wilderness trail (there are two other, shorter, hiking trails with public access).

Here you will find the usual oceanfront recreations: a wide variety of boating and camping choices, fishing, snorkeling, and swimming, along with fishing, biking, and hiking. Or you can choose your spot on the ten miles of white sand beach, in 2002 named as the best beach in the nation by none other than Gainesville’s Dr. Beach (Dr. Steven Leatherman), who issues a new list each year. There are public restrooms and cold-water shower facilities for day guests, hot water facilities in the campgrounds for overnight guests (although day guests can sometimes receive special permission to use the camp showers).

We want to return to the St. Joseph State Park and rent one of their “cabins”: small, tidy, furnished stand-alone cottages that sit right on the water’s edge. The units have kitchens equipped with basic cooking and dining utensils, seasonal gas fireplaces, heat & A/C, and, of course, bathrooms. There is no TV, internet service, or telephone ,and cell phone reception is poor. The price sure was reasonable: $100 per night, $650 for the week. Each cabin sleeps up to six people.

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We’ll return again one day, to build castles on the beach and watch them wash away with an incoming tide and a setting sun.

A Visit to Gulfport, Florida

Gulfport, Florida is a Step Back in Time

Our trip to Gulfport, Florida, nestled next to St. Petersburg, was a trip down memory lane! Little has changed over the years here and yet it has kept up with the times, offering the best of both worlds: family-friendly safe as well as eclectic Key West-style lifestyle.

We headed for Gulfport’s waterfront district, on the edge of Boca Ciega Bay. The city of 12,000 is an art community, as well as a beach community, and the seaside cottages are painted in bright colors that lift the soul.

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As I stepped through the doors of the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, small, by today’s standards, and into the Quonset hut shaped building, I could almost hear the Big Band sound wafting from the stage and instead of tables and booths filled with Florida memorabilia, I could see the pretty girls in their rolled and pinned up hair waiting by the sidelines for a boy in uniform to ask her to dance.

The building sits by (on?) Williams Pier, which juts out over the bay. The crystal chandeliers and the worn wooden floorboards brought me back to the days of shuffleboard and bocce ball and old men feeding seagulls from park benches.

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The Tierra Verde shoreline and the Don Cesar Hotel, aka “The Pink Palace” across the bay, offer pleasing views, whether wiggling your toes in the water or soaking in the sun on a beach towel. The “Don”, originally built as a hotel in 1928 and used as a hospital for recovering soldiers during WWII, reverted back to hotel use in 1973. We stayed there once. The view was fantastic and we watched a beach wedding from our window. It is, however, a historic building and all the quirks are there, including very small guest rooms.

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Gulfport houses and stores are quaint, no high rise condos here, folks, even the library is vintage 1950s. Maybe 60s. It wasn’t terribly crowded, but it was busy. We were all there for what had been billed as “Florida’s largest show” of vintage Florida souvenirs and memorabilia. I found many treasures including a “Florida Queen” cigar box and a matchbook with matches intact. Its outside cover offered “a choice Florida home site (Only $195 per lot, no money down! Purchaser paid $5 per month per lot.). Other finds included a “Graham for Senator” political button, a quilted hat made by Seminole Indians, and shipping labels from a couple of Florida citrus companies.

I priced some textiles, but passed them up. Later, we crossed the street and had lunch in one of the many restaurants in the area. There is a wide variety of cuisine choices here and the area has been recognized in the past as a strong contender in “Best Dining Experience”-type competitions.

Ours was a day visit, so we did not get to see all the area had to offer. Next time, I’d like to explore the Clam Bayou Nature Preserve and stroll the grounds of nearby Stetson University.

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A Visit to Cocoa Beach on the Florida Space Coast, Part Two

A Visit to Cocoa Beach on the Florida Space Coast, Part Two

Since the previous night’s entertainment had not kept me up too late, I arose early and enjoyed my cup of tea while sitting on the balcony watching the morning surfing dudes trying to catch very small waves and a grandmother supervising three youngsters, one digging a hole to China, the other two kicking the sand back in. An hour later, we went and had our free continental breakfast, otherwise known as the feeding frenzy.

Free food seems to turn people into territorial animals. One family unit commandeered one of the two available toasters, so the rest of the crowd had to wait politely while Dad cooked up each child’s bagel (or toast), then did the same for his brother’s family. One of his kids later complained about the slim pickings (3 kinds of cereal, hard boiled eggs, the usual pastries…not the fanciest, not the sparsest I’ve seen) and Dad responded (in a loud voice) that if another Democrat got the Presidency, she’d better get used to it. Lovely. Threaten your kid over breakfast.

We did not go to the usual Cocoa Beach sites, such as the Kennedy Space Center, opting instead for beach time and just one or two stops, but there are plenty of attractions on the Florida Space Coast to appeal to all tastes, from the Ron Jon Surf School to the Cocoa Beach Spa to children’s attractions, such as The Dinosaur Store Adventure Zone.

There are numerous nearby parks, including the don’t-miss Thousand Islands Conservation Area in the Indian River Lagoon. Ninety percent of the conservation space is accessible only by boat, and kayaking and canoeing are popular here. I believe the Earth Day Festival is this weekend, April 20th, from 10 AM to 3 PM, in nearby Titusville. Whether your interest lies in learning more about the Indian Mound Station Sanctuary, Buck Lake Conservation Area or the Grant Flatwoods Sanctuary, the Florida Space Coast is steeped in Florida nature and historical preservation. And, really, who wouldn’t want to check out the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary?

Even though we did not visit Cape Canaveral, I thought I’d share some images of previous space shuttle launches. Usually all I get to see are the contrails:

Shuttle's Contrail

The February 2010 launch:

Space Shuttle February  8 2010 #2

Space Shuttle February  8 2010 #4

Space Shuttle February  8 2010

We zig zagged our way home using the smaller back roads. 441 is an interesting road, lots of back country, few lights, no cars. Some orange groves, but mostly dairy land…one VERY fancy ranch (on a different state road…can’t remember which one) with giant golden statues of stallions, some reared up on back legs, front legs pawing the air, on either side of the double wrought iron gates. It was a sod ranch, so it was hard to tie horses and sod together until I settled on fertilizer.

Too soon, we were home again, dreaming of our next Florida escape!

 

Florida’s Space Coast Destination: Cocoa Beach

How to Find Peace and Solitude in Florida’s Space Coast Destination Cocoa Beach

Welcome, new readers! This blog explores varied and beautiful areas of Florida. While my emphasis is on quieter, out of the way spots, we sometimes find our solitude in crowded areas. A recent trip proved that theory true. After a stressful week, we looked forward to loading up the T-bird and heading out for a few days. Destination? The Space Coast on the east coast of Florida.

The trip up was the usual wild ride on I-4. Traffic wasn’t too awful, but there are always one or two drivers that leave you shaking your head and wondering how they’ve been able to survive this world so long. There was Mr. Lawful Citizen, messing up traffic for miles because he’s going the speed limit and is going to make the rest of us drive slow, too. He was in the middle lane, nose stuck up in the air and just so pleased with himself. Everybody had to maneuver around him. At the opposite extreme, we also shared the road with Mr. I’ve-Got-a-Big-Truck-and-Know-How-to-Use-It, who tailgated while weaving in and out of traffic, getting nowhere fast.

I also spotted a lot of people who were texting while driving, but that bad habit may soon be a thing of the past, as Florida joins 44 other states and outlaws the practice. Unfortunately, texting while driving in Florida is a secondary offense so the person must be stopped for another reason first before the driver can be charged with texting and driving.

Cocoa Beach Light Show

After stopping in Orlando to visit our son, we headed for the east coast and managed to snag a lovely suite directly on the ocean in Cocoa Beach. Unfortunately, our late departure from Orlando meant a late check-in, so our nightlife consisted of a quick trip to the poolside bar for a couple of drinks to be carried back to our room. We sat on the balcony and listened to the waves and enjoyed the feeling of chilled skin.

The entertainment came to us. Turns out our end unit overlooked the beach AND the public beach access, which turned out to be the hangout for the hip hop crowd, who opened the van doors and turned up the volume on the boom box. I thought it would be a disaster, but the music, while a bit too “new-age” for my taste, wasn’t obnoxious…some had sort of a concert sound to it…maybe it was techno…who knows?

The kids themselves weren’t loud and when they began their light show with lasers, I thought they were quite creative. They’d play the laser light over the sea grape leaves, making them look as if they sparkled, and then shine the lights over the waves or shoot them in long lines down the beach access lane. Fun to watch from six stories up and I was sad to see them move down the beach, but also glad I wasn’t going to be kept up until the wee hours of the morning.

Part Two of our visit to Brevard County will be posted tomorrow.