Florida: Three generation joy - Part 2
means fun on all sorts of levels to all sorts of people and that of course
includes youngsters. But it doesn’t just mean theme parks, as we found on a
three-generation trip to the Sunshine State, when the only parks we went to
were neighbourhood meeting places or wilderness nature reserves.
and Gran took daughter and granddaughter on this trip to the Gulf Coast of
Florida, spending a few days around genteel, laid-back Venice with friends,
before heading towards Sarasota and even-more laid-back Siesta Key.
for this part of our stay was the Best Western Plus Siesta Key Gateway, a comfortable, friendly and
familiar spot for us seniors, but new for the offspring, whose first thought
was to make a beeline for the large pool which our access balcony overlooked.
Suited me, because Dot and I made a beeline for the Sand Dollar Pool Bar to get
a frozen margarita and a big smile from the lovely Katrina. Sorted.
settled in nicely in adjoining, en-suite rooms, dinner was an easy choice, with
a two-minute walk across the car park to a dependable Carrabba’s Italian Grill, before an early nightcap by the pool under the stars.
the following day with a lavish help-yourself breakfast, with a bottomless
coffee choice for me and a press-button pancake machine replacing a waffle
maker as granddaughter’s favoured operation before we headed out.
weather wasn’t all that kind to us, with overcast skies, an occasional
monsoon-like downpour and a sea that was often a bit choppy out in the Gulf itself,
beyond the sanctuary of the Intra-Coastal Waterway, but that doesn’t mean the
fun had to stop.
the rain, we strolled around the weekly farmers’ market in Sarasota’s Main
Street and Lemon Avenue, where an average of more than 70 vendors set up shop
and sell an astonishing range of fresh produce and wholesome food. You can even
get a coffee in a converted, open-top London bus, but we can get caught out in
enough rain back home in England, thanks!
Time for a quick look at a different kind of shopping, a short drive inland along Bahia Vista Street to Yoder’s Restaurant and Amish Village, with a deli and produce market to make your mouth water and luxurious, hand-made pies to make you wish you had a freezer the size of a house to take back home. No room for a monster of an Amish breakfast or for a lunch that would feed a family off one plate, so it was a tour of the souvenir shop and a deli trawl with tongues hanging out before we turned back to the bay.
still warm out and about, so there was no hesitation in shrugging off the
showers and then wading through ankle-deep puddles to reach the splendid Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, just a few minutes from downtown
Sarasota, to learn about the wonders of even deeper water.
is a world-class facility, staffed by ‘scientists, explorers and stewards of
the ocean’ and is seriously a must-see destination if you are anywhere near
this area, allowing visitors to get a very ‘up-close experience’ with marine
animals and fish, with granddaughter a bit wary at first at touch pools where
elegant rays swim close to be stroked. Star residents to marvel at are
long-time resident manatees Hugh and Buffett, along with five rather special
sea turtles and a family of lively river otters, and they are just a few of
more 100 species you can meet in a huge range of see-through tanks and open
pools. The shark zone and alligators are great draws and it’s interesting to
see some of the ongoing research in viewable laboratories, but most mesmerising
of all the inside displays has to be the balletic show by frilly, lacy and
almost other-worldly jellyfish.
Fish of a
different sort for lunch between visits to the Mote’s two main buildings, with
an Old Salty Dog restaurant nice and handy just a
short walk away, with tables by the water and passing boat traffic to look at
while you tuck in.
dinner? A branch of Applebee’s
again, with a massive menu allowing all sorts of permutations, which might be
confusing at first glance, but makes sure that there’s something to suit any
day, another great time at The Ringling, a magnificent bayfront estate
which is the State Art Museum of Florida - and a whole lot more, besides.
and its amazing over-the-top mansion was the home and brainchild of circus boss
John Ringling and his wife Mabel, who were fabulously wealthy by the
1920s, with a fortune of around
$200million. They indulged their love of the arts and built a 21-gallery museum
to hold a treasure trove of paintings and artworks, including originals by
Valazquez, Poussin, van Dyke and Rubens, and this superb building, along with
the palatial Ca’ D’ Zan mansion - ‘House
of John’ in Venetian dialect - and the
lush gardens, are great for the grown-ups.
attraction for all ages, and what daughter and granddaughter decided was their
top holiday highlight, was the estate’s Circus Museum, echoing the days when
the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus was indeed the Greatest Show on
Earth and toured America in miles-long railway convoys. The museum is full of
posters, costumes, wagons and memorabilia such as a giant human cannonball gun,
and you can cram into a clown car if you want, or walk the wire, but the real
jaw-dropper has to be the 44,000-piece Howard Bros Circus model, a miniature
marvel showing the vast and very precise
logistics operation required when the Big Top and its hundreds of
workers and animals came to towns and cities across the country.
for a maybe less-sophisticated audience back in the day before films, TV and
the internet, the circus and its colourful history still has the power to
reward and entertain; and the Ringling has those very same qualities, too.
big hit with all ages was an expedition afloat when the weather finally eased
off. Sadly, the weather meant we had to abandon earlier plans to join a dolphin
watch out of Hubbard’s Marina when we had a day trip north to St
John’s Pass, near St Pete beach, but all was not lost.
long-ish drive was worth it just to drive over the Sunshine Skyway bridge and
after our return to Sarasota, we did book a nature and sightseeing afternoon
sail with Le Barge Tropical
lived up to all expectations. We sat back and relaxed on the only boat I know which has mosaic
mermaids pointing the way and real palm trees on the upper deck, sipping cool
drinks from the bar while Tina and Captain Bob took us on a tour to see posh waterside homes and local wildlife as
the sun finally shone.
And we did
see dolphins, which was a special treat and a fitting farewell for daughter and
granddaughter who both agreed that nature was the best sort of Florida theme
Silver Travel Advisor recommends American Sky.