It’s still Magical!!

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Look, before we go on, I need to clarify yesterday’s post. It wasn’t a miserable day, and we did enjoy it. It’s just that there were some disappointments, and some issues that had nothing to do with Disney, and some that did, that played a role!

Let’s be honest…there seems to be more and more of the “It’s all about Me” folks wherever you go these days. You know, the ones that stop dead as you go through a door, or have to be first to everything, or just don’t follow the rules. The folks with no situational awareness are everywhere! Get crowds like we saw yesterday, and there are way too many of these kinds of families to count. That’s a societal issue and OUR ISSUE, not Disney’s.

I had a friend comment on the blog this morning, and he agreed with me, but raised the point that we may have outgrown theme parks. I know we’ve probably outgrown concerts, so that was a very valid point to us. He pointed out that lately they’ve enjoyed visits to historical places that are much less crowded, and easier for those of us who are older.

Then last night at the Bellevue bar, Tim the bartender pointed out that in many ways, it’s like flying. Folks who are a lot younger than us, don’t remember the days when you were served real food, had room to cross your legs, and were traveling in style. Today’s generation has no idea it was ever like that, and expect a style of traveling, that today has become more like riding a bus. Same thing with theme parks.

So really, it’s more about us, than anything else. That said, we still love it, but like the favorite book you’ve read over and over and over (mine is Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie), at some point, you have even had enough of that, and are better living with your memories. So, we may be done with the Magic Kingdom, but there’s a whole world of Disney to explore!!

And what did we do today, you may ask. Well, we went to the Innkeepers Club for breakfast, then we spent the day at the pool, which is outside the door of our cottage. Look at the pictures, and tell me this isn’t the way you’d love to spend a day February, in winter, in Walt Disney World!

The “Quiet” pool right outside our door..we’re the cottage with the 3 window dormer

We were supposed to go to Epcot and eat at the United Kingdom Pavilion tonite, but the day was so glorious, and we were so enjoying having our GDDs outside our cottage, that we canceled.

For dinner, we went back to the Innkeepers Club and had a great meal for free. Then we headed to the boardwalk with our coffee cups of Prosecco, watched the passing parade of folks, and then we had ice cream!

We ended the night at the Bellevue Bar with bartender Allen, and lots of good talk from him and the patrons. Unlike many other folks we’ve seen here, Allen’s has Disney’s 35 year pin on his name tag. Suddenly, I don’t feel so lonely!

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A couple of Titos on ice at our cottage’s front porch, and it’s July in Ocean City. A perfect day for us! Maybe not in other people’s eyes, but definitely in ours! Doing what we want, when we want, where we want! Life is VERY good!!!

The blogger at work!

Sleep well…..

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The gate of our cottage…Mickey above, and Doves down below!!

 

 

The Magic Kingdom

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Let me start by saying that both Susie and I have been coming to Walt Disney World, since very soon after it opened. In fact, when Susie and I started coming to WDW, the Magic Kingdom, Fort Wilderness, the Contemporary Resort, and the Polynesian Village was all that existed.

We headed out to the Magic Kingdom this morning, arriving about 11 AM, with a fast pass for the Jungle Cruise at 11:25 AM. We have been on the Jungle Cruise probably 30-50 times over the years, and as one of the legendary rides that dates to Disneyland, and one of the original rides in WDW, there is a lot of history on that ride for us! We remember going on it when it was an E Ticket ride! It is the Magic Kingdom to us, and if we can go on it, we do!!

Well, that was one of the last rides that worked for us! We couldn’t get a fast pass for Pirates of the Caribbean because it’s closed, because some people didn’t like the red head scene, so the ride is being revamped. Don’t start me.

Then we had a fast pass for the Haunted Mansion, a ride we love and remember riding shortly after it debuted at WDW. Guess what??? Ride temporarily closed..sorry. It was closed for 5 hours…we never got on it!

So, a stupid ride (well not really a ride), but something we love was next! Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room! If this was a ride at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, we’d call it an “air conditioned/seat ride”. It’s something we do every year, and we were able to do it this year!!

So since we couldn’t get on the Haunted Mansion, we did the Hall of Presidents. It was closed last year due to the election, so this was a brand new show, and it was very different, but very good. Unfortunately, our current President looks like an ass in audio animatronics too! (And the heaviest one! He was huge!)

Then, we were off to a ride I’ve loved since the NY Worlds Fair. No, not, It’s a Small World, but Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress! I remember it as the GE Pavilion at the World’s Fair, and come on….Jean Shepard does the voice acting!!! How could that not be a favorite for me!! Guess what…the ride broke, and we sat there for 10 minutes till they got it rebooted!!

Then to our last fast pass, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and guess what happened? It too broke down!! As were were getting to the end of the ride, it stopped and after trying to reboot it 3 times, it was discovered that our car had come off the track! It was our fault!!!! In case you’re interested, Susie beat me!

In short, the Magic Kingdom was a zoo today! There was a 45 minute wait for the WED People Mover, a ride that, but one other time, have walked right on. We didn’t wait today, but use that as a yard stick to how busy the park was. Did we have a great time today? I’m sorry to say we didn’t, and this is what we think are the reasons for that.

#1 – We have an institutional memory of this place that goes back to the 70s. Not to sound like two old farts, but we remember the “good old days”, and that’s not always good!

#2 – We are 40 years older than when we first started coming here…trust me, that makes a HUGE difference. (Our minds say yes, but our bodies say NO!)

#3 – The park is getting old! Rides like the Carousel of Progress (by my count 54 years old), the Haunted Mansion (at least 40+ years old), Pirates of the Caribbean (again 40 + years old) are showing their age, and breaking down. Hell, even the monorails are starting to look old!

#4 – There is more of everything at WDW, including people. Has the park reached it’s breaking point?

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Now don’t get me wrong, thanks to my Disney Retiree status, we don’t pay for parking and get into the parks for free, but is there a breaking point? We were talking to Tim the bartender at the Boardwalk Bellevue Lounge tonight, and he too wondered when the point will come that people will say NO to spending $160 for a park hopper and find long lines and broken rides.

Saying all the above, let me end by saying we still love this place and always will, and at these prices, how can we not come back! Tomorrow EPCOT, or perhaps a few hours by the “ Quiet Pool”. Stay tuned, and find out!

Welcome to Walt Disney World

So, just about exactly 2 years ago, on our first visit to WDW after I retired, I said the following in our blog:

“So, as we say good-bye to our second full day at Walt Disney World, I have to admit that I am conflicted. On one hand, I have a strong hatred towards Disney/ABC, because 8 years ago, CEO Bob Iger (himself a product of the American Broadcasting Company), decided that ABC Radio was not a core business of the Disney Company. That started a chain of events that saw WABC and all the ABC O&O radio stations, as well as the ABC Radio Network, being sold to Citadel Broadcasting. After spending 2.7 Billion Dollars for us, Citadel ultimately went bankrupt, which then saw Cumulus Media “merging” with the bankrupt Citadel. That meant we now worked for Cumulus, a company run by two brothers who ultimately burdened Cumulus with so much debt, that the stock dropped to pennies, and is now in jeopardy of being delisted by the stock exchange. Can you say history being repeated? So, the last 8 years have not been kind to WABC, many of the people who were a part of our work family, and my personal sanity.

Now on the other hand, 8 years ago, when Disney decided to send the ABC Radio stations into oblivion, I had worked for the company long enough that I was able to “retire”. That meant that although I would continue to work for WABC for 8 more years, I was able to start collecting my ABC/NABET pension, and was considered on the books as an official Disney Retiree.

And what does that mean, you may ask. Well, it means that as a Disney Retiree, Susie and I have a lifetime Main Gate Pass.. That means that we can get 4 people into any of the parks around the world for free! Yes, I said for free! It also means that we can reserve a room at a Disney property for half off the going rate.  But wait, I’m not done yet…as they like to say on infomercials. Then there are the discounts. At present, we get 35% off merchandise, which makes ridiculously priced Disney items reasonable (like a $49.99 sweat shirt really being $35) and 20% off food items at many restaurants. Sweet deal, huh?”

So, now with 2 years of reflection, you know what? I just tell everybody that I retired after 40 years at ABC!  Citadel, who?  Cumulus?  You mean the cloud?

Well here we are again in WDW, for the third year in a row.  Five nights in a Boardwalk garden room, with Club Level access, at a 50% Castmember discount!

Club Level means that we have access to the Innkeepers Club, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, and snacks, plus access to the concierge staff for anything we need.

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Innkeepers Club Lounge

Had a great dinner tonight in Trattoria al Forno, with a great waitress Andrea!

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Walked the Boardwalk a bit….

And ended the night at the Belle Vue Lounge with a couple of drinks!

See you tomorrow!

Restaurants

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In the 16 days, since Susie and I drove over the 9th Street Bridge and left Ocean City on Friday, February 9th, we have eaten just about every day in at least one restaurant. This is a huge change for us, as we are folks who usually eat out maybe once or twice a week, at home. We’ve eaten in restaurants ranging from our first night in a Cracker Barrel in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, to an Italian Restaurant in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, to Susie’s self described, “Best Meal Ever” at One Duval at the Pier House in Key West, Florida.

Today, in fact, we had lunch at a recently reopened restaurant along the Indian River, that had been one of Jeanne and Walt’s favorites. They told us tales, of many wonderful evenings when they’d sit at the bar at Captain Butchers, have a couple of drinks on the side of the Indian River, and then enjoy a delightful light supper at the bar. They said that suddenly, without any warning, a couple of years ago, it just closed. Jeanne has been chasing their Onion Rings since then, and yesterday when we were driving back from the airboats, we drove by and they were pleasantly surprised to find that the restaurant was open again! This morning, Walt suggested that if we were willing to be co-guinea pigs, we should all go for lunch! Sounded like a good idea to us, so off we went!

We sat outside in the sun, on the patio, along the river, on a beautiful Saturday……and our judgement? Well, I’d describe it as “a work in progress”, with a staff that was more “earning while learning” than seasoned professionals. First off, no Onion Rings for Jeanne, and no Shrimp Cocktail for Walt. Our waitress was kind of unsure of herself and the menu, the bar wasn’t fully stocked, and they were rather unsure about how to make the drinks from their own specialty drink menu. The food however, was very good, and they seemed more than willing to take suggestions, which we all thought was a good thing. We will wait to hear future opinions from Jeanne and Walt, as time goes on, and be pulling for their success!

This brings up something that we’ve noticed in virtually every restaurant we’ve visited, that people working in restaurants hustle! . From the waiter we had at Villa Gallace in Indian River, who was a sous chef in addition to being our waiter, to our new friend bartender Lindsey at Jimmy Guana’s, who one night when we were there, bartended as well as waited tables because they were short staffed, to the single lady at the Yee Haw Junction restaurant yesterday, who ran the whole restaurant, waiting tables, bartending, and playing cashier, most who work in restaurants, work their asses off. Covering 4 or 5 tables, bringing drinks to one table, bread to another, meals to a third, and tempting a forth table with desert selections, is all part of a normal day for them!

With 2 exceptions, we have had excellent service all across our trip….at cheap fish houses, at 5 star dining locations, at Tiki Bars along the Intracoastal Waterway, and everywhere in between. The two waiters we had that were not up to snuff, both had the same issue…they couldn’t multi task! It seems to us that being able to multi task if you work in the restaurant is almost as big a requirement as being able to breathe!

Susie and I both like Service People. We respect what they do, how hard they work, and wonder how they have the patience to deal with some of the yahoo paying customers. When you dine with a good server, you know it, and you appreciate all they bring to your enjoyment! Bravo to all those that we have had the pleasure to dine with these past two plus weeks. Thank you for enhancing our experience, for your insight on menu selections, and for your friendship! You have made even great meals a little bit better, and we hope you know how much we appreciated that!

Barefoot Bay, Florida

Isn’t that a wonderful name, for a town in Florida? Well, in case you’ve wondered where we’ve been for the past couple of days, we have been in the aforementioned town, visiting with our cousins Jeanne and Walt. My Mom was the oldest of three kids, and grew up with 2 younger brothers. Jeanne’s Dad was middle brother Bill, and she’s slightly older than me, and the person who has known me longer than anybody else in the world.

Susie and I got here Wednesday afternoon, and have been having a great time with our family. We’ve sat around the dining room table, or on the screen porch, talking, and talking, and talking the night away. In fact, that first night were were here, we all looked at our watches and discovered it was almost 3 AM! That’s just the kind of relationship we have, and we love that too!! Oh, and by the way, it’s not just what we do in Florida, we did exactly the same thing when they came to spend time with us in Ocean City last year!

Today, Jeanne made plans to get us off our asses and out of the house, and thanks to her, it was a wonderful day! We started this morning with an Air Boat ride. These were always things that fascinated me when I was a kid and we’d visit Florida, or when watching old TV shows like Flipper or The Everglades. The last time we’d been on one, was way back when the kids were little, and we took a ride on a big one out of Homestead. This was a great sized one, piloted by Bob, who was a snowbird from point Pleasant, New Jersey. We each had wireless headphones, and Bob gave us a great tour and narration.

We saw lots of Florida wildlife, beautiful plants, and trees, and even some alligators!! I was enamored of the beautiful colors, especially the blues of the sky and water! Ah, Florida in February!!

After saying goodbye to Bob, we headed out of the Blue Cypress Conservation Area, and Jeanne and Walt said they had the perfect place for us to go for lunch! Yee Haw Junction was where we were going, and since Jeanne was driving, and Susie and I were in the back seat, off we went! As we traveled, Walt started to explain to us that Yee Haw Junction was not it’s original name. That was Jackass Junction. But as Florida’s population started to grow, and the Florida Turnpike was being built, the powers that be decided that Jackass Junction wouldn’t look great on an Exit Sign, so the name was changed to Yee Haw Junction!

And where did we have lunch? Well, it was called Desert Inn Bar and Restaurant and let’s just say that had Jeanne and Walt not been our hosts, we would have driven right by. Had we driven right by, we would have missed an incredible experience! It was fun, the drinks were cold, the food was good, and the atmosphere was…..well, look at the pictures below, and you decide!

So we’re back at the house now, sitting around the dining room table, looking at the pictures we took today, laughing about the folks we saw in the restaurant, and enjoying just being together.

Neither Susie nor I are lucky enough to come from families with hundreds of cousins, and relatives everywhere. It’s something I kind of imagine is missing from our life, but I’m sure that some folks who do have huge families, may be telling me to be careful what I wish for. We’re lucky enough to have Jeanne and Walt as our cousins, and I know that because of that, we’re lucky enough!

See you soon!

PS…You’re intrepid reporter, hard at work!

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Fort Lauderdale Memories

Today was a day to chase memories and to discover that time doesn’t erase your memories, but sure makes it harder to retrace some of the steps involved in those memories!

Susie and I have many Fort Lauderdale memories in common, starting with our first Florida trip as husband and wife, which started in Fort Lauderdale, and included a trip on the Jungle Queen (which is still operating from the exact same spot). Then we were here with the kids several times over the years, drove down for lunch on the beach one day when we were down for a wedding at the Breakers in Palm Beach, and the two cruises we were on when Kenny was working on Royal’s Allure of the Seas originated from Fort Lauderdale. But the memories I was trying to chase today, originated long before those. In fact, long before I knew Susan Lynn Johnson.

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David and Joyce lonoong before I met them

These memories have their origin in a little private school, on 79th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, where I went to school from First Grade through High School. It was called Garden Country Day School when I started, but the name was shortened to just Garden School along the way. It started with three guys who met in the Technician’s Club, and became fast friends. Richard and I were in the same grade, but Dave was a year older than us, and his sister Joyce was a year younger. Richard and I had known each other since first grade, but David and Joyce showed up in the high school years. Our 3 Musketeer friendship was really cemented during the summers of 1964 and 1965, when the New York World’s Fair was in Flushing Meadow Park. I lived near the 82nd Street stop of the #7 elevated train, Richard by the 96th Street stop, so we’d meet on the train or the World’s Fair platform. Dave lived in Flushing, so he’d take the bus down Booth Memorial, come in the Rodman Street entrance, and we’d all meet by the Unisphere. Those were two magical summers for the 3 of us, as we probably went to the fair over a hundred times, and knew it like the back of our hands.

As members of the Technician’s Club, we were all involved in the school plays, and since David was a year older, he got his license before us. During rehearsals in the spring of 1966, we spent a lot of time hanging out, and going to and from rehearsals in the 61 Chrysler Winsor that had been handed down to him. It was big, it was black with a red interior, and it had those crazy Virgil Exner designed fins…we called it the Batmobile! Now with wheels, we didn’t just see each other at school and the fair. We were at each other’s houses, hanging out on the weekends, and doing the things you expect of 3 best friends.

After spending the summer of 1966 together, David went off to the University of Arizona, at Tucson, while Richard and I finished our senior year at Garden. After we graduated, Richard’s family moved out to Suffolk county, and we didn’t see as much of each other. Meanwhile, David came home from that first year in Arizona, deciding that he wasn’t a student, and that college wasn’t for him. He went to work in the Cohen family tie business, and we saw each other often, and spent much time at each other’s houses and became part of each other’s family! In a real sense, I had a brother and a younger sister…a heady thing for an only child!

David was the brother I never had, and in 1968 when we moved from Jackson Heights to Bayside, David’s folk’s house in Flushing was just down the road! Now we were together all the time! David would have dinner at our house, and my Mom would tell him that the ham she was serving was really rare roast beef. I’d eat dinner at the Cohen’s house, and David’s Father would always try to time the punch line of his joke, just when we had a mouthful of liquid! Mrs. Cohen fed me matzah brie and taught me a life lesson that I will always remember, as I will the exact moment and place she taught me. One day in the living room of their Flushing house, she and I were talking and she said to me, “Frankie…when you’re talking to someone, look them directly in the eyes. It lets them know you value what they’re saying!” To this day, some 50 years later, it still pisses me off when I’m talking to someone and they’re not looking me in the eyes! Thanks Mrs. Cohen!

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David’s Official Army picture

Since he no longer had a college deferment, he watched the draft numbers closely, and when it looked like it was getting close to him, he went down and volunteered, and was able to specify helicopter school. Remember, this was the height of the Vietnam War…not sure how smart that was, but he wanted to learn how to fly! I remember the day I took him to his Army Induction at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, wondering when I’d see my “brother” again. I didn’t have to wait long, as David was home in about 8 weeks, when it was discovered that he had asthma. Thank you for your service, you’re commitment to the US Army has been satisfied.

So David came home, went back into the family business, moved out to his own apartment, but NOTHING changed between us. We were still with each other as much as possible. Going to the movies, eating out, spending time with each other’s families, and going on vacation together…if you saw one of us, it was pretty unusual if the other one wasn’t tagging along!

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Joyce and David with their Dad..seems like yesterday to me!

At some point though, he decided he wanted more out of life, and took an electronics course and was working towards an FCC license. Although not a “student”, like most of us, if we like the topic, we rise to the occasion, and that David did. He passed the course, got the license, applied for jobs, and got one with the Motorola Company, down in Florida! This was a great thing for him, but to be selfish, a major blow to me. My best friend in the world, who I’d been best friends with since high school, was moving away. But fear not…a solution was on the horizon!

I was working at WHN Radio in NYC at the time, and a new IBEW contract had just been negotiated, with some rather radical thinking for the early 70s. What the contract did was create two classes of engineers. There were “On the Air” Engineers and “Production” Engineers. The “On the Air” Engineers would work 5 hours a day, Monday through Friday, and do one DJ’s whole show. The “Production” Engineers would work four days a week, 8 hours a day and do News or Commercial production, and fill the weekend on the air slots. That first year, I was designated to be the guy who filled in for vacations, as vacations were now scheduled 12 months a year, but only one of the guys could go at once. So the results for me were that, as well as my vacation, there were 5 times that first year where I’d work for a Monday – Friday guy, have Saturday and Sunday off, and then the very next week, work for one of the 4 day a week guys and be off Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday! So, in addition to my vacation weeks, 5 times during the year I was off for Five Days In A Row! So what did I do???

This was back in the days when you could fly Eastern or National Airlines (remember their campaign, “Hi, I’m Betty…Fly Me!”) roundtrip from LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale for $69. This was also the day, when the Fort Lauderdale Airport was fronted with no name car rental agencies where you could rent a Ford Pinto or a Chevy Vega for $9.99 a day! So what did I do for all of those 5 day periods? Why I bought a plane ticket, rented a cheap car, and made believe I lived in Fort Lauderdale! For 5 times that year, Dave and I were roommates at his apartment in Fort Lauderdale, and 5 times that year we renewed our best friendship, and hung out, doing best friend things. Honestly, things were cheap back then, I’d become permanent at WHN and was making nice money, and I lived at home! Hell, I’d even bought a boat!

So that’s what I was trying to relive today. Trying to remember some of the memories, and some of the places we hung out during that year. Trying to find where Dave’s apartment was, trying to be that 24 year old I was 44 years ago. Trying to remember my best friend, and the fun times we had, in a much less populated South Florida. But alas, times they do change, and progress marches on. When he first came down here, his apartment was at the end of the developed part of Fort Lauderdale, and 40 plus years later, the areas are not even recognizable. Roads that used to be underpasses are now over passes, and golf courses are housing developments or shopping centers. Areas that used to be nice residential neighborhoods are slums, and even McDonalds and Burger Kings we used to frequent are gone or unrecognizable. Time marches on, and how I expected almost 45 years later, to find things that look the same, I don’t know. Hell, I don’t look the same as I did 45 years ago! Why the hell did I expect Fort Lauderdale to??

One of the biggest disappointments in my life, is that Susie, the love of my life, never got to meet David, my best friend. One Sunday, not long after that first year he was down here, I came back from a day out on my boat with some friends, and walked into my folks house in Bayside to find my Mom and Dad very somber. It was not easy for them to tell me that that afternoon, my friend David Cohen had died in an accident while taking skin diving lessons. That’s why it was so important for me to try to find some vestige remaining from that great year I had visiting David in Fort Lauderdale!

Thanks Susie for understanding and encouraging me today, to try and find the places where these memories happened, and to keep them alive. I love you!

 

 

Thanks Joyce Cohen Leiber for letting me steal some of your Facebook pictures

Heading North Again

After a fabulous night at the Pier House, this morning it was time to end our brief visit to Key West. Did I mention yesterday that we had a martini at the beach bar, two bottles of Prosecco with dinner, then two martinis each at the Beach Bar, then Susie had a To-Go Key Lime Colada, and then we finished the night with a vodka at the hotel? Just checking.

The sun was shining, (we were a little cloudy), but it was very windy when we left Key West this morning. It was hard to drive with the windows open, because the cross winds kept trying to have us switch places in the car, so unfortunately, we drove in air conditioned comfort. Traffic was better today going north than it had been heading south on Saturday, and that was good. For the most part, the drive is filled with incredible colors and interesting sites, and is by no means boring.

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We enjoyed our Saturday lunch so much at the Islamorada Fish Company, that we once again decided to stop. As luck would have it, we were given the same table as we had Saturday! Same table, different wait-person, and different meal. Our waiter today was a bit of a pip. Now, we’ve been in many restaurants over the last couple of weeks, and have noticed how much the people working in them hustle. This guy could not multi-task at all, and hustle wasn’t in his vocabulary!

 

The rest of the trip north was uneventful, till we got to Miami Beach. Figured, how could we pass through the area without going through Miami Beach? Let’s just say, that it has changed an awful lot since I vacationed there with my folks, back in the 1960s and 70s! South Beach is alive today, and filled with sites and more modes of dress than you can imagine!

As we got a little farther north, things calmed down, and there were some familiar old names mixed in with the very new residents!

One reason for all the traffic, we discovered, was it was the last day of the Miami Yacht Show on Collins Avenue! Big boats and big bucks, we’re sure!

When I was a kid, we stayed at the Stratosphere Motel at 95th Street and Collins Avenue, in the Surfside section of Miami Beach. Let’s just say that the Stratosphere is gone, but there still is the Surfside Post Office there, but little else I remember! Susie and I were there once, the first year we were married, so we did share that together. Will have more discussions about that in a couple of days with my cousin Jeanne, who vacationed there with us, when we were all kids!

We drove north to Hollywood, and checked into the Double Tree Resort on Hollywood Beach. A really nice hotel, and after vegging for a bit, we headed down to the pool bar. What a beautiful pool, a great tiki bar, and on the intracoastal waterway!! Another perfect night with our bartender Kalford!! We had several wonderful drinks, enjoyed our conversations with Kalford, and met a couple of nice ladies, Tammy and Layna. Great conversation with people we’ve never met before. One of the things we love about vacationing!!

Back in our room, perhaps a vodka on the balcony watching the ocean, and then bed! Life is good!!!

A Rainy Day in Key West

So, they all can’t be perfect, and today it was the weather that threw us a curve! When we got up about 8:00 this morning, the temperature was in the 70s, but the weather forecast said that it was a cloudy 70 degrees. It also called for sporadic rain, but as we were sitting around getting ourselves collected this morning, the sun came out, so we hoped that was a good omen!

We were very relaxed this morning, as both of us had a good night’s sleep, and were in no hurry to start our day. Then I re-read the check in information, and realized that breakfast didn’t stop at 11, but rather 10, and it was about 9:30 already. Not wanting to get there for the last dregs of breakfast, we decided to get into the car, and drive around a bit, and see what we could see, and then look for a place for a late breakfast/early lunch, so that’s what we did.

We started out with the windows and sun roof open, but soon we were getting rained on. It was not real rain, more of a heavy mist (what we call “misting”), but enough that we had to use the windshield wipers. Our first task was to find the local Wells Fargo bank to take some money out of the ATM. That task completed, our plan was to look for parking somewhere around Mallory Square, and spend a couple of hours wandering the streets and taking the Conch Tour Train through town. The rain was on and off, but we still figured we’d be able to get through the day. Guess where we ended up parking? At Mr. Buffett’s Margaritaville Resort and Marina. Having just recently opened, we considered staying there, till we did a dummy booking, and saw what the price was going to be. Let’s just say, that only the most well off Parrot Heads will be partaking from it’s hospitality. We went in the lobby, and figured we’d look around, but the lobby really just consisted of a check-in desk. Oh well, we had a place for the car, and now we were on foot.

 

Right next door is the Museum of Art and History at the Custom House, with some interesting and large works of art in the courtyard.

 

We checked out a couple of tourist shops, but as we all know, we already own too much stuff, so no purchases were made. It was about 11:15, and the rain was still falling, so we thought we’d look for someplace to get a little something to eat. We spotted the Red Fish, Blue Fish restaurant, and decided to see if they were open. There were people inside, and indeed they were serving lunch, so in we went. We had an order of incredible Conch Fritters, then Susie had a Chicken Sandwich, and I had a Shrimp Po-Boy Sandwich. We both agreed we should have stopped with the fritters! Oh well, we were out of the rain, and had something in our stomachs!

 

We pulled out our phones, and looked at the weather forecast, and even the radar, and it looked like the weather was going to improve. The radar showed the storm pulling out of the area by 1 PM. We had hopes for better weather as we walked over to the office for the Conch Train. The train in the station was full, but the signboard said the next one would leave at about 12:15. It was getting brighter by the minute, and we both decided to give it a try. I bought us a couple of tickets, and when the next train pulled in, we jumped on board.

 

Launched in 1958, the train is about an hour plus tour in and around the old and new city of Key West. It passes lots of sights, and there is a narration conducted by the “Engineer” as you go around town, which brings up a question….why the hell do people take a tour that costs this much (our two Senior tickets me almost $60), and then proceed to talk through the entire tour! Here is a picture of the three loudmouths that talked, laughed, and even took phone calls through the tour!

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These three couldn’t shut up till  they got off the tram!!

So we were about a third of the way through the tour, when the weather forecast proved wrong, and the heavens opened! Did we get wet? Yes, but it’s warm and wet, so not the end of the world. We enjoyed the sights we saw, and at one point, the 3 talkers got off, so we could hear the narration better!

 

One of the sights you pass on the tour is the Southernmost Point Buoy that you always see in pictures. Hard to believe that there was a block long line of folks (maybe 75?) waiting to be able to take their picture by the buoy. I don’t know if this is an out growth of the “selfie craze” or what, but it’s a trend we’ve noticed happening more and more lately. People will wait in line for anything!

 

One thing that was obvious during the tour, is that the city is crazy! As quiet as the city was when we started out this morning, it was hopping now. Every bar was overflowing, and the sidewalks and shops were full of people! Bad planning on our part, in that this is President’s Day Weekend, but also there are 3 cruise ships in town. Key West is apparently a big cruise port, and with 3 ships in today, thousands more tourists were eating, drinking, shopping, and spending money. Key West is, after all, a tourist town!

So after getting off the train, and still being a little wet, we decided to get the car, and go back to the hotel for a bit. A drink, a shower, and getting ready for our 6 PM dinner reservation at One Duval at the Pier House Resort and Spa.

After getting ready for dinner, we took an Uber for $9.00 to the Pier House. We had a 6 o’clock reservation for dinner at One Duval, but first stopped at the Beach Bar for a Martini. After enjoying that, with a wonderful view, it was time for dinner.

 

Then we moved up to One Duval, and what can we say, other than the fact that it was the absolute best dinner we have had on this trip!!! A great setting, wonderful food, and a great server!!! Take a look at these pictures of the setting, the sunset, and our meal, and see if you can raise a doubt! It was awesome!!!

 

After a great dinner with our server Linda, (from Latvia) we moved back to the Beach Bar with bartender Merri! Some great conversation with other patrons (one of which had gone to high school with Merri in Massachusetts, and just wandered into the bar), a couple of more Martinis, and then Susie got Key Lime Colada to go! It was the perfect end to a perfect night!

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Honestly, we are not folks to hang at Sloppy Joes, and drink out of plastic cups, and hope that the guy next to us doesn’t puke on us! The Beach Bar at the Pier House was the perfect venue to end our night!!!

Then a $10 Uber trip home with Jorge, ended a perfect night!!! This is our version of Key West, and honestly, we loved it! It was one of our best nights of this trip. We’ve had several great nights, and this was in the top 5!! Thanks Key West!!!!

See you tomorrow when we head north again!! Hope your Sunday night was half as good as ours!!!

 

Key West

Okay, before I get started with a look at Saturday, Feb 17th, I need to go back to yesterday.

3 Things…what do they have in common?

1 – Earl’s Dead
2 – Cadillac for Sale
3 – Tamiami Trail

Well, if you are a Parrot Head, you will know, but if not, click the link below to reveal the true meaning of yesterday’s blog title!

We now return to our regularly scheduled program….

 

As I said before, Key West.

We left the Hotel in Florida City after a brief breakfast of cold cereal and a banana, in what turned out to be a crazy breakfast area. No offense, but when did everybody become so self centered, expecting to be waited on, and totally non observant of what’s going on around them?? Holiday Weekend, remember? I don’t know who’s worse…the Americans who decide that one person on the phone can take up a table for six, or the foreigners who knock you over or just stand in the way of everyone? And please folks, when you’re done, put your dirty dishes and garbage in the area provided! Needless to say, we had a quick breakfast and were out of there!

After a couple of showers, we left, filled the Sonata up with gas, and proceeded south on US-1. As we were in Florida City, it didn’t take long for us to run out of civilization. We don’t know if it was because of it being the Saturday of Presidents’ Weekend, or a normal Saturday occurrence, but traffic was sporadically heavy. We’d go along at a nice clip for a number of miles, and then grind to a halt for a mile or two, then open up and move again. Hard to tell why, but as usual, there was no shortage of the jerks who have a need to get there a few minutes before you, and make everybody’s life miserable. Saw a couple of near accidents for that exact reason. Please, life’s too short!

So anyway, we were on the Overseas Highway, which is a 123 mile highway carrying US-1 through the Florida Keys. Much of it is built on the former right of way of the Overseas Railroad, the Key West extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. Another one of Henry Flagler’s Florida rail projects. The railroad was heavily damaged by a hurricane in 1935, and the roadbed and remaining bridges were sold to the state of Florida. Over the years, improvements were made, and during the Second World War, the Navy wanted better access to the Keys, and further improvements were made to the route and roads and bridges. In the early 80s, more modern bridges were completed, and today there are only a few of the original structures remaining. Several have been turned into fishing piers, but others just sit next to the current roadway, as a reminder to the past. One such bridge, is the original Seven Mile Bridge, which you may remember being featured in the movie True Lies.

As you continue south of Key Largo, you come to Islamorada, Florida, which describes itself as a, “village of islands’. The village was not incorporated till 1997, and for us, this is when the road turns into what we really expected the Overseas Highway to look like. As it was about 12;30, both of us had our eyes out for the perfect kind of spot to have lunch. You know, a grass shack, kind of place, where we’d eat fresh fish, listen to the perfect kind of music, and look out on some of the best views Nature has to offer. Guess what? It exists, and we were lucky enough to spot it in a place that was easy to turn around and go back!

The Islamorada Fish Company Restaurant was the place. A fresh fish store, fronting US-1, and exactly the kind of place and the kind of food we wanted out back. The sky was blue, the water was green, the temperature was perfect with a nice breeze, the music was right, and the company was the best! Take a look at these pictures, and tell me you don’t agree with us!

If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this video, and then tell me what you think!

You probably remember that back on September 10th, Hurricane Irma ravaged the Keys, and for several days, the entire area was cut off from communication with the rest of Florida. The overseas Highway didn’t reopen till October 1st to regular traffic, and when we were planning this trip, we wondered if a visit to Key West was really going to be in the cards. We were lucky enough to have several Facebook friends who were either vacationing down here or reporting on the aftermath of Irma, and they all said that there was damage, but that the people of the Keys needed visitors. It is, after all, a $1.6 billion a year industry that employs about half the Key’s work force. So plans went ahead.

Did we see damage? Well, the good thing is that the Overseas Highway, and all it’s bridges are fine, but yes, we did see damage. We saw houses that were being rebuilt, destroyed house trailers sitting on the side of the road, buildings with no roofs or with half walls, lots filled with tangled plants and other debris, and sections of the highway that were surrounded by walls and fences that were lying on their side. So yes, there is damage, but as we commented, it’s almost like you have to look for it. To us, it looks like one of their biggest issues is getting rid of the remains of the damage. For the most part, we had great views and the usual Florida Keys Creatures.

We are staying in the Best Western Hibiscus on Simonston Street. We’re a block off Duval, and about 3 blocks from the Southern Most Point Marker. A little quieter area than down by Sloppy Joes Bar, but still with lots around. Old Key West, rather than one of the new chain hotels that look like you could be in Atlanta!

Realizing that tonight was going to be the Saturday of President’s weekend, I thought it might be a good idea to have a dinner reservation. Thanks to Open Table, finding a great restaurant in a strange town is an easy task. Tonight we dined at La Te Da Restaurant, which was just a few blocks away from our hotel. We ate outdoors (what three wonderful words to say in February) and had a great meal. We started with a nice bottle of Rose, then 2 delectable shrimp cocktails, then we split a burrata cheese caprese salad, and believe it or not, for our entrees we both had meat loaf! We figured that when a restaurant this elegant has meat loaf on the menu, you gotta try it! It was good…not as good as Susie’s meat loaf, but for restaurant meat loaf, pretty good. This from someone who never eats meat loaf out, because I know it wont compare with my wife’s! Here are some pictures. I didn’t include any food pics, because they love blue lights in this restaurant, and blue food doesn’t look too appetizing, but trust us….it was!

Then we decided to walk a bit down Duval, and see what we could find. There were a couple of bars we passed, but nothing caught our fancy till we came to Grand Vin Wine Bar. We sat basically on the street, and each had a couple of glasses of wine. Reminded us both of the Tini Martini Bar in St. Augustine, that we loved many moons ago. We watched people walking by, watched people in the place, and I even had a brief dance with the bar tender! A good time was had by all!

Then we walked the 5 blocks back to our hotel, changed clothes, poured a couple of vodkas, and here I am writing away to keep you up to date, while Susie texts with Krissi and Mike who are at a wedding on Long Island in the snow! I think we’ve got the better situation.

Tomorrow we plan some Key West exploration, some bar visits, and having fun in the warm weather! Tomorrow’s forecast…high of 79! Have a good night………

 

Earl’s Dead….Cadillac for Sale

It was with great sadness, we pulled out of Indian Rocks Beach, and headed south this morning. We hated to leave the town, our hotel, and our new friend Lindsey. It was a great 4 days, and we are so happy that we extended our stay from our original 2 to 4 days. Indian Rocks Beach…we will be back!

Because we extended our stay in Indian Rocks, and decided to enjoy doing nothing yesterday, if we wanted to make a stop at Sanibel Island, today was the day. So we headed south this morning, traveling I-275 over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay, to I-75, through Fort Myers, past the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, right onto the Causeway to Sanibel Island.

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It was a beautiful day, and we saw some beautiful sights….then we got to Sanibel Island. The traffic on the island was beyond belief. I mean, it made changeover summer Saturday traffic at home in Ocean City look like child’s play! We’d heard that it was hard to find parking on the island, but we didn’t expect the bumper to bumper traffic to and from the causeway. So we stopped for lunch at the Sanibel Fish House. Susie and I split a Crispy Grouper Basket, and a Coconut Shrimp Basket. Lunch was good!

After lunch, we tried to drive around the island a bit, but the traffic seemed to be everywhere. We drove to the light house, but there wasn’t a parking place to be had. So, we decided to leave the island, since our day of traveling was not over.

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With today’s travels, we were done with the Gulf Coast of Florida, and we used the Tamiami Trail to traverse the state from west to east. If you look at the map above, you’ll see that we crossed the Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and several smaller preserves as well as an Indian Reservation as we headed to the East Coast.

BAADE4FC-911C-4EB4-A2E6-CCDADB30572EThe Tamiami Trail is a road that looks to have not changed much since I was a kid, and we came to Florida each summer. One lane in each direction, little traffic, and all we passed along the way was camping grounds, entrances to state parks, picnic areas, and signs like this!

 

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I don’t know about you, but we decided picnicking or camping was out, if there were Panthers in the area!!!

By the time we got to the East Coast, the sun had set, and it was getting dark. Susie and I both agreed that we’d hate to drive across the Tamiami Trail in the dark. Unfortunately, there was a lot of construction at the east end of the road, and the estimated arrival time to our hotel kept getting later and later. By the time we pulled in at 7:30, it was totally dark. Glad we had a reservation at Florida City’s Home 2 Suites, as there was a gentleman in front of me trying to get a room. Seems like the whole area is sold out, and he was out of luck. I’d forgotten it was the Friday of the President’s Day Weekend, so I was even happier we had a reservation.

Since we’d had a large lunch on Sanibel Island, we decided to go Fast Food tonight. Take-out Taco Bell, back in our suite, washed down with Tito’s Vodka was our meal of choice tonight!

Tomorrow, it’s US-1, the Overseas Highway, down the Keys, to Key West! Hmmm…Presidents Weekend in Key West. Mistake or a good move? Tomorrow will tell. See you then!