Day 7 – Wednesday, April 13, 2017 – Fort Meyers Beach to Clearwater Beach, FL
Everyone woke up lazily this morning and packed slowly. Another beautiful morning and the beach was packed. But our family had to get out by 11 am. We dined on a breakfast of cinnamon rolls from Mom’s Bakery, which were fantastic (take THAT, work cafeteria that took Sarah’s rolls away). We piled into the car and headed out of our humble abode behind a car with Packer and WPR stickers (aww).
We motored out of town. The plan for today was to drive up to Clearwater Beach. Now, originally the plan was to spend 4 nights in Fort Myers, but because of us toggling our vacation days back and forth and perhaps being half-asleep when reservations were made, Matt discovered a week or two ago that we had missed a night. Hence, Clearwater was on the table. Sarah had originally wanted to go here anyway and gawk at the Scientologists, but Matt had vetoed it. Look who got her way!
Anyway, Matt made reservations at the Marriot Clearwater Beach for the night and we had no plans for the day. Sarah’s idea was to scan for shelling beaches, cross referencing the shell guide Matt had purchased with Reddit and numerous internet sources. Matt was super regretting the shelling guide. We decided to hit Anna Maria Island, which appeared on the map to be between Fort Myers and Clearwater Beach. “Appeared”.
We drove up in horrific traffic (did stop at Subway) and eventually got to the island after driving through Sarasota. We decided to stop at Coquina Beach. It was beautiful. Seriously, very not crowded (by FL standards (by northern WI standards it was a mob scene)), white sand, clear aquamarine waters. There were barely any shells. It didn’t matter, because this beach was amazing.
As the kids were digging the hundredth castle of the week, a lady stopped by and began chatting Sarah up and pointed out the dolphins in the swimming area. Because, of course, at the most perfect beach in the world there is a pod of dolphins 6 feet away from “dude in hat” floating in the swimming area. Turns out the lady was originally from Maryland, and went to high school in the same town that Sarah has relatives in (Sarah can find some random connection with any stranger if she tries hard enough). This stranger said that although Coquina Beach is the #2 beach (in FL? She was unclear on her ranking system), she swore Siesta Beach was the number one beach. We were cool with the #2 beach.
Anyway, we had to leave and noticed traffic had been at a standstill for the 20 min we were packing. We ended up having to backtrack all the way back down through Sarasota, then up the Bradenton (B said “I’m kind of shy about this town” because it was his name, so cute) and then drove up the freeway to Clearwater. Oh my god it took forever. FOREVER.
We arrived here and declined valet parking (we have learned our lesson with this) – the Marriott is SWEET. Our room has a balcony over the bay, on the other side looks out over the ocean (well, there’s some condos there too). There is fancy room service (although the cheese plates here are not up to par (add cheesemongering to our nerdy hobby list with the rock picking and shelling)), an outdoor pool with waterfalls, pizza hut delivered at poolside, EVERYTHING. Why haven’t we been staying here the entire time?!? Since it is an all-suite hotel, the kids got the area with the balcony and two queens, and we got the pull out couch with the view of the door. So be it, at least there was a door in between us.
Day 8 – Thursday, April 14, 2017 – Clearwater Beach to Orlando International Airport, FL
Woke up after a surprisingly refreshing sleep on the pull out bed, and this is where we declined into vacation hell. The kids wouldn’t follow directions, wanted to attract seagulls to our balcony like other people were doing with food, whined about going to the beach, whined about not going to the beach, refused to put on clothes, refused to put on swimsuits, etc. We eventually checked out after having granola bars for breakfast and watched as B ran away with one of the roll-y suitcases. He ran down a ramp and the suitcase started rolling end over end down the hill in front of him, with him chasing it. Hope our (already kind of broken) shells weren’t in that one.
We drove to Sand Key Beach (technically our hotel was on Sand Key) and there were tons of parking, and lots of space. It was a very nice beach, the water seemed frigid, there were plenty of smaller shells and broken larger ones, and everyone had a nice time for a few hours with the usual established beach routine (note: see above). We started to get hungry and after a vote, the kids chose McDonald’s. We headed back to the parking lot and witnessed the start of a beachside wedding.
The plan was to drive to Orlando and take in some sights on the way. Namely, Clearwater and all of the Scientology crap they have there. Having read Leah Remini’s book and a fair amount of Gawker/Jezebel blogs about this, supplemented with whatever google searches sound good, Sarah fancies herself a bit of an expert on Scientology (the cult with Tom Cruise in it). Clearwater is their headquarters. This is seriously scary cult stuff and Scientology has bought up hundreds of millions of dollars of prime downtown real estate holdings, and you can tell. The entire area with their hotel (suspicious Scientology deaths have occurred at the Fort Harrison Hotel) and their headquarters is totally devoid of life, save for people walking around in their Scientology uniforms. It is creepy and unreal. We of course drove around taking pictures.
We then hit the road for Mickey D’s we had promised the kids hours ago, and continued on toward Orlando. We had heard about a strawberry farm in Plant City on the way called Parkesdale Market with the best strawberry shortcake and milkshakes ever, and of course had to stop. Besides undercharging us by a fair amount, the place was very cute, with a mix of locals and tourists, and definitely a slick operation. The shortcake was great and everyone loved the milkshakes. We randomly met an older couple who took our picture and who were from the Dells Area and had vacationed in Waupaca 30 years ago. We also noted the continued downhill spiral of B, who could no longer even pose for photos at this point with a smile.
We drove on, and hit Orlando. The only thing Matt wanted to do was to fill the car with gas before returning it, to avoid the confiscatory pricing at the Budget Rental Car. THERE ARE NO GAS STATIONS NEAR THE AIRPORT. OHMYGOD we drove around for an hour trying to find one, and the closest one was in a gated community and Matt was ready to barter with a guard. GOOD GOD. This was hell. ?#$%$?%#!!!!!
We drove the car back and dragged all our bags through the airport to stay at the Hyatt, the hotel in the airport. It was very convenient and our room was huge, with two queen beds, a pull out and a large sitting area and balcony overlooking the airport. We went to the rooftop pool, where, as advertised, we could see planes flying above us. Not advertised: the high winds and chilly water. Our towels and shoes kept blowing away and most of the adults there (who looked like washed out versions of the characters from Schitt’s Creek (which we had just binged on in Clearwater Beach)) were huddled in long sleeves in the only sunny part of the roof. After 2/3 of our kids had to get out of the chilly water into the wind to the use the bathroom, we called it a day.
Dinner was at the airport food court (we were not wasting our money on the delicious fancy sushi at the hotel when the kids proclaimed they were not going to bed early and looked defiant). We won’t talk about the meltdown at Sbarro, but Sarah was pretty sure she was going to get reported to security about Zoe’s screaming. Matt and Sarah ate Chick-Fil-A which was good – we are so fancy, a chain we haven’t eaten at before! Everyone off to bed after Matt weighed all the suitcases with his fancy Brookstone handheld suitcase weigher. (Hey – you get forced to move all your snorkel gear between suitcases while at the luggage drop off just once on a trip to Hawaii, and you get a little paranoid about suitcase weight for the rest of your life).
Day 9 – Friday, April 15, 2017 – Orlando, FL to Waupaca WI (THANK GOD)
I won’t keep you in suspense: given the breakdowns of the day before, today went amazingly well. We all woke up to our wake up call at 4:15 am (well, the second wake up call, Sarah hung up on the first wake up call like it was a snooze button) and got up, re-weighed the suitcases obsessively, and hit the airport. Highly recommend the Hyatt for early morning flights there – very nice.
Anyway – checked in, blah blah, went through security, Sarah got her usual patdown and special screening, Starbucks, blah blah, Matt saw an old coworker at our gate that he chatted with, blah blah. These trip logs (blogs?) really go downhill the last day. Flew uneventfully back. Noah was premedicated with kid Dramamine before the flight and again when he began to feel sick on descent. He did great this time, and all the kids did. It was a 7:15 flight out and was not full, interestingly enough. Tried some Stroopwafels on the flight back.
We got back just before 9 am central time to Milwaukee, got our bags, and got the H out of there. Hit up another Starbucks on our way home. All the kids passed out just north of Milwaukee when Matt turned on NPR, but Sarah valiantly fought to stay awake (all the children and Sarah have a rare genetic problem where they pass out and fall asleep immediately if WPR or NPR is turned on – Matt uses it to his advantage). Stopped at Culvers as we have no food in our house.
And we are back! 🙂 And survived.