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“Hippo-Cricket”, or, My Florida Spring Break Adventure

By Geoff

I did not listen to my own advice and paid the price. Literally.

You’ve heard us talk about spending your spring break here in West Virginia. And we now have absolute proof that it really is the best of all worlds. See, I went somewhere else for MY spring break.

That is correct; I am admitting here and now that we went to Florida for spring break.

Hypocritical, you say?

Old Florida

Possibly. But you know, I’m here year round. And now I know for sure that you just can’t beat a West Virginia vacation.

What you’re about to read is a funny recap of our trip to Florida. Well, it was funny if you were not living it. But If you are in the mood to laugh at my expense, then read on. If you want to skip to the moral of the story head then for the bottom (like some of my stuff did) of the page, do so, but check out the pictures along the way.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Getting There

It has been a long-time dream of mine to pilot a houseboat on the intracoastal waterway and to catch a Tarpon.

So, we booked a 4 day/3 night bareboat (no crew, just you), 41’ long and 14’ wide houseboat departing from Fort Myers, Florida and touring the Pine Island Sound. Then the plan was to blast across Alligator Alley to Key Largo for a resort course in scuba diving, then work our way back home. Great, all-American plan for spring break, right?

I have always been a flexible traveler, so when my hometown college hockey team, the Bulldogs of Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, made it to the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey finals in Tampa the same day we are driving through, we had to see the game. It was a great side trip and a fun way to start off the vacation.

The Houseboat, aka 'The Pig'

The morning of Easter Sunday was spent getting trained by Captain Bob on how to drive and use the houseboat. By noon we were checked out and on our own!

Hitting the Open Water

Let me tell you, driving a houseboat for the first time ever is stressful. It is like trying to steer a pig on ice by its tail. Add in the traffic of Easter Sunday and one of the craziest waterways on the planet (so crazy that on the charts it’s called the “Miserable Mile”), and it’s gripping. I am not saying it can’t be done. Just maybe that it wasn’t our smartest idea ever.

We slid to a stop in the first possible anchorage, Popcorn Bay, between million dollar crafts, and shut the damn thing off. Once we were on the hook (anchored) everything was much better. Some fishing, stand up paddling (thanks Mel!) a beer and dinner and the next thing you knew we are the only ones left in the bay! Peace and quiet made for a lovely first night (or so we thought). “Mom I don’t feel good!” Groans from the other bedroom. Fever, sore throat, weak, pale, STREP!

Fortunately Tylenol and sun bathing seemed to help the strep, so we ignored it. We decided for some reason to leave the safety of our harbor and expose ourselves to the rest of the “Miserable Mile”(and many more miles like it). Eventually, we ended up in Pelican Bay on Captiva Island with 30 or so sailboats. Again, once “on the hook” everything got so much better. We paddled over to the state park island and walked to the beach for swimming and a nap. Then back to the “pig” for fishing and dinner on the top deck.

SUP in Popcorn Bay

Why we left that spot I will never…oh yeah, the STREP! It was getting worse and we needed to get meds in this kid fast. I attempted to dock at the closest marina, but mostly just crashed into it. Meds in hand, we limped out of the fancy marina understanding why they said they did not have room for us. Back out to the open water, where the pig could run free, was better anyway.

Did I mention my dream about catching a Tarpon? On our last day with the pig, we decided to try our luck fishing for the Silver King. I found a likely spot and got everything set. It was high tide, slack tide, we were in a deep channel between the flats and the Gulf of Mexico. We saw Tarpon rising around us, and even had some promising bites! A guided boat was being pulled past us by the Tarpon they had on the line. They were so close that we could see the huge Silver King underwater. He even jumped a few times just to torture us. We waited and waited until we were out of bait.

So, I still have that dream of catching a Tarpon.

Second Leg of Our Journey 

After saying goodbye to the pig we blasted across Alligator Alley to Key Largo and stayed in a funky old-style keys cabin called The Hungry Pelican.  Next up was our scuba outing.  A scuba resort course is when first timers start in a swimming pool and then do open water scuba diving. We dove at The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The whole day was wonderful, even though the strep kept one of us on the surface snorkeling.

Scuba Fun

We decided to break up the 16+ hour drive home by staying at Vero Beach in a great little “Old Florida” Hotel called  Sea Spray Inn . We spent the afternoon and evening on the beach. Do you know what the red flag means? I will tell you; it means fat, old, white guys stay on beach and out of the waves! I got the stuffing beat out of me and broke a boogie board! The rest of the family had a blast.

The next morning we started off with a long walk on Vero Beach to say goodbye for now to Florida, then hopped back in the car to head north on the interstate. It also happened to be Saturday of spring break week, so we were driving with millions of our closest friends. You could not find a gas pump, let alone a restroom, without a line. We bailed off the interstate and went to lunch in Saint Augustine just to break up the day. When we got back to I-95 it was a parking lot, so we headed for the heartland, two-lane highways through the small towns of the deep south.

The Moral of the Story

So, let me break it all down for you:

  • 6 days of driving 6 to 8 hours each. That is a work week in my world. We could have driven to Mexico! Gas for said driving, $320 plus.
  • Pig on ice (Houseboat)-$1900. Also requires driving, way harder than a car or anything I have ever driven before. Including livestock.
  • Fuel for boat – $220
  • Fishing gear, bait, etc. – $200 (maybe more but I have most of it still, except the bait)
  • Scuba – $800 (well worth it) full day of awesome!
  • Hockey tickets-$800 (really, really good seats)
  • Other Hotels Nights-$800

Total $5,000ish!

I dare say you can do a lot more for a lot less here in the Gorge.

A comparable budget would get your family of four a week in a Cabin and an adventure each day, like rafting, zip lines, fishing, rock climbing, hiking, biking, off-loading, and more.

Not counting food, because we eat when not on vacation too.

The Lesson

So hear me out:

  1. I thought the boat would keep us from needing to hire a guide to catch fish. WRONG! We caught a few little ones and my wife landed the fish of the trip (a beautiful little shark).
  2. I also thought it would be cheaper than a hotel or beach house. WRONG AGAIN! We could have stayed in great little “Old Florida” hotels and easily afforded a guide for three days of fishing for LESS than the PIG alone!
  3. I did, however, fulfill a long time dream of mine. Just remember some dreams are better if they remain in dream state.

We had a good time, but it was expensive (more than expected), stressful, and my back hurts from all the driving both on and off the water.

Yes, I feel more than a little hypocritical, or as one of my kids said when younger, “hippo-cricket”. But now I know! And you have yet another reason to make a Gorge vacation a top destination on your list.

 

2 Comments

  • rachel says:

    This makes me look forward to a week in June on the Gorge even more! Glad you got to experience your “dream,” though.

  • Wendi says:

    I wish I would have known, we could have helped you to plan out your Florida vacation (where we have lived our whole lives), just as you always help us plan our WV vacations to the Gorge.

    Next time, call a local 🙂 We do when we come to you! You have our number!

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