Holy cow...there is so much to tell you about Florida! We spent just over 3 weeks there covering the state in all directions!!! We had so much fun doing so many things we have never experienced before. We spent Christmas in true paradise. Seriously...this is gonna be a long post so stop now if you don't have the time!
Florida started with a visit with The Williby Family. Beth and I met teaching 15 years ago and forged a friendship that is still going strong. We have been through life's ups and down together, had 7 kids between us and still talk on the phone multiple times a week even though we don't actually get to see each other more than every two years or so. Our boys all fine in line like dominos and had the best 2 days playing together!
Stop #2 was a pitstop to break up our drive on the way to the FL Keys. Imagine our surprise when we arrived and it was a 55+ community!!!! Craig was not finding it as amusing as I was...I was hysterical! I clearly had no idea when I booked it and lucky for us they welcomed us with open arms. We were invited to the golf cart Christmas parade and even given the weekly schedule of events to participate in! I went to BINGO and even won $7!!!! When it was time to go, we bid farewell to all our new friends (Albert) and left in true Rose fashion...I somehow managed to not see the water pipes in the ground sticking up and drove the Jeep right over them, causing an eight foot geyser to erupt from the ground in my rearview mirror. All our nice new friends came running out with death glares yelling that I broke the water. Craig was in the RV in front of me and witnessed this whole event in the rear camera. Let me just tell you how well that went over! Fortunately the maintenance man was much much more sympathetic and told us not to worry, he would take over and fix it. I'm guessing I'm still the talk of town as water had to be shut off. Wonder if they will still welcome under age travelers anymore?!?!?!
Stop #3 was the home of Rose Family Christmas...RV style. And man did we do it in style...a private island in the FL Keys where the RV park was the only thing on it and we were looking right at the ocean out our front window! What an amazing way to celebrate making it as far south as we could literally go in our home on wheels. We snorkeled, we fished (Matt caught a nurse shark and hasn't stopped smiling!), we played horseshoes and football, we rode bike, we swam, we (I) laid on the beach with a great book and a margarita and Santa even found us!!! We drove down to Key West one day to explore the tiny island and literally had the BEST week vacation! While I know it seems like we are on a year long vacation, in reality we are living very similar to how we did at home...minus the permanent aspect. I still cook, clean, do laundry and have added tour guide, travel agent and full time teacher to my hat. Craig still works and pays the bills. This week in the Keys we did NONE of it! We acted like we were on a true vacation and enjoyed every minute of it!!! We even finished off our tropical vacation with a night at the Hilton. We used some of our Hilton points to take advantage of all of the super awesome amenities this beautiful resort had to offer and ended our beach vacation in style ;)
Stop #4 was Miami...specifically the RV park at Gator park. You know its a doozey when they tell you at check in to be aware for stray gators...OMG!!! This piece of heaven got even more special when we discovered we were parked right smack next door to "Gator Dan", a 20 year resident and star of the Gator show at the park. gator Dan became even more special when we discovered he had 6 gators living in his RV with him and invited Craig and the boys over to visit!!! UUUmmmmmmm...NO THANKS FOR ME!!!! I happily stayed home, with the door locked tight and had no part of that! Our fun didn't end there...because we were now friends of the park star, we got "extra special" attention during the Gator Show (NOT GOOD ATTENTION!) and were shown all the animals up close and in our faces. Again, 4 of us thought this was great, 1 not so much! It got even better when he handed Luke a gator and Luke came running at me, yelling "Mommy we are gonna get you!" much to the delight of Dan and the whole audience!
Another amazing adventure in Miami was slated for our Matt. We discovered his beloved OU was playing in the Orange Bowl, less than 10 minutes from us on New Years Eve. Mom once again rocks and managed to score tickets for Craig, Brian and Matt! We got even luckier when the kids and I went to South beach the day before the game to ride bikes and stumbled on the ESPN Beach Bash promoting the big game!!! Aunt Key managed to be able to use her magic and score us VIP admission (way to be a Capital One Customer!) and we were literally the very first people in the OU tent! Matt got to get his game day apparel early, the boys got to play all the games and activities and we were literally exiting before the line of over 5000 people was barely getting through security!!! What an unexpected awesome surprise this turned out to be! Gameday was everything Matt could've hoped for (minus the loss for OU!). they had such a fun time and loved their 40 yard line seats! Go Mom! Luke and I celebrated New Years ourselves with a date. We poked around multiple toy stores, had dinner at Pei Wei and ended with 150 token at Chuck E Cheese! A great New Year's Eve for this family!
Stop #5 was just outside of Ft. Meyers to spend time with my family. My Aunt and Uncle (my Dad's brother) live there, and my cousin, her husband and kids were all in town. Keely and I grew up together and unfortunately are no longer able to see each other very often. Getting to spend this time with our family was such a great stop and we had so much fun! The boys lovevd the feeling of being at Gaga & Papa's (probably because my Aunt and Uncle are pretty close molds of my parents!) and this was definitely a great stop!
Stop #6 was Tampa...another amazing stop! First we got to spend time with my cousin Jackie (my Mom's brother's daughter!), her husband and her 3 boys!!! Except hers are itty bitty and oh so sweet! (Unlike my sassy mouth, eye rolling heathens!) She has a 2 year old and 4 month old twins...I was in pure heaven! We got to spend the day playing with babies, enjoyed a great dinner and really had the best time seeing each other. Jackie and I extended the fun when I snuck over for another afternoon of baby holding minus my crazies!!! We are so happy we got to see all these wonderful people we love in Florida and don't see often enough!
Tampa was also home to one of the coolest adventures so far...swimming with manatees! What amazing gentle giants these are! They are vegetarians and have no known predators. They adore people and will swim right up to you, poke you and want you to rub their bellies. Our day started with a 5am wake up call in 49 degree weather...complete with pouring rain. Not the best mood setter for the kids but holy cow did attitudes change! The boys literally had the time of their lives. Getting to swim with these jumbo creatures was a once in a lifetime experience and one we will not forget!
Stop #7 was Clearwater Beach...home to one of our favorite movie(s)...Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2. We absolutely loved this place. Getting to go to the aquarium and see Hope and Winter, plus touring the facility, meeting many other animals, seeing the prop house for the movie and holding the actual prosthetic that Winter wore was the coolest thing!
Stop #8 was Orlando, our final Florida destination and Craig's bachelor pad for a weekend! The kids and I had a very quick trip to Houston to spend a very quick belated Christmas with Gaga & Papa. Did I mention it was quick?!?! We had a great time seeing Aunts, Uncles and cousins, got to be at Annie's Birthday party, and got spoiled rotten by Gaga & Papa! I even managed to squeeze in a few hours with my two best buddies who spent their day making a very long drive to come see me for just a little bit of time!
We have now finally left Florida feeling refreshed, very blessed and fortunate to have spent time with friends and family we might have not otherwise seen without this RV trip and ready to complete the second half of this crazy adventure!!!!