The trip to Florida was amazing… containing some really fantastic
moments and several great adventures. There were a few things
we would have changed… such as the never-to-be-repeated visit
to a horrible restaurant called Casa D’Angelo… or creating better
experiences in Miami… but almost everything we touched turned
to gold on this vacation.
I can tell you is that having discussed this column in person,
all four of us seem to enthusiastically agree on a few things…
food was outstanding. Give us a chance in the future… and there
will be just such a chance at some point… and both Chima’s and
J. Alexander’s will be visited again. And while those two clearly
led the way for brilliant dining, The Square Grouper was another
unanimous “next time in the Keys” location all of us hope to return
to for another great meal (or two… or twenty…).
activities were incredible. You’ll see this point made below…
dolphin swim… airboat ride… a sunset wine cruise… three places
on a trip that had it all. We also fed tarpon… we fed monkeys…
we tried to turn profits at casinos by using free play vouchers
and leaving when the voucher amounts were exhausted… good stuff.
But even our accidental experiences were wonderful and made for
great stories… heck, three of us saw a water spout (and all four
of us would have if Terry wasn’t napping at the time). (Trust
me… water spout or no… you really have to be 100% certain before
you wake up Terry once she nods off for a nap on a car ride. So
don’t even ask.)
are lots of columns on the way… let’s get it started with the
were your favorite things that we did on this trip?
So much of the telling of this vacation story is interconnected…
the sunset sail leading into the next day’s dolphin swim as a
tremendous example… that I don’t know if picking one thing is
really fair. In fact, I have a funny feeling that we are going
to see all of us having different answers to these questions,
but only because we keep repeating the same things in different
I had to pick… the dolphins.
you let me mention a few… dolphins (Cayo and Gypsi at the Dolphin
Research Center (DRC))… alligators (our airboat ride through the
Everglades with Mike and Coopertown Airboats)… and the sunset
sail off of Key West (Danger Charters and the awesome crew of
Haig, Don and Sarah).
though… dolphin swim… airboat ride… sunset sail… Chima’s… J. Alexander’s…
there was so much I’m afraid I’m missing lots of stuff. (And,
in fact, The Square Grouper for one… I am missing tons of stuff
worthy of consideration.) Lots of great stuff.
The sunset sailboat cruise in Key West.
Dolphin Research Center… wine cruise... having dinner with my
friend… Chima’s… the airboat (but only while it was moving fast)
Dolphin Research Center… wine cruise… airboat ride… Chima’s
were you most impressed by in south Florida (Fort Lauderdale,
Miami, etc… not the Keys)?
Tough one. I’m going to say the Fort Lauderdale beach area. We
ate at Chima’s on Monday night, drove only a few minutes away,
parked, and then walked onto the beach right around sunset. (East
coast… didn’t see a sunset… but the daylight was fading, night
hadn’t arrived, the colors in the sky were amazing and there weren’t
many people around.) Basically, what we never found in Miami we
stumbled across here. And I could easily see myself returning
multiple times to this city. There is more in this place than
I found… and I was impressed with the stuff we did.
I really can’t say I was impressed by Miami because never really
made it to South Beach because of the traffic, and that meant
no experiences as far as seeing the Art Deco district. I was impressed
by Fort Lauderdale having some good restaurants such as Chima’s.
Enjoyed walking on the beach there.
The Everglades even though they were mostly dried up from the
were you most impressed by at the Keys?
Meaning other than Nancy and the DRC? I don’t know if I can pick
been 12 years since I last visited the areas of Key West… Marathon…
and all of the other great places in the Keys, and there is ZERO
chance of my ever going another 12 years without heading back.
going to chicken out and pick the people for this one, because
every place we turned… from Nancy and the entire gang at the DRC
to the crew on our sunset sail… we just kept meeting happy, friendly
people. (Probably something in the water.)
The sunset cruise, which was just an absolutely unexpected treat
from beginning to end. I knew the dolphins would be fun and incredible.
Haig, Don and Sarah helped set up a terrific night.
The laid back lifestyle and friendliness of the people (which
is why I would love to live there).
The lifestyle and the key lime meringue pie.
note: Richard is talking about a pie we got from the Blonde Giraffe.
We went down to Key West and I had some notes on a few places
that all of us were interested by, which included a few that none
of us thought we had tried before in any of our previous travels.
The Blonde Giraffe was one of these places. Key lime pie dipped
in chocolate and frozen… on a stick… oh yeah. And on our first
trip to a store, I bought a slice of the meringue pie for later
on. Once I tried it… dear lord… I had to have more. Well, Richard
happens to be a pie fan… and he really enjoyed his slice of regular
key lime pie from our visit… so I figured I’d be safe heading
back and buying a full meringue pie. I was… we demolished that
thing. Incredible. The regular pie is good… the meringue is a
thing we did…
I’ve already said the dolphin swim was awesome and listed a few
others because they were simply great. So let me approach this
in a slightly different way to shake things up a bit.
Tuesday morning we left for Key West. We stopped at Robbie’s to
feed tarpon, walked around the DRC, had lunch at The Square Grouper,
decided to stay a second night in Key West, went on our sunset
sail with Danger Charters, woke up and saw a water spout during
the drive to our dolphin swim.
a summary of roughly the first 24-hours out of 50 or so we spent
in the Keys between Tuesday and Thursday.
other words, those two days were really one big, huge, amazing
series of events. Great small stories… an awesome complete, long
story. So I’m going to say my favorite thing was the time spent
on three consecutive days in the Keys.
Swim with the dolphins
Hands down… swimming with the dolphins.
I agree… the dolphins… it was fantastic.
place to eat (overall)…
Chima’s. It was close… I enjoyed three or four meals immensely.
I can think of others that were great and surprising and I’d love
to do them again. But Chima’s was a new experience for me… the
service style and food selections. Everything from the staff to
the food was top notch.
I loved J. Alexander’s, but there were a few I thought were great.
And most of them we all really liked, even though we all ordered
different things. Chima’s was fantastic too.
Chima’s and J. Alexander’s
Chima’s and J. Alexander’s
place to eat (inexpensive)…
J. Alexander’s wins here. The menu featured items that all of
us enjoyed… from entrees to appetizers to side dishes. The atmosphere
in the restaurant was brilliant.
a side note… on the Chima’s web site there is a coupon for $25
off, or something like that. I believe it was good on a dinner
for two. While Chima’s will still be a more costly dinner with
that coupon, it does bring the cost down.
The restaurant Nancy suggested for lunch on our way to the Keys…
can’t remember the name.
note: Ellen is referring to The Square Grouper.)
The restaurant in Tin City.
note: (Richard is really making me work here) The restaurant he
is talking about seems to be Riverwalk in Naples. And I say “seems
to be” because this answer came out of the blue. It was a good
place, and we all enjoyed the food, the setting, and the show
put on by some pelicans. Of course… he hasn’t mentioned the place
since our visit until he was asked this question by Ellen, and
I don’t recall him ordering any pie here.)
Hmm… without using my notes for specifics… and kicking it off
with a thought for comparison on one of the two surprises…
and I were out in Australia about six years ago. On one of the
days, we took a tour of a rainforest area that included a boat
trip as part of the experience. We thought we’d see some wildlife,
were getting really excited about the possibilities, and in the
end we really didn’t much of it. Great trip out there, and alot
of fun on that day, but it left me wondering when it comes to
planning on seeing nature. Roughly an hour on a boat near Australian
rainforest and I really didn’t see any crocodiles or snakes or
naïve as can be… I was wondering if we’d actually see any
alligators pretty much until we arrived at Coopertown. That would
be the first surprise. Because after our visit, I don’t know how
you can not see hundreds of them. Incredible.
was also surprised by how inaccessible Miami turned out to be.
I’m sure part of it was me… and that if we had made solid plans
for a full day in the city our experience might have been different.
But I went down to south Florida for this trip having never been
in Miami other than a stop at the airport, and I don’t think it’s
a stretch to say I’ve now driven right through the city and still
haven’t been to Miami. Without a doubt, the worst navigation effort
in my so-called tour guide career. Or… the worst city to visit
on the planet. (I’m open to arguments on both sides of this.)
That our friends pulled off a big secret behind our backs to swim
with the dolphins… which was awesome and we totally appreciated
it more than “Thank you” could possibly express.
I could not agree more.
know, I never really thought about this before, so I found it
The roads seemed to collide around Fort Lauderdale. Normally I
can get acclimated pretty quickly to an area… figuring out where
we are staying, the major roads nearby, and things like that.
I never picked up on that stuff in Fort Lauderdale. A mind-boggling
number of highways and state roads sweeping and swirling around.
If it wasn’t for Mi Luv U, I would have been completely and utterly
lost and frustrated.
Let’s see… when we didn’t see Miami? Because I did find it interesting
there wasn’t a place to park or even a glimpse of any of the things
we were looking for.
Nancy mentioned that the Dolphin Research Center cannot be part
of the rescue of dolphins due to the contamination factor to the
I got sick. Sitting in the direct sun and drinking wine is not
a good combination.
I could recommend that they had to do this, regardless of expense,
I would recommend…
Swimming with the dolphins. At the DRC it’s called the Dolphin
Encounter, and it is amazing.
Swimming with the dolphins.
I would say the same... I really enjoyed it.
I could tell someone that they had to do this, but the expense
did matter (so go cheaper), I would recommend…
For the dollars involved, the sunset sail was pretty good. But
for this one I’m going to twist things up and pick something we
didn’t do… a general airboat ride. We had booked a private tour
with additional time because we wanted a slightly smaller boat
and a longer experience. For a group of 4-6 people, doing this
would be a great option if the Everglades and an airboat ride
is high on the list of planned activities. But some of these places
run larger boats… maybe 10 or more people… and for about $20 a
person you can get an hour in the Everglades, riding through the
sawgrass, and there’s no question you’d see plenty of live alligators
and have a good experience.
Sailboat cruise… the sunset version from this trip was great,
but we did a snorkeling trip out of Key West more than ten years
ago and that was great too.
that impressed me the most…
Long list… Nancy was phenomenal at the DRC. Haig, Don and Sarah
were wonderful on our sunset sail. Mike was fantastic on our airboat
ride. Without question, each of those experiences was significantly
improved because all of these people were friendly, attentive
and enjoyable to deal with and spend time around.
Sunset cruise crew
The crew on the wine cruise....very friendly and personable.
I agree again… and say hi to Haig, Don and Sarah for me.
that impressed me the most…
The water spout? The key lime meringue pie? I want to pick something
different here. I’ll take the Blond Giraffe and the key lime meringue
pie. Why? Because we stopped to get the chocolate-covered frozen
key lime pie on a stick one night, and it was so good we went
back the next day and picked up a full pie.
Our friend John. No… he’s not an event… but he recommended both
Chima’s and J. Alexander’s to us. To get two such outstanding
recommendations from one person really impressed me.
that, the wine cruise. I said it before, the crew was great and
it was really just a perfect thing to do. Couldn’t have been better
and I never expected it to be so much fun.
I’m really glad we included…
The sunset sail with Danger Charters and Haig, Don and Sarah.
I’d say the dolphin swim… but once we contacted Nancy there was
never a doubt we would be swimming. Same idea with the airboat
ride… there was never a doubt we were going out into the Everglades.
I’m going to pick the sunset sail. It was an unexpected find…
just looking for something different to do in Key West and focusing
on their legendary sunset viewing options… and found Danger Charters.
The time on board flew by. The three-member crew worked together
incredibly well and far exceeded any of our expectations.
Dolphin swim and the Duval Crawl
The airboat ride… not for me, but for Richard.
I wish we had done…
would be the big thing. But I’d also mention spending more time
in the Everglades. From driving around the area, and seeing pictures
of other parts of it, there is so much more we didn’t see.
We did everything I wanted to do.
Stay longer in the Keys and chartered a boat as well.
Charter a boat for fishing.
from this experience…
Plan for Miami if you want to experience it. I honestly feel like
we were one street away from a great experience in that city.
Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe the city is what we found, inaccessible
and uninviting. But I really believe if we had set out in the
morning one day… for a museum or a shopping area or a landmark…
then parked, walked to our destination, and stayed a bit longer
to see what was around us, that we would have had a great time
in that city.
Stay out of the sun if your medication tells you to.
Don’t be fooled by appearances at strip mall restaurants into
thinking they will be inexpensive or even good. Cheap is cheap,
and some times cheap food is expensive. And don’t always go by
the Zagat rating, because in one particular Italian restaurant
they did not deserve the rating they received. (But I won’t mention
Casa D’Angelo by name.)
Don’t drink too much wine while in direct sunlight with not enough
this will be set up as a best of column, but you should always
warn people about the bad, so here is something I think we need
Casa D’Angelo was an immense waste of time and money for us. I
don’t want to bash them too hideously… the daily diaries will
have something to say about the place and the experience, which
is probably a better forum for the complaints we have… and the
restaurant was clean, busy and, while the staff may not have been
overly friendly, they were fine. But the walls display awards…
and the place obviously thinks highly of itself… and yet the food
is… well… blah. No flavor, very bland, and just not good. I could
have gone to a grocery store, bought a jar of Prego… Ragu… heck,
the-whatever-it’s-called-store’s-own-brand… and there isn’t a
doubt in my mind that jar would have put the Casa D’Angelo sauce
on my gnocchi to shame. Yes… a store brand sauce packing more
flavor and enjoyment than the sauce from a fancy, expensive, supposedly
award-winning Italian establishment… and I’m making that statement
and standing by it without even knowing what store I would have
been in. (Publix? We went to a few Publix locations so let’s go
with them. In My Backpack recommends that if you have
a choice in Fort Lauderdale for Italian food… and it has come
down to going out to Casa D’Angleo or staying in and cooking with
the Publix store brand sauce… run, don’t walk, over to Publix.
Better quality… better flavor… and more money left in your pockets.)
Crabby Dick’s in Key West is not the same group that ran my favorite
one in Baltimore (that has since moved to Delaware).
The only experience I can remember that was bad was the traffic
situation in Miami and that tasteless Italian restaurant.
the restaurant was funny because we didn’t go there for the rating
or because of some referral. We just stumbled on it one night
while looking for Italian food.
If you see a restaurant with a Zagat rating, don’t just believe
it. It could mean that they were judged by someone that prefers
a restaurant that doesn’t season their food… bland… bland… bland.