Islamorada sunset

Islamorada – Get Away to the Florida Keys – Part 1

If you don’t know by now, I just love the Florida Keys!  Oh, let me count the ways.  The Keys are not too far from Miami, about an hour, depending on which Key you stop on.  The vibe is so different from other places in Florida.  It’s a “grab a cold one, come as you are” sort of vibe.  And, in my opinion there’s no better invitation for relaxation than that.  Just ask Jimmy Buffet and the Beach Boys.  We recently traveled to Islamorada, the second major Key south of Miami for my mother-in-law’s big birthday celebration.  And we returned with a suitcase full of wet bathing suits, beautiful pictures and full bellies.  I think I can speak for my whole family when I say that we are ready to plan our next trip to paradise.

Cheeca Lodge

We stayed at the luxurious Cheeca Lodge (Gigi loves luxurious things) and they have the perfect set up for families or extended families, in our case.  My in-laws had a suite with a mini kitchen and living room and we had an adjoining room with two double beds.  The living room couch pulled out to a bed so we could have crammed a few more kids in too.  The resort is top-notch and frankly we were pleasantly surprised at all of the amenities that were included in our stay.

Cheeka Lodge
Ocean front rooms at the Cheeca Lodge in the morning light

 

Cheeka pier
Grab a rod and head to the fishing pier and watch for shark fins.

As you walk out to the private beach you can’t help but notice the huge fishing pier.  Rods are included so you can just grab one and see what you catch.  But be careful, the local pelican are nearby just waiting for you to drop your treasures.

Cheeka family pool
Some nice shady spots to park while your kids splash around in the pool.

If you want to head off shore, the Lodge will happily schedule a family fishing or snorkeling trip.  All sorts of water sports are included in your stay like paddle boards and kayaks.  For a small fee you can rent a paddle boat, sailboat or even go parasailing. If you are water lovers like my children, you’ll spend 90% of the time in the awesome, kid-friendly pool.  The Tiki Bar is conveniently only steps away.  They also have an adult-only pool with a fitness room if you need to escape to recharge.

Cheeka adult pool
Ahh, the serenity of the adult pool. Don’t you just want to do a giant cannonball?

We didn’t get to the 9 hole, par 3 golf course, but clubs are available to borrow and it looked like a great way to spend some time with the kids.  They also have tennis courts, bikes to borrow, and a spa.

The grounds are pristine and lush so walking to our room was a nice respite from the sun on a hot day. Watching the lizards scatter as we strolled was a treat.  Overnight, the resort fairies freshly rake the sand on the beach and wash the pool deck so each day is just as beautiful as the last.

We highly recommend the Sunset Cruise, a little extra cost but a beautiful way to end a day at the beach.  The friendly boat captains also provided fun commentary about the area while sipping on cold adult drinks.   If you like being a nosy neighbor, just ask about some of the prices of the houses and boats you ride by.

We also enjoyed several of the restaurants on the grounds of Cheeca, but I think it’s more fun to explore a bit and check out the local restaurants and boy are there a ton to choose from!

Part 2 of our adventures in Islamorada is coming!  Stay tuned for our pics for activities with the kids (if you can peel yourself away from Cheeca) and our favorite places to grab a bite.

Tips for Cheeca Lodge:

  1.  Check Cheeca Lodge’s web site for any discounts or coupon codes.
  2. They have a kids club so if you need an afternoon away to read a book or take a fishing trip, take advantage.  And, they have an evening option as well.  Date night!
  3. Pack your own snorkel gear or pick some up at a nearby store.  They don’t have any masks or fins at Cheeca for guests.
  4. You don’t need to bring tennis rackets or golf clubs.  They have them on site for your use for free.
  5. If you want to take professional photos of your family, choose a photographer that is approved by the resort and has insurance.  If you have a big crowd you’ll need to coordinate with the events staff on site.
  6. Service at the resort was hit or miss when we were there.  Sometimes they were on top of things but a few times we had to call twice for things like extra towels.  Hopefully it will improve by the time you go.
  7. When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen!

 

 

Atlantis

Blast Off to the Kennedy Space Center

If you were obsessed with the 1986 classic movie Space Camp like I was, (didn’t every girl want to be Tish Ambrosia and have photographic memory?), your dreams will come true when your kids are finally old enough to take a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL.  I say “old enough” because the Kennedy Space Center or KSC – just channeling NASA’s love of acronyms – is more fun if your kids are elementary age or older.  Middle school and high school-age may be ideal.  I recently went with my 8 yr old, 6 yr old and my hubby and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We only had one day and we quickly realized that a space enthusiast could plan on a couple days at the Center.  Thankfully the KSC gives you a suggested itinerary based on your audience and timing.  We should have listened to the rocket scientist’s recommendation and allowed for 8 hours to visit the park.  Who knew that they would be accurate?  We had about 6 hours and fell a little short of the items on our “wish list”.  The KSC is not an amusement park but more of a hands on educational immersion into the history and the future of space travel.

Kennedy Space Center
Happy space cadets

We did the bus tour first to get a sense of the history and scale of the place.  The bus tour is the only way to get up close to see the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pad.  The launch pad is several miles from the assembly building and the command center because the vibration of the launch is so intense that it is deadly to humans.  It’s mind-blowing to comprehend the Herculean task of moving the space ships from the assembly building to the launch area.

Vehicle Assembly Building
The Vehicle Assembly Building is massive! Excuse the Florida rain shower.

After driving around various launch pads, including the one that SpaceX is working on modifying, the bus tour drops you at the Apollo/Saturn V Center to explore.  You get to participate in a reenactment of the Apollo 8 liftoff that will rattle your nerves and your senses.  Afterwords you can stand next to the largest rocket ever made – Saturn V.  Talk about feeling small!  You can also enjoy the progression of prototypes for space suits over the years.Saturn V

After you finish the bus tour, whatever you do, don’t miss the Atlantis exhibit.  Your experience opens with dramatic flair as you enter the gallery at the tip of Atlantis.  There is a real rocket scientist standing by with samples of materials from the ship to touch.  Bonus, the scientist that day was a woman and she was happy to answer questions.

Atlantis
Walking in the room and being nose to nose to this old gal is breathtaking!
Cockpit
Driving the space shuttle
International Space Station
Crawling through the International Space Station isn’t for people with claustrophobia or short skirts.

 

 

There are tons of other hands-on activities like sitting in the cockpit and pressing all of those buttons (a kids dream)!

 

Getting to crawl through the International Space Station (ISS) was also a highlight.  We loved talking about researchers living in space and working right now!

But, the most fun by far was practicing exiting the space shuttle by slide and coincidentally the fastest way from the second floor to the first.  The giggles heard from the giant slide sounded the same coming from 6 year olds as they did from 60 year olds.

Shuttle slide
Disembark the shuttle like an astronaut, with an audible girlie giggle!

I love the age-appropriate lessons that bring to light the engineering roles needed to build the space shuttle.  They encouraged kids to do their own flying experiment with paper airplanes to

Space toilet
Bet you didn’t think you’d see a space toilet in this blog post!

see which shape went the furthest, highest, fastest.  Great analogy!

They also do a great job of answering those questions that we all want to ask like, “How do you go to the bathroom in space?”

We also really enjoyed the hands-on video games where you can work on the ISS or land the space shuttle.  We missed the Shuttle Launch Experience because my daughter throws up like clockwork when taking off and landing on a plane.  I didn’t come prepared with a change of clothes.  But, we heard it was excellent as long as you don’t go right after lunch.

One of our favorite experiences was the Astronaut Encounter, a 30 min presentation from a real NASA astronaut.  You get to hear about their history and experience in space.  And they leave time for questions at the end!  If your kiddos are setting their sights on a career as an astronaut, this is an excellent opportunity to reinforce the importance of an education. Parent bonus!

In general it was a really cool multi-cultural experience.  The kids played with kids from all over the world in the Children’s Play Dome.

Childrens Play Dome
A great opportunity for your kids to roll around and get some energy out without accidentally pushing a launch button.

The future of space travel is looking bright as NASA and a few commercial groups, like SpaceX and Boeing, prepare to explore Mars with a goal of 2030.  One of the greatest challenges will be how to live off of the land and grow food in the harsh elements.  Scientists are doing research right now to tackle this and other challenges on the red planet.

We left with a new appreciation for what astronauts go through and with dreams of what the new frontier has to offer.  Will we be traveling to space in our lifetime?  There’s a chance, I should probably go ask my kids!

Rocket Garden
The rocket garden is not only beautiful but also interactive because you can climb in some of the rockets for some great photo ops

Did you know?

We learned some cool space exploration facts while at the KSC.

You know the white stuff that comes out of the launch pad when a rocket/space shuttle lifts off?  It’s not smoke, it’s actually steam!  During a launch, they flood the launch pad with water to muffle the sound of the lift off because the vibration is so harmful to human ears.

The astronauts use liquid salt and pepper in space and they love using hot sauce!

When the astronauts are in space they have to exercise for 2 hours a day so that their muscles don’t atrophy.

They only used the giant tires on the space shuttle once, because the landing was so hard on them.

Tips For Busy Moms

  1. You don’t need to buy tickets online, but, you can if it makes you feel better.  They offer discounts all year round to military, seniors and teachers, but sometimes they have other specials for Florida residents.
  2. We visited a weekend in September and the crowds weren’t bad at all.  I suggest going at non-peak times.  Any time other than the summer, holidays or spring break.
  3. Arrive close to the opening time to take advantage of the day.  Keep in mind that the center is about 45 minutes from the Orlando airport.
  4. This is a great multi-generational trip.  There’s a lot of history so the grandparents can recount “remember when” stories and there isn’t too much walking.
  5. I recommend you do the bus tour first to beat the crowds, get a little history lesson and get your bearings.
  6. You can bring in water and snacks but, eating at the restaurants there is easy and tasty.  They have make your own salad options with hydroponic lettuce that they grow there.  And the cookies are outta this world.
  7. You can have lunch with an astronaut and hear about space travel first-hand while enjoying a buffet lunch. We didn’t do this but, the price wasn’t much more than the regular lunch.  We’d do this next time.  Lunch with the astronaut for adults is $30 and kids are $16 (check the web site to confirm)
  8. You need to be 44″ tall to go on the Shuttle Launch Experience.  If you are shorter, you can just experience the pre-show briefing.
  9. A new experience is opening in late 2016, Heroes and Legends with an astronaut hall of fame.
  10. You’ll want a souvenir but, keep in mind that they aren’t cheap.  And yes, they have space ice cream.
  11. Check the web site to see their launch schedule from Cape Canaveral and witness one in person or tune in online on the NASA web site to watch.
  12. Coincidentally National Geographic Kids Magazine November issue has a cover article Mission to Mars.  Pick it up for your little astronaut and plan a trip to Kennedy Space Center.
  13. When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen!
Astronaut
My kids loved getting to strike a pose with an astronaut and checking out his space suit up close.