Wednesday, June 22, 2016

96 Hours in Florida: Day 2

Day 2 started out with a bit of a disappointment. I had booked a ferry to the Dry Tortugas but thanks to a tropical storm that was making its way around, waves were 6 to 7 feet high and snorkeling visibility was going to be non-existent. We got a refund and then sat in our car for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. We had even taken Dramamine in anticipation of the 2+ hour ferry ride so we knew we needed to do something equally exciting.

We decided we would just make our way north (since that night we were staying in Key Largo anyway) and try our bet snorkeling either at Bahia Honda or John Pennekamp. We made some phone calls during our drive and found out that Bahia Honda was still too close to the storm so they canceled all of their tours but we managed to book in for John Pennekamp.
We made our way north at a pretty leisurely pace (we had time since we'd gotten up so early to check in for the Dry Tortugas) and ended up having a really fun day, despite the hiccup.

 As we were leaving Key West, the rain started pouring but by the time we reached the middle Keys, the skies were going blue again.
Bob's Bunz
We stopped once again in Islamorada for breakfast, this time at Bob's. It was a kitschy little place with super patriotic decor (which we supposed was due to Memorial Day and was being left up in anticipation of Independence Day). The staff were incredibly friendly; our waitress in particular was really sweet.

We each went for a skillet; sister did the sweet tots with provolone, topped with two eggs and I went for one with potatoes, sausage, mushroom, and jalapenos, topped with two eggs. These were incredibly hearty breakfasts, which we needed to fuel up for our snorkeling excursion.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
We pulled into the park a little early so we could check in and also have a look around. The parking lot was relatively empty when we got there but about 20 minutes later, it was jam-packed. I definitely recommend trying to get in before 10 to avoid a rush.
After we checked in at the concession stand, we were given slips (to serve as our boarding ticket) and told to wait by the building with the kayaks. We boarded swiftly and made our way to the top deck so that we could grab seats facing forward. The ride was quick and enjoyable as we made our way to the Grecian Rocks reef. I was told later on that the boat captain decides where to go spontaneously based on the weather and wind and sea conditions so it's basically a gamble anytime you book an excursion.
We knew we were getting close when the water started getting shallow and teal.
Knowing we only had about an hour to an hour and a half to snorkel, we quickly jumped into the water and started exploring.
The clarity was pretty unbelievable. Even though the sea was a little rough (we were warned ahead of time that they were only accepting experienced snorkelers and strong swimmers), the water was crystal clear and we could see a decent distance around us.
There's a lobster poking its head out of the coral in the photo below. Can you spot him?
I also got to see a conch flip itself over, have a snack, and then flip itself back.
And most impressive of all, we saw some spotted eagle rays. We saw one go by just as we got in the water - a nearby boat actually whistled at us to alert us - and then later, I saw two go swimming by and I tried to go after them.
The reef conditions here are pretty impeccable. I want to fully endorse this place, as they seem to do a great job of preserving the reef. We were alerted during our booking and on the boat that touching the reef is illegal. Even standing in shallow waters near the reef is illegal (since baby coral could be starting to grow). I really admire that and that's basically why this park was founded in the first place. John Pennekamp was a writer for a newspaper but then he became an advocate for saving the Everglades and this reef.
Courtyard Marriott Key Largo
After snorkeling, we checked into our hotel in Key Largo. We basically hopped from one Marriott to the next (it's the hotel chain I have minor loyalty to) and had showers and got changed so we could grab some food.
Key Largo Conch House
We were in the mood to eat something hearty off the dinner menu, but they weren't serving dinner yet, so we called this a really late lunch and we each got a conch chowder and shared an appetizer sampler platter.
The sampler platter was pretty decent. I loved the coconut shrimp and the ceviche and the conch fritters. The conch fritters were incredibly light and crisp. The cracked conch, which is usually my favorite preparation of conch, was kind of limp and not so great. The crab cake was good, not great. The chowder was a bit too acidic, but it was still delicious and hit the spot.
After our late lunch, we ended up taking a nap - snorkeling really takes it out of you - and then woke up in time for an actual dinner. We ended up picking a spot just across the marina so that we wouldn't have to drive.

Skipper's Dockside
We each started with a frozen cocktail; M went for the tropical storm while I went for the killer colada. They were not kidding around with these; they were quite strong but delicious.
For her main, M went for the baja fish tacos with grilled fish. The slaw on the tacos was pretty delicious and the amount of fish was generous. The mango slaw was also really great.
For my main, I went for the fish of the day, which was a fried yellowtail snapper. It was awesome. The outside was crisp, the inside was moist, and it just hit the spot. We love eating fish after snorkeling; is that barbaric?
After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel - stopping only to snap a few photos of the African Queen (from that movie with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn) - and then fell asleep to an SVU marathon. Not a bad day, not a bad day at all. Even though things didn't really go according to plan, we were flexible and didn't stress out about it and I think that is the key to having a fun holiday.
xoxo.

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