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Published: April 16th 2018
Florida 23 Dec – 9 January
We got married on the 27th December on Treasure Island in Saint Petersburg Florida among a special group of close family and friends. We are very thankful for everyone that could join us, especially because it meant travelling long distances around Christmas time. Our guests originated from a total of 5 countries and 6 states and provinces. It's safe to say Treasure Island didn't know what hit them! We are also thankful the weather cooperated and was even warm enough for swimming and sunburns! The beach on Treasure Island was the perfect place to get married and for everyone to relax and take in the nearby interesting sights.
After saying goodbye to friends and the beach we spent a few days in Orlando with our families at Disney World and Universal Studios. Despite being the busiest week of the year for Orlando theme parks, we still had a great time riding all the main roller coasters at least once. Some highlights were Space and Splash Mountains, the Disney fireworks, Tower of Terror and the Toy Story ride (Becky proved quite formidable in getting the highest score every time). The Rogne's prior knowledge of
Disney was a huge asset and the boys being tall enough to ride everything made for a lot of fun. The weather turned cold when the Harris's joined us. So cold that we went to the parks wearing every layer we had, including the thermals we packed for the Andes Mountains! We know that we really can't complain about 5 deg C in Florida since at that time it was as low as -20 deg C in Iowa and Ontario. It was cold enough however for the Incredible Hulk ride to be closed for part of the day due to "wind chills", which we think was ridiculous.
After the busy days at the parks, the families made their way back home and we went south to the Everglades. We were able to have a quick meal with Ben and Annie who were on their way back to Orlando from the Everglades. It was great to see them again, even if briefly.
Our night in the Everglades was at Billie's Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in an open air thatch hut. We happened to be there on an unseasonably cold night which got down to 7
deg C. Not surprisingly we were the only ones staying the night! We slept in all of our clothes and were thankful that a pile of blankets had been left for us, but still pondered if it would be warmer in the car😊. We slept very little due to the constant vigilance of needing to stay warm and the next day found our ongoing colds were much worse. It took us until midday and a few cups of coffee to get going. Billie's has a large collection of captive rescued animals. Phil's favourite was the Florida Panther and Becky's was the white wolf. We learned that Florida has a native black bear population, explaining the bear like highway signs on I-75.
After leaving Billie's we made our way towards I-75 and saw heaps of alligators in the drainage ditches of the reservation. It was really neat to see so many in the wild. We then made our way along the Tamiami Trail from east to west. We went on an airboat ride and saw many more alligators at the park welcome centre. There is a lagoon stocked with fish, which is probably why the gators here seem so lazy
and not scared of people. Then the highlight of the day was seeing 6+ manatees at the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center at sunset! This capped off a big day of firsts for Phil (Everglades, wild alligators and manatees, Florida Panther and air boat ride). We then went to Fort Myers where we mostly tried to recover from our sicknesses, but Becky took a turn for the worse and was diagnosed with strep throat. We opted for low impact tourist activities since if Phil suggested anything active Becky would refuse and hide under the covers.
Thankfully there are things to see for the over 85s or severely ill tourists. We went to JN Ding Darling NWR where the method to observe wildlife is to drive at 10mph along a purpose built road until you see something interesting at which point you either look out the window or get out of the car and walk for 20 feet to the lookout and stand next to others with binoculars and scopes focused on a rare or interesting bird. You have to love the NPS for making experiences so easy! We saw many interesting birds including the beautiful Roseate Spoonbill. Other than
Ding Darling, Sanibel is a few million dollars outside our price range so we went looking for burrowing owls in Cape Coral. Cape Coral contains the largest population of burrowing owls in Florida and they can easily be found in city parks and vacant lots with their burrows marked by wood stakes and pvc pipes. Our favourites were a rather feisty pair at a baseball field who were just waking up for some night time hunting.
The next day we said goodbye to our very friendly AirBnB hosts and went to Sarasota's Mote Aquarium. Mostly a research center it has a lot of spectacular animals including sharks, manatees and the corpse of a giant squid caught off NZ. Highly recommended! We then drove to Fort Lauderdale and flew to Cartagena Colombia on 9th of January.
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