We usually spend Christmas and the New Year in the UK, but this year Claire was able to have leave from work, so instead she joined us in Florida, along with Charlie, Oscar and Maggi (Ian’s sister). On Tuesday 22 December we drove to Tampa airport to meet them. While there we returned the small car that we’d been using since our arrival in Florida, and picked up a large 7-seater (known in the US as a minivan). It was almost new, very smart and had plenty of room for the six of us.
We enjoyed showing the family around the Sarasota area. December was unusually hot (high 20s C most of the time) so we spent quite a lot of time at one of the nearby beaches, or relaxing at the Central Park pool. Charlie improved his swimming skills, and Oscar became increasingly confident in the water.
One morning we went to the Ringling estate, where Ian and Maggi visited the art gallery. We all enjoyed the beautiful grounds and the boys had fun on the playground, and swinging through the trees. Another day we went to Myakka River State Park, where we did an airboat trip and saw several alligators, one quite close up.
Two evenings were particularly memorable. The day after Claire & co arrived, we went on a boat trip around Sarasota Bay; unfortunately the sunset was disappointing, but we had drinks, listened to Christmas music and admired the beautiful houses we passed. Another evening we went to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, for their annual ‘Lights in Bloom’. The illuminations were stunning, and there was a really magical atmosphere as we strolled around the gardens or sat with a drink at the outdoor café.
Our major trips were to Disneyworld: the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day and Epcot on New Year’s Eve. Christmas is a popular time at Disney, and the parks were not surprisingly crowded. Opening hours were 8am to 1am, and to ensure entry (and to make the most of our time there) we needed to arrive early. The drive from Sarasota takes about 1 hour 45 mins, so we left just after 5am on Christmas Day. We were parked at Disney by 7, so after taking the tram to the ticket center, buying our tickets and taking the ferry across the lake, we were ready to go in as soon as the park opened, and managed to sample a few rides before the queues became impossibly long. We arrived home at 3.30am on Boxing Day!
New Year’s Eve followed similar pattern. Although it is possible to park outside Epcot itself, we left only slightly later that morning (about 5.15). We were glad we did so, because entry to the park was allowed before 8am, and one of the most popular rides (Soarin’) had already begun operating by 7.30. We were able to go on almost straightaway, whereas later in the day the queue extended to 3-4 hours. We followed the ‘Schagen tradition’ of celebrating the new year at 7pm, with drinks at the British pub: not in the pub (no space at all) but sitting on a pavement outside. Of course, we celebrated again at midnight, while watching the fireworks with ‘champagne’ in hand. Getting out of the car park that night was complete chaos, and took over an hour. As a result, we arrived home at 4.30 am, almost 24 hours after leaving!
A cool new year
As December 2015 became January 2016, the weather in Florida became decidedly cooler, and there was some rain, which meant us spending more time indoors. On New Year’s Day, however, we managed to have dinner at the café on Manatee Beach, and Oscar joined in the drum circle which takes place at sunset.
We spent Saturday morning playing Monopoly, which Charlie now loves – the game lasted three hours! In the afternoon we left Claire and Maggi at a shopping mall, and took the boys to see The Peanuts Movie. Next day all of us went to a different cinema, to see the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. Ian is a real fan, and had shown the earlier films (on DVD) to the boys, so they were all waiting for the opportunity to see the new one.
On Monday the weather was bright and sunny again, though still quite cool. At Charlie’s request we played crazy golf in the morning, then went down to Venice for lunch, shopping and afternoon drinks, and finally to St Armand’s Circle for dinner at an Italian restaurant. And that was the end of the family holiday: on Tuesday we drove them all back to Tampa for their flight to London. We also swapped the minivan for another small car!