Caroline stayed with us for nearly two weeks. The weather was good – blue skies and sun practically the whole time, and no rain at all – so we were able to enjoy the swimming pool at Central Park, and take Caroline to some of our favourite places.
In and around Sarasota
We made two trips to the beach: a morning at Siesta Key, and a day on Anna Maria Island, where we visited the Bridge Street market and pier, took the trolley to City Pier for coffee, and then walked to Manatee Beach for lunch. We strolled along Sarasota Bayfront and went downtown on Saturday morning, when there is a street market and the town is very lively. One day we walked through the Red Bug Slough Preserve, and spent the evening exploring the shops and restaurants at St Armand’s Circle.
One thing that we had not done before was the boat trip from Snook Haven, up the Myakka River: scenic, relaxing and very enjoyable. Afterwards we went into Venice for dinner at Sharky’s and then a performance of the musical Ragtime at the theatre there.
Caroline had never been to Disneyworld, and was keen to visit Epcot in particular, so we did a day trip there. It was less busy than on New Year’s Eve, and fewer people meant shorter queues. The park was open 9am – 9pm, compared with 8am – 1am at New Year, so we did not get up so early, or return so late!
The other place Caroline wanted to go was the Everglades – too far for a day trip, so we booked a couple of nights in a motel at Homestead, the nearest town to the national park. Several places along the US41 offer airboat rides, and we debated which one to choose. It was late in the afternoon when we finally decided, but that turned out to be a good choice, as we saw a beautiful sunset while skimming over the ‘river of grass’.
Next day we drove into the national park, and walked several of the short trails, exploring the very unusual scenery and spotting some of the wildlife. A highlight was the boat trip from Flamingo, at the end of the park road. As we knew (from a previous visit) this is the only place in the world where you can see crocodiles and alligators. We saw some of each, including several baby crocs – and some manatees as well.
Before starting on our return journey, we visited Coral Castle, which was close to our accommodation. This is not really a ‘castle’ at all, but a ‘sculpture garden in stone’ carved by one (crazy?) man over a period of 28 years. Ian and Sandie had visited once before, way back in 1989 when we were accompanied by our three children.
Back in Sarasota
After our Everglades excursion, there was only one more day before Caroline’s return to the UK. We played crazy golf in the morning, and in the afternoon Caroline was given an introduction to ‘pickleball’, the variant of tennis which is popular at Central Park, although Ian and Sandie have not yet attempted to play. Next day we drove to Tampa, and said farewell at the airport. It was only 2pm, so we spent a pleasant afternoon strolling along the Tampa Riverwalk, before returning to the condo.
Ian is keen on film (as well as still photography, which we both enjoy) so he was disappointed when his camcorder ceased functioning on January 21, in the early stages of our Central America trip. He had bought it from the Sarasota store of Best Buy, a major US chain, on Feb 4 last year, so it was still under guarantee, but there was no way we could return it until we were back in the US. He contacted Best Buy online and explained; we had a similar problem some years back, and that worked.
When back in Sarasota on Feb 25 we went straight to Best Buy, but the staff there were amazingly unhelpful and unsympathetic. The camcorder was over a year old, so there was nothing they could do. We explained why we had not been able to return it earlier, and that we had contacted their Customer Services, but that was ‘corporate’, nothing to do with them. They could send it away for us, but we would have to pay for the repair, which would cost at least $170 – almost as much as the camcorder.
Ian contacted the Best Buy Customer Services, but they were equally unhelpful. But then he contacted Canon (the manufacturers) and got a much more positive response. They said that if he sent it to them soon it would be within the 30 days ‘grace period’ they allowed for returns (why did Best Buy not know this?). So he despatched it asap, and when we returned from Epcot we found a parcel on our doorstep, containing a brand new camcorder. So all’s well that ends well, and Ian is happily filming again.