Paul and Alexa came to spend a week’s holiday with us. They were due to land at Tampa airport at 6.08pm on Thursday 23rd March. We needed to be there to meet them, but we set off soon after 10 in the morning, as we planned a detour on the way.
Manatee Viewing Area
Near the small town of Apollo Beach, there is a power station, and the outflow means warm water which attracts the manatees in the winter, when the water in the bay is too cool for them. The power company has built a viewing area, complete with boardwalks, a stingray touch tank, exhibits, café and shop. We’d decided to check it out and see if it was likely to interest other members of the family.
Needless to say, the power station is not beautiful! But in the course of our visit we did get to see three manatees close up. We also did a nearby nature trail to an observation tower. Then we drove into Apollo Beach itself, walked along the shore and had a drink at a tiki bar. We thought we’d have plenty of time to get to the airport, but we were delayed, while the plane from Manchester landed early. So we arrived in the terminal at exactly the same time as Paul and Alexa!
Beaches and tiki bars
Alexa had never been to Florida before, and Paul’s last visit was several years ago. So we showed them around the Sarasota area, which meant visiting some of our local beaches. On Friday afternoon we went to Siesta Beach, but it was impossible to get a space in the large car park there. So we drove on to Turtle Beach, and spent some time there. We returned to Siesta later in the afternoon, when the crowds had died down. We strolled along the beach to the village, where we had a drink and then dinner before returning home.
On Saturday morning, we did our usual excursion downtown. In the afternoon we went to South Lido Park; we did the short nature trail and spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach. We had drinks and dinner at St Armand’s Circle.
We spent the whole of Sunday on Anna Maria Island, though the day did not work out exactly as planned. We drove to Manatee Beach, and although we arrived about 10am, the car park was full. Ian left us there and drove to Coquina Beach, where he parked and took the trolley back to Manatee. This took him about half an hour – the same amount of time as it took us to queue for breakfast!
As our beach chairs and umbrellas were in the car at Coquina, our revised plan was to take the trolley and go on the beach there. However, when the trolley reached Bridge Street and slowed down, a car backed into it! Nobody was hurt, and the damage was not serious, but it was enough for the trolley to be cancelled. So, another change of plan. Rather than wait for the next trolley, we decided to explore Bridge Street and the pier, and then walk down to Coquina – stopping en route for cocktails at a waterfront café.
After beach time at Coquina, plus a stroll through the craft market and another drink, we took a trolley the whole length of the island, ending at City Pier, where we saw dolphins and had yet another drink (it’s hot here, so you get thirsty – that’s our excuse!). You can feel the pier rocking gently – probably due to wave action rather than alcohol.
We walked along the beach to the Sandbar, where we planned to get cocktails, but there were no seats available. So we left the beach, and Ian took the next trolley to Coquina, retrieved the car and drove it up to Manatee. Paul, Alexa and Sandie had drinks in a nearby bar and caught the next trolley to Manatee, where we met up with Ian and had dinner!
Over the next two days we had a break from beaches and focused more on wildlife. On Monday morning we did a two-hour cruise on Sarasota Bay, and saw lots of dolphins. In the evening we took drinks to the bayou which is just behind our condos, and saw a manatee there – all very exciting!
On Tuesday we visited Myakka River State Park; we took the (slow) airboat trip and saw several alligators. We also saw a large number of vultures at the weir. In the evening we walked down to the bayfront, and watched the sunset before having dinner.
On Wednesday it was back to the beach – Nokomis Beach this time. As usual, we walked, sunbathed or drank coffee and read books sitting in the shade. (We do not think the water quite warm enough for swimming at this time of year, although some people evidently disagree.) On leaving the beach we drove along Casey Key to see the incredibly large and ornate mansions there, and on to the Casey Key Fish House, where we had drinks in their tiki bar (Paul was becoming quite addicted to tiki bars by this stage).
Next stop was Venice, where we strolled down the main street and had ice cream and cocktails. On to Sharky’s on the Pier, one of our favourite places for dinner. It is very popular, so we had to wait an hour and a half for a table, but it was worth it. We walked along the fishing pier, and sat on the beach watching the sunset.
The week passed all too quickly, and on Thursday Paul and Alexa had to go home. They were flying out of Tampa at 5.10pm, so we set off in the morning and stopped at St Petersburg en route, giving them the chance to see a different Floridian city. We enjoyed a stroll along the bayfront, and lunch in a café by the marina. And then it was time for the airport, and farewells!