Florida Vacation
June 11-18, 2011
I suppose you could call me the Clark Griswold of Florida vacations. I did a better job of over-planning this year's trip than the three previous ones. But really, I had a great time because of it.
Stacey, Grant and I left home early Saturday morning and picked Cliff up at Camp Robinson at the end of JROTC camp. As much as I wanted to stop for barbecue in Memphis, we were running ahead of schedule and crossed over the Mississippi River before lunch time. We settled for BBQ by Jim in Tupelo.
We drove straight through to Navarre Beach, as long as you don't count multiple pit stops and dinner at Burger King as disqualifications of the "driving straight through" claim to fame. Most of the drive I listened to a playlist of The Beatles hits I'd just bought on iTunes. The boys took turns watching Star Wars parody episodes of Robot Chicken and Family Guy on my iPad, and Stacey read or listened to her iPod.
We arrived at the beach house around 8:30; Darrel and Wanda, James, Melinda and Callie, Stephen, Caitlin and Cayden were already there. As soon as we unloaded our luggage, the boys and I headed to Wal Mart to buy a few more items for our tackle boxes.
We got up early the next morning and headed to a bait store to buy live shrimp, then drove back to the beach house and headed to the surf to start fishing. Clark Griswold came prepared, and the boys were pulling in fish of all kinds in no time. Grant reeled in three Ladyfish on the same line! We caught little sharks, and several Whiting.
After lunch the boys and I drove to the Navarre Beach Causeway and fished under the bridge. We only caught a bunch of little fish, though we enjoyed throwing a few of them to a heron lurking nearby.
We went back down to the beach that evening and Grant caught a nice Pompano, while I figured out how to catch Whiting up close to the beach. We had a dozen of them in the ice chest by day's end. The womenfolk cooked a great shrimp boil for dinner. That evening Melinda made Midori Sours, and I got hooked. I made them every night afterwards, though I had a tough time keeping Grant out of the cherries and whiskey sour mix.
Monday morning was a repeat. Cliff caught a Stingray, and we caught another 16 Whiting; only problem was Cliff and I had to clean all of them. That afternoon I went on one of my long drives to explore the area and scout for potential photo or fishing locations. I'd planned on driving through Gulf Islands National Seashore just west of the beach house, but a serious-looking speed limit sign mislead me to think I'd have to drive 20 miles an  hour for a long time, and I just wasn't up for that. Instead I took a long route through Gulf Breeze to Pensacola Beach. I drove across the enormous bridges over Santa Rosa Sound and Pensacola Bay. We had a big fish fry that night. Storms moved in and kept us indoors, though I was able to set up my camera on the back deck and capture a few lighting bolts.
Stacey, the boys, and I left the beach house early Tuesday morning to drive to Pensacola and watch the Blue Angles perform at the Naval Air Museum. After touring the museum we went to the Pensacola lighthouse nearby. The boys climbed to the top of the lighthouse, and once they waved to us from the top railing I walked down to the white sand beach for a wide-angle photo. On the drive back we stopped for lunch at the Aloha Grill in Gulf Breeze.
At some point I went for a drive searching for key lime pie; no trip to the Gulf Coast would be complete without it. I found some at a grocery store deli and brought it back to the beach house for evening desert.
We had another awesome home-cooked meal, Melinda's Fettuccine Alfredo with fresh shrimp. Grant and I headed down to the beach and figured out how to catch sand fleas (mole crabs) using a hand-held bait net. Sand fleas are tiny hard-shelled crabs that spend their lives in the liquid sand at the surf's edge, and are excellent fish bait. They are abundant on the Florida coast, though most beach goers don't even know they're there.
Wednesday morning the boys and I surf fished once again. I hooked a sea turtle and tried to get it to the shore so that maybe I could remove the hook, but my reel messed up and didn't release the drag and the line broke. For lunch I snuck off to the Boathouse Oyster Bar in Destin Harbor. A few hours later we all drove to Pensacola Beach to eat at Peg Leg Pete's. We drove through the national seashore to get there, and I realized the 20 mile per hour speed limit only applied to a small section. On the way back, Stacey dropped me off beside the highway and I shot a few photos of Black Skimmers congregated near their nests just up from the beach. I was hoping to go somewhere to photograph the full moon when it rose, but when Stacey and Melinda announced that we would be taking family photos, I knew to keep my shut.