Florida Vacation
June 19-27, 2009
Our third visit to the gulf coast was the best yet, at least to me. This time around I was able to research beforehand a lot of the possible places to visit around Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The drive down was definitely better. Brad rode with Cliff, Grant and I, while Stacey rode with James, Melinda and Callie. Catlin and Stephen would be meeting us at the condo. Sure, it helped a lot that the boys were 4 years older since our last trip. But we also had our iPods to watch movies, listen to music and podcasts, and play games. Us guys left town Friday morning and stopped at a Burger King in North Little Rock for a quick bathroom break and burgers to go. We made great time to Memphis and drove in to downtown to find Gus's World Famous fried chicken. We weren't really hungry yet but it was still delicious, and now we can say we've been there. Check that off my list.
We crossed the northeast corner of Mississippi then drove to the center of Alabama, going through Birmingham then stopping for the evening in Pelham.  The McBrides and Stacey were a couple of hours behind us, so after checking in to a motel we drove around scouting for restaurants and chose a Mexican place with decent food. Afterwards the boys went swimming at the motel pool while we waited for Mom.Saturday morning we got on I-65 for an easy drive to Fort Walton Beach; did I say how much better the drive was this route? We arrived before check-in time at our condo, so we went to Arby's for lunch and then to Wal Mart to buy groceries for the week. It was tough getting everything to fit in on top of our luggage!
Everyone was a little disappointed with the condo. On our last two visits we stayed in houses right on the beach; now we had to take the elevator or climb the stairs to our sixth-floor pad, which made hauling our luggage and groceries quite an ordeal. And we weren't facing the ocean like we'd anticipated.
But it was still great to be on vacation, at the beach with the McBrides and the Chapmans. For dinner Melinda made her wonderful shrimp fettuccine alfredo. Afterwards the boys and I walked the beach for over half a mile, looking for shells and basically enjoying that magical hour around sunset.
I had ambitious plans for the week, which included my getting up at 3:40 Sunday morning to drive 60 miles east to Saint Andrews state park for sunrise and nature photography. I pulled up to the entrance only to find it gated until 8 a.m.; I turned around and headed back to Fort Walton Beach, stopping at several other parks on my list - but they all were also closed until 8.
We spent most of the day at the beach; we didn't spend a lot of time in the ocean because the water was full of a very unappealing bright green algae. It had a tendency to stick to our clothes and our hair, but mostly its odd fishy, sweet odor kept us away.
Stacey, Brad and I drove to east Destin Harbor to buy fresh shrimp at Dewey Destin Seafood, and we all enjoyed a shrimp boil for dinner.
Afterwards the boys and I drove west to Fort Pickens national park, enjoying some neat scenery in the Gulf Islands National Seashore on the way. We quickly walked around part of the old military fort, then after sunset walked to the beach beyond the west wall. I believe that evening was my favorite time of the whole trip; we had a long stretch of beach to ourselves and stayed hunting for shells until we ran out of light.
We spent Monday down at the beach; Stacey snapped the photos at right with her camera. We went out for an early dinner at Floyd's for all-you-can eat shrimp. I caused quite a stir when I ordered raw oysters for an appetizer. James kept his title as champion shrimp eater! We returned to the condo and Grant and I walked the beach at sunset collecting shells. That night we enjoyed the one-of-a-kind pleasure of scarfing down fresh chocolate-glazed Krispy Kreme donuts.
We got up early Tuesday and joined Ron and Darla Brown and their crew on a 90-minute drive north to the Blackwater River for a float trip. The sand bottom river runs through a pine forest which imparts a tea color to the water, contrasting against the white sandbars lining the banks. We had a good time but the heat and humidity had us all looking forward to an afternoon nap when we got back to the condo. James did a fantastic job cooking the pork shoulder we had for dinner. At sundown Cliff, Grant and I build sand castles close to the surf line.