So I am a nature lover, I confess.
My kids and my husband are more into the excitement of a loud sports game or the thrill of a roller coaster. Me? I am happy just meandering through beautiful foliage in parks, or kayaking through murky waters to see if I can spot something unusual down below or in the branches of the marshy landscape above my head.
Shavuos was over and, with all the company we had hosted for Pesach and then for this past Yom Tov, I felt that our family could benefit from some “alone-time” with no one else invited.
I am not sure how I managed to convince everyone but I informed the schools that we were taking our children away for a few days, and booked tickets to Florida. Nope – not Orlando with its theme-parks and not Fort Lauderdale with its sports arenas and malls.
We stayed in a great community called North Miami Beach; home to amazing restaurants, shuls, kosher shopping, and the friendliest “temporary neighbors” anyone could want.
And as I was the one who had planned the entire trip down to our daily itinerary, I made sure that our four-day getaway would be focused solely on “nature.”
At first everyone balked when I told them what we would be doing on the morning after our arrival. But you know something? By the end of our first evening, as we sat over a bbq dinner with burgers, corn on the cob, and oozing toasted marshmallows, I could sense a definite paradigm shift taking place in everyone’s minds as we discussed what we had done that day.
Our adventure began bright and early in nearby Oleta River State Park. We had rented three kayaks so that everyone could go at their own pace. Two hours after we set out on our “journey through Biscayne Bay,” we had captured on our smartphone cameras three manatees, an egret, an alligator (the kids promised it was one and the picture sure looked convincing!), and the most amazing birds I had ever seen outside of any “bird-sanctuary.”
We had packed a picnic lunch so from there we traveled a short distance to Haulover Beach Park where we ate our sandwiches while keeping our necks craned upward, watching the most amazing kites fly over the entire landscape of uninterrupted gorgeous sky. The kids, of course, begged to purchase some kites for home and how could we refuse?
Incredibly enough, by the end of our day, we were simultaneously exhausted and invigorated! More importantly, every single one of us was overwhelmed at how remarkably the day had gone and how everyone had loved spending it with only each other and “nature” for company.
Day two took us to Key Biscayne. After a late start, we cleverly missed the rush-hour traffic and headed down for some serious biking and “beaching.” Crandon Park is known for its endless trails and as we had packed another round of picnic lunches, we were able to enjoy the entire day there. As it was the middle of the week we practically had the place to ourselves. We collected seashells, circled most of the island, and stayed until the park closed.
I think that this day will be the memory that our family will talk about for years to come. Watching the sun slowly sink over the Gulf of Mexico was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had and solidified for our entire family the beauty of Hashem’s world and His ability to take our breath away with His magnificent creations.
On the way back to our villa, we picked up some fantastic take-out and enjoyed an “al fresco” feast under the stars on our spacious patio, unconcerned about uninvited ants or mosquitoes thanks to the screening all around the pool and patio areas. After finishing, we had a blast playing Marco Polo and basketball in the deep end of our private pool. The fun underwater light-show made it extra special. Once the younger ones were fast asleep, the older kids and us grownups enjoyed an extra hour in the hot tub, looking up and seeing the breathtaking view of millions of stars under the clear nighttime Florida sky.
The third day of our getaway began bright and early as we drove to Tradewinds Park and Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, about a forty-minute ride from our vacation villa. We were amazed to see nearly twenty thousand different species of butterflies – who would have thought? Afterwards, the braver of the kids went horseback riding and the younger ones enjoyed the playgrounds.
With energy for more, we headed back South and spent the rest of the day at Hollywood Beach where we rented surrey bikes that fit the whole family as we rode up and down the boardwalk, as we watched the waves come ashore onto the beach.
Back in our villa, we took a vote for the next day’s activities and unanimously decided that our last day would be spent “at home” enjoying the great weather and the amenities that we had hardly enjoyed until now!
Eager to enjoy as much as we could before we had to leave for the airport, everyone set their alarm clocks for a bright and early “wake-up” call. For those of us who got ourselves out, one block away from where we stayed was this amazing fitness trail. Surrounding a body of water with amazing iguanas, birds, and manatees, a full circle around “the canal” as it is called, covered over two miles. What a way to start the day!
The guys picked up breakfast for everyone on their way home from shul and the coffee was the easy part with the Keurig machine that was provided. The fresh fruit that was left for us upon check-in was an added bonus and we were ready to play hard until it was time to leave for home.
With four hours at our disposal, we played bean bag “tic-tac-toe” in the spacious yard, drifted around the pool on the floats, enjoyed water-basketball and ring toss, and lazed in the hot tub, all the while taking in our last few hours of sun beaming down on us. We were all determined to go home with boast-worthy tans to show our friends and boy did we succeed!
Before we knew it, we were on the plane and in the air. As opposed to other family trips where each child tried to outdo the other with who was the bravest on which amusement park ride, or whose team played better at a game that they had attended, our conversations focused on the unbelievable memories everyone had of riding bikes on the beach, eating ice cream cones as they melted under the sun, and all the silly jokes we had enjoyed while splashing around in our private pool.
And when everyone was finally tucked into bed that night, my husband turned to me and said “you know something Noemi? I think there is something to this ‘nature’ thing after all!”
Summer is just a few months away and they all left it to me to plan our next family vacation, seeing as how successful this one was. Hmmm, I wonder… you think it’s too early to book a return stay in our Florida “home away from home?”
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