I am titling this Florida 2013 in hopes that eventually there will be a Florida 20__ with another trip for us.
We have been in desperate need for a family vacation and the chance to get away. After looking at several options, we opted for Fort Walton just outside of Destin, Florida. It was a great decision for us and we are very glad we went. We drove Sunday night and arrived just in time for breakfast Monday morning. The kids did really well in the car and slept most of the way, although they were all a little bit restless. This was a good way to go, but Mattie was pretty tired along the way and needed to stop a few times for fresh air and energy drinks. I had difficulty sleeping myself so took a half a dozen half and hour to hour naps along the way leaving me pretty tired as well. But, when we got there, all we had to do was lounge on the beach so it was an ok option.
I had heard people tell us how pretty the beaches are in Florida, and while I know there are more beautiful beaches out there, it is nice to have a really great beach so close for a family vacation. The sand is white and soft enough for you to sink pretty far into it. The water was surprisingly cold and it would probably have been pretty clear if the waves weren't so rough, stirring up sand and sediment. We were actually surprised by how rough the waves were. We went on a few little walks with the kids along the edge of the water and Mattie took turns taking the girls into the water which was rough enough to make him pretty exhausted. One of the things Matt really wanted to do with the girls was to build sand castles. It was funny to watch him build a small start to a sand castle only to have the girls smash it as soon as they could.
Our hotel had check in issues that day so we weren't able to check in until later in the day. MacKenzie was in full melt down mode at that point, so we had to stay flexible in our evening plans. At one point I was debating taking Mac and Keegan into the lobby to cry there and see if it would get us into our room. We ended up getting free breakfast for the rest of our stay which sort of made up for it, but the breakfast was "ok" so we aren't sure if that was a good trade off or not. Once in our rooms we bathed the girls before we headed to dinner and gave them their vacation treats. We got beach toys, disney flip flops, and sunglasses to make the trip extra special.
We spent Tuesday at the beach as well and really enjoyed the first part of the day. MacKenzie and Keegan were soon asking for a nap though. I enjoyed bathing them after a full day of sun, sunscreen, sand, and spray and putting them for a nap in a cold crisp hotel bed. I also enjoyed getting to sit with Mattie on our ocean view balcony to sip on a little drink from the Tiki bar downstairs.
I will devote a full post to the restaurants we visited, but had to include pictures from Fudpucker's which houses an alligator park as part of the restaurant.
Seeing as the girls were a little pooped from two days of the beach, we drove to Panama City to visit Gulf World. All of the kids were free and we had a coupon which made it sort of economical ($50 for a family of five) and we felt it was definitely worth the price. It is a small park, but they have a good amount of animals that are close up so the kids can actually see them. They had sea lions, turtles, sharks, alligators, sting rays (that you can pet), two different types of dolphins, and various other birds and reptiles. They also have several shows that are timed out well so you can try and make all of them. The girls liked the dolphin show and the sea lion show ok, but really liked the "furry and feathered friends" show that was dogs, cats, birds, and a teeny mouse doing various tricks in a skit format. MacKenzie was very interested in the reptile show because she has been interested in alligators, lizards, and snakes lately. We took our lunch because you can come and go out of the park, but we did notice that their prices were reasonable and the staff was exceptionally helpful and friendly (giving us free lemonade in the midst of a Keegan meltdown). The girls got little stuffed turtles and necklaces from the gift shop and Matt picked out a stuffed shark for Johnny.
Our last full day found us back at the beach. The waves were even rougher on the last day there so Mattie spent a lot of time playing in the sand with the kids. Most of our beach days involved Johnny holding for me, but we did get him to take several naps on the beach. I love that Mattie made little mermaid tails for the girls and convinced them to sit in the sand so he could do that for them. He also treated us to Snowcones on a hot afternoon which crosses an item of our Summer Bucket List!
We were originally going to spend a 4th day on the beach, but seeing as we would have nowhere to shower and the kids were getting more wiped each day we decided to slowly make our way back towards Texas aiming for a early dinner in New Orleans. The kids once again did awesome and we got pictures at every state line except for Texas. Our dinner in New Orleans was great, but we had to speed through our dessert at Cafe du Monde in order to let Keegan fall asleep in the car.
All in all it was a great vacation and we hope to repeat many good trips in years to come.