I’ve never surfed. The last time I skateboarded was when I was 7. I only tried snowboarding once and quickly figured it was a bad idea, when little kids at the bunny slope started complaining about me holding up the lift line by constantly falling down.
The way Flowrider works is that a thin sheet of water flows up a slope at 20 to 30 MPH and creates an artificial wave that you can surf. Or can try. If you’ve never done it before, it’s best to start from bodyboarding and get used to the sensation of water flowing at you, losing your balance and crashing towards the back wall. I’d say it doesn’t hurt, but the bruises I found the next morning tell a different story.
After a while sitting on top of the board started to feel like a piece of cake, so with a sudden boost of confidence I figured that sure, I can try standing up! Flowrider boards aren’t the huge surf boards you’d be used to but more like skateboards without wheels, and I should have known how it would go. There’s a rope you can hold on to to help you stay put, but you’re still all responsible for finding your own balance.
Finally on my fourth try, I found something that resembled a balance, and boy was I excited when I could let go of the rope and stay upright for at least three seconds!!! Of course I don’t have photos to prove, because my friend with the camera was probably too busy laughing at my last fall down. A couple tries more and I was ready to move over to the inviting pool. Flowrider is definitely fun, but also definitely hard!
I plummet into the warm ocean, splash and gasp for air, salt water filling my nose, splashing some more. When I make it back to surface, I try desperately to blow the water out of my nose and rub the salt out of my eyes. “You ready?” the jet ski pilot shouts and I shake my head. Wait, a moment, I need a moment to get myself back together! And then it’s on again.
Flyboarding is not the easisest sport, but all worth the practice.
There are several different types of flyboards, and the one I tried out was one of the easier ones. Harder boards have more buoyancy which means it’s “easier” to do flips and turns, but the board I tried was more stable and easier to stand on, which is perfect for a total beginner. That still didn’t make it easy. I’ve always thought I have fairly strong legs, but it was still hard standing when the board was forcefully pushing me up to the sky.
The jet ski pilot handled the force of water flowing from the board, which was great: one less thing for me to think about. I had enough on my plate trying to balance and keep the board horizontal. The only way I could rise up on top of the board was aiming the flow of water straight down, and a smallest movement to any direction plummeted me back in the sea. Good thing water is my favorite element, because there was little time to prepare for being whisked under the waves.
After five minutes, the thought of giving up passed through my mind – but only passed. In ten minutes I was already flying up in the air for minutes at a time. I’d found my balance, and I have no clue how. It just happened!
The training session lasted for 15 minutes, after which I retreated back to dry land to breathe and relax, and to follow others’ attempts at flying. Later in the day, I got another chance at flyboarding, and finally I felt like I was “soaring like a bird”, like they had promised I would. Dolphin jumps I gladly left for another time.
A week ago I already felt like I had landed in the middle of paradise – and then the bell boy led me to my room where the balcony opened to an amazing view of the Atlantic, straight to East. Sunsets are beautiful, but sunrises are even more so, and what could be better than viewing them straight from your bed?
Colorado weather was good enough when it was time to head to Florida, but still the warm wet air of Southern Florida caught me off guard when I exited Miami airport in search of a taxi to my final destination, Fort Lauderdale. I spent nine days in South Florida, and this is what I loved:
Hollywood Beach Boardwalk. Bands playing almost every night at the band stand, and the feeling of warm sand between my toes right off the airplane.
Fort Lauderdale Beach and an ocean that was still warm in November. The lights around here are turned down in the night to not confuse sea turtles nesting on the beach.
John U Lloyd State Park with a beach completely untouched by development. If you think Florida’s beaches are too touristy, this is for you.
The 175 steps leading up to Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse. The museum is small and you won’t be able to get a close-up with the lense, but check out the views!
Those couple magic minutes, when I figured out how to flyboard. Totally worth the ten or so minutes spent splashing into the water at awkward angles.
Four alligators spotted while airboating around night-time Everglades. Wroooom!
One alligator that we spotted with Iiro while driving along an “alternative” toll-free route to Big Cypress Swamp. The route was a dirt road in bad shape, and our rental car was a Toyota Prius, but hey, we made it – with a wild alligator sighting to boot!
A mile of boardwalks around a swamp next to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum. Don’t step off the boardwalk, a sign told us, and looking at the impenetrable wetlands, this seemed like one of those “don’t microwave your cat”-signs of pure obviousness. Hard to believe people actually lived in these swamps!
One big bad swamp buggy, whose sole passengers Iiro and I were. The ride might be a little more bumpy than usual, the driver said and charged straight into the swamp. Fun!
150 miles to Key West, which we didn’t drive but FLEW! The small Piper airplane took us low enough for me to grasp the sheer size of the Everglades.
The 100,000 or so party people who had come to Key West’s Fantasy Fest with us. “Crazier than New Orleans on Mardi Gras” said one local and I don’t find it hard to believe…
Dozens of new tavel bloggers I met at TBEX travel blogger conference.
Two “old” travel blogging pals from Finland, who I finally got to know face-to-face. Moikka, Sanna and Ulla!
The top-rated award-winning queen size air mattress that our friend in Fort Lauderdale had gotten to host us for the last couple days of our stay. And this is completely without irony here.
This post is part of Instagram Travel Thursday, a celebration of travel photos on Instagram and the stories behind them. You can find me on Instagram as @globecalledhome. The rest of the participants are below.
Coming up next week is something I wasn’t really expecting much from in the beginning, but that I’m completely utterly head-over-heels excited about right now. I’m heading off to my first travel blogger conference ever, and on Sunday morning, I’ll jump on a plane towards South Florida and TBEX North America. It’s going to be two days worth of talks on blogging, content creation and traveling, and of course enjoying the beautiful South Florida. The latter is thanks to an invitation that I got for a hosted pre-conference trip with an adventure theme – and when someone says adventure, I’m always in!
During the trip I’ll enjoy life at the Margaritaville Resort at Hollywood Beach. Did you think the only Hollywood in the US was in California? Well think again, because Florida’s also got its own Hollywod, and unlike its Californian namesake, this one’s also got a beach! Hollywood Beach is situated midway between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, and it’s one long beach boardwalk lined with restaurants, shops, and of course the beach. Next week it’s going to be around +30C, so I’ll make full use of the resort’s pool as well as the Atlantic’s waves. But this trip won’t be just beach life…
On Monday, I’ll get to try flyboarding at Pompano Beach, a bit north of Fort Lauderdale. According to the info I got, I’m supposed to “soar like a bird and swim like a dolphin”, but let’s see what kind of a flying fish my performance will resemble the most. If it turns out to be harder than you’d think, I’ll switch over to doing a little stand-up paddling in the lagoon. As a hard-core lighthouse fan, I’ll also get my dose with a tour of Hillsboro Lighthouse.
Everglades is a region of tropical wetlands that extends to a much wider area in South Florida than you’d think just looking at Everglades National Park. The plan is to spot some gators just a rock’s throw from Fort Lauderdale at Sawgrass Park. The best way to get around the marshes is by an air boat, which I’ve only seen before in movies. The next day, I’ll get to tour John U Lloyd Beach State Park‘s mangrove mazes and reefs with a kayak!
All this adventuring is going to make me hungry, and luckily the program’s got some great sounding restaurants on it. The part I’m mostly looking forward to is fresh seafood, as that’s kind of hard to come around to in my present land-locked home.
In the conference, I’ll meet up with a couple Finnish travel bloggers – Sanna from Siveltimellä and Ulla from 50 State Puzzle – and together with Iiro and a couple of other Finnish guys we’ll head off to the always-fabulous Key West. October 31st, also known as Halloween, is on Saturday, and Key West is going to have a parade with floats and everything that we just can’t miss. It would be a long drive to Key West by car, so we’re saving some time by hopping on a private airplane – which I’m looking forward to just as much as Key West!
We’re still planning on heading deep into the Everglades National Park before we head home. The park’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and it spans more than 6000 square kilometers – more than twice the size of the country of Luxembourg! We’d better not get lost there…
South Florida’s much more than just beaches – and I’m heading there in less than 48 hours!
Good guys and bad guys chasing each other around on speed boats in Miami is such a classic scene in any movie set in Florida: if an action flick doesn’t have a scene like this, something’s missing! With this in mind, we headed on a speed boat tour of our own when visiting Miami last June.
The tour’s base was at Bayside Marketplace, where we grabbed a late breakfast before heading out to sea. It took a while to pass the port of Miami and to reach Miami Beach with the boat, but that was also part of the experience. Miami has such a fragmented seaside with dozens of artificial islands, thanks to building of the port, and we took a closer look at a couple of them before heading out to the sea…
Checking out celebrity mansions on Star and Hibiscus Islands is one of the reasons to come on this tour, because you can only admire them from sea; from land, they are blocked by gates and high walls. Our guide seemed to know everything that was going on in the lives of these celebrities and especially their real estate plans, and although I don’t follow celebrities at all, these were big enough household names that i knew exactly who we were talking about. After all, you need to be super famous to splurge $50 million on a villa…
After our little architecture and celebrity gossip tour, we headed out to the ocean for some high speed fun. I’d been a little afraid of this part beforehand, because riding a motor boat into big waves isn’t always a fun experience, but now it was – almost like a roller coaster! You can’t NOT get a little wet on this tour, but the closer you sit to the front, the less you’ll get splashed.
I can warmly recommend this tour for anybody who’s heading to Miami and interested in boats and celebrities, or just one of the two. If you want to get a grasp of the speeds on this tour as well as hear what Al Capone and Lenny Kravitz have i common, check out this video:
Dip, skip and a splash into the Caribbian sea. The water’s not cool at all but pleasantly warm, and high salt levels buoy me up in the turquoise calms. A peak under the surface reveals a school of fish swimming away just a couple meters from me, weaving their way through a coral reef. I could spend an eternity breathing through the tube and slowly floating on top of the reef. This is paradise.
Just an hour earlier we were seriously late. Searching for a parking spot in Downtown Key West is easier said than done, and it would have been best to arrive on foot, but we didn’t have a moment to lose. So we ditched the car into the ridiculously overprized parking hall at Hyatt and ran to check in at Fury Water Adventures office. Finally we were last ones boarding the catamaran, but at least we made it. Now it as time to relax!
It took around 45 minutes for the catamaran to reach the reefs, and we spent that time adding on sunblock and enjoying cold Coke on the deck of the catamaran. All drinks were included in the price of the trip, but alcoholic beverages were only available after snorkeling = a sane policy if any. The theme of the cruise was Rum & Reggae, and while the rum had to wait, reggae blasted away from the beginning.
At this point, I also finally had time to open my new SD card from its package. I’d bought it the same morning from a shopping center in Miami, and the salesperson had recommended a 64GB card, so I was sure to have enough space for videos. The price was right, so why not? Well, I got an answer to that as soon as I popped the card into my GoPro, which immediately told me it was too large to use. No underwater photos or videos from this trip… and the lesson learned is that always test these before you’re on a catamaran somewhere in the middle of the sea!
Below the surface, the sea was teeming with life. We saw all kinds of scurrying fish in all colors of the rainbow, which we later identified with a little help from Wikipedia as banded butterflyfish, grunts and porkfish, among others. The reef itself didn’t impress us, but the life that surrounded it did. Elina has also snorkeled in Thailand and Colombia, and she thought this was her best snorkeling experience as of yet. Here’s a taste of what it looked like underwater:
in the end, the most memorable lifeform I saw was a small round jellyfish – or what I thought was a jellyfish until I googled about it and found out about comb jellies. They look like jellyfish but aren’t really, and they don’t have a sting.
We wouldn’t be ourselves if everything had gone exactly as it should. When Iiro jumped into the water, the plunge made him drop his snorkel. I reacted quickly and dove to get it, but ended up kicking so hard that one of my fins came off. Luckily Fury had a couple of guys in the water with us, and one of them dove down to retrieve our missing equipment. I guess he was a pro when it came to diving for tourists’ dropped stuff, because I think he stayed down there for almost a minute. After this incident, I soon figured out that almost an hour in the water was enough for me and climbed back abroad the catamaran for that promised rum punch.
The return trip to Key West took a bit more than an hour, because we lingered long enough to marvel the amazing sunset – us and the whole Key West fleet, all with the same agenda. When finally the sun had set behind the horizon, the captain steered to shore and we got to continue our evening with a dinner in a nearby restaurant. Key West is known for its sunset carnivals, but I think this sunset cruise probably could top any carnival.
Overall the trip was a great experience I can warmly recommend to anyone who enjoys a bit of a swim. For a bit of live action from the deck, check out this video I shot:
I’ve heard of travelers who only make a day trip to Key West from their Miami vacation, and I’m here to prove them wrong: Key West absolutely needs 24 hours, and I would have rather stayed longer! We rented a car from Miami with Iiro and Elina and drove across the breathtaking Florida Keys bridges to enjoy this cute little town on a paradise island.
11 a.m. Drive to Key West – reserve time for this!
I’d recommend setting out to Key West early in the morning, but because of flight schedules, this wasn’t an option for us. Good thing was we missed Miami’s morning traffic; bad thing was Miami has traffic no matter time of the day, so it felt like an eternity before we got to the first of the Keys, Key Largo. It’s not worth taking a “short drive” to the Keys to check out the views, because the best views are towards the end of the trip several hours away.
We got hungry on the way and stopped by Lu Lu’s Garden Grill (7435 Overseas Hwy) on Marathon Key for a quick lunch. The seafood sandwiches were excellent, and we enjoyed them on a shady garden patio. It took still more than an hour to get to Key West from here, and including the short lunch break, we were on the road for over 5 hours, which is the biggest reason why I don’t recommend Key West as a day trip.
5 p.m. Snorkeling at Key West’s gorgeous coral reef
If there’s one thing I’d recommend for anyone visiting Key West, it’s this: go snorkeling! Key West is close to Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States, and it’s amazing. We saw porkfish, blue striped grunts, banded butterflyfish, groupers – even a medusa! Elina, who’s snorkeled also in Thailand and Colombia, said that this was her best snorkeling experience ever, and as a first-timer to coral reefs, I was completely sold.
The catamaran took around 45min to get to the reef, after which we had a bit more than an hour in the water. The ocean was pleasantly warm, but sun was shining low enough that we weren’t afraid of sunburns.
8 p.m. Key West Sunset
Our snorkeling trip was a combined sunset sail, and on the way back we were relaxing on the deck of the catamaran, sipping on rum drinks and marveling the sunset. Key West, as its name signifies, faces west, so the sun will set into the sea with no obstacles on its way no matter where you stop to observe it. Sunset times of course vary according to seasons, and you can check out the exact time here.
If we hadn’t been on the sunset cruise, we’d have probably been at Sunset Celebration, as recommended to us by our water at Marathon. This is a nightly art fest at Mallory Square Dock that starts up a couple hours before sunset.
9 p.m. Key West Dinner
At Key West, you won’t have to worry about restaurants closing their doors too early. After sunset, we headed to Hog’s Breath Saloon (400 Front St)… not because of a recommendation, but because Iiro had spotted a tourist wearing their T-shirt at Amsterdam Airport, and the name and especially slogan – Hog’s Breath is better than no breath at all! – sounded so hilarious we wouldn’t miss it. Luckily for us, it wasn’t just the slogan that was good. Shrimp skewers and BBQed pork were our favorites, and the beer and drinks were good too!
After dinner, we headed out to Duval Street, Key West’s nightlife hub, with bars on every corner. The most famous of them is Sloppy Joe’s (201 Duval St), Ernest Hemingway’s favorite, but instead, we sat down at a window table at Bull’s Whistle Bar (224 Duval St) for some people watching. It wasn’t quite New Orleans, but not far from it.
9 a.m. Morning at a Key West hotel: NYAH
We’d picked NYAH – Not Your Average Hotel for our accommodation, and the choice couldn’t have been more spot on! I wouldn’t recommend this place for older couples or families with children – you have to be at least 18 to stay here – but for a young-in-spirit group of friends, this was the perfect fit: we all fit into the same room, the rooms were spotlessly clean with an en-suite bathroom, beds were comfy and each one of them had their usb charging stations to fuel up our electronics during the night, towels were given freely for use both on-site and off-site, and of course it’s a short walking distance from downtown but far enough from the noise for a good night’s sleep. A simple but good continental breakfast was part of the price, so we started our morning lounging on one of the many terraces, sipping our coffees.
The only drawback that came to my mind while I was sunbathing by the pool and reading a book was that we hadn’t had time to come earlier to enjoy the hotel already the previous day – because this place would have been really worth it. On top of everything else, the hotel has a daily happy hour at 4.20pm, which we had missed this time. I’m saying “this time”, because if I return to Key West with friends, returning to NYAH is a no-brainer.
12.00 Key West Downtown
We hanged out at the hotel as long as we could, but everything good must come to an end. By checkout time, we were walking back Downtown to check it out in daylight – that is, scorching sunlight!
We noticed soon that the touristy downtown was dividing opinions: I liked it and would have loved to tour the small shops and boutiques for a while longer, but Elina and Iiro thought it was too touristy. Key West’s famous villas were mostly East of Simonton Street in the neighborhood of our hotel, while Duval and Whitehead Streets were full of cafes and restaurants catering to an out-of-town audience, as well as kiosks selling this trip and that tour. We have Cold Beer was a sign we saw on almost every corner.
I had a couple complimentary tickets for the local museums, so we split up for a moment. Elina checked out the Key West Aquarium, which she wouldn’t recommend to anyone who cares about animals: in the aquarium, fish were picked out of the tanks and even petted, which is obviously no way to treat a fish. Iiro checked out the Shipwreck Treasures Museum, which seemed interesting and is recommended for anyone interested in the pirate history of Key West. Just make sure you have enough time, because it’s a guided tour with reenacting and Iiro had to quit the tour half way to make it to our preagreed meeting spot.
Me? I toured the city with my camera. Truman’s Little White House, president Truman’s winter home, sounded tempting, but instead I stayed out to photograph the streets, houses, boutiques and of course the Caribbean sea. After spending a couple years inland, you wouldn’t believe how much I miss the sea.
13.00 Trolley Tour
We wanted to see much of Key West in limited time, so we jumped on board the Old Town Trolley Tours, which goes all around the island. The relaxed tour guide narrated the sights we passed as well as told tales of Key West history. Ticket prices (around $30) felt a bit steep, but only because we were doing this on our last day: the tickets are valid for two days and it’s a hop-on hop-off tour, so this would have been perfect as the first thing to do in Key West, after which you can use it as a form of transportation.
14.00 Lunch at Two Friends Patio & Key Lime Pie!
We spent a moment looking for a lunch restaurant that wouldn’t be too touristy and finally found one at the end of Front Street: Two Friends Patio Restaurant served us decent-priced oysters, creamy lobster bisque and tasty fried seafood. While there, we asked the waiter about roosters and hens walking around Key West. They just are here. They can’t fly away anywhere, now can they? But does someone own them? No, they just are here until the next hurricane sweeps them away.
Our waiter promised us they served excellent key lime pie, and he surely didn’t lie. In fact, it was so excellent I completely forgot to take a photo. You don’t want to miss this while in Key West!
3 p.m. On the shores of Key West: Smathers Beach
Our time in Key West was coming to an end, because we wanted to make it to Miami before evening, but we still made one more detour… by the beach!
On our Trolley Tour, we’d spotted an opening to Smathers Beach in its Eastern end that didn’t prohibit vehicles, so we hit the beach with four wheels! Next time I need to plan on bringing a towel – and maybe also plan on spending another night in Key West. I have a feeling it would be worth it!
June in Miami is hot and humid, and not even sunset cools the evenings down. We didn’t let that bother us last weekend, as we first had a girls’ night out with Elina on Thursday in Downtown Miami, and then on Saturday headed out together with Iiro at Miami Beach.
Miami Downtown equals skyscrapers and bright lights. The easiest way to get around is with the free People Mover, which speeds along a couple floors above the streets. After dark, you’ll see homeless people sleeping on the streets, and I wouldn’t feel too safe walking by myself, but this is where Uber comes in: it’s cheap and convenient in Miami. If you’re not familiar with Uber, get first ride free using this invite link.
1. Happy Hour at Conrad’s skyscraper bar
Do you have a rooftop bar here? I asked the reception at Conrad hotel. No, but we have a bar with a view! the receptionist replied with a wink and pointed us towards the elevators. The quizzical answer came clear soon: Conrad’s got 36 floors, and the LVL25 bar is “only” on 25th floor. This wasn’t a problem for us as we sat down with Elina to admire the fantastic view over Biscayne Bay. The smallish terrace had no free tables left at 6pm, but we asked nicely to share one with a business man who continued reading his book in Spanish while we chatted way in Finnish – relative privacy thanks to foreign languages.
LVL25 has Happy Hour from 4 to 7, which means wine and beer at $5 and well drinks at $7. The address is 1395 Brickell Avenue, across the street from People Mover’s Financial District stop.
2. Drinks on the 16th floor of EPIC hotel with a view of the city lights
In Miami, it seems to be a fashion to turn indoors into freezers with the help of A/C, which we really weren’t that into. Instead, we headed for the terrace of Area 31 bar at EPIC hotel. On Fridays, they have a Happy Hour that lasts the whole night, but on a Thursday evening it was already over by the time we arrived. (Happy Hour on Mon-Fri from 5 to 8.) The views turned out to be well worth the more expensive drink prices.
The terrace is right next to the stunning pool deck that has great views both East to Dock Island and South towards the Brickell highrises. EPIC hotel is at 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way, and the closest People Mover stop Knight Center is a short but slightly cumbersome walk away: these streets were not made for walking.
3. A Peruvian dinner at CVI.CHE 105
Yelp told us that CVI.CHE 105 would close its doors at ten, but an inquiry about the state of the kitchen at five to ten was answered with a statement of of course we’re open! The list’s also got meat and veggies, but most of the almost full restaurant’s patrons seemed to be after the ceviche – as was I. I had no clue about the different ceviche styles, so the waiter asked me a couple questions on my tastes and then recommended one. Elina got a recommendation of an octopus dish that wasn’t on the menu, and it turned out to be fantastic.
The closest People Mover stop is First Street and the address is 105 NE 3rd Ave. The kitchen seemed to close around 10.30pm. Elina complained it was expensive, but she just spent 6 months in Colombia; I thought it was very decent for the high quality. Be prepared to wait if you don’t have a reservation.
Miami Beach is its own city on its own island next to Miami, and it seems to be the place to be for the glamour crowds. We spent one night on South Beach and were glad we had a hotel there, because the post-sunset rush hour on Ocean Drive was really something, and I wouldn’t count on parking. The beach area was full of pedestrians on all hours of the day, and in the evening, Lummus Park becames a parking space for police cars, so besides pickpockets, it felt like a safe area.
4. Art Deco District by Night
Miami Beach Art Deco District was built along Ocean Drive in the 20s and 30s, and it’s at its best after sunset when the old neon signs are lit up. If you’re interested in the history of the buildings, check out National Geographic Walking Tour, but if not, people-watching in the area is already a good reason to come here.
The most popular drinks in the Miami Beach bars seem to be corona-ritas, giant margaritas, or giant corona-ritas. Corona-ritas are margaritas with an upside-down Corona. Giant margaritas are around 1,6 liters. Mix those two and it looks pretty impressive.
The restaurants on Ocean Drive seemed pretty touristy, so if you’re looking for good food, it’s worthwhile to head a couple blocks West. We had the most delicious sushi at Toni’s Sushi Bar (1208 Washington Ave), which took us in after midnight, but where I’d recommend going earlier than that, if you’re looking for good service: the staff seemed to be mostly concerned with getting home at that hour.
5. Stars at Miami Beach
The actual beach at Miami Beach is not illuminated at night, and this means two things:
The starry sky and blinking lights from ships moored on the ocean and crashing waves in the dark are a sight to savoir, and the city high rises are silhouetted behind you.
I wouldn’t have had the guts to go there alone, and even with friends, it took a moment to get used to the idea.
The beach is officially closed to public from midnight to 5am, which means that police will order you to leave if they catch you there. However, with a smaller group in a more quiet area of the beach (say, between 1st and 4th Streets), there doesn’t seem to be any patrolling. And this is not a recommendation for you to break any rules, okay?
+1. Hotel Blanc Kara on South Beach
If you’re looking for a terrace with a sea view, Blanc Kara’s not for you. However, if you’d like a boutique hotel with studios that have full-size kitchens, situated close to the beach and the shops but far enough from the nightlife to have issues with noise, then I can warmly recommend Blanc Kara. If you dig Ferraris or Lamborghinis, have an hour or two free in your schedule (and around a hundred dollars extra) and go on a test drive on one of the hotel’s two luxury sports convertibles.
Do you have any tips on restaurants or bars in Miami? If so, leave them in the comment box!