A Lasting Reminder of Florida Golden Age of Tourist

I moved to South Florida at the end of the golden era of the tourist industry. Back then Parrot Jungle was located in Ft. Lauderdale, Six Flags over Atlantis was a water park in Hollywood, and there was an Ocean World right off the 17th Street Causeway. I can still remember touching to dolphins in a shallow pool that would make any PEDA member pissed. We weren’t very animal friendly back then. 

  In the mid-80s, these traps disappeared as families were more interested in spending time on the beach, shopping, and a more real Florida. So I was kind of surprised to find in Florida one of those long lost tourist destination reimaged.

       dscn3709  In the 1960s The McKee Jungle Gardens opened up. Spreading over 48 acres, it offered the traveler a glimpse of paradise that Florida was trying to sell. In reality, Florida was still a big swamp back then. With its imported tropical plants, birds, and monkey. It was a place of wonder, delight and a detraction of the real Florida. Sadly, like so many of these sites, it went belly up in the 80S.  Most of its acres were sold off and turned into golf courses. But 18 acres were saved and turned into the McKee Botanical Gardens.

While doing some research on what to do in Vero Beach, I came across a local blogger take on this place. She talked about a beautiful garden and something to kill a couple of hours. So I jotted it down in my notes, so if laying by the pool was busted, I had a backup.

           dscn3727     Turns out, laying by the pool did bust, OJ had surgery on his hand, and he was in the cast. So the pool was out of the questions. So after brunch at a great little café in Vero Beach, we headed over to the gardens to check it out.

After paying the $10.00 charge to get it, we wondered the twisting path around the property. It was the tail end of the lilies being in bloom. The ponds around the property were alive with purple, blue and yellow lilies.

There were a couple of unique things to check out. One was a large grill that would be any barbecuer dreams. We weren’t sure why they had a grill, but it is worth checking out.

Another attraction is the sleeping tree, which is a type of tree that grows sideways instead of up and down.

dscn3769 The gardens also had an art displayed done by Patrick Dougherty called The Royals. He is an artist that twists branches into three dimensional shapes. These were three heads like statues that you can walk around and through.

Along the path are reminders of the past. There were the runes of the aviary that once held a collection of exotic birds, a couple of waterfalls that used to be part of a larger exhibit, and the historical markers talking about what was there.

In its own way the gardens, play homage to the past, admitting it once was a cheesy tourist trap, while being a beautiful gathering of native Florida flora and fauna. Florida’s originally named Pascua Florida, meaning Flowering Easter. There are certain times of the year that Florida lives up to its name.

Wandering around the gardens took about a couple of hours, and I would suggest a bottle of water and some bug spray. The gardens are very well kept, in a natural way, so make sure you have a pair of good walking shoes.

I did realize something, I miss these long ago tourist traps of my youth, and I wonder what my today self would have thought of these places. 

                If you are up in Vero Beach, it is worth checking out.

Check out my pictures

Vero Beach Flicr



A Pirate’s Life for me


When you are dating someone who fancies himself a pirate and loves all things piratey, you will find your travels sometimes lead you to the black flag and rum.

It was the last of the family cruise, and we were sitting at breakfast. The ship hadn’t even pulled into Nassau, but my family was already busy talking about the day ahead itinerary.

“I promised Christopher we would go see the Pirate Museum,” my cousin Alexa said.

“There’s a pirate museum, here” OJ perked up, and I knew at that moment that somehow, someway, we were going to see the Pirate Museum.

It took us one crazy buggy ride around the island, getting lost, Kalik Gold and a bartender to find it. But we did.

And boy was it a tourist trap! Cheesy, yes, but if you’re a lover of pirates or a history buff, this might be a place to check out.

IMG_0552.JPGThe museum, located on King and George Street, is part historical information and part “the real” pirate experience”. This museum takes guests on a tour of 1700 century pirate life, no romance included. Times were hard, life was short, and the rum wasn’t always rum. This museum showed you the Un-Disney side of these men and women in an unapologetic and historical way.

The pirate career wasn’t all singing and chasing wrenches around.

You enter an old building, and the stage is set at what the docks of Nausea would have looked like back during the Golden Age of Pirate. Most pirates came into the trade by escaping another one – the British Royal Navy. You are a young, pressed into service man, who somehow has been able to jump ship and you find yourself in another world. A stranger comes up to you, promising riches and freedom. So you join.


The first room you enter is the town of Nassau, back in the days of pirates. It is twilight, that dock creaks as you walk (it actually creaks). On your right is your ship, waiting for you. The left is a tavern where drunken laughter can be heard. The smell of tar and sea water is all around you and for a moment you are transported back. All it needs is a couple of drunken sailors and a one-legged prostitute named Sally, and you are back in pirate times.

I will have to admit whoever built the room, did a good job. The details are amazing, and if you like me who likes to find the hidden details at Disney, then you will enjoy exploring the docks. I had heard rumors it was one of the set designers from Disney. I would believe it.

Next, you board a ship (by gang plank) to see what life was really like on a pirate ship. And if this was supposed to be better than the British Navy, then I would hate to have been in the Navy. By the way, it isn’t very glamorous. To begin with there are cramp dark sleeping arrangements with 50 of your nearest and dearest friends, a diet of bug infested crackers, and a doctor/barber/ship carpenter who ways of solving all your ills is by either cut it off or bleeding it. The museum tries to paint a truthful unromantic reality that was pirate life. As you wander the ship, hearing the rats scurry around, smelling the odors (which is foul) and hearing the crew going about their daily life, you have to wonder why would anyone sign up for this.

The next room you enter is better decorated, as you enter the governor of Nassau office as he deals with pirates (If you can’t beat them, learn everything you can about them, and then use them to your advantage). There are displays that talk about the pirate code (or guidelines) pirate justices (get into trouble you get marooned with a pistol and a bullet) and the government fails attempts to control them. You learn about the people who supported their way of life. Someone had to build the ships and make the sails.

The next area is where the cheesiness comes into full force. If you have small children, you might want to skip this room all together. In a dark room, you get to witness a pirate battle first hand.

Basically, it’s a bunch of dummies dressed in pirate costumes with a lot of loud sounds and bright noises. Not much to write home about, but it’s kind of hard to stage a battle with real people and explosions for every drunken tourist then wanders in. So I guess in some ways this is as good as it going to get.

But seriously, if you have small children skip this area, it’s loud and dark.

The last part is dedicated to the artifacts that have been found on, around, and under the Bahamas, including cannon balls, bottles, and weapons.

The Museum cost about $20.00 and takes about 30 minutes (if you just skim through the museum, for those who like to read everything, plan on at least an hour) It does have a lot of information that paints a very colorful picture of pirate history and life. Something that Disney and the romance novels leave out.

I found it very interesting and OJ was like a little kid in a candy store. It is something worth checking out, especially if you love history and pirates.

IMG_0553At the end is a gift shop with a bunch of pirate themed stuff. Oj bought a flag (which somehow we lost) a bandana, an earring and patch. Since our next stop was to find some Conch Salad, he decided to wear the bandana, earring, and eye patch.

What can I say, I love my pirate!





Once Upon a Time

The Yachting Lifestyle is Hard Work

                Sometimes an experience catches your eye, which you have no clue what it is, nobody you know has done it, or doesn’t show up on any blogs, but you have to do it.

                Why, well it looks like fun.

                In my household, we have different jobs. OJ is the IT Specialist, Head of the Accounting Department, and the Dishwasher Loader Specialist. My jobs include Social Planner, Meal Planner, and Travel Coordinator. As long as we have been dating, I have been in charge of doing the travel planning, arrangements, packing, and getting us to wherever we are going.

I do “planning” for a living, so I am sort of an expert and one day, I am planning a posting about how I plan.

                Getting back to the story, we were going on a cruise and as the travel coordinator, my job was to figure out and book the excursion. OJ only had one request, so I was pretty free to make the decisions on it.

               IMG_0456 I happened to be working on St. Maarten, when I came across a little blurb about one of the excursions. Regatta – race around beautiful St. Maarten on an actual American Cup Racing Yacht.

                I thought, cool go cruising around the island; OJ will love that. So I signed us up.

                Here comes the part where Norwegian Cruise Lines didn’t explain much. Yes, you are on a racing yacht. Yes, your crew (guides, teachers) are actual professional sailors, yes the both boat and the sailors have been in the American Cup, and yes, you do race around the island. But you do the work.

                That’s right, it wasn’t a cruise around the island. It was an actual race, where you as the tourist, are part of the crew and expected to do your duties; even if you have no clue what to do.

                But let’s back up. First off, after two days partying at sea, we had to wake up before six to catch the dingy to the spot where we meet our crew. There were about 60 of us and were divided into 3 groups and assigned a boat. OJ and I were assigned the True North (cool name). Then you were assigned a job; mine was Right Back Mass Wrench– or as I called it, I was the right mess of a wench for the job.


My job was tighten and untightening the rope for this wench.

                Oj did something with the mass up front that they needed a manly man (their words not mine). Him and another young man, that looked just as wide awake as I felt, were assigned the manly job of opening and closing the main sail.

                Then we took another dingy out to the boat. Once on and in our places, the crew of three taught us all we had to know. Since at the max there are about 10 professional crew members who do about six different jobs at once, it was kind of understood that mistakes were going to be made by the 20 of us.

                My job was tightening and untightening a rope. And for some reason, I messed it up a couple of times. I blamed this on the lack of coffee and two days of partying at sea.

                Once the crew thought we had our jobs down to where we weren’t going to run a million dollar yacht into the beach, we did a practice round. A nice slow warm up jog around the island, in which we found out sailing is very hard work.

               IMG_0451 Then we got ready; a gun went off we were racing. The sails at full mask, all of us trying to do a job, that a normal crew member would have done, plus five others at the same time. The captain is yelling orders. And all of us having no clue where we were in the race.

                It was a glorious mess, but so much fun. On our second lap (I think) we were allowed to take a break, while our captain gave a rousing speech.  Something along the lines of how when we go home at the end of the day, just remember one thing…our answer if asked how we did is… we won.

                We also toasted our fellow crew with water, since they didn’t want a bunch of drunken novice plowing their million-dollar ship into the rocks.

                Then we started the final lap. All this time of tightening and untightening a rope, I had no clue where we were or how are we doing. I did look up once to see the other two ships behind me.

                “Are we winning,” I asked one of the crew members who was in charge of my area. She looked back and then said. “We are in second right now.” Then she pointed to the ship that was the farthest back, “They are winning by a long shot.”IMG_0455

                To this day, I still can’t figure out how she figured that one out.

                Our last lap was done (about 1/3 of a small Regatta race) and we were exhausted. Tightening and untightening a rope is hard work. It turns out we got second (hey, we didn’t lose).

                Usually, there is a lesson at the end of these blog posts about something I learned. A valuable secret that will change the way I look at the world. Well, here it is…sailing is hard work.

Also if you get a chance to do this, stop drinking the day before.