For spring break this year, we got to get the hell out of dodge and go to Destin Florida. I honestly don’t know how exactly we landed on Destin. I do know that our oldest daughter didn’t want to go anywhere “lame” which leaves a lot for interpretation because me being the travel nerd that I am, I would squeal like a piggy going anywhere other than our local *Target for spring break.
*which is where we spend most of our spring breaks.
*when it isn’t the grocery store.
This you need to know about me when it comes to all things travel: I want to go anywhere other than here desperately but I don’t want to have to plan it.
Planning a trip as it pertains to flight/directions/hotel/condo/home/car rental is painful for me.
Like physically painful.
My dear mom and my dear friend Shannon love doing shit like this. They are what you would call a skilled layperson travel agent and should start charging for their services.
I did think about bribing either one of them with pie and booze to plan our vacation but then I realized that in all honesty, it isn’t fun planning someone else’s vacation when you’re not getting paid to do that.
So I passed it on to my husband because my delegating skills are better than my vacation planning skills.
He found us a cool condo right on the ocean for CHEAP. I mean CHEAP. Like, I was a little concerned that there wouldn’t be any doors or windows on the condo.
We made arrangements, sent our beloved puppy to Mamie and Papa’s house for his own little vacation, got on a CHEAP plane (like I was worried there wouldn’t be any doors or windows on the plane), and flew to the south to get the hell away from the Midwest for six glorious days.
Part of the reason for the cheap airfare is because we flew into New Orléans, which is a good four hours from Destin. Some people would be irritated with this scenario but not I; travel nerd Kari was giddy because we were going to see places we had never seen before. None of us had ever been to any of the places we were heading on vacation, so suddenly it became an adventure to see as much as we could within a certain time period.
New Orléans was the first on our little checklist to explore. I had done some research before we flew down and knew that there were certain parts of the city I wanted the girls to experience:
- the garden district
- bourbon street/french quarter (any or all of it/ depending on how much time we had)
- get a beignet and a café au lait
- see the above ground graves in the cemetery
- see a swamp
I had several people and websites telling me that the French Quarter isn’t really a place you need to see when in New Orléans but I don’t listen to other people when they give me advice for traveling to new places and you shouldn’t either. So we left the airport, plugged “french quarter” into the GPS and ended up there about 15 minutes later. I am so glad we did.
It was busy, bustling and exactly how I had pictured it. I didn’t regret coming here for one minute.
The people, the architecture, the weather, everything. The girls didn’t know where to look because there was so much going on. They were pointing at different things, LOOK! HOW COOL!!! CAN WE STAY HERE NEXT TIME?? it made my heart soar. The whole time I kept thinking, we got our girls to New Orléans. I was nerd girl excited the entire time.
We drove from the French Quarter directly to the Garden District because I had heard the homes were gorgeous over there.
On the way through, we drove through a very poor neighborhood; people sleeping on mattresses under overpass bridges, homeless people laying on sidewalks. This isn’t everywhere in New Orléans but it needs to be talked about because, in some areas, they are still fighting Katrina’s devastating effects 12 years later and need our help. Here are three organizations that are reputable where you can feel confident your money is going to help these beautiful people.
Make It Right
The Garden District was magical, don’t skip it if you go visit the area.
We saw some cemeteries giving tours and if we had more time we would definitely go on one. Even the girls wanted to go on the tours. It was fascinating to all of us that the graves are above ground; hauntingly beautiful is the best description I can give.
On the way out of the greater New Orléans area, we crossed over Lake Pontchartrain which is MASSIVE. Like, Ella (who had never seen the ocean before) thought it was the ocean. We also got to pass over several swamps, which was so cool because we were WAY WAY above them.
We were over Mobile Bay in Alabama which is technically the Gulf of Mexico when Ella looked out her backseat window to see the “ocean”. To say she was excited would be an understatement. Plus we got to see a pelican at the same time, so it was like God was just showing off. (PS thank you for that God)
The second squeal of joy was spotting the above sign. The state of Florida plants all these palm trees around the entrance to the state; then you don’t see any for like another hour. I SEE YOU FLORIDA. Ella also had never seen a palm tree before, so thank you for that Florida. And of course, God.
When we got to our condo, we dumped our suitcases in the kitchen, changed into shorts and ran down to the beach. I am not being overly dramatic for writing flair; we RAN to the beach.
We ate dinner at this restaurant just down the beach that had no windows on it; just shutters. Our Midwestern minds were blown.
Each day, one person was designated to pick breakfast or dinner. We really didn’t eat lunch out too many days for many reasons but the number one reason was that we were still full from breakfast. Anna wanted to eat at Krispy Kreme our first day because we don’t have any of those up by us. To be clear, we used to but northern Illinois residents apparently know nothing about gooey warm donuts, so away they went.
It was while sitting outside at 8 am, the last week of March, eating a fresh, hot Krispy Kreme donut that our singing (yes, I said singing) cashier rang up for us, that we all said WE ARE MOVING.
I am not even kidding.
On our first morning, we decided to venture around Destin and ended up in Panama City Beach which is about an hour drive away.
Panama City Beach used to be a huge spring break destination for college students and kind of got a bad rep.
We met an older couple on the beach with their dog and had a nice long conversation with them (because southern) and they informed us that they changed the liquor laws down there so no one can drink on the beach. So the out of control spring breakers go bye-bye.
I then realized I had carried my solo cup of wine onto the beach the night before to look for ghost crabs (more on that later) and felt a little ashamed.
No, I didn’t.
That picture up there sums up how all of us felt all week.
I am sure it is but who doesn’t love a good Bon Jovi reference.
By the way, none of us could stay up past nine each night. Even our 17-year-old, who can stay up until 2 am at home like it’s her job.
We were outside from 7 am until 4 pm most days; in the water for probably 4 hours of that time and in the sun the entire time. We slept with the windows open every night and used it as natures fan. It was exhilarating, to say the least.
We took in Florida fully the entire week.
We woke up early each morning (because of our granny bedtime) and walked the beach every morning we were there. The last morning, Mike and I got up at 6 to see the sunrise on the beach which was the best decision we ever made. If you are lucky enough to get to go to the beach, get up and walk it every morning. You won’t regret it.
We all fell in love with Destin but that little girl up there, I think fell in love with it the most. She was completely calmed by the ocean and the waves. I believe that she was more connected to the ocean than any of us and trust me, we were mesmerized.
This was my lunch on day one:
Did I mention how much I love Florida?
I have pushed myself for years to do some scary shit but for the most part, I am afraid of everything.
Remember the Choo Choo of Death incident?
I have somewhat evolved since that fateful day.
I want to grow as a human being and if that means not always using hand sanitizer when eating out in public, well then I don’t want to grow.
No seriously, I am on my way to becoming the Dalai Lama because look what I did in Destin:
That’s right folks, I got my ass off the ground and flew through the air.
And as scared as I was before I did it, I was so happy I did. I felt like superwoman after I did this.
It was scary at first for all of us, but it was so much fun and we all said we would do it again.
And make sure you get “dipped”.
On our third day, we took a tip from one of the guides on the parasailing boat and headed to Okaloosa Pier which is just outside Destin.
You essentially pay two dollars per person to walk the pier which can add up if you have lots of people in your party. It offered us gorgeous views but it was FULL of fishermen, so in many places, you couldn’t look over the sides. It was pretty early in the morning so maybe later in the day it wouldn’t be as busy but I would do this again if only to meet my new friend:
Meet Frank. I name all the animals I come in contact with; his name isn’t really Frank. It’s probably something like Belvidere or Jeeves.
But isn’t he spectacular?
I have a habit of taking pictures of my feet places.
It’s my quirky thing and it proves that I do get out of the house occasionally.
See this water:
That is from a part of our vacation that I like to refer to as the Jet Ski From Hell Incident.
So I am not the Dalai Lama but I don’t think he got his butt on a jet ski and there is a perfectly good explanation for that:
He isn’t an idiot.
Just so you know, I don’t know how to swim. There is a long story involved but for the sake of the story know that Mike can swim, my girls can swim but I cannot.
So why, when my husband suggested we rent jet ski’s and take the girls out, I said OH YES! LET’S DO! and not HOLY BALLS NOOOO! I have no clue.
Apparently, I was still riding the parasailing high.
After a five-minute crash (DO NOT SAY CRASH) course on jet skiing, our instructor slapped on our safety vests and off we went.
I had Anna on my jet ski and Mike had Ella on his. All was fine in the two minutes until I left the pier and then I started hyperventilating.
DID YOU KNOW THERE IS A LOT OF WATER OUT THERE???
WE HAVE TO GO UNDER A BRIDGE?
WHERE CARS DRIVE OVER US??
WAIT, IS THAT A SHARK I SEE? I THINK IT IS. LET’S GO BACK.
Every neurotic scenario that could run through your mind in a panic situation, was racing through mine.
While trying to create a “no wake situation”.
Under a bridge.
With sharks swimming around us. *
*sharks weren’t there. allegedly.
Yes, we were.
All I could think of was, this must have been what Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet felt like.
After crossing under the bridge, we hit shallow water and a sandbar. Not literally hit but passed by.
Okay, this isn’t too bad.
LOOK! A HOT DOG STAND ON WATER! I THINK I’M GOING TO LOVE JET SKIING!
Plus there was that dog on the back of the jet ski and told myself to pull my shit together. If a dog can do it, so can I.
Until we hit the open water.
By the way, the open water is nothing like the open road.
Going 10 miles per hour on a brand new and very sensitive wave runner is like doing 80 miles per hour in a car.
Only, you won’t drown if you do that on the open road.
I had envisioned something much different when I thought of jet skiing.
But instead, it was more like:
Then the unthinkable happened: my husband and my nine-year-old daughter capsized their jet ski.
They were literally doing nothing but idling when it happened which took my neuroses to a new level.
Hearing my little girl cry and seeing the fear in her eyes sent my mama bear mode into overdrive.
Thank you, Jesus, for the boat that appeared out of nowhere to help show my husband how to flip their upside-down jet ski right side up.
Anna and I scooped Ella out of the water and decided that, yeah, we are done.
I would have jumped on board that boat with all of those people had I not had to turn in the jet ski in 20 minutes.
Anna decided that she would ride with my husband and swam over to his jet ski but not before his capsized AGAIN.
That put Ella (who inherited my anxiety, I am so sorry) and I into AWW HELL NO mode.
Ella and I did 5 miles per hour the 20-minute ride back to the harbor.
It was the longest 20 minutes of our lives but we made the best of it by trying not to think of living a life on a deserted island with a volleyball as our best friend and instead played the game of “can you find the dolphin, there are no sharks” game.
Back on land that evening, we went to a local souvenir crap shop that had a live shark in a tank. Ella had become one with sea life after the jet ski from hell incident and was devastated, as were we, that this crappy place had a shark living in a tank literally across the street from the ocean. We ran scenarios in our head of how we could rescue our little friend.
Good morning Destin. You are beautiful.
Hunting for elusive ghost crabs every night. Ghost crabs are crabs that are essentially see-through or very white. They blend in with the sand as a defense mechanism against humans. So what do humans do? Take out their smartphone flashlights and search for them every night after eating a big ass crab leg dinner. No wonder they are hiding from us.
RUN AWAY CRABS!
This was for Judy, the regular at the bar at our condo. She was there every day at 2 pm on the dot.
I feel like this will be my future in thirty years.
The girls slept so soundly and peacefully at night with the sounds of the waves.
I’m not gonna lie; I didn’t want to come home.
Neither did our girls.
This is what vacation does to our girls: brings them together.
They were all over each other while away from their everyday lives and that is the biggest takeaway of the week. We not only found ourselves in Florida but also each other.