The Caribbean, but let’s start with Miami

Like a new born child, our Caribbean cruise holiday arrived after nine long months of waiting and saving. We booked it in February 2011 and paid for it in installments before finally packing up our sunny clothes in the cold of November. Ten days on the blue sea would fulfil my wife’s dream of a luxury cruise, and a few days in Miami beforehand would help us get over the jet lag. Although I only spent a few hours in each cruise destination, I feel they are all worthy of a post of their own. So I’ll focus on Miami now, and over the coming weeks I’lll talk of the other paces we visited and the cruise itself.

Fifteen years ago I visited Miami and Orlando as a young teenager. In Orlando, I watched Penny Hardaway and the Orlando Magic, I rode Thunder Mountain, and spent the days shooting hoops and eating pizza. Miami was too hot and too grown-up for me. And I didn’t get all those pastel buildings. This time round though I couldn’t wait for Miami. I’d done my research and I had a loose but awesome itinerary. It included Le Bron James, Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat, alligators in the Everglades, sailing in the ocean, and hanging by the beach. Before going anywhere we set ourselves up with a South Beach apartment, some wheels and tickets to see Bron Bron.

Things started to fall apart even before we left home. The NBA lockout dragged on over the summer and more and more of the early games got cancelled. I held out hope, but eventually Heat v. Raptors got struck off the schedule too. It was a massive disappointment but I was still looking forward to Miami.

We arrived on a lovely warm evening and I can still remember the weight of the humid air and the smell of the airport parking lot as we chose our rental car and rolled out under the reddening sky. I love having a car when I’m abroad and driving over to Miami Beach was a great way to start our holiday. Our apartment in SoBe was reasonably central, but after an evening stroll and a meal out, I got the impression that this whole area had lost some of its cool. Further north, the luxury resort hotels with their boardwalk and waterfront looked fabulous but were a little bit out of the action. During my daily runs I covered much of the South Beach area, and maybe it was because it was the weekend of Thanksgiving, but the place never got as lively as I’d expected it would.

Thanksgiving itself was a day of highs and lows for us. First of all, we took a spin out to Rickenbacker Causeway where I rented a Hobie Cat. On the causeway, we took the wrong lane approaching the toll booths and were left to worry about accumulating fines – this really frustrated us because over the next few days we tried to out what the appropriate procedure was to rectify the situation but got nowehere. But anyway, back to the sailing! I rented a simple little catamaran called a Hobie Wave and my wife took pictures from the beach. The Wave is great fun, nice and fast but could do with some sort of tiller extension on the rudder. I left my toll troubles back on land and zipped along the water, harnessing the north-easterly breeze.

From there it was immediately on to the Everglades. We could have done with a decent map, but it wasn’t too dificult to find our way to the national park. Visiting wild places is one of my favourite things to do so I was really looking forward to seeing the alligators and everything else that the Everglades had to offer. Our short time in the park consisted of two parts – a walk along the trails where the alligators lurk, and then a drive up and down one of the park highways in the late afternoon, keeping an eye out for wild creatures of any sort.

Along the trails we got some great alligator viewing – we saw one swimming towards us and also got to view one basking right below the trail boardwalk. And those were just two of the better sightings. We also saw some interesting birds and a really cool Everglades grasshopper. Then disaster struck! I got bitten. No, not by an alligator, just by a really big mosquito or something. Not a big deal, you’d think, but in the hours to follow, my bitten hand grew and grew and grew. I ended up going to the hospital on the morning of the cruise and got put on an intensive course of antibiotics and antihistamines and was told to stay out of the sun. On a Caribbean cruise!

Back in the Everglades, from te safety of our vehicle, the second part of our adventure was free from such disaster. On the highway, we didn’t see much in the way of terrestrial wildlife, but we did see raptors galore and great big herons. And the peacefulness of the setting as the evening came down really was something to remember. It is worth mentioning though that these roads aren’t well set up for wildlife viewing – it is not possible to pull in off the road completely and other drivers seem to treat this road as a typical thoroughfare rather than somewhere to expect slow moving traffic and stationary vehicles. Doing anything other than driving at a good steady pace on this road felt a little bit dangerous and so made looking for, and looking at animals somewhat frustrating.

Our last full day in Miami was dedicated to taking on the Black Friday sales in Aventura. The mall was, for the most part, a little too designer for our budgets and the early birds had grabbed a lot of the deals, but we did manage to find a few bargains. We didn’t get into downtown Miami at all; but I did go to hospital – that’s a unique US experience that not every tourist gets!


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