You can spend months planning a family vacation only to find when you actually hit the road that it’s the unexpected stuff that steals the show. Case in point, critters. Animal meetings on family adventures are often surprises that tend to lead to success.
I did more traveling than I’ll admit to before it clicked that Kids & Kritters are a great traveling combination.
Chevrolet Volt Sunshine Road Trip
When I was invited to take my teen on the Chevrolet Volt Sunshine Road Trip from Florida’s Gulf Coast to Key West, I thought it was a great trip for a teenager. There’s plenty to see and do, with some stretches of road to catch-up on Algebra or take a much needed nap. Amazing animals never crossed my mind.
We Have Arrived
Our road trip began in sunny, Southwest Florida on the warm Gulf of Mexico. I have family in that neck of the woods, so I had a nice feel of familiarity as my daughter and I jumped in our Chevrolet Volt.
Other than adjusting to the fact you can’t hear the car when it’s running, hitting the road for the first time in an electric car was pretty seamless. My teen navigator was in charge of all the bells and whistles like XM Radio and OnStar. She seemed to master the basics in the half-hour drive to Naples.
All sorts of things call the sandy beaches of Southwest Florida home. Along with empty and still occupied seashells, sandpipers and pelicans are pretty predictable residents. But don’t forget to keep scanning the Gulf of Mexico, you never know when dolphins might come cruising by.
Jump on US 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail, and the world changes dramatically in 30 miles. From pastel painted seaside city to subtropical Florida swamp. Home to 14 endangered and nine threatened species of animals, the Everglades is one of America’s more under-appreciated chunks of the National Park Service.
There are some animals I bet most families could live without seeing. Venous snakes, including water moccasins are found throughout the Big Cypress National Preserve. But there are plenty of cuter critters like wading herons and egrets. A cluster of more than a hundred beautiful white birds in the middle of a swamp got and held my daughter’s attention.
Sunning alligators are usually pretty easy to find. Turn off onto the unpaved Turner River Road or head a little farther east to the Oasis Visitor Center. Raised wooden walkways offer secure kid viewing locations for any possibly anxious parents.
Don’t leave without going inside the Visitor Center. Kids love the stuffed Florida Panther on display and the bathrooms are clean!
Light at the End of the Grassy Tunnel
Everything changes once again when you hit Miami and roll toward the Florida Keys. Key Largo, the first and largest Key is home to America’s first undersea park. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is home to North America’s only living coral reef.
Take a ride on a glass bottom boat or go snorkeling to meet all sorts of colorful critters like coral, moon jellyfish, sea fans and plumes. My daughter gave a slight shudder when she learned she had glided past numerous barracudas.
Don’t Forget Your Suit
As you continue to head south, I think the critters get cuter. Maybe it’s the stronger sunshine. Pelicans pull at your heart strings for the fish you’re supposed to feed the tarpons at Robbie’s Marina. Smile at a sea turtle or swim with dolphins, rays or sea lions on Islamorada at Theater of the Sea.
Dolphin Research Center
If the kids are asleep or happily entertained in the backseat, don’t stop, log some more miles and stop at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key at mile marker 59. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to “promote peaceful coexistence between marine mammals and humans and the environment we share through research and education and to operate for the advancement of such research and education.”
They offer more than a dozen creative ways to meet dolphins and sea lions. If the kids aren’t old enough to get wet, they can meet a dolphin and hold a t-shirt for the dolphin to paint. When finished the masterpiece is yours to keep. I can’t think of a better souvenir!
The Side of the Road
As you take in the view, pay attention to what’s looking right back at you from the side of the road. Huge iguanas are a common sight, out catching some rays. As you get closer to Key West you might spy some Key deer. Bright yellow road signs warn you when to start looking.
Cock a Doodle Do
Go for a walk with the kids and count all the roosters. Chances are you’ll lose count before you make it to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
The kids don’t need to know anything about the famous writer, all they’ll care about are the polydactyl or six-toed cats. Hemingway loved these unique cats and when he lived in the house in the 1930’s he had 50 to 60 of them. Today 44 of their “grand kittens” call the grounds home. Hemingway named his cats after famous people and the tradition lives on today. With names like Harry S. Truman, who knows the kids might learn a little history while they’re there.
Chevrolet covered Dana and her daughter’s expenses during the Volt Sunshine Road Trip, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own.